Saturday, September 27, 2014

Art Criticism at the Visual Arts Center

The mere thought of picking up a paintbrush or a piece of clay strikes terror in my heart. (Sadly, I kid you not.)  And yet I found myself at a session last week on "How to Critique Your Art" at the Visual Arts Center.  The session was the first in our new artist development series.  And while it was obviously geared towards artists, I was not the only person in the room who is "only" an art appreciator.  I always figure the more you know, the better!

The session was led by Liz Hutchinson, a leading artist in our community.  Liz talked a bit about ways to look at art--objective, subjective, with imagination--and then asked for the first volunteer.

Sculpture by Judi Roth
Judi Roth offered up three beautiful small sculptures.  This work features a teeny tiny bird's nest. The whimsy, patterns and texture of Judi's pieces delighted the group.  Liz was struck by the fact that the piece wasn't circular as you might expect.  (Another of Judi's pieces was a bird bath--complete with a rubber duckie--that had a notch cut out.)  She suggested that Judi's "trademark" might be the unexpected shapes of her works.  This thought prompted Liz to share with the group her advice when an artist asks how to develop his own style.  Her response:  "Take an aspirin and call me in the morning!"  She assured the group that an artist's style will emerge naturally if you give it time.

"Rowing Ashore" by Lyn Jensen
Lyn Jensen's stunning digital photo brought a lot of commentary from the group.  Lyn explained a bit about the process, which involves layering several photos into the final work.  Liz admired the way that the light shines through the leaves, noting that without that element, the darkness would overwhelm the work.  Someone mentioned the "accidental associations" that viewers bring to a work -- in this case, the book "Boys in the Boat" (which Lyn wasn't familiar with).  I fell in love with the colors, which reminded me of an early morning in Nova Scotia.

Jane Patton's work
 I was surprised by Jane Patton's work, which depicts her husband Tom with a nice-sized bass.  I associate Jane with botanicals and enjoyed seeing her venture into another subject.  Liz's first question was "Where are we?"  Jane and Tom used to live on a lake, and Tom would sometimes come home from work for lunch and do a bit of fishing (hence the starchy white shirt and tie -- a contrast that immediately made everyone smile).  Liz used Jane's work as an opportunity to talk about the color spectrum.  Apparently yellow is the "hottest" color and should be used judiciously.  The brightness of the dock, while perhaps reflective of its color in real life, is a bit overwhelming and makes it hard to see Tom's hand.  Liz encouraged artists to take a step back in the midst of their painting and ask themselves what their work is about.  Here, the painting is about Tom and his fish, not the dock.  So you don't want the dock to be what people's eyes are drawn to when they see the picture.  (Jane told me she's reworking the dock to add more gray.  I liked the work as it was and am interested to see the revised version.)

Michael Cahak's work
I had stepped out of the room when Michael Cahak explained the medium for this abstract, which reminded me of an encaustic.  (It was on a piece of paper, though, so I know that's not right.)   Abstracts in particular are hard for people to comment on.  Perhaps more than any other style, you either immediately like it or not.  (This is my comment, not Liz's.)  Her approach to the work was interesting.  She turned it horizontally and upside down from the way Michael intended it to hang and asked the group which way they liked it best.  Surprisingly (to the artist), the group preferred the work on its side with what looks to me like tree branches hanging down.

Mary Lou Miller's painting brought lots of "oohs" and "aahhs" from the group.  This photo really does not do justice to the amazing colors in this watercolor, although you do get a sense of the texture Mary Lou created in the nest.  Liz didn't have much commentary about this work (which she proclaimed a "seller")  other than that the baby herons add to its interest.

It was an interesting and engaging 90 minutes.  I enjoyed some of Liz' other tidbits of advice for the artists, like how to respond to questions about how long it took to create a painting ("35 years, 8 months and 4 days" -- i.e., the artist's lifetime) and to remember that "putting a frame on a painting is like putting a dress on a woman."   I am already looking forward to the session next month on "How to Name Your Work" that will be led by poet Dorothy Howe Brooks.  There's always something fun going on at the Visual Arts Center!

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