Posts Tagged ‘artistic concept’

Concerning “Concept”

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A painting’s concept needs to be considered from two directions and with two separate purposes in mind. The first is the artist’s purpose, which helps to focus the painting, unify it, and help it accomplish what the artist is trying to express.  The second is from the viewer’s perspective, not only in trying to ascertain the artist’s purpose but also (and this is entirely personal and individual and may or may not conform to the artist’s actual intent) what the painting suggests to that viewer.

My own feeling about the importance of “concept” is that an artist must have a concrete purpose to know how to effectively “say” anything through his/her work. Although a certain amount of ambiguity can add interest to a work, the more ambiguous a concept is, the greater the risk the artist takes that the viewer will not understand or appreciate what the artist is attempting to express. So it can be a challenge to find the right balance of precision and “looseness” to keep the concept clear but the execution interesting.

170108w---Bouganvilla-SprayThere are many types of concept that can be expressed through art—not only aesthetic (the conceptual category of “Bouganvilla Spray,” above), but narrative, descriptive, emotional, and so on, which often overlap. These are general categories of concepts, which may be broken down into more specific concepts (for instance, the plant’s gem-like translucence, in the case of “Bouganvilla Spray”).  Whether or not a viewer’s assessment of the artist’s concept is “accurate” is largely immaterial; the purpose of trying to identify it is to make us think more deeply about what drove the artist’s decision-making throughout the creation process.  The recognition and interpretation of many  concepts rely heavily on the viewer’s background and experiences, which will never align perfectly with those of the artist.

This means that the artist’s job should usually be more to evoke a response from the viewer than to recreate a specific experienceThe viewer‘s responsibility is more in assessing his/her personal response to the painting.  If the viewer interprets it according to the artist’s intent, most of us would agree that the artist has succeeded.  But in many cases, we can never know exactly whether that conceptual assessment is accurate; we can only guess. 

(This is not to say that successful expression of concept necessarily equates to technical mastery–it does not!  After all, a child’s expressing, and the viewer’s understanding, of the descriptive concept of “family” can be successfully accomplished with very simple and imprecise stick figures.)

Photography or not?

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Last time I wrote about why I have chosen to work from photographs when doing self-portraits. A logical question arises from that discussion: If I can take a photograph, what is the point of drawing or painting a portrait from it?

There are several valid reasons to do so. My primary reason has been to practice my portraiture skills on an easily accessible subject who won’t feel imposed on, won’t try to tell me not to show her wrinkles, and doesn’t charge modeling fees. A photograph sits still for as many hours, days, or weeks as necessary. It can be digitally adjusted to test the desirability of changes in lighting, color, contrast, background and more. And it doesn’t complain if, after all that, “it doesn’t look like me!”

150306p Barbados Woman

Another important reason is the very fact that drawings and paintings simply are not photographs. To my way of thinking, art is—or should be, to some degree—interpretive. Photographs can be interpretive, also, but rarely to the same degree as a manually produced image in which even slight exaggerations of line weight or adjustments of color or brushwork can express the artist’s feelings about the subject or suggest some otherwise invisible aspect of the subject’s nature or character, as I have done in my portrait of a gregarious woman from Barbados (#150306). This “artistic concept” applies not only to portraiture but to landscape, still-life, and other subject matter, as well.

Some painters entirely shun the idea of working from photographs. I fully understand and sympathize with their reasons for this attitude. But I cannot entirely agree.

The first argument I often hear is that photography cannot provide true replication of color and light. However, when the artist has a thorough understanding of color, and of light’s effect on it, this problem can be overcome to a great degree in interpretive painting.

Another common argument is that photography captures a limited scene at a single moment, whereas interpretive painters often want to capture the essence and emotional or energetic continuity of the scene that carries beyond a single, instantaneous depiction of it. Although this sense of continuing action is not easy to convey when working from a photograph, an astute and observant artist who knows the subject matter well can apply that understanding to the artwork to suggest more than most photographs will have been able to record.

Writing Artist’s Statements

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

At first thought, the idea of having to write a statement for every piece of art I created seemed ludicrous. It felt like a waste of time to tell people about what I was already showing them through my art.

140915w Ruffles and Lace

But that is by no means the case! I’ve come to realize that if I can’t verbalize for myself what my intention was in developing a painting, nor tell others some kind of story about what led me to paint it, then there probably wasn’t much of a concept behind the painting at all, and it would have little impact on the viewer, with or without a written statement about its development.

What attracted me to this specific subject? How did I find it? What inspired me to paint this image as opposed to some other? What overall concept was I trying to express? How did I go about planning and preparing it? Did I have to take into consideration any special circumstances or circumvent problems to achieve my goal? What decisions did I have to make during the painting’s development? What discoveries did I make or what surprises did I encounter as I worked?

All of these are valid questions that are important to me as an artist, and that viewers are often interested in when considering a piece of artwork. Though not all the questions necessarily apply to every piece, all of them provide fodder, in certain circumstances, for writing an artist’s statement, thereby giving viewers an opportunity to gain greater insight into my work.

If you have acquired one of my paintings and want to know more about its origin and development, or if you have a specific question about it, let me know. You can email me at: Put the title or inventory number (or better yet, both) in the subject line. This information is usually found on the back of the painting. And in the body of the message, let me know what you are interested in hearing more about. I’ll be happy to send you an artist’s statement specifically about your painting.