Sunday, October 23, 2011

Two questions answered followed by some unattractive snarling

Franz Bishoff (1864-1929)

I received this question the other day;

"What is retouching varnish for? What happens if you just paint over what ever it is that you wanted to fix or change? Is it to make the surface slippery to blend things in better?"
...................................Floozette Snorkle

Dearest Floozette:

Oil paintings lose their shine and appear dulled as the oil on their surface sinks into the layers below them or dries.The matte surface this causes returns less light to the viewers eye and makes the painting appear less brilliant. Retouch varnish restores the surface sheen making the picture look the same as when you painted it. Retouch varnish is fine to paint over and that is commonly done. Often artists start their work day by spraying a little retouch varnish on a painting in order to more accurately assess the colors that they must match or complement.

Retouch varnish should "flash" dry and is not intended to impart a particular sort of handling besides its making the surface a little glossier. Easy on the retouch too. It is best to use it sparingly. I have always been suspicious of too many alternating layers of paint and varnish.

Retouch varnish is also used when a painting must be exhibited and look its best, but is not old enough to receive a final varnishing.


"I want to paint more freely, more expressively, more deliberately all from the get-go. I've tried small still life paintings not allowing myself to move the paint but only repainting what I want to change. This works okay. However, when I want to do a full size painting, whether still life, portrait or landscape, and I slip into the "mode" the pushing and glazing returns.
My question is - can you give me a suggestion for changing my bad habits? This is very important to me and I'm really frustrated with my disappointing efforts to change. "
........................Ms. Mia Fecula-Spooner

Ms. Fecula-Spooner ;

Painters generally develop the ability to paint loosely after learning to paint "tight" so you are on the right track. I suggest you do the following.
  • Use big brushes only, no niggling with small ones
  • Make broad simplified marks, not lots of little ones
  • Limit the time you have to work on a piece, try to get it right in one go, if you can. This doesn't mean wild and inaccurate, but deliberate and simple.Good drawing skills are essential to doing this. Loose doesn't conceal weak draftsmanship. Don't think you can choose to be loose to avoid learning to draw.
  • Try to see things simply and express them simply, ignore detail and the inessential, try to keep your masses big rather than cutting them up with unimportant interruptions.
  • Study painters who did this well, there are many from Velaquez to Sargent to Seago, or someone else that you find intriguing..
  • Don't work from photographs. They are full of bristling detail and will lead you to destruction.
  • Squinting will help you see things more simply
  • Remember, as Richard Schmid famously said " Loose is how a painting looks, not how it was made".
  • Try putting butter in your shoes
Now for the hard truth feature of tonight s blog:
I had someone tell me on Facebook that it was too bad I didn't like older painters. I like em fine, and well enough not to jive em about what their chances are of achieving mastery and competing with those who have done nothing else all their lives. Now I am going to upset the plumbers and craftspeople.Here is the traditional "take" on the difference between art and craft. It is, like so many traditional ideas from our culture, politically incorrect and perceived as unkind or offensive. But I believe it to be true.

A plumber is not an artist even if he may do exemplary work. An art object exists only to be beautiful. It is not useful. A craftsman makes useful things, and although they may be may be wonderfully made, they are not art. This is not being judgmental, it is simply what the words mean. There are two words "art" and "craft", each word signifies something different, that is why there are two words and not one.

Joe Bagadonuts thinks that if something is very well done, it is art, he means it as a compliment, but he is mistaken. A painting may be very poorly done, but it is still art, conversely a sink may be very splendidly plumbed, but that doesn't make it art. Sorry Joe, but your high school art teacher lied to you, he should have been teaching drivers training instead or been a guidance counselor (like the one who told me I wasn't college material). He lied to you about other things too, he meant well, maybe, and he wanted to be nice, so he let you down.

Art exists only to be aesthetic, its only use is the pleasure or feeling it gives to its viewer.
Craft items have a use or purpose.

This means if I put a quilt on the bed, it is a craft object.
If I hang it on the wall it is an art object.

I suppose I will have to post another baby animal tomorrow.


Judy P. said...

But Stape, if someone making a quilt goes hours beyond merely making it utilitarian to make it beautiful, why isn't it elevated to also be art?
Houses are made to shelter us, and they had better be solid and the roof watertight, but architects study to make them great works that reflect their culture and heritage, just sayin'.

Brady said...

I love your rants, Stape!

This is the best definition between art and craft I have heard.

As far as quilts go, I visited a quilt show at a museum this summer, and anyone would be a fool to put them on a bed and sleep under them. They were true works of art.

If I owned a Monet and because it's on canvas would I take it off the stretchers and use it for a covering? Of course not it would get ruined.

Anything that is functional will eventually show it's use and wear out.

Does anyone want art to wear out?

David Teter said...

I like your ( ...'the traditional "take"...) definition. We have to break it down somehow.
I suppose thats why it was called the Arts AND Crafts movement.

A similar analogy...
Architects and building engineers have similar concerns but are different too.
The architect designs (and yes, must consider structure), the engineer only cares if it will stand.

Unknown said...

Wait,.... you're on facebook?

dglenncasey said...

Kind of shocking, isn't it Deb? ;)

tweenlives said...

What wonderful advice to Mia! I'm close to overcoming that same problem. In part it is due to my new mantra "HOW is it a picture of" compliments of you know who.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

Shocking! I agree with Stapleton. If it is meant to be utilitarian, it is Craft. It doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful and artistic but in using it, it is the craftsmanship that makes it ultimately pleasurable and it's utilitarian intent responsible for its existence.
" I need a cover for my bed- I will make a beautiful quilt" CRAFT
" This quilt is too beautiful to use. I will hang it on my wall." - ART

The Glass House- now it is art. It serves no purpose other
to show it's aesthetics. But when in was being lived in , it
was a beautiful, innovative designed home.

And by the way- I tell people I make paintings. It's for them to decide whether it's art- or use it for???? OMG am I making art?

Vita said...

Hey Stapleton-

I recently had someone comment to me that they would never buy a painting because, "I could learn to do that."

Upon reflection I decided- well yes he COULD learn, anyone can learn, but it takes years of time- just as you said. Given his age and the fact that he has never picked up a brush before I have to doubt that it will ever happen.

Regardless- the time taken to learn skills (art or craft or otherwise) has value. I COULD learn to be a dentist- but that would take time and wouldn't you rather visit a dentist who will do a good solid job backed by years of experience?

Part of me liked that this person was so optimistic about learning a new skill. Some folks put us painters in the genius category and don't ever try it out for themselves. The other side of me was insulted.

stapeliad said...

Can't people just do what they love doing and what they are good at and contribute to the world in their own individual meaningful way without getting caught up on semantics?

billspaintingmn said...

Floozette Snorkell!?! Stape! Where do you come up with these names?

I agree that arts' only porpose is to be beautful.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, than the real voyage of discovery is not seeking new landscapes, but having new eyes to see them with.
Do you have to "see" the art to create the art? (You cannot observe art into a painting?)
Or am I misunderstanding all this?

Beautiful still life by the way.

Anthony Sell said...

And what about the transfiguration of the commonplace?

Antonin Passemard said...

Art is what artists do ... and it is not always beautiful.

Steve Baker said...

I always forget the butter.
Anthony Sell
That's not art it's con.

Philip Koch said...
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Philip Koch said...

I spent today looking at the midterm portfolios of some twenty students in my Painting One class at MICA. Actually it went pretty well as after seven weeks of class the beginning painters are finally getting some traction and starting to get somewhere with oil pigments (the first few weeks are almost always frustrating for someone just starting out).

I drove home with two thoughts and curiously both of them appeared on Stape's to-do list:

-paint with bigger brushes than you think you can
-people with good observational drawing skills have
a whole lot easier time when they paint

Mary Bullock said...

I'm sorry Stape - I just don't agree with you about art vs craft. I can't really put it into words but it just strikes me as a trifle snobby (sorry, couldn't think of a better word) to label and differentiate like that. I also believe that art serves many more reasons to exist than to just look beautiful. But perhaps it is just me.

billspaintingmn said...

Think of it as a beautiful piece of music.
It's purpose is to inspire. sooth,
refresh and reach to help understand.
Intelligence is a part of beauty.
I'm sure music has more qualities than I've named, but basically, it's the beauty that people love a song.

Sesco said...

I like this definition, but it takes some time to get used to. I just toured the French Art Nouveau section of the Va. Museum of Fine Arts recently, and certainly the bedroom suite was functional, AND beautiful, but because it was NOT currently being used as a bedroom but was being exhibited in a museum, it had crossed the line between the craft it was, and the art it had become. Thus, like so many things since the revelations of Einstein, such as the transition from absolute morals to moral relativity, art as a definition is also relative to its function.

Mary Byrom said...

Now in regard to that little sentence you slipped in about FB, older painters and mastery, well ...there's a whole bunch of evidence out there that's to the contrary of your view of it all ...

This was news to me and very interesting indeed...

climber-man said...

Art is about human intent, process, purposeful creation. A mathemetician who solves the world's problems with the most beautiful equation is an artist. A musician who learns to deliver the most heart wrenching aria to your ears is an artist, not coincidentally, so is the maker of their instrument. A log in the forest is not art. A painted log is art. A plumbing system, intuitevly designed and based upon logs is art.

I hope artists can appreciate the human nature of other people's work, and the time it takes to achieve something miraculous through intent study and design.

But there is nothing more true to art than to create something solely for the purpose of enjoying its human creation.

Sesco said...

Doesn't the FACT that this dialogue, this debate, about the NATURE of art, that has raged for centuries (hasn't it?) imply something significant to everyone here? To me it either suggests that there IS no clear definition, or that we RESIST the correct answer. I find it highly SIGNIFICANT that on every blog I've encountered, every discussion I've had since college, we can't come to an agreement on the questions: WHAT IS ART? Stapleton has chosen his definition, and is comfortable with it. I wonder, however, why the rest of us have such a hard time distinguishing between craft and art, low art and high art, fine art and not-so-fine-art, etc.?

Brad said...

I've been struggling with defining art and craft and it's difficult to put into words clearly. Thanks for the definition.
I was thinking it was the difference between whether people highly value it and hang it on a prominent wall, or put it in the bathroom. I know I have decorated many fine bathrooms.
I like your definition better.

clarkola said...

This is called making waves where there are none.

Dot Courson said...

I'm just leaving this comment because I couldn't find the "LIKE" button on here...

Chris Beatrice said...

Well, true enough, but there are some hybrids and gray areas out there. For example, illustration serves a purpose (like a sink), in that it communicates a specific, often detailed idea - but it also exists largely to be "beautiful" (a simplistic term, but I get your meaning). Great cuisine is also art, but at the same time it feeds us. It's easy to draw a distinction between "pure painting" (i.e. what you do, which is wonderful) and plumbing... but a lot of the world exists between those two extremes.

Chris Beatrice said...

Re learning to paint loosely & using photos: one *exercise* (emphasis that this is an EXERCISE not a way to make paintings), is to take a digital photo and blur it in Photoshop to the point of barely being able to recognize elements, then paint that (sort of a mass of color/value blobs). This is similar to squinting, but more extreme. Also you can back off from it, that is, once you paint the fully blurred version, do a version with less blur, and paint on top of your original. For some of us this can result in a huge shift in how we see. Again, it's not a method for making paintings, but it can incite a sort of awakening of some dormant sensibilities.

Here's a post on my horribly neglected blog about this:

Seeing the Big Picture

Chris Beatrice said...

Looks like I screwed up that link (not surprised)



Luanne Meader said...

I know so many people that have painted all of their lives and they are still just shit painters. Dennis Miller Bunker died at the very young age of 29, I like his work, but is the reason that he is in so many museums and so highly valued about his talent or his pedigree?...and one more question in reference to the ageism thing, there is always that 10,000 hour theory. What does it matter if the 10,000 hours are towards the younger years or older years?

David Teter said...

After reading others comments (all valid) I see a definition like this as a starting point, much like any set of rules.
There will always be exceptions and rules can be broken. But we must first start with a basic definition for the purpose of discussion.

As I said in earlier comment, architectural design and engineering really must go hand in hand, simultaneously, but for discussion can be separated.

I would argue that art and craft are the same (with grey areas). You have to start somewhere.

Are designers making art? Does the auto designer qualify as an artist? Of course. Hang his/her design on a wall. Both definitions have been fulfilled.

willek said...

You might get an argument about those extra fancy glass paperweights.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

Here's the art educator in me posting. The difference between art and craft: This is an aesthetic question that will never totally be answered which is good for discussion and leaving open ended responses. After all, the arts are about critical thinking and problem solving. Just because we put early Native American pottery in a museum does not make it "art" as we define it. It was created as a functional item in their culture. We can admire the handiwork, but it was not created to be admired or create an emotional response.

Barbara Carr said...

Black and white is great, but it's the gray areas that are the most interesting to me.....

Judy P. said...

I happened to be at the start of this trail of comments, and they are all interesting, with lots of good points.
That question "what is art?" is one I never want to go near, but lately it's become a wad of gum on my shoe.
A relative creates abstract art that consists of cutting out magazine images, or comics, and glues or weaves them together, and frankly is quite haughty about it. He has an art degree from the time where self-expression was all the rage, so I suppose that's where he gets it from. I can't get over that there is not one originally created line, or image anywhere. I am politely quiet about it, other than the 'good luck with your showing' when his art group has an exhibition.
I know I'm safe writing about it here, because he would never read this blog- he says he knows it all already! If I'm being mean-spirited someone please let me know, I can take it!

Robert J. Simone said...

I am laughing my ARSE off at the guy who commented that the dictionary definition of a word is not really it's meaning....too funny! I guess I know where he stands on a whole host of current issues...LOLOLOLOL! said...

One problem it seems to me is that people here are making the judgement that calling something "art" makes it some how superior to "craft", when they are, in fact, equal in significance but different in function only.

jeff said...

A well designed plumbing system is not art. It's a plumbing system.

Page Pearson Railsback said...

Thanks for my evening are funny and interesting

Sue Harrell said...

Why does it matter?

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KFitz said...

'I like em fine, and well enough not to jive em about what their chances are of achieving mastery and competing with those who have done nothing else all their lives.'

I have to admit, I've also always found this viewpoint kind of silly. There are, to me, two interesting points here.

First, though it makes people uncomfortable to admit it in this PC world, people are not created equally. A person's success in any field is a combination of multiple things: effort, circumstance and innate ability. There are some people who will paint their whole lives but still produce mediocre work; yes, the time they have put in allows them to reach their full potential, but their innate ability limits their potential from the get-go. Then there are the Vermeers of the world, who live half a lifetime by today's standards, produce a limited quantity or work at a very slow pace, and yet each piece is lovely. Yes, Vermeer likely had intensive training for a short period, but he also had a large number of children and worked slowly (if art historians are to be believed on this count), suggesting that he didn't put in today's equivalent of a full career to obtain his mastery. He combined an inborn capacity for visual art with classical training and voila, beauty. To say that a painter who starts late in life will never, under any circumstances, acheive the same degree of mastery as one who paints for the duration of a career is to imtimate that you're capable of assessing a person's innate abilities without ever meeting them. (Full disclosure: I'm a woman in my thirties, working full time in a professional capacity, who is learning to paint in my limited free time. Perhaps this makes me biased.)

Second, each person is invested in their beliefs for some emotional or psychological reason, I think. Meaning, people believe things because it benefits them in some way to believe them. To wit, I can see how it might be depressing as a professional artist to contemplate the fact that time spent doesn't necessarily guarantee you mastery per se. So I humbly submit, Stape, (this is not intended as a personal jab, I like your work fine) that you are invested in this belief because of the sacrifices you have endured to pursue your own career. Just something to think about.

This is not to say that I don't see the value of time spent when learning an activity, I don't think that anybody could deny it. However, I don't believe that there is any formula for how much time is necessary to obtain mastery, in art or anything else.

Judy P. said...

These comments have gone on for many days since Stape's post, so since I was the first maybe I'll be the last. Lots of good opinions here, but as for starting painting later in life, I interpret that Stape ultimately meant you can never be as good as you can possibly be starting late. In other words, you will never catch up with yourself, the self that strives to change and improve always. This year I have grown so much from my feeble starts, can I dare assume this learning curve would carry over all the years I would already have been painting?

In Karate class a legendary old Japanese Sensei (teacher) said once 'Over all the years, keep training, keep training and you will always improve. Every day you will improve, and then you die'.
Oh well, you can't have everything; Stape, you're the best!

T Arthur Smith said...

The reason defining art gets so thorny is the agenda behind it. The two most common reasons for debating this are 1.) to elevate something to a higher status (vanity) and 2.) delineating differences, in the interest of clearer language (anal retentive + vanity).

Both of these reasons are well intentioned, but secondary to what's important in art, and they can be problematic. If art is made just to be aesthetic, what does that exclude and what does it include? Gardens are purely aesthetic. Are they a form of sculpture? What if a garden is rented out for parties? Is it no longer art? And, what about illustration? Does the Mona Lisa cease being art if it's used in an ad? And is it possible to create something that is only aesthetic, and nothing else? What if a painting was really just meant to get the artist into the model's pants? And how would we know? How many paintings were just practice, or to pay the bills? How do you determine which function was primary - the poverty of the artist vs. the need to express herself? What about artists who were forced to create, like Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel?

Here’s another problem. Drawings, paintings, and sculpture are works of art, but they also require craft (without getting into the post modern debate). So how do you define the craft that goes into painting vs. the craft that went in designing a cup, or the waterways and plumbing of an ancient city, which each aquaduct, pipe, spout, and pool was elaborately carved? They all contain craft, but the art contains something else? Seeing the spirit or soul in an artwork is an act of the viewer. It’s not arbitrary, but neither is it concrete. Another viewer might see the same soul in an everyday, handmade object. Art is as much in the eye of the viewer as in the object itself. Does an artwork exist if there’s no one there to see it?

I think you'll all agree there are levels of craft - the ancient, handmade ceramics of Mayan and Aztec cultures are worlds apart from the mass produced dishes found in Walmart. So, do they really fit in the same category? Calling this work craft is fine, if you like to distinguish your language as such - and this is important in writing about art. Every artist and historian should carefully choose and define their terms for clarity. But, that one definition shouldn't be forced on everyone because it won’t always fit. Some words have concrete definitions and some don't. We all know what a shoe is. There's little creative license. But words like god, religion, freedom, democracy, art, cake, etc, are fluid, they take on many forms. Check a dictionary and you'll find these words have many definitions – and that art and craft are often synonymous. The great thing about art is we all get to create our own definition, and that's what leads to so much variety (thank God). That high school art teacher wasn't wrong, he was merely teaching a different approach.

Meanwhile, what's the fundamental importance of art? To quote the film Stranger Than Fiction, "it saves us." Art's what we do because we can't help it. It's a human response to an inhuman world. It takes many forms and might be infused with common items, decoratively, or otherwise. But that’s just my opinion – go find yours.

lobote said...

Art is the craft of deception