My brain can get tangled….

A brilliant artist friend of mine recently sent me an article about composition and asked me what I thought about it. This artist friend is an ARC living master and a brilliant master of composition. We have lively conversations sometimes about art and especially on composition, so he sent me this writeup on composition from some art critics. It was full of the type of wordy discourse that made me scratch my head after reading it and say, “Ummm….whaaa?” After reading it my brain felt like the tangled mess above.

My response to him was that it reads like an ad trying to sell a “premium” bottle of water trying to justify a $12 price tag.

Can you talk your way into claiming a piece of art as being good?

Well, many have tried.

The Andy Warhol Museum is not far from me in Pittsburgh. I had not been there in quite a few years, but a few weeks ago I met with some friends and we checked out the entire 7-story museum. It is actually a fascinating collection if you are looking for art that has been justified by shock value or for being the “first of its kind.” Some of it is just plain fun- like the room full of silver, mylar helium balloons, and it was a good night out. Some of it is just strange, like the metal sheets he “oxidized” with designs with his urine. Of course, it led to a lively debate about art and what constitutes art and is there a difference between art for arts’ sake or “shock art.”

I believe there are 2 separate camps. Tried and true traditional works that embody fine art teachings and is a collective of powerful decisions and emotional content. Then there is the artwork that tries to bang ya over the head with a message, or tries to garner awe and justification. And both can be fun and tap into what is human.

Is one better than the other? Well, I am not in a position to judge, but museums still are still showing and clinging onto artwork that is forgotten by the public as soon as it is seen. I have attended many biannual Carnegie International Exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh which is supposed to show the best of “contemporary art” and I can honestly say that I can’t really remember much from the shows over the years. Yet, I still remember how I caught my breath and stood in awe in front of the original 7-foot Sargent painting of the “Pailleron Children.” The bracelet the daughter is wearing seems to be surrounded by depth and air. And I didn’t need anyone telling me how to appreciate it.

Personal taste, my experiences and interests play into it, sure. But if I have to stick a complicated label on my work for someone to appreciate it then I have failed. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear the stories behind a work and I love to read about an artists’ intentions. I will be having short stories beside my paintings in my exhibition this fall, but I’m not going to use fancy words to justify its creation. Promise.

And composition is a tricky mistress. What makes a good composition? I have read many elaborate discussions like the one mentioned above and have come away more confused than ever.

How do you know if composition (what is composed) is good?

“You just know it when you see it” – Well, thats’ just annoying. I’ve said that before. For me, there needs to be reasons for doing something. Reasons for certain placement and decisions. Just like there needs to be a reason for painting something in the first place. Otherwise, why bother?

My next Composition Workshop is in a few weeks on March 16th. I will spend the day talking about placement, focus and how to channel diagonals. It helps me and it has been a staple of design for many others. I may not have all the answers, but I can show you what has been working for me and mostly, the reasons why it works. And I can tell it to you without any pompous justification.

Simple is better.

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