crack in the block ?

A recent posting online  asked the question whether to pursue a MFA in fine arts. Most comments were no, unless one wants to teach at the post secondary level and I agree with that. I think in some ways my art has suffered because of graduate school. I haven’t painted in 3 months in part because I am caught up in the why of image making. I find myself over analyzing every idea I have about the next painting. And it has frozen me. I think this is a result of grad school where every stroke of the brush or shape or color had to be explained and then the explanation given was attacked as though they knew more about my painting than me. It is hard sometimes to articulate what is so clear in your mind especially in a  graduate critique. It was emphasized to have a consistent way of painting, a instant recognizable style, but I find I get tired of painting the same thing over and over with subtle variations. I paint angels and faces and non objective shapes, Greek sculpture and human figures,  and depending on what I am painting the approach is different. That was heresy in grad school. Most of the profs came thru the 50s and 60s where it seems having a style was tantamount to “good art”. I’m thinking of the Ab. Exs here.  If you’ve seen one Pollock you’ve seen them all, in my opinion, same with De Kooning, Rothko and the rest of the bunch. And I Like Abstract Expressionism, just not 50 paintings of the same thing. Think Joan Mitchell. I think, also, it makes it easier for a gallery to sell work based on a “look” or style. I should just paint and not overly concern myself with the why. And I never have looked at a painting of mine as to whether it is saleable or not.

I went to grad school because I wanted to teach. I like academia; I like the atmosphere of learning. Yes, there is a lot of politics involved. I still have a couple of knives stuck in my back but I can’t think of a more rewarding way of making a living and yet professors would complain about students or paperwork or whatever. I wanted to slap them. They don’t know how lucky they are. After grad school I applied to any painting/printmaking/ 2D foundations  anywhere in the country. It didn’t matter where I taught, I just wanted to teach. I had a handful of interviews, some over the phone and some in person.  A couple  I blew being caught off guard by a question. But some  interviews I thought I did ok but never heard back. And it makes me sad because I know I would have been a good asset to any program that would have hired me. Irony is that several jobs I applied for I’d see the same ad a year later: they hired the wrong person. I did teach for 3 years steady as an adjunct at a community college. I moved back home for personal reasons. And have resigned myself that I will never be a full time professor . And it’s a shame because I am a good teacher, not great but good. I like teaching.

And so here I am getting caught up in the what to do next mantra.

I moved some furniture around in my house that opened up a blank wall space. And I’m thinking some portraits of family members would look good in the spot. I have some 20” x 20” canvases that would work just fine…..thinking about color……I think I see  a crack in the block….

What next?

I haven’t painted in a while. I feel like I have exhausted my figures. I could go thru my drawings and pick new poses but to what end? I could do more Amazon/Greek figures, but again to what end? The last painting I did recently I drew the Doryphorous over the colored shapes.  It kind of clinched it for me.  Too much thinking about art, history, process, etc.etc. I could do a series of shapes but once again to what end? I already see it. Light colors, dark ones, tints, tones, shades, curvilinear/rectilinear ,gaaa, it reads like  2D design assignments. I have blank canvases ready to go and they sit in the studio. The graduate profs used to say that many MFA graduates don’t continue making art. I was determined not to be one of them and have painted  fairly consistently since school until now. I keep asking myself what next? So far no reply.

I like the comment about De Kooning hovering between abstraction and figuration. It is what I have tried to do in my painting. I also like the quote from Kahlo saying she painted lots of self portraits because she was alone so much. I have some 20″ x 20″ canvases, maybe I’ll do some self portraits. Then again maybe I’ll clean the brushes and turn everything against the wall and close the studio.

Morning in the Garden

I do violence to the roses, victims of their own success. I dig and chop  at the roots and pull at the branches. They strike back, pricking me with thorns, scratching my arms; in the end I win. I move them to more suitable spaces. The rose vine is now next to the tired wooden fence able to spread its tendrils along the top. The red knock-out rose is now behind the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, partially shaded from the harsh summer sun to come. With a generous drink of water, I hope they do well in their new spots.

begin again

I just posted the 2 entries I had from another WordPress site last year. I also had a blogger site, a site on my website for my artwork. It got to be rather too much and I shut the blogs down. I found  I  missed writing down thoughts or occurrences in my life. Sort of an online journal. I do have a regular written journal mostly my musing about my art work. I may transfer some entries here. I think I’m going to write about whatever and not limit myself to just art. I’ll just have to see how it goes.

Art & Existence

This is a chapter in a book I’ve recently discovered called Art & Existentialism by Arturo Fallico, published in 1962.  It was quoted in another book I was reading and I was able to find a used copy thru .  Anyway, in my readings I hadn’t come across it before and even tho its “dated” I thought it was worth a look.

” What is human existence like? How does it feel to exist as a (hu)man?” pg.55  This sums up what my figures are about. I always think of them as “becoming”, in the process of forming or coming into existence, the moment between before and after. What it feels like to be there and not there, to be noticed or forgotten, isolated and alone.

I need to sharpen my philosophy writing skills as it feels strange using terms that once flowed freely. It has been a long while since I studied aesthetics. From time to time I do like reading it.

This is a very rough draft and I’ll be adding and refining this but I wanted to put something down in some form while the thought is fresh, unmediated…




thesis abstract and intro for my MFA

04/09/2010 — Jan

Postscript to thesis, a more recent entry on my thesis and link to the whole thesis.   Scroll down for thesis on the Academia site.

This is  the abstract from my thesis written in 1998. I’ve been thinking about it lately and wondering if it still is even valid. My imagery has reverted back to undergrad. work but  the style is the same.  I may post the whole thing here but I have to re format it as I used Lotus Works to write it.  LWorks is/was a MSDOS program.  Amazingly, Word ’03 has converted it but the formatting is wonky.  I need to see if I can find the digital images of the works sited in it.

I’m not sure why I am posting it now after 12 years, maybe to gleam something from it, some piece of the puzzle that is me? I’ve also included the intro to it.  I scanned the 2 figures from the paper copy of my thesis. They look pretty good considering. I had only saved the text and not the images or the references. Not sure why. The last paragraph about using invented shapes is no longer valid as I use the human figure and angels in my work.   I think this is all I will post as the discussion of my work back then is about the invented shapes and I’m not sure if it holds up any longer.  For now here is the abstract and the intro.

At the beginning of the 20th century, it is my understanding that some artists moved away from representation towards an abstract style searching for an essence or  spirituality in art.  There has been an on-going dialogue between abstraction and representation throughout the century.  My work is concerned with this dialogue. Its focus is on the moment when the physicality of materials transcends into a non-materiality or spiritual realm.  This moment becomes a metaphor for the spiritual and physical aspects of human nature. My work is a meditation and metaphor for this moment where the spiritual and physical meet.


An idea begins to form in the mind much like brush strokes begin to form an image on the canvas.  The raw materials of thoughts such as memories, emotions, or conversations, all gradually coalesce and distill into an idea that is communicated in some fashion. The painter does something similar when he or she uses the raw material of paint, the colors or brush strokes etc., to “fashion” an image.

At what point does paint stop being merely paint and become a representation of something recognizable in the ordinary world? Where is that moment? These two questions lie at the heart of my work. They are the force behind what I do and why I do it.  These questions deal not only with formal issues but also hold a deeper meaning for me.  The formal issues become a metaphor for human nature pointing to both the physical and spiritual side of human kind.  I can think of no more important exploration than that of our identity as human beings. My work is a visual representation of the meeting of the spiritual and physical realms. By spiritual, I mean non-materiality or non-physicality to include thought processes, emotions, etc. I use the word in its broadest possible sense: “the thinking, motivating, feeling part of humans, often distinguished from the body.” 1 I accomplish this by exploring the processes of painting, formal elements as well as expressive use of brush stroke and color. “Thinking about painting and in reverse, painting about thinking… moving to the rhythms of the painting [is] a demonstrable sign, a souvenir of the process, its metaphor.” 2 Antonio Damascio in his book Descartes’ Error states that “feelings are the base for what humans have described for millennia as the human soul or spirit.” 3 Susanne Langer defines a work of art as “an expressive form created for our perception through sense or imagination and what it expresses is human feeling.” She goes on to assert that the work of art “formulates the appearance of feeling, of subjective experience, the character of so-called ‘inner life,’ which discourse-the normal use of words-is peculiarly unable to articulate and which therefore we can only refer to in a general and quite superficial way.” She includes all works of art such as poetry, dance, music, etc. as well as the visual arts. 4 I use painting as a specific example only. I would not exclude other works of art in this general discussion. It is her insistence on art being concerned with subjective feelings that relates to my idea of the process of painting being a  metaphor for human nature particularly the non- material side.   If feelings are the basis for our soul or spirit, as Damascio asserts, and all works of art express those feelings, then art also points to this spirituality. My focus is on the spiritual side and at the point where it meets the physical.  Therefore, things like random thoughts, raw emotions and intuition hold more interest for me than the overt behavior they may produce.

The paintings depict a movement of shapes becoming forms that are not quite recognizable as some definite object.  They are in a process of becoming some thing.  For example, in the paintings “Transformation”(fig.1) or “Beginnings”(fig.2) some non-objective shapes fade into the


background while others come forward and assert themselves. Still others are not fully developed or merge into others. A jumble of shapes or  of brush strokes could reflect a jumble of thoughts or, perhaps, a connection of thoughts “jumbled” together, grouped and contained. This “jumble” grouped and contained begins to have a


coherence to it in the shape of a circle or sphere.   I use  non-objective shapes because I  want  to keep them  in the realm of the imagination. I make this distinction in contrast to other artists who  abstracted forms from nature.  Artists such as Arthur Dove, or (early) Wassily Kandinsky used forms found in nature as the basis or beginning of their work. “Dove’s interest is the intersection between art and nature, on unifying elements of light and color.” 5 Thomas Messer, in writing about Kandinsky’s early work, states that “vestiges of recognizable subject matter often persist in these transformations, which may still be traced to  observation of nature.” 6 I have deliberately sought not to do this but to work from invention only.  Artists of the CoBrA group have also worked from invented forms particularly Pierre Allenisky and Agar Jorn. 7 There is no overt or deliberate model of nature that I am referencing. I start with invention and work to the point where the abstraction starts to  refer to something physical.  I am most concerned with this point or moment where the abstraction vibrates between the two realms. What is common in Dove’s and Kandinsky’s work and mine is the reflection of this moment where “abstraction and reality meet.” 8            

Postscript to thesis, a more recent entry on my thesis and link to the whole thesis.


End notes

1. Webster’s. p. 1373

2. Slivka, p.68

3. Damascio. p.xvi (see also his chapter on Emotions and Feelings)

4. Rader, p.240-246

5. Balken, p.21-22

6. Barnett, p.14

7. Arnason, p. 446

8. Balken, p.142


Arnason, H.H., History of Modern Art, 3nd. Ed, 1986

Auping, Michael, Susan Rothenberg, 1992

Balken, Debra Bricker, Author Dove: A Retrospective, 1997

Barnett, Vivian Endicott, Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, 1976

Bledsoe, Jane, Elaine de Kooning, 1992

Damasico, Antonio, Descartes’ Error, 1994

de Kooning, Elaine, The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism, Selected Writings, 1994

Dissanayake, E. Homo Aestheticus, 1992

Kandinsky, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1977 (Dover)

Kirk, Raven and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosphers, 2nd Ed. 1990

Langer, Suzanne, Problems of Art, 1957

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 4th Ed. Vol. 2 1979

Rader, Melvin A Modern Book of Esthetics, 5th. ed. 1979

Simon, Joan, Susan Rothenberg, 1991

Slivka, Rose, “Elaine de Kooning The Bacchus Paintings” Arts Magazine, Oct. 1982

Stomberg, John, A Theater of Recollection:Painting and Prints by John Walker, 1997

Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd ed, 1980

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