Archive for the 'Criticism' Category

a medium in need of an internal critique

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

“If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.”
— L W Pierson

Awhile ago, someone asked a question about the trajectory of collage: “What’s Next?” To ponder that, I remind myself that one thoughtful critique is worth more than a ton of casual “likes.” Those of us who love this practice need to push beyond the comfort of mutual praise and communicate honestly about the medium of collage (not about our political attitudes). Don’t expect the lords of social media to provide a thumbs-down button. That’s not the solution (even if they do). There needs to be the virtual equivalent of the intense coffee houses and night spots of a century ago, where artists were not shy about challenging the easy answers and safe solutions.

Höch, Schwitters, and their fellow collage “inventors” included found material contemporary with their times. There are many current practitioners who restrict themselves to “vintage” scrap, and some of them avoid using anything younger than 50 years ago. Whatever they choose to do is fine, but, in my opinion, 21st-century collage artists need to explore the cast-off stuff of today for potential ingredients in a fresh “school of post-centennial collage” that “documents” our own culture, rather than cherry-pick the artifacts of our ancestors. Remember, when KS pasted down a tram ticket in place of a brushstroke, nearly a hundred years ago, he was most likely using something that he just acquired on the street. Let’s think about that when we ask, “What’s Next?”
 
Tinged By Whispered Accounts ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Tinged By Whispered Accounts
collage experiment in monochrome by J A Dixon
7.75 x 10.25 inches
available for purchase

That dreaded Artist Tongue

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

“Somehow the language used for describing and discussing art has a reputation for unusual opacity, even sadism.”
– Robert Atkins

Someone recently remarked that my description of collage as an intuitive phenomenon sounds like “artspeak.” I know what she meant — confusing, overblown prose that tends to alienate the “uninitiated.” She may have had a point, although I would hope that there is a difference between jargon meant to exclude those who don’t speak the often-elitist language of contemporary art, and an honest attempt to write about something that is difficult to articulate (because, in essense, it is a non-verbal, non-rational process). If I fall prey to obscuring that distinction at The Collage Miniaturist, please call me on it. I can take it.

dixon_untitledindustry

Untitled (INDUSTRY)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
8 x 12 inches
not for sale

Various and Sundry — Four Years and Counting . . .

Friday, July 29th, 2016

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
— Flannery O’Connor

It looks as though I’m stepping into my fifth year writing about collage at this blogsite, and I hope that you’ve been with me for part of that enjoyable ride.

When I look back at my wish list for Year Four, I realize, not with any surprise, that my appetite for creating collage artwork has eclipsed a sometimes equally strong desire to delve verbally into the many interesting aspects of the medium. I would like to think that I met a few of the writing goals I set for myself last summer, and, of course, my ambitions to add to that list here in this post will be dutifully curbed. At any rate, I think that the best thing to do is to break this entry into a few parts that cover various and sundry topics on my mind.

The Social Network of Collage Artists
• For at least a couple of years I have wanted to write more about the influence of social media. Nearly every day I see a collage artist defeat the potential of a sharing platform with overexposure. Some may disagree and say, “the more, the merrier.” That is not a point I care to debate, because there may be something else to highlight more important than whether or not the quality-vs-quantity consideration can fall to the wayside — the vital role of networking among artists. I am more convinced than ever that the cross-pollination and mutual support of online networks has been of significant benefit to those of us working in the medium. Crystal Neubauer has one of the more interesting blogsites by a collage artist. She touched on the topic of creative communities so well that I direct you to her short essay at ClothPaperScissors.com. Another collage artist I admire who has recently made an impression as a strong blogger is Melinda Tidwell. I like her process-oriented posts. Although more of a mixed-media artist rather than a conventional collage practitioner, the versatile Kathleen O‘Brien maintains a steady flow of what I consider “must-read” entries at her studio blogsite. Create your own list of frequent art-blog destinations and branch out to new sharing platforms (I just learned about some new artist blogs from Caterina Giglio and opened a new account at Instagram.). As the entire evolving array of networking sites weeds out the fads, imitators and clunky interfaces (finding it difficult to tolerate LinkedIn as a user), you will settle into a community of online cohorts who reinforce your daily challenges as a creative person. When you come to know that someone else is on “the same wavelength,” reach out and make contact as an authentic being behind the profile. There are rewards to be discovered!

Cheap Collage Tricks
• Collage artist Allan Bealy seems to be everywhere, but, trust me, he is no gadfly. He recently raised a topic that struck a nerve with many. There are a lot of cheap tricks appearing in the medium, and most of them are harmless, if unimaginative, but the temptation to exploit visual ingredients readily available in our culture to “objectify women” is perhaps the most repugnant. Those of us who believe we are above that sort of thing need to think more deeply about how and why we use nudes in a collage. This suggests another potential self-assignment for my coming year — a “DON’T DO THIS” post illustrating the most prevalent cheap tricks in collage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with replacing a man’s head with a vulture to carry the banner of Dada during the art movement’s centennial year.) To be honest, I have nothing against a cliche, if it “works.” Isn’t that the reason something becomes a cliche in the first place? I say go for the cheap trick if you can score in the highest percentile (anyone who thinks that’s an easy thing to is wrong). I hope to post a follow-up look at the endurance of the surreal face in collage, so stay tuned. But let’s get back to Allan’s remonstrance. The woman as sex object can be traced back to long before the rise of Madison Avenue and Larry Flynt. Don’t bite the lure, folks. Everything one needs to dabble in this unworthy stunt abounds. Nevertheless, I long have been fascinated with the exemplars of erotic minimalism and their work in contemporary collage — those who transcend the cheap tricks to achieve a fine-art impression. Add another one to my wish list for Year Five of The Collage Miniaturist.

Priorities Get the Last Word
• My wife, Dana, and I managed to get two tickets to The Seer (a new documentary portrait of Kentuckian Wendell Berry, re-titled “Look & See” for Sundance Institute) before the Lexington screening sold out last night. It is a significant film that will become more widely available into next year, and it has my highest recommendation. Does it have anything to do with collage? Nothing at all, except for everything under the sun. If you haven’t discovered the poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer-philosopher, I have accomplished one meaningful thing with this site by inviting your interest. It was fitting that I got out of the studio and spent time at our farm. It was very hot work up on the shed roof, but pleasant to be away from all the noise (traffic, sirens, and incessant political jousting). Connecting with our rural place offered an opportunity, as it always does, to put priorities back into alignment. There is a place in the documentary when Laura Dunn (the filmmaker in voice-over) explains to Berry her motivation and how she looks “to places where there is still a remnant of togetherness, or unity, or community, of connection to the land, and I study those, because I don’t come from a place — I come from divorce …”
      “We all come from divorce!” her subject interrupts. “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.” It is his metaphor for the creative life, and a tremendously healing admonition to those of us with a tendency to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s chaotic disintegration. Collage artists put things together to make something new, and often we are the ones who have taken apart discarded things to do it, but there is always a much larger phenomenon at work — one of discord vs harmony, wastefulness vs thrift, cynicism vs affection. When I return to the studio from a natural place that has responded to my care, I am in a better condition to ask myself, “To which side of the big equation are you making your contribution as an artist?”
 

Crystal Neubauer
Her blogging often touches on the complexity of a creative life.

Melinda Tidwell
Perhaps you will admire her solid abstractions as much as I do.

Kathleen O’Brien
Her art always nudges one toward a deeper sense of balance and wholeness.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a continuation of my review of “the surreal face.”

Bene Rohlmann
Look ahead to my first discussion of erotic minimalism in collage.

Merely a metabolic event?

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

“I’m a ‘what if’ person. I have always felt that failure was a completely underrated experience.”
– Kevin Costner

Process is everything with some artists, and I respectfully get that. Experimental spontaneity within the small format is a vital and meaningful aspect of my art, but when I scale up for a larger work, I apply that experience and insight toward an end result — something more planned, with the intention to provoke a positive response in another — an agreeable product, if you will. So, what about the individual artwork that has “merely” contributed to the overall creative metabolism of an artistic investigation, and, as a stand-alone work, is little more than a “glorious failure,” in the final analysis?

I wish I knew how to answer that dangling question. Obviously, not every collage “sketch” is significant in its own right, but if the potential exists for it to engage a particular person, and that person wants to observe it repeatedly, to discover if it has a few secrets others have missed — how can anyone diminish its intrinsic value?

Dixon_Metabolism

Metabolism
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.375 x 9.5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Core Memories

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

“Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”
– Leonard Cohen

I admire many of the more prolific collage artists — Kroll, Rose, Bealy, Tidwell, Flowers, Collins, to name only a few — but there can be a significant contrast between “work ethic” and the contrived productivity made trendy by social networking. It was interesting when Plowman was climbing the mountain of “Collage A Day.” Now one has to pass the corpses being stacked beside the route up the peak. Most of us can tell the difference between a display of ongoing professionalism and the indiscriminate output of those with a high need for public approval. That being said, someone who is a blogger on “all things collage” might carelessly tread into the latter while neglecting the former. If I do, or if this site lapses into pretension, I challenge you to call me on it. Please. Nevertheless, we should all keep in mind that the nature of the medium invites the floating of one’s work for an appropriate give-and-take interaction. Offering intuition and spontaneity free rein means that often we can be too close to the culminating artifact to perceive many of the symbolic connections or nuanced associations, and that takes feedback. It may take other sets of eyes to tell us whether the gem sparkles or not. Our handy interweb makes it easy to lavish “likes” on one another in lieu of the genuine constructive criticism we require to fortify our studio rituals. Are we finally ready to move past mutual thumbs-upping and to become more candid with each other?

Core Memories ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon

Core Memories
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.875 x 7 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Posting too much, too often.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Oftentimes on the internet, it’s more a culture of ‘Look at me! Look at me! My thing! My thing!’ and it’s competitive.”
— Joseph Gordon-Levitt

“There is no design without discipline.”
— Massimo Vignelli
 

Perhaps it is disingenuous for a blogger to bring up the subject of routine self-exposure, but I cannot help myself today. The level of unbridled disclosure on the Web is out of hand, and there is no sign of moderation on the horizon. Out of respect for your time and consideration, it would make sense for me to stay on the subject of collage. You have your reasons for visiting this site, and I doubt that they have anything to do with my general opinion of social media.

Let me be blunt: Too many people who create collage are posting too much, too often. This viewpoint is coming from someone who is a big fan of the positive influence and cross-pollination in our medium. I can see no benefit from working in a vacuum. On the other hand, there is something to be said for a bit of restraint, and we all have a need for greater discernment before deciding whether or not our most recent composition is worthy of public display.

So, now I have to come up with a suitable image (or unsuitable, depending on one’s perspective) to illustrate this rant. Here we go:
 

rejected collage
(for educational purposes only)

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go”

Friday, June 20th, 2014

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
— Twyla Tharp

Places to go, ways to travel, and flights of fancy . . . A series of local exhibitions at the Boyle County Public Library’s Mahan Gallery has been an effective catalyst for me to create new pieces based on unifying themes. I have recently experienced mixed emotions about the ubiquity of vintage material in contemporary collage, but the topic of this show had me hunting through my morgue of old postcards and other relics to produce a pair of artworks on canvas. Yes, we all dig the instant “gravitas” of using old stuff, but will art historians say we copped out, if we do not accept the challenge of working with ingredients from our own present-day culture? I am just musing about the state of the medium, not any artist in particular. I see a hundred or more collage artworks posted online each week that rely exclusively on 20th-century material, and much of it seems stuck in a bygone avant-garde style. It is important for all of us to keep in mind that the Dada artists so widely emulated worked with material from their own time. Perhaps the opportune approach is to blend it all together, past and present. As post-centennial collage artists, we also owe each other a bit more constructive criticism than I currently observe. As the details below illustrate, I have absolutely nothing against using vintage material. I think that artists such as Hope Kroll or Fred Free or Matthew Rose (to offer only three examples) are creating some of the more exceptional work in the medium. On the other hand, there are many who seem to be using it as a crutch, over-relying on the antique impression of the ingredient material itself, rather than the juxtapositional synergy or overall aesthetic effect.

As the artworks for “Places” also demonstrate, I continue my effort to liberate a collage from the traditional glass barrier. To do so, it is necessary to find a proper level of protective sealant to balance visual appeal and durability. I prefer to avoid an overly polymerized impression with a finished surface. Because I primarily work with found material, I have had to learn which ingredients can handle direct exposure (for an effect similar to the painted surface). Nevertheless, some are simply too fragile and will always require a safe abode under glass.
 

 

left: Here and There (detail)
right: Now and Then (detail)
two collage artworks on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 x 1.5 inches each
(currently on consignment)

More collage experiments . . .

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy.”
— Carl Jung

Anyone who thinks that everything about collage is known is probably stuck in a dull place. Continuous experimentation is vital, whether or not we divulge or share the products of our investigation, and constructive self-criticism is essential, if one is to avoid the pitfall of “artistic comfort.”
 

Untitled (kaleidoscope)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
4 x 3.75 inches, not for sale

its You
collage experiment by J A Dixon
4.375 x 3 inches, not for sale

Reign Glorious
collage experiment by J A Dixon
3.25 x 4.5 inches, not for sale

6 Pads Of Time
collage experiment by J A Dixon
3 x 4.25 inches, not for sale

84 Tonal Impressions
collage experiment by J A Dixon
3 x 4.25 inches, not for sale

Untitled (overlook)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
5 x 7.75 inches, not for sale

Mystery Solved ~ details

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

For the full viewing experience, one can never get too close to a collage, but this opinion from a person so enamored with the miniature probably comes as no surprise. When I create a larger piece, lessons learned from the small format have a strong bearing on my approach. As a concluding exercise to hone compositional awareness, it is beneficial to discover croppings that can stand successfully on their own. Before Mystery Solved left the studio, it was interesting to visually isolate six square miniatures, just to see if they might capture in microcosm the essence of the parent design.
 

A ‘Jack of Diamonds’ was too visually outstanding
at first and had to be massaged into balance.

I enjoy creating a montage of linguistic symbols,
but “a-l-e” was accidental (or perhaps subliminal;
one never really knows with collage).

Integration through color: photo of butterfly
specimen + ticket stub + magazine scrap.

Juxtaposition: illustration from an exotic soap
wrapper + book engraving + photo of flower.

The interesting effect of a raised panel: the
illusion of depth versus actual dimensionality.

From diverse sources: combining ingredients
that seem to have always belonged together.

Thanks again for looking. Please share your thoughts, suggestions, or constructive criticism (frankly, our medium of collage always needs a healthy dose of it).

Diamonds in the Rough ~ details

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Collage for me is always an intimate viewing experience. You may find me with spectacles off and nose pressed near to the surface of any example within the medium. The scale of Diamonds in the Rough enhances the contrast between an up-close scrutiny and a step-back regard for the entire effect. With a large piece like this, I also enjoy visually cropping areas to create a series of virtual collage miniatures.
 

This micro view accentuates the ingredient elements, as in a collage miniature.
Visually, larger works are less ingredient centric, but still rely on their qualities.

I think my imagination would never tire of working with diagonals.
What is it about the diamond or the triangle that engages my mind’s eye?

This is one of my favorite areas within the total artwork.
Oddly, the legs and hands resonate with the Tapley drawing in the exhibition.

The composition’s focal center projects from the surrounding forms.
It differs energetically from the outer areas of structural perpendicularity.

To regularly bestow a new purpose on found material . . .
Without fear of contradiction, one could say that I am hooked.

The essence of collage is the contrast of the mundane and sublime.
At any rate, this is often how I perceive it.

WH—WHO’S THERE? (Look closely: Milt Caniff, that’s who.)
Somebody saw this as an homage to Roy, but Kurt used comics first.

A collage can rest divertingly upon layers of symbolic meaning.
Or it can be simply the harmonious resolution of aesthetic factors.

The dynamics of complementarity. (Is that a real word?)
More than one astute eye discovered my warm-cool “horizon.”

Composing with shape, color, contrast, rhythm, dimension.
At times, it need be about nothing more than that.

This image isolates a microcosm of the whole effect.
Are my larger works just a aggregation of collage miniatures?

Thanks for looking. Let me know what you think. Constructive criticism is encouraged at this site. To be honest, the medium of collage needs a bit more of it.