Archive for the 'Criticism' Category

Vanaprastha

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

“What’s important is striving to detach progressively from the most obvious earthly rewards — power, fame and status, money — even if you continue to work or advance a career. The real trick is walking into the next stage of life, Vanaprastha, to conduct the study and training that prepare us for fulfillment in life’s final stage.”
— Arthur C Brooks

Having recently read this widely circulated admonition of Brooks, I honestly have not looked into what Vanaprastha is. Nevertheless, conditioning oneself to be increasing less concerned with external reinforcement makes perfect sense, especially if youth is a distant image in the side mirror (or even if it’s closer than it appears). Visual artists (not bloggers) probably are more equipped to handle this than people who have spent the bulk of a lifetime overly attached to outer compensations. Those of us driven by a creative impulse typically don’t expect power as a byproduct of accomplishing goals, or high-status recognition. Most of us would still pursue our passion, even if money never became a meaningful part of the equation. But the pitfalls are there, regardless. Let’s challenge ourselves to make art as if nobody will ever see it, or buy it, or bestow upon it yet another jot of devalued online praise. It might get interesting.

One’s Own Priesthood
collage on book cover by J A Dixon
6.125 x 8.25 inches
(I’m trying not to care what you think.)

Therapeutic factionalism or personal catharsis?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

“Anger is a very limiting emotion. There’s not much you can do with it. There’s no hope in it.”
— Wendell Berry
 

There was a time when the arts may have held the capacity to alter the world around us. From time to time, music probably has. Perhaps the dramatic arts, too. The oral and written arts of language certainly have, and they remain highly consequential, but the notion that those engaged in artistic “visual statements” can affect society is an illusion. The early 20th-century avant-garde believed they could, and maybe they did, to some extent, while the attention of a less distracted elite was seized. At any rate, this innovative class took what they had absorbed, rejected much of it, and cultivated the vocabulary of the modern art forms which influence the bulk of what artists do today. And almost all of what we do now has very little if any catalytic effect on evolving civilization — especially if it was overtly intended to do just that. But make no mistake about it, “message art” has been, is, and can be a significant catharsis for creative individuals. Rest assured that it will reinforce solidarity among people of like mind. It can also be relied upon to irritate many of the others.
 

Taboo Faction
collage catharsis by J A Dixon
8.125 x 11.5 inches
available for purchase

Spontaneity and adaptation

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

“I never plotted anything out. I don’t believe in storyboarding. I think you have a very dull-looking movie. You have to take advantage of the moment. I’m the kind of person that loves what we call the fog of war. That when things are going, and opportunities present themselves, you use them, you know, and there’s a fluidity that occurs that way. Now, I’ll go to all the locations. I know what I’m going to shoot, and where I’m going to shoot it, but I’m always ready to change. I’m always ready to adapt to the situation as it develops, and I think that there’s a certain organic quality that occurs then.”
— John Milius
 

The incomparable Milius was obviously talking about his approach to crafting a film, but I find his description entirely appropriate when discussing the art of collage. There must be a balance of careful research, discernment, and preparation — to set in readiness the potential ingredients — combined with a difficult-to-articulate sense of walking into the studio with absolutely no idea what will happen next, or how one might adjust the wheel to a different point on the compass. He puts it into words as well as anyone. If current movies — or any art form based on visual montage — look more contrived than ever, all the clues we need to know why are in that quotation.
 

Aggravated Dissent
collage on pasteboard by J A Dixon
7.5 x 11.5 inches
available for purchase

Modern Use

Monday, December 17th, 2018

“As long as movements require our attention they are kata (form), when the kata become spontaneous they become waza (technique). As long as we persist in viewing kata superficially, we will begin to think that they are of special importance.”
— Yushio Kuroiwa
 

When explaining aikido, the late martial artist Yushio Kuroiwa taught the practice of rational movement, so that one could spontaneously execute a natural movement as a result. For me, this idea has a distinct parallel to the art of collage, which is based on repetitive experimentation. With study and discernment, the collage artist can discriminate the difference between a superficial composition that was contrived with too much self attention, and an intuitive composition that developed more naturally — an expression of synchronicity — that grew from understanding the essence of creativity.

Kuroiwa encouraged his students to not blindly follow masterful forerunners, but to observe and discover their “causes, effects, and processes of things, and their similarities and differences through experience.” He pointed out that “someone with poor handwriting cannot write beautifully, even when using a good pen. A skilled calligrapher, however, can write beautifully even when using an inexpensive pen. It is not that the pen is good, but rather that the writer’s ability, as a result of long experience, is excellent.”

It is beneficial to keep in mind that even though we are “working artists,” much of our “work” is not significant in and of itself as an artistic product, especially if it is merely a conscious application of formulae largely exhausted decades ago during the formative years of our medium as a modern art. Instead, maintain your drill, your ritual of formation, not to yield marketable artifacts, but to internalize an “organic” process that leads to a rewarding sense — that we have freely expressed the natural ability to create something with real spontaneity.

Thanks for visiting. Now, let’s go make more art . . .
 
Modern Use ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Modern Use
collage experiment in monochrome by J A Dixon
8.375 x 11 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Precursors have precursors

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

“We do not analyze works of art because we want to imitate them or because we distrust them.”
— Paul Klee
 

The other day the world learned about an unpublished Ernest Hemingway short story. If there had not been a Mark Twain first, would literature know Hemingway’s writings at all? Could there have been an Isaac Asimov, Stan Lee, or Gene Wolfe without a Verne or Burroughs? The J.K. Rowling body of work without an Austen or Tolkien? Similarly, all of today’s rock music can be linked to direct influences — to bands such as Ramones, Led Zeppelin or the Beatles, which, of course, had their own precursors. Would jazz exist in its current form without the innovations of Armstrong and all those who inspired him? Imagine a contemporary musician saying, “I really haven’t paid attention to any music that was recorded before I started to play.” And yet, not infrequently, collage artists will boast that they have little use for art history (all the breakthroughs of bygone creators who dug the swimming pools in which they now frolic).

It is argued that modern artists were the first to decide that visual art would be about art, rather than subject matter. Nonsense. Art has always been about art, because it always has been structured on prior foundations. The idea that any artist can burst on the scene as an original is absurd. Nobody who comes out of early childhood with any level of awareness has not built an inventory of perceptions — countless images from the culture around them. Each of these individual influences involved creative activity based on another bank of stimuli, and so forth, back to the first proto-human who picked up a piece of charcoal to make interesting marks on a stone (and was probably knocked on the head by another who judged the action as irrelevant to group survival).

Perhaps I have belabored my point. Perhaps it is a point that anyone who reads this would not need emphasized in the first place. Isn’t it obvious to us that no art form is more about all these churning influences from untold visual decision makers — painters, printers, illustrators, photographers, designers — than the medium of collage itself? So, let us all continue to study the collage artworks of the explorers who came before us, to trace the direct lineage of their concepts and techniques, to recognize that valuable inheritance in the work of our peers, as well as in the composition taking shape on the surface before us, and then, fully informed, to push confidently into the second century of collage.
 

Tranquil Ode (to Merz) ~ collage homage by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Tranquil Ode (to Merz)
collage homage by J A Dixon
9.5 x 11.875 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

The “Collagesmith” as Artisan

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

“Even in the absence of inspiration and talent, I think that through sheer craft you can actually create extremely good work, all the time, reliably. Great work is something else. I think for great work you also need a lot of luck. You can only aspire to really good work. The great work either happens or it doesn’t.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Sloppy collage artwork has never held much appeal for me. Individuals might define “sloppy” differently, so I’ll rephrase that. I have always found well-crafted collage artwork to be the most appealing. In practice, I have aspired to the highest level of artisanship to which I am capable. According to my peculiar notions, the very nature of collage as a “mash-up” of visual ingredients suggests that one resist all the inherent temptations to condone careless techniques. To do anything less is a disservice to the medium, and strikes me as being a bit lazy.

I have been at this long enough to contrast current activity with a study of my “early” work. I perceive it now as more crisp and aligned with my long stint as a designer and illustrator. I remain proud of craftsmanship that continues to challenge my present hand skills. Like everyone who sticks around, I have moved relentlessly toward a period of life when manual dexterity and vision are unlikely to improve. At any rate, clean, precise work is more about attitude and personal commitment than it is about facility. Lately, on the other hand, I have sought a more organic, less contrived look — the impression that a piece is naturally the way it should be, rather than appear too obviously composed and belabored. As I work, I try not to permit the goal of a somewhat softer and cohesive whole to suggest a relaxation of craft. In fact, I have gradually introduced steps in the process that demand extra time and attention: sanding the reverse side of ingredients for adhesive-saturated compression and eliminating white edges on printed scrap to enhance a seamless effect. I combine that with ample burnishing and some hair-dryer prep before curing time under weight, followed by multiple light-touch coats of matte sealant. I would rather be thinking about practical methodology or a musical playlist than what is literally evolving on the surface before me, allowing that to be as intuitive as possible.

And perhaps (just maybe), Lady Luck will smile.
 
Cosmic Crucifixion ~ J A Dixon

Cosmic Crucifixion
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
2006, 16 x 16 inches
available for purchase

20th-Century Man, 21st-Century Artist

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending a gallery talk by Kentucky artist Robert Hugh Hunt, as he outlined his ambitious “Twentieth-Century Icons” collage portrait project and described an attitude toward the medium that is profoundly thought provoking.

R H Hunt gallery talk at the Community Arts Center in downtown Danville, Kentucky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may be aware of Robert from his long-running Hillbilly Voodoo collaboration with T R Flowers or the way he brings an individualistic mixed-media aspect to contemporary collage. Hunt and I have done our own collaborative works together and we share the experience of creating collage artwork in a geographic environment that often responds to the medium with a sense of bewilderment. Clearly, this circumstance is no impediment to the strong personal approach that runs through Robert’s body of work. He describes himself as a twentieth-century man, but his art is always fresh and intuitive. It springs from a deep cultural awareness that is inseparable from his creative identity.

Hunt told me that he thinks there is lot of negativity towards collage. “I hear people say that collage artists are only using something someone else has created,” he said. “The word appropriation is bandied about. This is true to a certain extent. Collage is a medium steeped in appropriation, and as such is delegated to the status of the red-headed stepchild of art. But to me collage or any medium has to transcend the material used to make it, to truly be art. It is the collage artist’s job to use the appropriated imagery, and, by changing and manipulating it, to relay his own message and to find his own voice.”

Katrien De Blauwer recently brought our attention to the same topic with a link to this page at WIDEWALLS, where Elena Martinique suggests that the term adoption is “more appropriate to describe the level of care one should take when using someone else’s creativity” as a point of takeoff. Many of us who pay attention have seen collage after collage that exploits a prominently featured, “load-bearing” image, with trite or superficial treatments that rely almost solely on the power or interest of a photographer’s or illustrator’s invested creativity. Most of us probably started out this way, and it can be initially absolved in student work. Professional or serious amateur collage artists must hold themselves to a much higher standard.

Perhaps that is why I lean toward “maximalism” in my own work. I don’t know what I would say to other creative people if they called me on merely tweaking their intellectual property with a note of irony, humor, or cosmic wonder. Robert Hugh Hunt’s in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama ~ newest addition to his ‘20th-Century Icons’ seriesI have great respect for collage minimalists who bring a consistent level of innovation to work that actually transcends the component parts.

Robert Hugh Hunt moves from minimalism to maximalism with a particular voice that defies imitation. In the tradition of fine art collage, the unique instrumental sound of “Robbo” is heard above whatever compilation of raw ingredients he puts to use. But, for me, there is another dimension that is also present — an authenticity rooted in drawing that cannot be imposed with a contrived “outsider” style. I look forward with high anticipation to how he brings all of this capability to his emerging series of famous faces.
 


 

EinsteinTeddyAliAnne Frank
mixed media collage portraits by R H Hunt
16 x 20 inches each, 2014-2017

(below) R H Hunt at the Community Arts Center with his
in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama

 
R H Hunt with his in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama
 

 
Mama’s Story ~ R H Hunt

Mama’s Story
monochromatic collage by R H Hunt

collaborative collage on playing cards from ‘Hillbilly Voodoo’ series ~ R H Hunt and T R Flowers

collaborative collage
from ‘Hillbilly Voodoo’ series
R H Hunt and T R Flowers

The Story ~ R H Hunt The Five of Arts ~ R H Hunt Let Dad Live ~ R H Hunt
 
Struggling Man Upon the Rock ~ R H Hunt The Number ~ R H Hunt The Death Of Billy ~ R H Hunt
 
His Big Day ~ R H Hunt Thirst ~ R H Hunt

mixed media collage by R H Hunt
(click each to view larger)

Top collage artists I never even knew about !!!

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

“I have always tried to exploit the photograph. I use it like color, or as the poet uses the word.”
— Hannah Höch
 

It is always a temptation for a so-called blogger to dangle a “best of” or “top twenty” list to entice a visitor, and, of course, we see this tactic used almost on a daily basis in various fields of art and entertainment. How many of us have gone online and swallowed just such a colorful lure? On the most obvious level, the whole stimulus-response thing is a bit silly, but the potential to learn something new does exist, or to sharpen our own sense of quality, preference, and discernment. Each of us is free to have viewpoints, as long as we recognize them as personal opinions, and avoid casting them about as certitude. Isn’t there enough of that going on these days? (Yes, dear guest, that is merely my perspective.) Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany ~ Hannah Höch

What does this have to do with collage? Well, I just paid a visit to a page at AnotherMag.com (in response to the aforesaid bait), and I learned for the first time about three collage artists who were new to me, a working artist who purports to ruminate on “all things collage.” In this particular case, there may have been an explicit effort to achieve an overdue gender balance for a post intended to spotlight the Höch retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, but one could question the absence of Paolozzi, Rauschenberg, Johnson, Hamilton, or Kolář. To not include at least one of these men as a key figure in the history of collage brings no meaningful discredit on any of the artists, but only on the list. (And that, too, is just my opinion).

Nevertheless, I am not ashamed to accentuate the gaps in my collage literacy and to feature three noteworthy female artists: Eileen Agar, Nancy Spero, and Annegret Soltau. Examples of their work should have appeared here long before now.
 

Woman reading ~ Eileen Agar

Woman reading
by Eileen Agar, 1936
Museum of New Zealand

Protagonists ~ Nancy Spero

Protagonists
by Nancy Spero, 1989
disposition unknown

Grima - mit Katze ~ Annegret Soltau

Grima – mit Katze
by Annegret Soltau, from her 1986-97 series
Vero Group Collection, Houston, Texas

The Crafted Series

Monday, October 16th, 2017

“Music, to me, is a matter of growth, development and rejuvenation.”
— Lalo Schifrin
 

Every so often, it is good to shove the status quo through the stern window into one’s wake. For me, that does not mean abandoning anything more than “business as usual.” Far from it. It becomes a matter of using everything that I have learned, showcasing all of my acquired skills, and tapping the full resource of internalized discernments to find a different level of creation. To whatever extent I am successful at doing that, there is hope for a renewed sense of discovery and joy.

As many of you know, I have considered collage to be an interactive medium. As a deeper back-and-forth, intuitive relationship with materials and compositional ingredients continues to develop, a corresponding interaction with those who respond to the work must also evolve. Art can indeed be a solitary, insular pursuit for some, but I consider collage to be more like music. How can the listener not be vitally important to the process?

In an interview, the late David Bowie said, “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. And, if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the border than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

There is powerful insight in that observation, but holding the expectations of others at arm’s length does not exclude a goal of preserving their interest and involvement in the experiment. Not at all. Certainly not for me. I invite and value the feedback. Constructive criticism, too. There is no fulfillment in failing to elicit a sense of pleasurable intrigue and wonder in those who value the hundred-year story of collage artwork. For me, it will never be a private affair.
 

Hedra Cinq Sahara ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Hedra Cinq Sahara
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Azulenco King Jetties ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Azulenco King Jetties
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Magna Finch Bombus ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Magna Finch Bombus
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

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, Hausmann, Schwitters, and their fellow collage “inventors” included found material contemporary with their times. There are many current practitioners who restrict themselves to “vintage” resources, and some of them avoid using anything younger than 50 years old. Whatever they choose to do is fine, but, in my opinion, 21st-century collage artists are challenged 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 confine themselves to curating 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 clearly using something that he just acquired on the street. Let’s think about that when as ask ourselves, “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
 
Purchase this artwork.

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