Archive for the 'Criticism' Category

Glaser’s “Ten Things I Have Learned”

Sunday, June 28th, 2020

You can only work for people whom you like.

If you have a choice, never have a job.

Some people are toxic.
Avoid them.

The good is the enemy
of the great.

Less is not necessarily more.

Style is not to be trusted.

How you live changes
your brain.

Doubt is better than
certainty.

On aging: It doesn’t matter.

Tell the truth.

Milton Glaser
1929 – 2020

Big night for tiny art

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

“Many artists struggle to make a profit each year, and although it might sound noble to give art away, sometimes it does the community of artists more harm than good. Fund raisers who ask numerous artists for outright donations devalue the worth of the art in that community. … The folks that put on these fundraisers are not malicious people. They just don’t understand how selling donated art at low prices hurts the art community.”
— Lori Woodward
 

Our local Art Center had another successful fundraiser last night, thanks to a massive number of minuscule donations from regional artists. Staff members had to rethink how the event was organized. The turnout was so insane last year that the fire marshal weighed in with concerns.

I contributed four playing card experiments a year ago, but this time around I decided to boost that to five collage miniatures that met the 6×6-inch constraint.

Much has been said and written about the expectation that artists will continuously supply the fruits of their creative labor without compensation in support of nonprofit fundraisers. My basic motto is, “Keep it small, and keep it infrequent.” I’ve gone into more detail about the issue at this blogsite more than once. I have respect for those who decline requests across the board. It’s a decision for each individual. It bugs me when people preach a universal approach. Pro-bono contributions are a time-honored activity in the professional world, but, as with nearly everything, there has to be balance. I recently took part in a fundraiser that split some of the proceeds with participating artists. Nothing wrong with a win-win like that. I hope the practice spreads to more worthy organizations.

It’s not a new idea. Maria Brophy, Lori Woodward, and others had pretty much thought this through ten years ago:

• mariabrophy.com / the problem with donating art and the solution

• fineartviews.com / fundraisers that do it right

Please share your observations with me. I shall always reply!
 

   

 

   

 


 
 
 

Five Tiny Donations
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
within a 6×6-inch size limit
“Tiny Art” fundraiser to benefit
Art Center of the Bluegrass

Februllage returns . . .

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

“Find out what you want to do and spend the rest of your life getting better at it.”
— Jeff Daniels
 

Februllage, the month-long, international collage-a-day initiative playing out for a second year in a row, has been thought provoking for me on multiple levels. The remarkable worldwide participation indicates how extensive the mobile-device-connected community of collage makers has become — and to what degree that phenomenon has been driven by social-media platforms like Instagram. There is every indication that the 2020 version will be even bigger than what took place a year ago.

It wasn’t that long ago (at about the time I made my first entry here at TCM) when nothing resembling what is occurring had taken place. Collage collectives certainly existed, and many interactive collaborations were under way, but the rapid penetration and sheer scale of Februllage was unknown, at least to this observer. With no physical artifacts involved, such as mail art, altered books, or other “analog” joint ventures, this is a purely virtual activity, with no distinction being made between digital, conventional, or hybrid collage techniques.

I must admit to you all that there have been moments when I’ve questioned whether or not the exercise is a gimmicky distraction, with participants chasing after approval and exposure. But my perspective shifts, and then I marvel at how unprecedented it is, at the magnitude of the cross-pollination, at the obvious artistic excitement being generated. It defines a new kind of 21st-century classroom studio, where everyone is looking at what others are doing at the surrounding drawing boards, and earnestly working to bring “A-Game” execution to the collective project. And, like an academic critique, the opinions of the self-appointed people at the front of the room can seem arbitrary at times, when they choose whom to highlight and whom to ignore. But let’s face it — that’s the way it’s always been in the art world, and it’s not realistic to think anything will change in the emerging age of social networks. A natural competitiveness is at the heart of any human activity, even when we come together in a spirit of shared purpose, personal growth, and trans-cultural camaraderie. And the most worthwhile and rewarding competition is the ongoing one we have with ourselves, as each of us makes a daily effort to be a better collage artist than we were last week, last month, or last year.

Here’s to all the strivers!
 

Confound Thy Stubborn Face
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 7 inches
(prompt = ‘box’ and ‘birds’)
available for purchase

Fifth Chapter: Sparring with the breeze…

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

“This idea of having something that isn’t quite in focus, something that isn’t quite understood, is interesting. I think details that are over-plentiful, details that are very dense, are lifelike. They exist in natural environments. Forests have a huge amount of details, because they are not built on a human level, so they are impossible to analyze at first glance, and I think we can only recreate what nature has done already, so I don’t think that the idea of simplifying something is a good thing.”
— Édouard Lock
 

August and September provided a stretch of exceptionally dry weather that was a disappointment for farmers in the Bluegrass, but valued by our intrepid PAACK of regional artists who work out of doors. I was able to create three more satisfying landscape miniatures.

Those who have followed this sequence of descriptions realize it hasn’t been that long since I met the challenge of doing collage en plein air. It has evolved as a gradient progression of discoveries. I’ve learned to think of my application of paper ingredients as a density of “brushstrokes” rather than the placement of simple design elements into a composition. The two-year process has brought my artwork from a crafted illustration with cleanly pasted elements to a more layered, painterly effect. I’m tending to work wet-on-wet, using sandpaper and blades to score and feather edges. The thickness of papers is torn into “veneers” with areas that can achieve a blended translucency, and I’m more routinely taking advantage of recycled tea-bag “skins” to add warmth, texture, or visual softness. I continue to use three different liquid adhesives — wheat paste, white glue, and polymer gel — which offer contrasting levels of stickiness and drying time. I saturate the paper for manipulations not available with dry material and then flatten the surface with a cloth or burnisher, depending on a desired level of dimensionality. Bits of printed text continue to appear as part of my treatment, providing subtle highlights or more overt suggestions of pattern. This growing vocabulary of techniques has given me more confidence to tackle scenes that might have looked too difficult not so long ago. Attempting to “paint” a pond fountain or a rocky outcrop with only paper would have seemed more daunting when I first started to do this.

None of it would be possible without the generosity of those who host our outings. With a spirit of hospitality, the diversity of two farms and a wonderful view of the Dix River were each made available to us for a day. I rely on a square viewing card to select my composition and the all-important place to sit.
 

A point of self-criticism: my plein-air “collage rig” had gradually crept into the forbidden zone of overkill, so I made an effort to lighten my load before the next PAACK venture.

My goal has been a self-imposed limitation of studio follow-through, equal to or less than the amount of time I spend at the original site. I was able to meet that comfortably with August Afternoon, for a 50/50 allocation. When completing Fountain and Shadow, I had to suspend my detailed labor on the central tree. I’d prefer to invest less time indoors and was able to do that with Reflection on an Outcrop (a more desirable 60/40 ratio). Having been studio oriented in my art practice, I always need to guard against allowing the concluding phase to upstage a vital plein-air impression. I’ll rely on memory as much as I do an iPhone photo taken on location. It’s also important to remind myself that, as much as I enjoy my “maximalist” propensity, the objective should be a creative interpretation instead of a literal rendering. It is, after all, a collage artwork.

Collage Madness, my joint exhibition with Connie Beale, is currently on display here in Danville, Kentucky at the Mahan Gallery of Boyle County Public Library. It has provided the first ideal opportunity to showcase my approach to plein air collage and I’ll explain my process to visitors at a Gallery Talk on Saturday afternoon, October 19th. I’ve covered a number of bases as an artist and designer, but I have to say that this has been one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve begun. Perhaps many of you can be there to hear my remarks.
 
 
August Afternoon ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

August Afternoon
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.25 x 7.125 inches
available for purchase

 
Fountain and Shadow ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Fountain and Shadow
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6.375 inches
available for purchase

 
Reflection on an Outcrop ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Reflection on an Outcrop
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.375 x 6.625 inches
available for purchase

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.)
 
I’ll buy it anyway.

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
 
Purchase this artwork.

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
 
Purchase this artwork.

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)