There was a time when I felt that writing words-in-a-row about visual art was rather like using lemon juice to describe honey. But somewhere along the way I realized that being a professional artist out in the “real world” meant I didn’t have to write as if I were in an academic university. That was a relief. And I realized that writing about visual art was like combining multi-media or like a playwright creating a musical theatre piece about a historical event.
It’s genre bending/blending.
So I began practicing writing about my own visual art in an everyday conversational way. When I’m coming up with my artistic ideas I write by hand what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m drawing in my sketchbooks. Later on I use that hand written data to write more formal “blurbs”, or story-clues, about what inspired each of my artworks. I say “more formal” because the blurbs are type-written, the spelling has been checked and the original hand written data has been neatened/edited/condensed. These “blurbs” are often printed and posted near my artwork in exhibits. In my writings I largely leave off the technical points of artistic technique because the majority of the time I’m talking to the general public. (Of course if I’m asked about art techniques I’ll gladly share details!)
In Sept I’m doing a one-person exhibit titled “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs (I wrote more about that in a post titled Cozy Mystery Story Stuff). Here are a few of the artworks and the “blurbs” (story-clues?) I’ve written that will be alongside the art at my exhibit:
Near Forest Park – by Clancy – 22 x 30 inches – acrylic and gouache on handmade paper
Near Forest Park – I enjoy hiking in a large forest in the middle of an urban city (Portland Or). I love it that I can pop out of the dense forest, get a coffee – or boot laces – and then resume my hike.
“A Novel Morning” – by Clancy – 24 x 18 – acrylic and gouache on board
A Novel Morning – One of my favorite things to do is to go to Powell’s bookstore, find a new-to-me novel and then get something in the café. The “text” in this painting is re-combined and paraphrased from “Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon.
“Good Morning” – by Clancy – 11 x 17 inches – acrylic and gouache on board
Good Morning – What constitutes a “good morning”? One of my answers is plenty of coffee and enough leisure time to work the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
During my exhibits I’ll often see people reading the blurbs and then looking more closely at my artwork – and sometimes they’ll approach me and talk about the topic within one of my paintings. It seems that my “multi-media” pictures-plus-words exercise is helpful for starting conversations at least.
What are your thoughts about combining writing and visual art?
I first “met” the Pacific Northwest in the novels of Tom Robbins. His book “Another Roadside Attraction” has a wonderful description of the grey-blue skies, the abundant rain, the soil and how the “…strawberries grow lustily…”.
Fast forward a number of years and on one of my first visits to the region I saw a field of strawberries growing wild near the ocean. I was enchanted.
Then after many years of vacations to this land of enchantments we moved from Oklahoma to the Pacific Northwest. One of the first things my wife and I did as new residents was to buy 4 Rainer strawberry plants and plant them in our back yard.
Each year those 4 plants multiplied themselves. And each year we share strawberries with neighbors, friends, family and try to think of new ways to use them.
This year’s new recipe is a strawberry daiquiri. Here’s the recipe I used – http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/frozen-strawberry-daiquiri-99140 – I went lighter on the lime juice than they suggest. It was quite yummy!
As you know from recent posts I’ve been practicing painting “stuff” a little more realistically – so I tried to get the glasses to look transparent and the fruits to look round and full. Here’s the painting, titled “Strawberry Daiquiris”.
Strawberry Daiquiris – by Clancy – 8 x 10 inches – acrylic and gouache on board
It took some doing but I finished the painting I was working on in my last post (here). I’ve titled it “A Novel Morning”. It is 24 inches by 18 inches – acrylic and gouache on board.
The text in the painting was paraphrased from Dona Leon’s book “Death at La Fenice” – the first book in her Commissario Brunetti series. I adjusted the text for artistic reasons too numerous to write about in detail here – mainly because I’m lazy about typing words in a row – the gist being that I wanted to convey visually what I find alluring in Leon’s novelistic work; i.e. I love the food connection.
And I included the Powell’s bookstore receipt in the painting because one of my favorite things to do is go to a local bookstore, find a new-to-me novel, visit the in-bookstore coffee shop and consider the author/book carefully. That’s my idea of heaven.
On Wednesday I had a meeting with the executive director of the Curtis Children’s Justice Center (CJC) to discuss the logistics regarding the Feb. 8 unveiling of the artwork I did for them. As we talked the director said something that I’ve been thinking about ever since. She said, and I wish I could remember her exact words, that a local arts association had offered to list the artwork at the CJC and that the director hadn’t thought a whole lot about a connection between an organization dealing with child abuse and the local arts scene. She went on to say we do have to learn to “see the helpers that are all around us”.
My predominate thought has been “Of course there’s a connection between organizations that work with children, especially abused or ill children, and the local arts! How could there not be?” In my mind a children’s center has original art on their walls for the exact same reason they’d employ a therapy dog; for the care and comfort it may provide.
Children’s centers with multiple works of fine art for therapeutic purposes can end up with public art collections almost without trying. Any collection of public art that serves a community function, whether to reflect a communities history (like the Vancouver Land Bridge), to visually represent a city (like the Salmon Run Bell Tower and Glockenspiel in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park) or to comfort a segment of a community’s population (like the artwork in the CJC) is a part of the “local arts scene” by virtue of its existence in a particular place. Whether an organization like the CJC, because of its kind of work, allows their collection to be listed in an art association’s public announcement is separate issue.
Art for the purposes of therapeutic comfort – or for relaxation, which is a form of comfort – is nothing new. In fact it is one of the “helpers all around us” that most of us don’t notice. Did you have a rough day at the office? Celebrating a birthday? You might seek comfort or relaxation in any of the following; listening to music, watching a movie, reading a novel, attending a play at the theater, seeing art work in a gallery or museum, going to a comedy/storytelling event, or going dancing. Chances are good that most of us have done these things, gotten comfort/relaxation from them without thinking “I’m doing this for therapeutic reasons” or even noticing that it elevated a mood. And you probably didn’t think “I’m participating in the local arts scene” while you were tapping your toe in tune with the jazz band.
Public art and even the local arts scene can easily become part of the background of our lives, an unsung part of our ability to go on and live well.
Yes indeed there are helpers all around us and isn’t it nice that sometimes they are noticed?
Here are some sketchbook pages I did as I thought about all of this. (The ‘feed the good wolves’ note written on the bottom of one of the sketchbook pages refers to this post)