Thursday, February 16, 2006
Balancing Between Encyclopedic and Simplistic
I've been working on an assignment for my beginning painting class. The subject is to paint an "autobiographical still life", using objects to represent something about yourself. This is the third time I've had this kind of assignment in art classes. The first time I made a hand-made artist's book that had pages of references to all the things I care about, from my children to poety to chocolate, and so much more. It was huge! The second time, in a drawing class, I made a drawing where I again stretched to encompass as much as possible about "who I am". For the last few days I've been struggling with making a new composition for a painting. At first I started out again trying to represent all aspects of myself - my family background, children, partner, dogs, reading habits, hobbies, favorite places in the world, etc. The composition was ugly and cluttered and lacked anything unifying. I sulked and moved things around and did dozens of sketches. Nothing worked.
This morning I was walking our dog and I had a revealing moment. I tend to approach everything as if I am an encyclopedia, not wanting to leave anything out that might be crucial or relevant. I think that I also fear being viewed as too simplistic, although I greatly admire artists who can work on one clear and simple idea and make it elegant. I realized what an impediment my encyclopedic nature is to any effort to make art. What I need to learn most as an artist, and perhaps in my life, is to simplify.
Now I'm working on what, for me, is a much simpler idea. It will be a painting representing my leisurely mornings. It will have a New Yorker magazine, a crossword puzzle, a cup of chai, a muffin, a calla lily, and a dog collar. These items represent my typical morning in my (newly) retired life, something I treasure so much! The photo shows the set-up, minus the muffin which may be added when I get started - or maybe I'll just eat it! When I get the painting further along, I'll post it too!