Blog Make Art not Pretty Pictures

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Creating Art not Pretty Pictures...

What is art in 2018? This is not a blog about to define the word “art” and what we mean by that. That is potentially a huge debate and depending on your viewpoint there is a different answer to each and everyone of us. This blog is more of an observation on how art is changing, especially with the surge of social media. We are bombarded with images and many people painting pictures, which is great; we are in a time of revolution where art is available to everyone. My motivation to write this blog was sparked by an adult student, when I was having my usual debate about using a pencil…

For those who have never attended one of my classes, I am known for not liking pencils. This isn’t entirely true. I love drawing with a pencil and especially graphite sticks. My frustration is born from someone creating a painting, (a simple landscape, let’s say) where they feel the need to put 3-5 lines across the canvas to map out the painting in pencil. What is the point? Firstly, if you are painting correctly, the ground should be painted first all over. People are either going to paint over their pencil or attempt to draw pencil on top of their paint. By that point you may as well sketch out in paint because graphite (or even worse charcoal) is just going to muddy and contaminate the fresh colours of your paint. I often see students sketch a scene in pencil, then go over it in pen and then again in watercolour. I would like to add at this point, that I do use pencil especially when I’m creating complex geometric, symmetrical works. These are created in pencil and then worked up into final drawings– examples of these can be seen below. These types of works are not the point of my discussion. It is the light sketches of those 3-5 lines for a landscape that get drawn over three or more times in different mediums, as mentioned before. What are they trying to achieve? A true representation of what they are seeing (I’m normally told) – and now this is the crux of this blog. What is the point of that? Why not just take a photo?

daisy pen and ink drawing daisy pen and ink clalire harrison art blue moonflower gouache flower claire harrison art
Geometric designs created initially in pencil to ensure symmetry.

In the 21st century what does it mean to be an artist? I think this is an interesting debate when the art world is changing. It is not about liking or disliking the change in the art market, it is more about acknowledging it and embracing it, because you can never stand against a tide. 120 years ago, we were approaching the new 20th century, when art was experiencing a revolution. Photography had been invented approx. 60-70 years before and this was now threatening painting and artists. Artists had always been employed to document, portraiture of the nobility, or houses that show the wealth of their patron or religious scenes to explain the bible. Photography took away the need for artists to portray portraiture and houses because photography could achieve a more accurate likeness, faster and cheaper. At the time a serious question was asked; was painting dead? In retrospect, we know that painting wasn’t dead with the dawn of photography, because artists found new and interesting ways to create art which spawned many different art movements during the early 20th century. I personally believe this was one of the most interesting and diverse times in art history: Cubism, Fauvism, Art Deco, Abstraction, Minimalism to name but a few art movements of the time. Photography became an art medium in its own right, rather than just documenting portraits and weddings. The art world fundamentally changed with the emergence of modernism.

Now, 100 years later I think the same fundamental change is happening again, but this time, the question is, “Is photography dead?”. Taking Instagram as an example, I follow lots of people who are not professional photographers, but who take amazing and beautiful photos. Technology has democratised the camera. Our phones have more pixels and are better quality than the home digital camera 5 years ago. The introduction of filters means everyone has access to “Photoshop-type” editing without paying huge amounts of money for the software. It is an exciting time, technology and social media has made a huge change in the industry. Now, of course, this will have a negative impact in the short term, but in the long term, photographers will embark on a new and exciting direction, and of course some already are. Photography will do the same as painting did at the turn of the 20th century. New and exciting photography will be developed and discovered.

What of painting in the 21st century? In some ways this has also been democratised, everyone is now an artist and posting their work on social media. I’m sad to say that there is a large proportion of this that makes me cringe. 120 years ago, artists were asking was painting dead? Their response to this was explore the most exciting and amazing interpretations of art. 120 years later, there are so many artists out there documenting what they see, when, quite frankly a photo could probably do it better. It comes back to that student clutching the safety blanket of a pencil because they want their picture to look like their subject. Why?

Has painting moved forward or are we now retrograding? Of course, art has moved forward, and there are many amazing artists out there doing incredible, new and different art. I think social media is now able to show and expose us to more “art” that people are creating. I constantly ask myself and question what is the point of my work? Why do I do it, and what am I trying to communicate and achieve?

Now, I’m not saying artists shouldn’t do observational drawings because I think they should, and on a regular basis. What I’m saying, this isn’t ground breaking art, it is a pretty picture. I regularly draw from life, I know that this isn’t art. This is research to enable me to create art. Observational drawings are essentially a skill that can be learnt, it is what an artist does with these observational drawings that makes art. I encourage all my students and fellow artists when I mentor them to draw regularly from life. It is an essential skill for the artist, it enables them to look, observe and study their muse. This is very much my process on how I create art works, I need to understand the structure, form and detail of my subject before I develop it into a creative composition. My Art Seasonally project, is about drawing what I observe from the landscape around me. It is a project to demonstrate how the landscape is evolving with climate change, so the most important element to these drawings are the date in which they were observed. This is also a project that has been an enormous source of inspiration for me, even though I didn’t embark on it with that intention.

I believe art is about the artist’s interpretation of what they are seeing. When I was younger, my mother always said two things about my drawing and painting, firstly “Next time, can you try and paint within the lines?” My answer to this, is “no, I still haven’t achieved this (much to my husband’s annoyance when I attempt home decorating)”. Instead, my painting is a constant moving line between subject and background. Secondly, “It is not quite exactly like what you were copying”, and in answer to that, “no, it never has been, and it never will be”. I have realised that I emphasise almost everything I draw and paint, and now, more often than not, after my observational drawings I tend to paint my oil paintings from my imagination. This is something you have probably noticed as most describe my work as mystical, or fantastical. They are very obviously based upon the natural world, but not realistic.

oil painting landscape flower claire harrison art

Whether you are an artist or you are a student just starting out, remember an observational drawing is just a documentation of what you are seeing, and a photograph could probably do it better. Instead, how and what will you bring to your subject to create an art work?

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October 2018



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