January 24, 2013
As I delve more into art to help me improve my photography, I have gained a respect for those who paint well. When creating a piece of photographic art, I start with something that excites me in the real world, take a photograph of it, and then proceed to work on it to produce a final print. Most times the print is realistic, but sometimes can take on an impressionistic look. A painter, on the other hand, starts with a vision that may or may not be part of the real world, and then transfers that vision to a blank canvas, working the shapes, colours, and perspective until they have created something that matches their vision. It is that part, where the painter can sit in front of a blank canvas and then start to create their vision, that leaves me amazed.
It was with this thought that I attended an informal, collaborative talk by a well-known painter who was introducing her exhibit. My hope was that a collection of painters gathered to talk about one of their peers’ art would result in some interesting dialogue associated with creativity and artistic impressionism. I wanted to learn from what they had to say.
In similar situations involving a gathering of photographers at an exhibit, I’ve experienced, for the most part, an unending discussion of equipment, technical process, and how to get to the location where the photographs were taken. Hardly ever do I come across such a session where the photographer’s creativity is discussed and attendees probe the artisan for insights into how they approach their creative process. Now, don’t get me wrong. If I’m interested in some piece of photographic equipment or want to keep up with the latest in equipment and technical knowledge, there is no one more that I want to talk to than a knowledgeable photographer. My only caveat is that there are many more moments of contact with photographers when I don’t need to talk about equipment and other technical knowledge: when it is time to talk about interests, feelings, and the creative process.
But, back to the painter’s talk at the exhibit. The people collected for the artist’s talk in the gallery where the paintings were displayed around the room. Those attending were mostly artisans. I presumed they were painters, given the chat that went on before the presentation started. I was interested to see that there weren’t very many there under fifty. The artist began by giving a brief personal history associated with her art. Her experience was much and varied, and I gathered from the bits of applause and informal one-line comments by others that they had a high regard for her. She also talked a bit about a special, translucent material that she uses. Once finished with about fifteen minutes of talk, the artist opened the floor to questions and discussion. Ah, I thought, this is what I’ve been looking forward to. But then I was surprised.
All the questions coming from the audience of artists in attendance were about the technology of her art. “Where do you get the material that you use? What sort of paint do you have to use with it? How do you mount it? Do you ever paint on canvas? Do you use photographs to capture an image and then paint in the studio or do you paint outside at the scene? Where do you go to paint?” ……and on and on. When a break occurred in the questions I asked her one of my own. “Could you please pick out a couple of the paintings here and discuss your creative process that you went through from visualising the picture to creating the final result that you were satisfied with?” The artist looked carefully at me, hesitated for a moment and then said, “That is a very interesting question. Let’s look at these two paintings here.” With that she went over to the paintings she had picked and talked about what she saw in the scene and then how she chose to depict it. She covered a lot of what I was interested in, but I wanted more. I didn’t question further, because I thought that I was a bit out of my element with all the experienced painters around me. Besides, I thought, now that I’ve turned the conversation away from the technology of painting these artists will get into this question of creativity a little further. However, the very next question was, “How long do you keep your brushes?”
Incredulously, I moved back from the front of the crowd and looked around the room as the discussion carried on with technical matters.
The questions continued for about another ten minutes and then drew to a close. Clearly that audience was enthralled with this painter and they provided her with a boisterous and warm applause when she was finished. It seemed that the session went well for them and they got what they came for. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
As I was leaving I ran into the person who curated the exhibit. She is an experienced curator, setting up exhibits in many different venues. She said she had curated several exhibits of this artist. I explained my surprise at the content of the discussion period I just witnessed and told her what my expectations were. She smiled and then, in a polite manner, explained that this was normal. She was very tolerant of my ignorance. She said that the artist we listened to on that day would be very interested in sitting down, one-on-one, and talking with me about my questions and thoughts. She also said I would probably learn a lot from her.
So, a lesson has been learned. I can’t have this sort of expectation from such sessions. They seem to be sessions of mutual admiration, with people of similar skills and thoughts gathered together. More a social encounter than a learning one. Sticking to technical questions did, I suppose, keep the discussion ‘safe’. I need to get together one-on-one with painters and photographers alike if I want to explore questions and thoughts about the creative process and creativity itself. I’m going to find that challenging.