Reflections on the Third Week
Monday began spontaneously. The second week's momentum continued over the weekend and built into excitement that was quietly shared by everyone as the third week began. If the weekend hadn't been there at all we wouldn't have minded nor noticed; the necessity of work flew right behind us as we entered the studio Saturday and Sunday, as it did 8:30 the following Monday morning. With the idea of Corot's abstract X's hidden in deep space (yes) to keep our faith primed, we painted in town and added wet media, painter's tape, and tracing paper to our repertoire in drawing class.
That night we had Chinese takeout, as we do every Monday for dinner, which once again brought me into contact with the object of my weekly dose of mysticism, the fortune cookie. My newest fortune as of Monday: "You will have good luck and overcome many hardships." It's times like these, away from home, holed up in relative isolation, that I find myself more apt to adopt pieces of wisdom from superstition. It's funny, later in the week I received an email from my grandmother who, knowing of my artistic expedition to Mount Gretna said she almost fell over in shock (!) when she read the horoscope for Capricorn (my own): "Now is not the time for mild cautious, delicate turns of thought, but rather for vigorous meditations, rambunctious speculations and carefree musings." It seemed destined to be an eventful week...
Tuesday brought a trip to the Union Canal Tunnel Park, a short drive from the studio, and another day of furious work. Wednesday was our lecture on Abstraction, Perception, Experience, and Landscape given by Carrie Patterson. Her talk, to me, reopened an idea with which I believe all of us have been struggling with in some respect, which deals with seeing abstraction in the subjects of our paintings. That is, not only seeing abstraction but accepting that it exists within the landscape, still life, portrait, of our interest and that we can only see it if we allow ourselves to let go of our preconceived notions of how objects exist within our field of vision.
With every step towards our goal of growing as artist we return to the essential truth in perceptual art: that we find truth when we paint faithfully what we see. If, through response to our visual experience we wind up with something that looks more like abstract shapes than the objects of our interest, we should trust that we are on the right track and that we don't need to pretty it up with preconceived ideas of how our objects should look.
This idea was echoed on Friday during critiques. Jay discussed the importance of being receptive to a diversity of color when responding to nature. He cited the Fauves, a group of artists in the early twentieth century famous (or infamous) for pushing color to its extremes. They used color right out of the tube. When they painted a warm color became a red, a cool became a blue and a value shift was indicated instead with a color shift. The result was a vibrant array of work that challenged present ideas concerning what colors could be used in which situations. The vibrant color use could be thought of as an abstraction from nature, and it is. The idea Jay conveyed to us during Friday critiques (relating intimately to Carrie's talk) is that the fauves did not merely use those colors because they were bright, but that they really saw those colors in the landscapes and figures they painted. This is how we should think about abstraction -- that it is the product of honest response during painting.
The momentum that had been building throughout the week stopped on Thursday. Instead of painting we devoted the morning to critiques. It was time for deconstruction (analysis). In sequence, each one of us hung our work, and allowed it to be subjected to the crude flailing remarks of our peers formulated with no regard to any preconceived verities that we may have formed in our own minds about our own work. These external voices are the real truths with which we must reconcile in order to grow. We must strive to remain open.
But the emotional smack down of Thursday wasn't over. The first of our venerated teachers to say his farewells that morning, Brian Rego, after giving us an eye into his own recent work, presiding over our critiques, and lending his final wisdoms, packed his supplies for his journey home. Brian, you will be missed. The afternoon brought our final drawing class. We all felt the drive to perform our very best that we might have a record of the great lengths we had come in just four sessions with the wonderful Catherine Drabkin. After dinner she too departed, leaving us only with an embrace and a lingering ghostlike voice within each of our heads imploring us all to remember to draw the feet too big..
Both teachers have been instrumental undoubtedly to our growth not merely in terms of technical skill in mixing color and handling charcoal but in our development as painters and drawers and the human beings that are attached to them. They encouraged us to acknowledge the difficulty of the work but also to think of our process as play and furthermore to appreciate with pride the poetic weight that our products convey.
Friday we had our critiques with Jay, and I struggled to make a few studies for future projects, but in the wake of critiques and the exodus of our mentors, Friday seemed a confusing time. I went to bed early. Today is Saturday, the fourth of July -- a fitting way to end an explosive week (ha-ha). I didn't work on my paintings or even draw today. I couldn't. My housemate said it felt like there were too many voices to interpret to really get any meaningful work done. I understood that; with the critiques so close behind I felt I needed to do some serious reflection before I could start making any tangible progress again. John Marin said "Beware of the ambitious one and the one who works all the time -- he hasn't time to think." I needed time to think! And so I suppose it was a gift that I had been given the "writer" task create the student blog post for the week. It justified my taking the day to process the most recent events. So I took a walk around the lake, I explored some more of Mount Gretna, saw a really big snake, I called my father. In a journal I wrote some notes down about what I thought had been the most important parts of this week, and later I used a lot of them to make this blog post.
We had a big dinner at Boehm cottage tonight. There were sparks and smoke as we watched some neighbors light fireworks. Though I felt that we were all in some degree exhausted by the culmination of the momentum that we had been building since we arrived at Mount Gretna, there was also a pervasive energy and excitement for the incoming teachers and work in store. Tomorrow marks the half way point of the program, a day to take stock of supplies, prime canvasses, and make studies to hit the ground running on Monday with the start of a new momentum aimed always towards higher states of observation, of further growth, and of sustained reflection.