|The Harvest is Plenty, 36X48, by Carol L. Douglas|
On Friday I had the opportunity of hearing Dr. James Romaine give a gallery talk at Roberts Wesleyan. He described a piece of art as working in three spheres. There is the material—your technical approach to the work. There is the subject. The meaning comes from the marriage of technique and subject. A painting is successful if its subject and technique are integrated so that it has meaning.
Yard,11×44″, 2009 by Joel Sheesley. I’d have missed the references to Thomas Cole and romanticism entirely had Dr. Romaine not pointed them out in his talk.
Gustave Flaubert is reputed to have said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” I think this is also true of painting. The artist starts out with a subject and materials and the meaning appears as he or she goes along. The mind is a mysterious and mighty tool. Allowed to work in the background, it comes up with some powerful stuff.
Dr. Romaine analyzed my painting The Harvest is Plenty. He started by pointing out things that came from the conscious side of my mind, even if they weren’t conscious decisions. I believe in a Providential God, for example, and I know my Dutch Golden Age painters, which he saw in the low, flat horizon and the rainbow. The bottom two-thirds of the painting, he said, was fairly standard in its composition.
|Dr. Romaine talked about Luvon Sheppard’s marriage of the mystical with a real sense of place. To me, it’s awfully important that the place is Rochester, because it tells me what my mission field is.|
Then he talked about the storm cloud. It takes up half the canvas; it rises out of the frame over the head of the viewer. When I painted The Harvest is Plenty, I was recovering from a cancer treatment in which I hemorrhaged. Chaos seemed very close to enveloping me. I recollect that I had a terrible time drawing the storm cloud to match my sketch; it chose its ultimate shape, not me. But until he talked about it, I had no idea how autobiographical that storm cloud was.
Much of what is wrong with contemporary art is that the cart has been put before the horse. We are bludgeoned over the head with artificial meaning by artists who can’t or won’t concentrate on their materials. Artists pursue meaning—even when the meaning is explicitly the lack of meaning—instead of concentrating on the material and subject and allowing the meaning to grow up organically from that.