From your clothing, shoes, jewelry, eyewear, car, home, and meals to your artwork the problem of individual expression can be summed up as the challenge of escaping good taste, confronting standard conventions. Violating convention is the foundation of innovation whether in the lab, studio, or library. We attend to surprise not to repetition. Even the smallest evidence breaking with convention will attract our attention. The greater the break, the greater the sense of surprise and, the heavier the hand of censorship that will rise within you. But, we cannot avert our eyes from surprise and, we are eternally bored by the tedious lullaby of tasteful tradition. No wonder artists gather in communities. Challenging conventions in politics, religion, architecture, science, music and art is most difficult when alone. From Rembrandt to Van Gogh we have countless examples of the frustration of an iconoclast imagination repudiated by the prevailing taste system. As Rembrandt, Turner and Titian aged they put more faith in their exploring imaginations. They were less intimidated by their own self-censorship and consequently, their work became less popular with their contemporaries. Cultures do not like the challenge of change. Those challenging taste, the appropriate dress code, the appropriate language, the appropriate modalities will inevitably be labeled as aberrant but, they may also become more influential. The attraction of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Rap Music, and Fifty Shades of Gray is their confrontational spirit, their presentation of unsuitable material. Van Gogh and Turner offended their audience and, eventually the audience changed its taste to direct their censorship toward other new and startling unfamiliarities.
Because alienation frightens us we do not risk offending our standards of taste when exploring our materials. We ask what will sell? What will win? What will succeed? The heuristics of taste distract us from our own intuitions. When painting with my artist son Max we challenge each other because, we come from communities of differing taste systems. He is as vulnerable to his milieu as I am to mine and while there is overlap there is also difference. Examples 1 and 2 offer a examples of one of our most recent collaborations. We began with an urban scene ( Max’s photo). He is aware of my inclination to use attractive color harmonies and pushes me toward more monochromatic imagery. His photo is not conventionally attractive but rather, engaging through its abstract design construction and reference to urban mystery. In the painting we expanded the experience of space through foreground exaggerations, attenuating shapes(like the stairs) and slight angle exaggerations. Angle exaggerations can slightly destabilize the viewer heightening visceral experience. Prior to the painting I made a 8×10″ sketch in powdered graphite liquefied with linseed oil sprinkled with turp ( example 3).
As I began a series of recent landscapes I wondered how I might invest them with surprise, with subtle challenges to the conventions of arranging color harmony or challenges to legibility. Here are two examples of these paintings. In both I have tried to include a collection of shape and color relationship surprises, spots of color which draw attention because of their unexpected location, their failure to quietly fit in. ( examples 4 and 5).
I accept that I will lose a share of my audience as I push my work to reveal the mechanics of perception and challenge pictorial traditions. The surprise revelations of visual experience offer me more rewards than mimicking photographic information, a recitation of information which fails to resemble how visual perception operates. My final example demonstrates my interest in the tentative experience of visual perception, of motion and color as they move through our visual field. Example 6, “Columns of Light, Luminous Motion 48×48”, is an extrapolation of visual evidence from the balcony of the Metropolitan Museum.
As we approach 2014, I want to extend an invitation to you to register for any of my new semester classes, workshops and lectures at the Silvermine School of Art ( silvermineart.org or 203 966 6668 ext.2) and thank you for your attention to my blogposts.