Good Taste Is A Censor

posted in: Painting | 8

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).

Example 1. Photo by Max dec13,29,brooklyn st1a, Max Dunlop photo_edited-1

Example 2.  Our Collaborative painting dec13,29,City Labyrinth, oil on aluminum, 48x48, collaboration by Max and David Dunlop_edited-1

Example 3. Drawing with Liquefied graphite dec13,29,brooklyn graphite drawing

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).

example 4. painting “Estuary Chromatics”dec13,29,water, Estuary ChromaticsII, oil on aluminum,36x36_edited-2

example 5.painting “Infinite Estuary”dec13,29,Water, Infinite Estuary, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-2


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.

example 6. painting, “Columns of Light…”dec13,29,Columns of Light, Luminosity, oil on anodized aluminum48x48_edited-2

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 ( or 203 966 6668 ext.2) and thank you for your attention to my blogposts.


8 Responses

  1. William Child

    Great entry David! Pushing the limits, creating as viewing old ways with new eyes and refreshed mind, to see again that we see everyday as a child might without constraints of the past launches the new artist to new heights and possible heightened understanding. Of course with taking new directions viewpoints one must also be sensitive to possible problems with these things. If one is true to ones new perspective or direction as artists they must follow their path to this place without ultimate concern for others interpretation of their path. Most of the art worlds greatest contributions through the ages would never have been realized if the artists with heartfelt intentions to rise to a new level of perception, had halted their endeavors and been mere copiers of the past currently accepted vision.

  2. Magnificent David! You made my day. Today we, me and my daughter, are going to experience the exhibition of Rafael Wardi at Ateneum Gallery here in Helsinki. Colours! I hope to be able to open my eyes again and avoid the” Good Taste “to spoil my day….Thank you for Your blog , so waiting for the new year posts to come:)

  3. As a new student learning the “rules” of good art, I would like to have more information on how your paintings surprise by breaking those rules. Should you try to break all the rules at once or only one or two? It seems to me that breaking one or two rules and keeping to others would create a better surprise and not chaos. Or is it chaos you are after?

  4. Fredric Neuwirth

    A nice surprise to get your blog prior to the start of a new class and a New Year!
    Max’s photograph is great! The black angles, the proportion of light to black, the disruption of space by the blocked car adds to its mystery. But, the paintings fail to capture the elements of the photograph. Do it over. I will even give it a try.

    For some unknown reason I was able to enlarge examples #4 and was pleased to see the added red to the reeds that give the painting a new direction. I do not know if this is so with example #5 as I cannot enlarge it.

    Example # 6 “columns of light” is really good! Depth, motion, light
    just great.

    All my best wishes for the New Year

  5. I feel that new vision is best when it comes from a deeper awareness of the self responding to a unique moment in history. When we compromise this in order to sell, win, etc., we do not give to the world what it needs.

    I really love your collaboration painting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and process.


  6. Thank you for speaking the truth. What is “good taste?” Who decides?
    When a stash of paintings was hidden in an attic in Arles, who would have judged them in good taste at the time?

    We as artists can only support one another’s experiences at the time and have the faith and trust that the mere fact another human being is attempting to share their humanity through the vessels of artistic expressions, is reason enough.

  7. Love the photos. Love the stairs asending but missed it in the paintings. I am only looking at this from my cell which has its limits. Will check it out on computer when I return from Florida
    Will be taking 5day workshop March/April.
    Wishing you and family happy holiday and thank you for sharing so much of yourself.

  8. Good Taste,

    Exhibit #1 photo taken by your son is amazing! I know the underpass.

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