But is it ‘Abstract’? Art Labels matter

I have argued, forcefully at times, that labels don’t matter.
I was wrong.
Having now been presenting my art to the world for some years, and in doing engaging with a wider community of artists and people who know about all this, I now believe that labels ARE important.

It has become clear to me that every one of us sees through our own lenses, our perspective, norms, values. These give the brain its ability to categorise and to judge everything we see , hear, touch, smell or taste. Reactions to abstract art illustrate this through the often-asked question: “What is it?” and similarly any time I show landscape paintings I am asked “Where IS that?”. So it seems to me that most viewers of artworks actively seek this point of reference before they look deeper into the piece.
For many of us appreciation of the arts, especially musical works, has an evanescence in that the memory of our reaction will fade, so here again, the focal, recognisable features provide vital ‘hooks’ - maybe the name of the opera singer, or the pianist, or the person who was there when that meal was eaten.

I am of course familiar with many different styles of painting within the genre of Landscape, from the classical traditional era of Constable, through Turner, Cezanne, impressionism, expressionism and many others…… do you see what I am doing here? With the mention of each of those triggers, an image comes up in my memory.
How could that happen without labels?

So here goes : CREATIVE EXTRAPOLATION of the Landscape.

This is what I have decided to use as the label for much of my work.

I have enormous respect for those artists who produce paintings which evoke the reaction “Wow! Its just like a photograph…..”
Of course that cry is very rarely true. Every artist brings something to the easel that is carried into their work and puts it beyond photography. But hyper-realism is not a label that works for me.

‘Expressionism’ is also inadequate for me as that claims to be about the sensations the artist feels when gazing on a particular view, or those which are evoked by looking at the work.

At the other end of the spectrum from realism, pure abstract art is supposed to have no relationship at all with reality, and that is also not what I do.
I seek to take some recognisable feature of a landscape and put it into a setting which is beyond any interpretation of physical reality, to give that feature an imaginary and intangible context, to create a multi-dimensional narrative to emphasise the elusive, the transient or the ephemeral. Building on evanescence if you like.

Extrapolation is about the projection of layers beyond known values.  It is a term which originated in statistics and which has floated into the sphere of AI. {Artificial Intelligence}  I seek to apply it to my painting.
Many landscape artists have presented their interpretation of a scene, expressed through some variation of the known, which is interpolation.
Extrapolation goes further, and, I hope, will generate works which can be respected for their own features as much as for the presentation of the physical realities.

Contemporary Trends in Landscape Art

At the obvious level, ‘contemporary’ simply describes anything produced in this period, so by definition, anything I paint now has to be contemporary!
Yeah, but ….. it seems to be impossible to comment on art without diving backwards over the trends - all those ‘isms’, impressionism, fauvism, cubism, surrealism, then - abstract, modern and pop art. ‘Contemporary’ was nabbed to describe what came after that - ‘postmodern’ was probably too pretentious, and certainly the stuff that has excited (and is still exciting) the art world in this phase is anything but pretentious - it is all about innovation. Installation pieces made of huge chunks of wood, billowing fabrics covering the real world, permanent sculptures covering acres of earth. (And, for the record, I admire much of that work - it is genuinely exciting to experience.)
There is an irony here - just as the impressionist rebels couldn’t break in to the closed world of the art establishment as their work didn’t conform to the accepted traditions, it is difficult for a painter today to have their work accepted if it is a straightforward view!

“Chocolate Box” is a huge insult thrown at such work - so this era of  all-embracing anything goes actually excludes paintings of the kind that might have been hailed in bygone times.
I suppose there is a rationale for this, in that it is relatively easy to go out, find an interesting view and paint it, and there are thousands of us who do just that and millions of such pictures as a result.
As a bit of a pedant, I could argue that actually what excites the art world is avant-garde. Work that is not the same as what has gone before and is ahead of the crowd.
Just to digress into the parallel art universe of music - think about Beethoven. Today his music is rightly hailed as classical, people flock to concerts to hear it played and derive enormous pleasure when they do so.
When he composed, nothing like it existed before - it was avant-garde. Audiences gasped as they had never heard anything like it.
Monet, Munch, Braque, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, Lichtenstein ……. the list is long, but all these took the risk of painting in styles that were unlike anything anyone had seen before.
When Beethoven performed his work for the first time, his audience had only ever heard music in limited forms - it had to be live, often in a Church, and only on a few instruments.
Today’s audience has access to infinite varieties of sounds, playing directly in their ears. That same contemporary audience has probably seen images of pictures - the Mona Lisa, or has grown up with fading posters of Monet on granny’s wall. So the contemporary ear will want to hear something new, and the contemporary eye will want to see something that is more than ‘pleasant’.

Of course there is always an audience for the traditional - whole radio stations are dedicated to music of previously popular styles, many walls are decorated with nice views, or prints of once-famous paintings.

Not everybody likes or wants ‘edgy’, there is a clear market for nicely presented paintings of familiar views.

But - in Business School marketing courses, ‘differentiation’ is a  vast topic - why do people choose this car rather than that one? - Because it has some attributes which makes it appeal to the buyer that are different from all the rest.
I will never forget one of my first visits to an Open Art exhibition where hundreds of paintings were displayed, the winners of an open competition, each one carefully selected from thousands of entrants.

They were certainly well-painted, full marks on technical quality.
But I was bored, and  having completed the circuit, wandered off to an adjacent museum gallery. While the works there were nothing close to being exciting, they were at least interesting. Many told a story, or contained meanings, or presented the viewer with a challenge - there was more to admire than the mere quality of the brushwork.

So - that is my aim. Create paintings which will hold your attention, give you pleasure (a feast for the eye) and maybe make you wonder….

On Landscape Action: Diversify!

Climate change has generated a lot of talk (at last), and there are plenty of buzzwords flying about: ‘Rewilding’, ‘Restoring’ and so on.

It seems to me that these words start from the wrong place as they clearly imply looking back when we really must look forward.
What is the point of thinking about some imaginary phase of the world’s development and deciding that this is how we want things to be again?
We really don’t know exactly how things were at any point in time in the past, but we DO know that whatever was going on was very different to how things are now, so ‘rewilding’ or ‘restoring’ are the wrong answers. We need answers which will address the challenges facing us today and tomorrow, when there will be even more people around than there are today, all needing to be fed and all deserving of a reasonable comfortable and healthy life - just like us.
I am one of the fortunate ones in the world today, living in a place that has enjoyed economic success for hundreds of years. I know, as we all now do, that this comfort has been built on our ancestors’ ruthless exploitation of the land around them. Since the time the first human foot touches any place, those people seek out the means of their survival then progress to building for comfort. If that means cutting down trees or digging up minerals, so be it. But this means that in the small and overcrowded island of Britain at least, the idea of ‘rewilding’ cannot happen in any place where populations of people live and work, unless the word is used as a simple label to convey something other than its dictionary meaning.

I firmly believe that we must reset the balance. The effect of the ruthless exploitation of the places where we live in the name of ‘progress’, the destruction of land, sea and atmosphere have all gone too far. But ‘growth’ is the mantra of every government everywhere as it is a human condition to seek to improve our life, so the challenge is to find ways and means of growing human economic activity within ecosystems which will sustain us, other creatures and plants.
This is not a simple challenge and the solutions will not be simple either. I can only hope that among the billions of other people on earth there are enough who are  doing things about it.

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