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History Painting and the Problem with Art Education

An article by Robert Zeller

http://brooklynrail.org/2017/06/criticspage/History-Painting-and-The-Problem-with-Art-Education

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The French River

Dubbed ‘The First Annual Tennis Doubles Retreat’, Dave and I spent 5 nights, 6 days canoeing in the interior of French River Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada. Altogether a truly great trip, even with an extraordinary amount of mosquitos and black flies and rain almost everyday. We found beautiful campsites, ate well, did not think about news/politics, worked well together and when the clouds broke and wind kept the bugs at bay, found sublime moments.

Below are some of the photographs and watercolor sketches that begin to tell the story-

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End of the Year, Textbooks

These textbooks are made by each student in Foundations. This is a project-based curriculum designed around the idea that we best construct knowledge and meaning not in a top down manner but when we actively assemble it ourselves. In making our own books, students personally assemble a body of knowledge and experience that, if all goes well, facilitates strong and durable neurological connections. For one, the act of construction is playful and encourages child-like inquiry. This playful involvement allows for mistakes, for stumbling and for self discovery. Students also become emotionally invested in their books. With some guidance, they are the ones actively designing what they learn. Over time these books will hopefully foster connections and promote a synthesis of materials.

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Women’s March on DC

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Fountain at CMA

I am not sure if it is done but plan on sitting on this painting for a little while. Here is a progression of images recording the process-

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Nude Study

A quick nude study from the other night-

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Cuyahoga National Park

I spent this past weekend painting in Cuyahoga National Park. The weather was volatile, with impressive and thunderous storms, but I was able to get in these two plein air paintings. I cannot wait to get back!

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Beautiful Sunsets with Beautiful People

Photo Credit: Kristina Eisenhower

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On the Joys of Looking at Artwork (and the pitfalls of photographing artwork) in a Museum

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One of the great joys of looking at artwork is that we can come ‘face’ to ‘face’ with alternative ways of seeing. To look at artwork is to encounter an interpretation of reality that may be different from our own. If we mediate this experience through a camera, we channel a unique way of looking at the world through the familiar technology of the 21st Century and as a consequence, we are not challenged to see differently or to empathetically engage with another worldview. Experiencing art becomes neatly reduced to a flat recording of light, and more recently, packaged into red, green and blue distributions of pixels and stored as data.

Photography is a remarkable information technology. In a very user friendly way, photography serves to enlarge, if not multiply, any given moment of time by recording reflected light – this, in an otherwise unrelenting continuum of experience. It is worth noting that photography uses a language of flat symbols, one that we in the west are well primed to understand given our rich history of making and viewing pictures made of pigment. But when we look at a work of art through a camera, take its picture and move on, how does this effect the ways in which we personally store and process information?

One way to understand the effects of photography is in comparing two different ways of recording visual information – 1) drawing a work of art and 2) photographing this artwork. The act of copying a work of art by drawing it is to construct a mental image over a period of time. The copy is the result of choices based upon sensory input and pre-existent mental models – where does a certain line fall relative to other lines, what does one value look like in comparison to another? How does this artwork differ from what I expected or originally thought? These questions become an active feedback loop with the work of art that is being copied, the copyist and the drawing that is being built.

To photograph a work of art, on the other hand, is a type of outsourcing of the mental models needed to make a copy. The storage of information falls upon the activation of pixels and not synaptic connections. Moreover, it takes time for humans to experience the mental process of empathizing. According to a study conducted by USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, MRI scans revealed that these processes are slow when compared with the more primitive pain centers in our brains. “For some kinds of thoughts, especially moral decision-making about other people’s social and psychological situations, we need to allow adequate time and reflection.” writes Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a member of the research team. “If things are happening too fast, you may not fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states.”1

Museums by their nature already remove artwork from their original context. When we walk through a museum armed with a camera we further distance ourselves from art’s challenging and stimulating potential. While we may increase our ability to consume data, we are missing an opportunity to project our selves into another’s shoes.

  1. Carl Marziali, “Nobler Instincts Take Time,” USC Web site, August 29, 2016, https://news.usc.edu/29206/Nobler-Instincts-Take-Time/
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Figure Sketches in Oils

Here are a few oil sketches of the figure. They are mostly 20 to 30 minute exercises but a few are for a bit longer. I think of these as training – they require quick choices with out much deliberation or correction. I have to place a line, value and color in fairly quick succession. They maintain an energy to them that sometimes can be lost in longer poses. They are also an opportunity to explore different skin tones, compositions, surfaces and techniques.

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