The Hess Report

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What Artists Do 

Maddie's artistic talents, like mine, are very constructionist, and tend toward realism. Our ideal goal is usually to get something as close to life as possible. Obviously, I'm a lot further along that road than she is at this point, but the direction is clearly the same.

On the other hand, Lucy (take note, ye lefties) is much more impressionistic. Her favorite illustrator is Eric Carle, who lists Picasso and Matisse as influences. He's much more into textures and overall composition than anything approaching realism. As is Lucy. Recently, Joy and I spent the day at the Carnegie museums, and saw some great artwork, very little of which was located in the contemporary collection.

My definition of art is: a specifically created work (can't be naturally occurring or just a pile of crap that fell together and someone liked) that evokes an emotional response in the observer. The degree to which I'll call it "good" or "bad" art is based on the combination of my evaluation of the artist's technical skill and the degree to which it evokes any kind of emotional response.

In the case of most contemporary art (the Carnegie's current "On Paper" collection), it loses out on both criteria. A couple of boxes colored in on a large piece of graph paper? Please. (It was actually in there. Honest!) What is that supposed to make me feel, other than that the "artist" is a twit? Oh, I get it. Maybe it's a meta thing: by deliberately failing to provoke any kind of artistic recognition or response in the observer, the observer is forced to consider the process of art itself, thereby undercutting the normal pathway for exchange between artist and observer, giving the observer an insight into the very nature of Art. Or, to put it another way: blah-blah-blah-undergrad-lit-major-bullshit.

Then there are the artists who I don't get anything out of personally, like the aforementioned Picasso, but whose technical skill I recognize and whose works I can at least recognize as having emotional content for other, more sophisticated folk than myself.

So back to Lucy. Her current painting technique is layered spattering, with some occasional contact of the brush to the paper. When she's happy with the look of a painting, she gets a clean sheet, then presses it onto the painted one. Upon removal, the original painted sheet is her "big copy" and the print is her "little copy", as she calls them. One was so excellent and interesting to view that Joy matted and framed it. Evocative of autumn, to me. A very cool picture. Much better by my criteria than any single work I saw in the Carnegie's "On Paper" exhibit. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that if we snuck that picture into the collection and posted it, it would get as much, if not more attention, than ninety percent of the other stuff in there.

The other day, it was just Lucy and I in the house, and she was cranking out the artwork. Her first splatter painting was great, and had it been left to dry as it was, it would probably have been my favorite piece of art from her so far. I told her how excellent I thought it was, and she promptly proceeded to blot it, in her fashion, with another sheet, sort of ruining it for me.

I said "I kind of liked it better the other way."

"Dad, this is how artists do things."

Okay, then. When she was finished, I helped her clean up, as there was paint splattered pretty much everywhere on and around her art desk.

I said "Wow. You really threw the paint around."

"Dad, artists have to be messy. That's how they make cool paintings."

Again, okay. Had she just been into making a mess, I wouldn't have allowed it, but the girl is seriously concentrating when she paints, and that makes it fine with me. After things were cleaned, I reminded her to wash her hands and arms, which were pretty well covered with blue, red, yellow, orange, black, green and gold speckles.

Several minutes passed, with the bathroom door shut. Uh oh. Lucy in the bathroom with the door shut usually means, well, if you've been reading the Hess Report for any length of time, you already know what it means: nothing good. Well, nothing horribly bad, and usually something at least mildly amusing. I knocked.

"You doing okay in there?"


There was a beat of silence.

"You want to see what I'm doing?"

"Uh, okay."

I opened the bathroom door. Lucy's clothes are in a pile on the floor. She's buck naked with a dripping washcloth in her hand. She's also clean as a whistle.

"This is what artists do," she said. "They take off all their clothes, then wash the paint off like this."

"Not a bath?"

"Dad!" she said, but I think she was spelling it d-u-h instead of d-a-d. "After I get dressed, I'm going to slick my hair, because artists don't like their hair all puffy."

"Good enough," I said, and closed the door.

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