Over the years I have gone to hundreds of museums and galleries, studied the works of the masters, read the analyses and opinions of critics, seen and opined on the works of my fellow students and mentors. All the time, I am searching for a thread, a common denominator. What makes a piece of art wonderful, memorable or just plain awful? And within that question, I try to evaluate the body of work of that particular artist and ask whether or not this is the work of a fine artist?
George DeWolfe, in one of his master classes, fascinated me with his revealing analysis of paintings of the masters, such as Rembrandt, Degas, Cezannes, Pollack and others, as they related to development of the fine black and white photo. He took images of these paintings and reduced them to grayscale to better view the breadth of tonality in each of these pieces of art, even before photography was on the map. This was done to demonstrate some of the amazing qualities of these painters, all painting with color, but somehow fully understanding the quality of composition in its underlying tonality. They knew how to see well. Dewolfe went on to say that,
“The masterful articulation of the grayscale in these paintings is not only the key to good color, but also the essential key to creating presence in the work – the foundational element of a masterpiece.”
This is as good a place as any to start our thought process.
I confess that often I’ll go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and unfortunately, not get it. I mean that I am not moved, wouldn’t want to own it, in fact, I am angry that I am wasting my time! And yet, these exhibitions, installations, or pieces of art are often heralded by the museum, or someone of credibility, as being significant and noteworthy. I shrug my shoulders.
What does impress me however, is when an artist has over the years developed a unique and consistent body of work; pieces that would be recognizable as being that artists’ artwork years after being produced, yet, in some way, different from the earlier work. I am sure we are all familiar with some exceedingly successful artists who have a signature style that is forever recognized as being special and unique. Some of these artists, unfortunately, get caught up in their success and are fearful of leaving an established comfort zone. Others display the guts and artistry to move forward with newer and more challenging work. I say SHAME on the former, and HATS OFF to the latter.
I am willing to allow the definition of a fine artist to remain somewhat undefined for the moment. I am steadfast, however, in my belief that a fine artist will create a unique and recognizable body of work that continues to evolve as the artist explores and builds on the past. We owe a debt of gratitude to those of you that adhere to these convictions. What are your thoughts?
You can see works of Rich Smukler at www.richsmuklerphoto.com.