Understanding art

Do you scratch your head whenever you look at abstract art? I know I do sometimes. Perhaps it’s easier to understand when you break it down as a transition from realism, which humans have struggled to depict for centuries, to styles that more fully express the artist’s point of view about the scene or feeling in front of them.

For example, one of Monet’s earliest paintings looks like this:

Image result for early monet painting

He studied art classically for years before experimenting with looser brushstrokes and more vivid colors while working with other great artists of his era.

Art becomes interesting when it’s not just a mirror of real life, but an interpretation of real life. Once people were fully able to paint the world accurately, they began to seek other ways of expressing the atmosphere. Impressionism, seeing below (another by Monet), is an example of a scene that has been abstracted to some degree.

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Another example is Picasso. His early work looks like this:

Image result for picasso's early work

It’s incredibly realistic with rich details and classical lighting. He learned formal drawing techniques from his father before he ever dabbled with cubism. It was only later that he developed his own personal style, seen below.

Image result for picasso cubism

Picasso developed cubism as a way to challenge the idea that art should be an exact copy of nature. Rather than continue painting with perspective and foreshortening, he introduce the idea that you can paint one subject from many different angles and perspective. This is what makes his work famous.

Mark Rothko’s early work looks like this:

Mark Rothko, Untitled, late 1920slate 1920s

It’s a traditional watercolor landscape. His later work, on the other hand, looked like this:

Mark Rothko, Sea Fantasy, 19461946

and then even later like this:

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 19531953

These are large paintings that required your participation. He’s implying, by hanging the paintings close to where observers would stand, that the painting is an alternative to real life. There’s a different reality altogether and that it is expressed in the work.

In order to understand abstract art, it’s important to think about these aspects of art – that we started from first being able to full capture a scene realistically with painting to experimenting how the painting could enhance the real world or create a different world. Not many people dare to do this, which is why those artists are famous.

That’s all for now. Until next time, happy museuming.

 

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5 fun places for artists in SF

SF Art Institute

  • What: Free figure drawing every Friday. 5:30–8:30 pm | Studio 13
  • Why: Most spots in the city will charge you for figure drawing, so this is a pretty great deal. The room is also well-lit and atmospheric, and you get a nice view of Coit Tower if you walk around the SFAI buildings.
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23rd street studio

  • What: Also figure drawing ($18)
  • Why: Because the guy who owns this is really, really charming. He’ll invite everyone to the dining table during the long break in the middle of a session AND  bakes treats and makes everyone tea AND we’ll talk about our favorite movies from the week. On top of that, the poses that the models do here tend to be more dynamic than what I’ve seen elsewhere.
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Clay by the bay

  • What: Ceramics!
  • Why: Because their classes are great (says my friends – I haven’t been). I keep missing their classes, because of work trips
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Case for Making

  • What: Well-curated art supplies
  • Why: Because it’s really pretty, because it’s next to Trouble Coffee, because the owner has workshops during the week, because she got a commercial license like a decade ago and decided at some point that she would sell all of her favorite supplies there.
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3 fish studios

  • What: Print-making studio/store
  • Why: Because they made the print with the bear hugging the state of California piece that’s now on every other tote bag in Valencia. This is another place I haven’t been to. It’s hella far, but close to Case for Making – so recommendation would be to check them out together.
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Abstract

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To abstract something is to break it down into it’s simplest form.  

Abstract: The Art of Design is a new Netflix series that showcases designers and artists in different fields. The first episode, which features illustrator Christoph Niemann, talks about the essence of creative work and abstraction – the ability to look at an object in a completely new way that helps connect the artist to the viewer.

It felt really refreshing to see a documentary that talks about the creative process. The finished piece is often not the result of some pixie dust but of just getting to your desk, sitting down and giving yourself time to explore the right solution.

I highly recommend it to all designers and artists – regardless of what field you’re in. Below (and above) are some of Christoph’s artwork:

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A thought about art museums

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While admiring the many works of Rembrandt and Vermeer today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I thought to myself “this is so great, being able to see the original works of art from these masters of painting.” Rembrandt is able to light portraits up by focusing on a few focal points with a painting and layering light paint on dark. Vermeer’s subjects are so peculiar and interesting that I can stare at them for hours.

My personal experience of wandering around art galleries and museums is great – if I’m wandering around by myself. I went to art school and learned about many of the artists whose name I read on plaques. I was also personally trained for a few years under a master oil painter, from whom I learned about temperature, color, light and shadow. When I visit museums with friends who want to rush through all the exhibits, I try to explain as much as I can about a piece if I previously learned about its context, history and ideas.

I do this, because most museums will tell you about the piece and what it is (rather literally, sometimes metaphorically), but they won’t necessarily tell you about the evolution of that artist, unless the entire exhibition is specifically about that. They won’t tell you what makes the painting incredibly special.

They’ll tell you that it’s a lady with a child, painted in a style that mimics 18th-century London art. When they show a one-off painting that Picasso created late in his cubism phase, museums will tell you about the style, but they won’t always explain the progression of his work that led to this piece. Have you been to a modern art museum lately? How many people end up taking a photo of something that looks cool but is entirely meaningless to them?

Art museums have a tendency to reflect history and movements. They document thoughts, ideas and views from many centuries and artistic periods. I wish, however, that they would help the average person understand art more clearly. More than the “what,” we need the “why” and the “how” of art.

Science museums often have interactive components that help you understand the concepts behind each exhibition. What if you had an art museum with a section that allowed you to paint in the style of an artist or a design museum that lets you actually sit on different Eames or Jacobsen chairs or try out different types of tea kettles instead of displaying them?

Rather than making art an exclusive thing that we stare at on museum walls, we should make it more accessible. Then perhaps, more people will understand its value and purpose in everyday life. 

The Artists I Know

…make things not because someone told us to. We make things because they want to. We have intrinsic motivation to make something that no one else has made before. It means that we’re not listening to what the world wants. We’re listening to ourselves.