Sunday, February 15, 2009

Formalism, Naturalism, Sensualism

I worked some more on the watercolor from last week. I was happy with what I had accomplished but it seemed like just a good beginning. Most of what I needed to change had to do with more 'formal' considerations: value, color, variety in both. I was satisfied with the more naturalistic concerns: does it look like the dowitcher?

As I worked on it today I realized that I was finally getting close to what I'd like to accomplish in my naturalistic art: honest portrayal of what I've seen but also the sensual and formal pleasure of making art. Since graduate school or earlier I've had arguments about this with teachers and fellow artists. Artists are a varied bunch and make their art for various reasons. I've always ended up in the formalist camp not the deep personal expression camp, the political camp or any other camp.

Formalism can seem like a hard, lifeless reason for making art. But while working today I realized that for me it really is closer to sensualism: reveling in the materials that I use and what they can accomplish visually. Matisse was a great formalist. He said: "Then a moment comes when every part has found its definite relationship and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture without having to paint it all over again." Every shape, color and brush mark in his art had a purpose. This is my type of art: color, brushwork, value, tactility all combine to make a sensuous and beautiful object.

In taking up naturalistic art about three years ago I needed to subordinate this tendency to that of learning how to portray birds so that they actually looked like what I saw. It's been a slow but rewarding process and there is still a huge distance to go. But today for the first time I felt that I was actually able to combine some of that desire to portray what I saw with my somewhat sublimated desire to use color, shape, lines, brushwork in the sensuous way that I used to do in my abstract work.

I've taken liberties with both color and value. They didn't look quite this way. But I do think that they make for a better painting. That is my goal: portray what I see, but do so with artistic freedom. For me that is what makes artmaking enjoyable, and I've always thought that what is enjoyable or at least truly felt to the artist, eventually comes through to the receptive viewer. That is all any artist can hope for.


Pam Johnson Brickell said...

Hi Ken,
Ooooooo, it's starting to sing :) The dowitcher really pops now, and yes, you've captured it. How about considering adding a touch of that wonderful blue into the shadows on the bird. I can see it on its chest and just below the cheek on the neck. I think that will unify the bird with the background and also create a nice light/dark visual between the neck/chest and the ground. Don't want to step on your toes so you can tell me to back off if you want :)

Ken Januski said...

Hi Pam,

Thanks for your comments. I'm glad that you like it. 'Sing' is just what I'd like it do do!

I'm hesitant to do any more at the moment. I did add a very tentative blue/gray to the neck in the version that you see but it's so tentative that it almost disappears. But I need to leave it for now. The last-minute touchups are always the ones that can ruin, or heighten, a painting. So I need to let this sit for a bit.

Feel free to make comments such as this. I know that I'm often tempted to make them myself, when looking at the work of others, especially if I think that just one little thing would really bring it to life. Often I think: "If only s/he would do this or that.......... it would be such a good painting."