Tuesday, March 6, 2012

'Nothing I Say Can Improve the Way it Looks'

That was the large type quote in today's Wall Street Journal obit on ceramic artist Ken Price written by Peter Plagens. It immediately got my attention.

I don't let my feelings about contemporary art theory slip out much on this blog. I'm sure that they do occasionally. I'm much more open about them on my main web site. I also believe that art theory is pretty worthless, or at least debilitating. It's so easy to waste your time thinking about art and the art world rather than undertaking the far more rewarding and satisfying task of just making art. So I assume very few readers of this blog are interested in my thoughts on the subject.

But sometimes things just bother you and get under your skin. I looked at an online application for a local juried art show today. It will explore the 'themes and ideas that are current within the arts of Philadelphia.' Uh, oh. That most likely rules me out. I don't even know what those ideas are. What's worse I'd be willing to bet I'd think that they were utter nonsense if I did know. (So by now you can probably see why I don't write about this much here!). In any case the notion of ideas in art is always under my skin, like a nasty thorn.

So when I read the Ken Price obit, an artist I should say I vaguely recalled from my years in California, my heart leapt when I read
Part of Price's uniqueness -- particularly in today's logorrheic, theory-besotted art world -- was his straightforwardness.

'Theory-besotted art world.' I couldn't have said it better myself. It's the main reason I turned from abstract art to naturalistic art 10-15 years ago.

Plagens goes on to quote Price:
I can't prove that my art's any good or that it means what I say it means. And nothing I can say can improve the way it looks.

I think that this is at the heart of my view on art, whether it's abstract, naturalistic or anything in between. The only thing that's important to me is how it looks. Just as with music I care about what it sounds like. This would seem to be a simple, self-obvious statement. But in the bizarro world of art nothing is self-evident other than the one fad will follow another.

Well, as I said, not many people who read this blog I suspect are very interested in this type of thing. They're interested more in nature or naturalistic art I think. But even for them I think the importance of what something looks like is worth mentioning.

I said yesterday that I don't get much satisfaction out of working from photos, even if the work turns out fairly realistic. I'm happy with my recent ballpoint pen drawings of wood warblers. But they seem to me more like exercises than anything else. And in fact they were I did them mainly to learn. I also tried to make drawings that were pleasing to look at and that somehow captured the bird. But there was still a bit of 'exercise' in them.

By contrast I'm now trying to create a print or painting of the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer and Solitary Sandpiper that I saw last summer at Morris Arboretum. Yesterday's ink and watercolor wash drawing was one attempt. Today I changed it to a vertical format, moved the shorebird and added some foliage and fallen trees in the water. To me this is what art is all about, regardless of subject, trying to make something that looks good, just like Ken Price.


Ellen Snyder said...

Great post Ken. I don't know much about art but I know when I like something. Who cares what the art critics say. I dare say the same applies to other creative arts including writing. Carry on! Ellen

Ken Januski said...

Thanks Ellen! It used to be that the phrase "I don't know much about art but I know when I like something" was seen by many as a indication that the person was really unsophisticated. Maybe it still is. But even back when I was in graduate school years ago I realized that it is only the people who know what they like that have any chance of truly enjoying art, writing, music, etc. It's the only foundation for true appreciation! I wish the sophisticates, including the art schools, taught this.

By the way I thought that was a very moving tribute to your friend on your blog recently, including the concluding poem.

And thanks for the 'Carry on!' encouragement.