Monthly Archives: January 2015

Thursday Thoughts: Artists and Tradition

Winter/Air/Old Age by Bruce Herman

Winter by Bruce Herman

Quote from Bruce Herman: “the artist stands in relation to her art much as a parent does to her child: ‘I have not created you; you came through me, not just from me.’ But for this to happen, the artist must stand in a tradition that lends meaning to her work. Hence, the very uniqueness of the art is a dependent thing—dependent upon a past, even as it moves us into a future…our debt to tradition (whether conscious or not) ought to make us humble enough to acknowledge our debt to one another, as well, in the making and “using” of works of art. We are, all of us, both transmitters and recipients of the tradition as it lives in us, offering us, as we embody it, something authentically new. ”

You can find the complete essay here.

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The Critique Process

How to look at and evaluate a work of art:

I. Describe What You See: What are the elements of the image?

  • Start simple.
  • What are the building blocks that make up the image?
  • Take your time and absorb the experience of the work.

II. Analyze What You See: How do the various elements work together?

  • Speculate about why the artist made certain choices.
  • What are the areas of emphasis?
  • In what tradition is the artist working?
  • Is there an overall plan? What is the overall effect of the individual elements?

III. Interpret: What is the significance of what you see?

  • Examine and explain the cause of your response to the work.
  • Use adjectives and analogies to describe the sensory experience of the work.
  • Think of a theme that could explain the response prompted by the work.
  • The meaning of a work of art should be tied to elements previously analyzed.
  • Be imaginative, let your mind roam for possibilities beyond the obvious.

IV. Judge: Give thoughtful and fair judgment.

  • Start by defining the criteria/standards used in evaluating this particular work.
  • Do your normal criteria adequately match the style of the work before you?
  • Has the artist told the truth in the best way possible according to their worldview?
  • Have all the artist’s choices worked together to create a cohesive whole?

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Preview of a New Drawing


Detail. Ink, Graphite, and Coffee on Watercolor Paper


Detail. Ink, Graphite, and Coffee on Watercolor Paper

Some details from a new drawing illuminating the Tower of Babel.

Copyright Jacob Rowan 2015

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Thursday Thoughts: Artist vs. Craftsman

The difference, in very simple terms, between an artist and a craftsman is that the artist serves nature and the craftsman shapes nature to serve his needs. The artist creates to discover and to understand; the craftsman creates in order to meet a specific need (which is in no way an inferior application of creative energy).

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Thursday Thoughts: Artist and Viewer

“It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.” — Pablo Picasso.

There is a symbiotic relationship between artist and viewer with the viewer serving an instrumental role in the making of a work of art. Art made with no thought of its audience is, at best, selfish self-expression, and that is the kind of art a child could make. An artist has the fearful task of opening his work up to the interpretation of the public. They may get it wrong, they may understand it better than he does, regardless that interplay between creation and viewer is at the heart of art.

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Thursday Thoughts: Artists as Border-stalkers

Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura

Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura

I recently received a copy of Makoto Fujimura’s new book Culture Care. It has been enormously encouraging as an alternative portrait of the artist’s role in our hyper-industrialized and pragmatic culture. He describes art as a gift rather than a commodity to be hawked and hoarded. One of his ideas has had a particular resonance with my own experience. He describes artists as border-stalkers, those who live in the margins of society and who possess a gift for imagination and empathy. This gift allows them to move between “tribes” and build bridges, reminding different groups of their shared humanity. Despite the rapid increase in communication technologies we are fragmenting into increasingly narrow groups of politics, religion, and interests. Art is a doorway into the eyes of another and offers a glimpse of a different world. Unless we are exposed to something other than our Facebook news feed and dramatic headlines we will continue to grow inward, surrounding ourselves with others that have our same fears, weaknesses, and blind spots. Art is what opens up the world and artists are the traveling pilgrims bringing glimpses of the “world that ought to be” from tribe to tribe.

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