Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Abstraction Vignette + Plush Beaver demo

"Abstract art is a product of the untalented, 
sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered." - Al Capp

As a sort of an addendum to the pen & ink critter spot-illustrations, I finished up a demo done for reference sketching while we warmed-up on stuffed animals (before the UAF museum field-trip/safari). Posted above is a work-in-progress copy with notes, and below is the finished piece.

As fodder for the upcoming 3-page vignette critique, our class visited the Fairbanks Art Association's Bear Gallery to see what potential inspirations and appropriations could be sampled. On display this month is a juried group invitational of abstract art paintings from Alaskan artists. Juxtaposed with selections from the "Six Word Stories" the sketches culled from these non-representational works made for an interesting in-class assignment. At least I suckered 'em into looking at, thinking about and commenting on paintings that they normally never would have given a second look even if they had gone to the gallery on their own.
There were some visceral, knee-jerk rejections and genuine bafflement at many of the pieces, made for a good teaching moment. My own biases probably didn't help much, as there were a couple I wouldn't even have used as wrapping paper for a present to an enemy, much less shell out thousands of dollars for. At the risk of coming across as a philistine, I've seen more deliberate skill and craftsmanship in random garbage pulled from a dumpster by ravens: some pieces to me had no redeemable value, interest or discernible meaning (which for many is an underlying point); they lacked any conscious use of composition, poor use of color and impenetrable content. There were however several pieces which displayed interesting, deliberate compositions; rich, controlled palettes and intriguing, suggestive textural surface treatments that invited repeated and prolonged viewing. In other words, your basic group exhibit, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Opening oneself up to the possibility of introspective, unconscious interpretations is an ostensible reason to go to galleries despite any private reservations or personal taste - it bears mentioning that some of the most revealing and powerful shows I've ever seen featured works I didn't even like. In a classroom setting it's part of the job to both encourage and facilitate understanding the philosophical context and academic conventions works are created in, regardless of personal taste, popularity or the opinions of others. Ascertaining meaning is an elusive and highly subjective exercise in critiquing art, and sometimes the feelings evoked are way more expressive than the works themselves. I never cease to marvel at the emotions that get provoked by a passive, inert object, even rivaling the outrage over controversial content. A reminder was in order that many of the same creators of said pieces in the gallery would have an equally passionate or dismissive opinion on our own pen & ink illustrations which were temporarily displayed against this contrasting backdrop.

OK - so now, after all that, there's this:

This sample demo, done mostly on-site, was an interesting live experiment in testing out a sneaky suspicion that such a vignette evolves directly from the same conventions shaping the works of "Fine Art" we viewed. No less an example of a process of non-representational abstraction juxtaposed with random text. Or was it...
Most of the students also created equally ludicrous and/or revealing pieces, which triggered a few light-bulbs to go off with relation to their upcoming 3-page vignette. Maybe, just maybe, they can take a few tentative steps away from the linear trajectory this class has taken in traditional acquisition of rote skills in perception and execution. Maybe they'll figure out this is a golden opportunity to try and get one over on the ol' art teacher and produce a bunch of meaningless, incoherent gobbledygook. Then there's always the offhand chance true genius will be revealed...

"Is this art?"
"This means something."
"Yes, this means something stupid."
- Beavis and Butthead

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