Tag Archives: art

Art as Decoration

Art as Decoration?

You worked long hours, sometimes tedious hours, to get each piece just right. At the start it was the idea, the composition, the lines, the light, the message. You poured yourself into each image. The final “processing” helped you to share yourself, your inner thoughts that words could not express. Now you are standing next to just eleven of your works from the past five months. These are the ones the gallery selected, but they hung them, just these, yours, in a side gallery of your own. It had been a hectic week to get everything ready, the artist’s statements, the business cards, all the details. But now the lights are on, the doors are open.

People are actually coming, coming to see your works of art. An elegantly dressed lady approaches your “Holiday Market”. Oh, she stops, she is actually looking at it! She hardly diverts her glance as she takes a sip of her Chateau Gloria St. Julien. The gallery has really gone all out. Well it isn’t just for you, four other artists are having their exhibits alongside of yours.

This appreciative art aficionado has taken a liking to your piece. She hold the wine glass daintily by the stem. You can’t help but notice the large diamond on her ring. She step back but continues to admire your painting. You can hear your heart pounding, hoping nobody will notice.

The stylish lady turns to her husband behind her, “Isn’t this marvelous? The colors would match beautifully with the new carpeting in the downstairs guest room!”

“Match … carpeting?” The words hit you like a ton of bricks. None of the emotion, none of the nostalgia, none of the holiday spirit, that you worked so hard to bring out in your image, just the colors? Is your art seen as just a decorative accessory?

How should artists feel when their masterpieces, into which they poured their soul, are seen as decorations? Is this not insulting? Demeaning? Do we grit our teeth, smile graciously and take the money? Is this it?

Well, stand back and take a look at history. Art has always been decoration. Some of the most famous works were commissioned as decoration. Remember Pope Julius who commissioned that sculptor Leonardo to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Even the great Rembrandt took a commission for a painting for a new city hall. The piece was rejected!

Much art is purchased to make living spaces pleasant. If it pleases the buyer, be proud, be happy.

Fine Art America recently added a feature to show pieces in familiar settings. Buyers can even use an app that shows the candidate pieces in their own homes. I am showing several of my works in these simulations. I have offered my pieces printed on gift items, from shirts to shower curtains, no snobbish attitude here. I am glad to make my admirers and customers happy.

First published in Our Arts Magazine on December 7, 2017

The Ways of a Mind

The Ways of a Mind

It was frustrating, excruciatingly frustrating. A small task, an easy chore that I had done many times before, on this day it just did not work. What could be so difficult about setting a header on a website? Programming had been part of my working career and this wasn’t even coding, just pick and place.

My mind was numb. I needed a break. I needed to share my agony. This was fodder for a blog lament. Maybe a handful of my online friends would at least show a little sympathy by clicking like.

Shattered World

Wanting to set down my thoughts I started Paint. No, not Live Writer, not Word, not even Notepad, but plain old Paint. Plain lines, shapes, colors to express my feelings, that is all I needed, all I wanted. Oh, I envisioned the outcome and would reach for other tools before finishing my piece. This is how my mind works, images first. Days later I finally started typing text, on my phone, early in the morning.

Reminiscing …

Funny that I so automatically started with the image before the words? It has always been thus for me. I recall a story my mother told me one day when I had come home for a visit. When I was just a toddler, one day my grandmother took me over to the neighbors. They had found a turtle. I had never seen a turtle before. When I got back home I was excited and wanted to share my experience. I ran and got a piece of paper and a pencil and drew a pretty good representation of a turtle.

Visual expression and logic have been the basis for my engineering career. I also remember the time, as a young boy, when I was outside late at night. In our small village the nights were dark and the skies were clear. I admired the stars when suddenly one of them jumped. Yes, the star jumped from one place and stopped a little distance away. I was awed. It was still, nothing else in the firmament showed anything but utter stillness. I told my father about the jumping star. He sat me down and patiently explained meteors to me. It was a good, scientific explanation, but of course, I knew better. I had seen, seen! the star jump!

… back to reality

Everything in computers is crucially predictable, controlled. Everything works just as instructed, logically, precisely. Or it used to. Lately things are no longer as they seem. We live in Alice’s wonderland. The words have lost their meanings, what we see is no longer reality.

As so often happens, I started a number of images, some I finished, some are but sketches. The exercise was calming and I completed two images that expressed my frustrations as well as a little bit of hope. Later I finished my lament and posted my comments and older images as well as the two newest ones. See my lament, Losing It, over on my blog This ‘n That.

The image “Shattering World”, expressing my pain, is the upper one. Dark and ominous, it shows an explosion of sharp, multi-colored triangles with the pieces pointing, moving in all directions and toward the viewer. My final effort, “Hope”, is vastly different in feeling. It pulls the viewer the other way, towards a warm light at the “end of the tunnel”. This too consists of triangles in various colors. The surrounding environment is mundane and gray. The triangles now are more structural in nature, they are reminiscent of open doors rather than shattering shards. I tried to make this a reassuring, hopeful complement to my first work.


Returning to my website, I find the problems still there. Ach, I must start my Paint program again …


First published in Our Arts Magazine on November 14, 2017

When is a Photograph Not a Photograph

When is a Photograph Not a Photograph?

Our illustration here shows an image of a worksite with some shovels stuck in dirt on the left. Clearly that is a photograph. Then it blends into some colorful “satin tiles”, digital art, on the right. It is even signed. Clearly not a photograph. Yet the right part was derived from the photo of the work site, it is a digital manipulation. It would be quite a stretch, and unacceptable by most, to call the right part a photograph.

We have wonderful digital tools these days that permit us to do magical and imaginative things. These tools allow us to use an image as if it were just paint on a brush and let our creativity roam. An art form usually called “digital art”. Let’s take a look at a couple more images.

Here we have another photograph and a, well, digital art. We are getting closer to the question of our topic. Any doubt in your mind as to the distinction? Would it matter if I told you that I spent more time on post-processing the image of the building than the one of the dancers? Would it matter that I removed a sign in front of the bushes and a gutter grate from the drive to avoid those distracting elements? Is the image of “The Little White House” still a photograph?

Since the earliest days of photography the artists have processed, post-processed, edited, retouched, enhanced, and changed the images produced by their cameras. Rarely is an image straight from the camera fit for publication. A photographer plays her camera like a violinist plays his violin. The setting, the subject, the time of day, the light, the arrangement of the details, the camera settings to control what is sharp, what is blurred, all play into what will become a photograph. Once the shutter is snapped, a whole other process begins. In the early days that was done with chemistry in film processing and repeated in the printing process that also involved many other tricks.

Nearly seventy years ago I was an apprentice to a master photographer. He taught me the details of camera operation, managing the setting, the art of the chemistry and much more. He also taught me to use a brush, sometimes with just a single hair, and the mixing of the dyes to retouch the image. Small defects and distracting details, especially in portrait work, had to be removed or modified to produce a pleasing and natural image. He always stressed that my retouching work must be so perfect that no one will ever notice it. There was never any thought that our work was anything other than photography.

Nowadays photographs still require the master’s touch. Sometimes we soften the wrinkles in an aged face, because when we see the person in life, we do not really notice them. Sometimes we remove a distracting blemish because it is temporary and not truly a part of the parson. That goes for landscapes and other photographs as well.

A photographer captures not only an image with his camera, but also with his mind. We see things that others experience differently. We want to share what we saw, and how we saw it, with the viewer. The camera, no matter how finely crafted the optics, how precise the sensor technology, does not match our eye and our vision. Yet, in the final image the photograph takes the viewer to the place, the subject, the moment in time, and sees what the photographer saw. The expert photographer brings the viewer to the subject so directly that there is no hint of the photographer’s intervention. It is as if she had stepped aside, behind the curtain, and left the viewer all alone with the subject. That is what I call a photograph.

Yet the tools of the trade permit us to go beyond reality and bring our dreams to life in our images. Here are two more of my art.

You can no longer identify the dancers. The identify of the individuals has been replaced by their art. I have tried to present not the dancer, but her art, her embodiment of music. The rustic Spanish scene is no longer a specific place, no longer a moment in time. but a feeling, an experience of joy. Clearly these are no longer photographs. These images make subject, place, time, vanish. The viewer is taken into the artists dreams.

I have shown and described photography and I have explained my feelings about digital photo manipulations. A photograph takes the viewer very directly to a subject, digital art presents the artist’s interpretation of a subject. Since the latter is derived from the photograph there is a boundary between the two forms of art. The question, “when is a photograph no longer a photograph”, is a valid one, but is it relevant? When does that transition from reality to vision happen? What guards that border?

For most artists the question is not relevant until the work is presented to a curator of a gallery, to an editor of a publication, and has to answer, “what is the medium?” The creator may feel that she is a photographer, who are we to argue? Can you make the call?

Allow me to present one more variation on the shovels. With this work I do not see a photograph.

First published in Our Arts Magazine on September 28, 2017