Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What makes good or bad art?

I have completed a new series of small paintings on Yupo, a paper-like surface made of 100% polypropylene.  Ink behaves very unpredictably on its smooth finish and so its use can clearly show some qualities of what I think makes good and bad art. 

This painting of sand dollars matches the sensation of walking along the beach and suddenly coming upon a group of sand dollars in shallow sub-tidal waters. The image is immediately recognizable and yet the placement of the main subject is unexpected, which creates an impression of effective surprise.  So good art makes me stop and look more carefully. 

This painting of a Northern Ronquil is not very successful.  The left and right portions of the painting are not handled the same.  The tail of the fish is certainly in water, but the head of the fish is maybe not.  There is not an overall unity to the image.

This image of a small beach crab is one of my favorite in the series.  What an attitude!  The painting captures the feeling these creatures evoke when I see them scurrying on the tidal flats.   Good art evokes feelings as well as visual impressions.

Although Calcareous tube worms are some of the most beautiful and unusual creatures to be seen attached to rocks, floats and the underside of pilings, this painting is confusing and does not show clearly their gracefully meandering shapes.  The painting is more about my indecision than about my subject.

This painting of Spindle Whelks is simple--with clean lines and a good mix of representation and abstraction.  The few areas of dense colour are balanced by the white space in a moving rather than a static way.  It is as much about the easy confidence of the marks as it is about the subject they portray.  Good art feels intentional. 

This Bull Kelp was the first painting in this series, just as the Whelks shown above were the last. The application of the ink feels more tentative in this piece; some areas are almost overworked while others feel incomplete.  This work is more about learning how to put the ink and water on the paper.

Of course in a series, one painting has to stand out as the one that "gets it right."  This Sea Blubber jellyfish image has all the qualities I have been describing: effective surprise,  evocative feelings,  a balance of simplicity and complexity, and especially, confident mark-making. 

Perhaps the best part of understanding what makes good or bad art is the enthusiasm I feel to begin a new series.  I think flowers will be next. 

Look for these sea creatures to become a series of art cards in my Etsy webstore