Black Dot, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 4 5/8 x 6 inches.
I wasn't going to blog about this just completed painting because for me it is not a success: it has an awkwardness to it that makes me uncomfortable; the space is too complex; it's funny but not funny enough. But then I thought this would be an opportunity to discuss that most difficult of issues: how do we judge our own work? What are our criteria for success or failure, and how clear are they? For me it's often difficult to pinpoint why I don't like something; the negative feeling just hovers, unarticulated but still insistent. A sense of happiness with a work can also be similarly vague: I like it; it works; it fills me with satisfaction.
I do know that when I look at the four most recent paintings I've completed–––here seen on my office bookshelf and wall––I sense that I have achieved something solid, something I've been aiming for. I began to make a list of the positive attributes of these paintings, to clarify for myself and for you, my readers, why I think they're successful.
- There is harmony between the various elements––color, shape, value––leading to a feeling of complete balance, a just-right-ness.
- The paint is applied with grace and self assurance (or loss of self), so that the form is clearly described.
- The sense of form, the light, and color being just right bring a strong sense of presence, of holding a place on the wall, of "speaking" to the viewer.
- There's a stripped down simplicity paired with a conceptual reality, one that is tactile.
- All these parts combine for a sense of sizzling life, a frisson of energy. And beauty.
- And oh, I realize this is all so subjective!
It's possible that this list will still seem vague. I'm sure I can add to it and I'm sure it will change over time, just as my paintings have, just as I'm sure that your lists will be different from mine, as your judgment will be different. Please share any of your own criteria.
When I add Black Dot to the group of recent paintings, it doesn't hold up for me. It does not have the inevitability of the other works, their serious, quiet presence (though from time to time humor also appears in my work). In years past, my landscape paintings were full of implied narrative and socio-political subtext (see this link for a taste of those ideas, and this link to a page on my website to see an overview of past work). Now, although I still picture agricultural equipment, the painting's meaning must come from its formal elements, which I hope transcends the specificity of its origins.
The four paintings:
at top: White Behind Red, Gray Cross
below: Blue Circle, Blades.