My oldest son and I were doing dishes yesterday in the late afternoon and got into a discussion about colour. I’d recently finished up a painting and he had graciously photographed it for me. He’d spent some time doing the colour correction and the results were quite good. I mentioned how hard it is for our brain to see colour sometimes. For example, I pointed out, the snow on the roof across the street that is in deep evening shade is really a very brilliant blue. He agreed that is was blue-ish, but not that blue. I have a little tool artists use for help in judging colour and value. It’s simply a piece of cardboard with a small square hole in the middle. The cardboard around the hole is painted what is known as “neutral grey value 5”. This colour is mid way between white and black and it eliminates the effects of other colours (and your brain) on the colour you’re trying to view. My son was very surprised just how blue the snow was ! We took turns looking through the view finder and then moving it away and laughing at how our brains kept turning the snow back to white (with just a bit of blue). I can actually look with one eye through the viewfinder and with the other at the whole scene and each eye sees a different colour ! Our brains say snow is white, the sky is blue and shadows are grey, but often they’re not. If I paint a picture the way my brain habitually thinks the colours are, in the end it won’t look right !
I think many things in life are like that. We think we know what we are looking at so we see what we know. If we act on that though, in the end it doesn’t always work right. Then we need to find some “neutral grey value 5” to help us see what is really there. Even with the viewfinder it can still be hard to get a colour just right, but I’ve got a better chance that way.
Some link love with a touch of grey …
I’ve been writing this post in my head for awhile, and by awhile I mean weeks. There is some sort of break between my head and my fingers when it comes to writing, or maybe it is easier to hit delete in my head (which actually explains the rather infrequent posts). However, the inspiration for the post, a painting, is finally finished which has given me a little boost in the I can get things done department.
I do dishes around here rather often ( so does my husband – not complaining dear !) and sometimes or maybe most of the time it feels like my effort would have more value elsewhere. But one particular day all the stainless steel pots and pans piled in the sink struck me as being rather artful. The cool light from the window was spilling over one half and the warm light from inside illuminated the other half. I stopped and took a picture. I ended up using this picture for an exercise in complementary colours I did in my slow attempt to start painting in acrylics. It was probably not a good choice for a beginner ; all hard lines and, reflections and shadows. I got rather frustrated on several occasions, but hey, not simple and frustrating can work sometimes too.
I’ve been thinking on what I value as an artistic experience, and my pots have inspired me to try and appreciate my everyday work as an important part of who I am as an artist. Strangely enough, a book I grabbed from the painting section at the library yielded this quote from the first page I flipped to:
When you wash dishes, be with the dishes only. … For the painter, mindfulness is a good exercise in concentration. – The Zen of Creative Painting
Was I being mindful when doing dishes and seeing a painting ? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m seldom thinking much about the dishes when doing them. I’m usually listening to music or watching the scenery out the window. Have I failed mindfulness ? It seems for me everything is turned around. When I ‘m painting I can’t be anything but mindful; I loose all sense of time and of having anything but form and colour in front of me. Painting is probably the closest I come to real meditation. Maybe art will lead me to mindfulness in life instead of mindfulness in life leading to art. Either way, I want to regard all of my daily experiences more highly.
On the other hand, you can read this (which appeared in my inbox not long after reading the aforementioned quote):
and get some more thoughts on mindfulness. It’s just that kind of day …
Time to paint !!!
Reflections on Value – a study in yellow and violet.
6 1/4” x 11” Acrylic on Illustration Board
I was actually felting the other day (squeezed that in between all the garden tasks), but unfortunately it was one of those instances where the vision of what I wanted to accomplish and the sight of what was in front of me were not lining up. Now, I’m pretty flexible and letting the piece go where it wants to go often yields something interesting; this was not one of those times ! The project was consigned to the recycle heap, and I was in a bit of a funk over the “lost” time. Being annoyed puts me in the mood for introspection (better than throwing things I guess), so I got to thinking on the topic of “vision versus execution” in art. I would like to think, that were I a professional artist (read full-time), that I would be able to master my craft and then be able to produce just what my little ol’ mind could dream up. I suspect however, that reality might be more like this quote from Einstein :
Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater.
That was my experience when studying Physics, and I have a feeling that always chasing a moving target/having greater expectations happens in most areas of endeavor. It could just be a personality thing too. It is a bit depressing to think that I might never be satisfied with my execution, but maybe that’s what keeps one going. Anyone out there further along the art curve want to set me straight ?
I’m going to go off on a bit of a tangent, but bear with me, it all comes around to art in the end (doesn’t everything?). I remember my mom teaching me to knit when I was younger. I also remember not sticking with it for too long. But, about eight or nine years ago I gave it another try. Mostly to make small toys for my children; the oldest of whom was about four and the next in line one. A few years passed, and I wanted to branch into something more practical. However, I still didn’t have much time, especially as we now had 3 children! Socks seemed like a good idea. Knitting was kind of passé when my mom was raising us, but it has made a comeback and you can find all kinds of trendy knitting stores now with lots of designer yarns. There are some pretty cool possibilities for socks. I was hooked. Not that I’m knitting at all hours, but in the winter when the evenings are long and dark, and the gardens are all frozen, it makes for a relaxing, meditative kind of time. I like that I don’t have to think too much about what I’m doing; no creative angst.
Right, you’re still wondering what this has to do with art. Well, first off, a funky pair of hand knit socks are like a little work of art to me. They certainly make me smile when I’m wearing them, as much as passing in front of one of my favourite paintings. Of course they’re a bit more ephemeral than an oil painting, but maybe that is a bit of their charm. The point that I really want to make though, is about how we assign value to things, and art in particular. The material cost for making a pair of socks is about $10. That alone already makes them pretty expensive socks. I like to knit with sock yarn, which is quite thin and produces a nice form fitting sock that I can actually fit into to my boots, and even some of my shoes. It’s hours of knitting; easily six, probably closer to eight. If I was paying myself even only minimum wage, then these socks end up close to $100. Who pays a hundred dollars for socks ? I wouldn’t. So why spend my time ? To start with, I can end up with something of value, made in minutes stolen here or there, or late evenings on the couch with my husband. But most of the value really is in the intangible qualities; the effort in the production, the quiet joy in the process, the gratitude of family and friends for a meaningful gift. These things are all of value to me, but how would they be conveyed to a stranger if I were selling these socks ? What value beyond the physical would they ascribe to a pair of socks ? Not much I think. Especially when you can pick something up from the nearest chain store for a few dollars.
All of which brings me (finally) to the question: How do we put a value on art ? I’ve seen formulas that take your material costs, add so much for hours of work, and then multiply by some factor so as to include things like marketing and insurance. That gets you a price, but does it tell you anything about what it ‘s value to someone else is ? As mentioned before, I feel art’s appeal lies mostly in the intangible, or to corrupt a common phrase, the value is in the eye of the beholder. As an artist, I have to figure out how to communicate the value (if it has any) of my work to the rest of the world. Of course, the world might communicate back, that like my $100 dollar socks, it’s just not worth what I think it is. I still haven’t made peace with the idea of selling art (although I happily buy it when I can afford to do so), and this has derailed previous forays into making art a more “serious” part of my life. Maybe I’ll figure it out this time. Maybe I’ll just keep knitting socks.
For all kinds of parallel thoughts along these lines I’d recommend the much more polished writing available here:
or the inspiring performance here: Amanda Palmer The Art of Asking
And this says something to me about man vs machine: Glas