Sunday, June 24, 2012

Art books

      When I was in art school, one of the very first classes I took was a drawing class that met at 8:00 AM MWF. Usually this class (AD 110) was taught by a TA. But this particular semester it was taught by one of the art professors. This was fine, except he had decided to use the time while we were drawing to impart his knowledge of life, and how we had to take advantage of every opportunity, and how he started out as a riveter and he built on that experience, and you have to build on your own experiences, and on and on and on.
     Drawing 110 was an intro class where you spent a lot of time drawing busted watering cans and guitars missing strings composed in a hap hazard "still life." When you are a freshmen, you have just rolled out of bed and you are attempting to get excited about drawing a bunch of garbage, the last thing you want to hear is what amounts to a graduation motivation speech. The entire time he was going through this weekly diatribe, the dialog in my head went something like this: "Okay that's great! Building on experiences! Wonderful! Do you want to pipe down so I concentrate on my drawing here? You are always telling me to think about what I see and not what I know, to focus on my lightest lights and darkest darks, so how about letting me do that?"
      Anyway, despite that, my instructor might be pleased to know that not everything he went on about was totally lost on me. One of the things that he said was that we should be keeping our textbooks and building a personal library of art books. I took this to heart and did not sell any of my art books when the semester ended. I built up quite a collection, and I have since added to my textbooks with other art books that I have found along my way as an artist. I am now a fine arts librarian, and this could well have been the starting point for that career choice as well. The picture above is just a potion of one shelf of several that house my art books. What follows is my recommendation for three art books from my collection that I think every artist should at least read if not own.

The Practical Handbook For The Emerging Artist

   Unlike the other books on this list, this one is actually one of my former textbooks. This book has proven to be far more useful than the class that required it. It has information and guides through every aspect of being a practicing artist. From copyright law, to artists statements, to how to get your artwork seen, this book covers each topic in a way to familiarize the reader with the issue at hand. I refer to this book regularly but one of the points that I have taken from it was in section two; "Getting Your Work Out and Seen." Here the book talks about the different avenues for exhibition, how to navigate the selection process, and the pros and cons of each venue. One of the things that the author stressed was that as an emerging artist it doesn't really matter where you go to show your work, as long as it gets out there. She furthered by describing how you can build from each exhibition opportunity, and added that you never know who will be at each venue meaning that a prominent gallery owner or other professional might be there too. Personally I have experienced this, as my first solo exhibition at a small gallery outside of Washington, DC came about because the owner of the gallery happened to see my work at a local art fair. My copy is the first edition, but it has since been updated. An enhanced second edition is available.        

Why Art Cannot Be Taught

      I found this book shortly after I was rejected to every MFA program I applied to (another story that I may blog about at sometime in the future). The author describes it as a guide book for art students just beginning their studies. But I think it is a book every artist should read. In it Elkins discussed the historical roots of art education from the master/apprentice model to the academy to the current form of college art schools. He explained the nature of each environment and went in to detail about how the "publish or perish" model of higher education does little to help foster future artists. One section that I really enjoyed was on critiques and how  it described what would happen if an artist like Georges Seurat brought in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte to a contemporary art class. The dialog was humerus, but a very valid point was made. 
Art and Fear

      I'm not sure when I came across this book, but I have found it helpful even outside the realm of art making. This book described how as an artist one should take the time to cultivate his/herself as an artist. It described the benefits of surrounding yourself in a creative community and building a network of artist friends. It encouraged the reader to make art, even when there seemed little point in doing so. This is a very good book to consult when dealing with rejection (which happens a LOT as an artist). One thing that I took away from this book was the idea that one should constantly be developing art. The author explained the idea was to draw and draw and paint, sculpt and sculpt and wheel through, just keep working on whatever it is you do. Bayles and Orland stated that it wasn't quality that mattered, but quantity. If you keep churning out works not all of them will be masterpieces, in fact most will not be. But there will at least be a handful that are stunning, and it is these handful that will take you places.    

     Well those are my three picks. As mentioned I work in a library so to stress that, you do not have to go out and buy these books just to read them (though they are available through amazon). You can go to your library and check them out. I have provided a link to Worldcat which after you enter the title will tell you the nearest library with a copy of that book. They are very good reads.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Story

      The latest issue of Professional Artist (pictured above) had some advice about writing an art blog. I was very pleased to discover that I have already been doing many of the things prescribed. There were however, a few things that I have yet to do with my blog. These include storytelling and list compiling. These, along with other ideas stated in the article, are supposed to help people understand your art, your perspective, and a little about what shapes your art making. I'll make some lists later, but for now I will tackle the story telling part.

      For many years now I have signed my work with the unique character featured below:

Once in a while I would be asked where I came up with this style of signing my work. Well, today I'm going to explain it.

     This story begins when I was in high school. I have always enjoyed working with clay, and when I was in high school I took as many ceramics courses as I could. I loved it. It was my favorite course, and this interest was carried with me as I graduated and began college. I entered as an undeclared freshman but as I began my studies I became more and more drawn towards art. I still had a passion for clay, and had worked in the open studio in the basement of the student center. After a while I decided to begin the study of art and became a pottery major. Here are some samples of my work:

     In my very first collegiate ceramics course, my instructor informed us that we would need to include our initials on the bottom of all our works. Once the clay is fired it tends to shrink and it was not uncommon for the work to become unrecognizable. The signatures helped people distinguish which work belonged to which artist. He also advised us to develop a unique way of linking our letters, so people with the same initials would be able to determine their own. I merged my "P" and "K." It's pretty unique and I never lost any of my pieces in a firing.

      I loved working with clay, and I still do when I get a chance. However, I did not stick with pottery while in art school. Why? You may ask. Well, the program I was enrolled in had a very strong emphasis on wheel throwing. The intro class was hand building, but thereafter it was the wheel until you got to your senior thesis. I enjoy working on the wheel but I really excel at hand building. I find it more freeing and expressive. Wheel throwing is fun, but it is monotonous. Especially when you have to spend an entire semester making nothing but platters. When I shifted to drawing/painting I took my signature with me.

      I have done some research and I am the one and only Peter Klubek out there, so I could just sign my work. But I like my signature, and the homage it pays to my pottery beginnings. So I think I will keep it.

      One more thing, just for fun. When I switched to 2-D art I remember being afraid of running out of things to "draw." I remember thinking: "What the heck am I going make pictures of? Surely I will run out of ideas before I graduate!" Years later, I'm still at it. So I guess I'm not out of ideas yet.        


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bridge Work

...And I'm back! After a brief hiatus of visiting friends and family I will again be posting weekly. Did you miss me? 

This painting was created for a group exhibition in New York. It is titled "Bridgework."  The theme of the show was "Bridges." I enjoy wordplay, and the examination of words with multiple meanings, so when I was given the theme I wanted to look at bridges from an unexpected point of view.

My initial thoughts turned to bridge the card game. I have never played bridge, and am unfamiliar with how it works. There have also been many images created around card playing, gambling, etc., so I decided against this.

I then thought about bridges in terms of dental work. This also made me think about how many people have anxiety about going to the dentist. This lead me to think that by creating an image related to dentistry the viewer and the work would create a bridge addressing this issue. This provided another layer of meaning for bridge, and I knew that this was the definition I wanted to work with.

I then began researching the procedures for bridge work. I examined all kinds of illustrations including these:

I also looked at actual x-ray images like these:


I determined that while these images are interesting (and somewhat disturbing), they may not be recognizable to viewers. I believed that I would need to create an image that could be interpreted with an element of familiarity. Most people have been to the dentist at some point, and the most common images that come to my mind when thinking about the dentist are the dental chair, the overhead light, and the dental x-ray machine. I then decided to incorporate all these images into the painting. 

Getting back to the issue of dental anxiety I decided to fall back on some of the basic elements and principles of art and design. Compositions with strong diagonals have a disharmonious psychological impact on viewers, and are associated with action, fear, etc. I therefore included many diagonals from multiple angles.

Next I put some thought into the palette. Yellow is a color associated with fear ("what are you are you yella?") so I wanted to use a strong yellow base. In addition to the floor of the dentists office and the lead x-ray vest, the rest of the image relies on a strong yellow undercoat. To contrast this I also used violet, the complement to yellow, to push against the yellow and add to the visual tensions.

I think this image successfully communicates all of the ideas I was working with. It was fun to explore all of these issues, and now it will be interesting to see how viewers respond. What is your response?