Saturday, October 13, 2012

Self-Directed Critiquing
Art Practice

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

In the “communication age” where the internet, mobile phones and text messaging is commonplace, the mere thought of self-analyzing one’s artwork appears almost heretical. No one would disagree with developing a network of artistic friends and independent critics to give constructive feedback on any work of art in the embryonic stage, especially since the final act of exhibiting one’s artwork ensures that external opinions will be freely given - whether you like it or not! Nevertheless, continuous self-assessment, as the artwork evolves from “mind-to-hand-to-object” is what defines us to be human beings. After all, monkeys can paint, but do they desire their artwork to be destroyed after it is completed (as Kafka had desired with respect to his manuscripts).

Let us define an artist as a self-directed learner; that is, a person who is capable of conception, implementation and evaluation. You may doubt that you have any or all of these abilities. Whatever is your level of expertise, you will be surprised to learn that psychologists (e.g. Bergen and Dunn – “Psychology and Education”) argue that these abilities are innate in all of us. I will attempt to unlock the latter by describing to you how I approach my own continuous self-analysis of my ArtCloth works.

To begin with, before embarking on any piece of ArtCloth I have comprehensively researched the concept that I wished to develop. I have also mapped out the techniques that I shall employ to develop the concept. Often I draw a “rough” of the ArtCloth and do numerous experimental swatches to test whether the techniques I have chosen are viable. I never forget that a “rough” is just a “rough”; that is, it might not work when scaled to the size of the finished artwork; for example, “roughs” are usually on A4 or A3 sheets, whereas my ArtCloth pieces are normally anywhere from 4 meter (length) x 1.5 meter (width) in size.

Above is a water color rough of Winter Bolt - one component of a disperse dye quartet - The Four Australian Seasons.
Note: Initially there would be six cloud wavelets superimposed on the piece to further stress the concept of winter. None of these appeared on the finished artwork (see below) since they seemed - in my emotive state - as being too contrived or too artificial in scope.

Freed of all of this pre-planning, I then set about producing the first stages of my ArtCloth in a “Zen” mode; that is, the Zen Masters - as outlined by D.T. Suzuki - have felt that: “Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he is not calculating or thinking”.

In other words, I let all my research seep into the body of my sub-consciousness and do my artwork in an non-thinking but reactive mode. It is important to note that a "no mind" state is not a mind that is in a coma. It is a reactive state of intuitive feel rather than conscious thought. You often hear sports people confess that on a particular day they were in the "zone"; that is, they were in a "no mind" state.

In my "no-mind" mode, the critical but unconscious questions that seem to come back to me from time-and-time during reflective pauses in the stages of the “implementation” period are as follows:
(i) What assumptions am I making about the artwork unfolding before me?
(ii) What should be known and/or not known to the viewer about the concept?
(iii) Is the artistic framework becoming too dogmatic in the viewers mind and do I want to transmit this?
(iv) Is there a strong focus within the piece?
(v) Are the techniques delivering my intention? (Note: this may not be my original intention but instead my Zen "no-mine" intention).
(vi) Are the colors working and interacting they way I want them to?
(vii) If the colors are not interacting, do I desire such an imbalance?
(viii) Is there a balance between objectivity and subjectivity in the piece?
(ix) Is the composition becoming over crowded, too simplistic and/or imbalanced?
(x) How does the integrity of the piece hold from a different viewing point? For example, I often view my very large ArtCloth pieces (4 meter x 1.5 meter) some 3 meters above the piece itself.

These questions are not consciously imposed or addressed. Rather they encapsulate how my "no-mind" reacts to my artwork as it slowly unfolds before me. Let us just say that these are streaming responses that are fleeting in nature and so do not take hold on my consciousness in a forceful manner, but imperceptibly and incrementally influence my "no-mind" reaction to my artwork. After all, is not the sub-conscious just streaming thoughts that are so diluted that they cannot take a strong hold onto our conscious state.

Finally, once the complexity of activity has ceased, I make myself a cup of tea, sit down, sip it and feel emotionally drained and sometimes - but not always - I feel satisfied as I view my finished artwork.

Title: Winter Bolt - Four Australian Seasons.
Technique: Hand painted and heat transferred using disperse dyes on satin.
Size: ca. 1.50 (width) x 2.00 (length) meters.
Held: Artist Collection – not available for purchase.
Note: The cloud wavelets are not present in the finished artwork due to my Zen "no-mind" directing the artwork instead of me slavishly following the rough. You will note that in my "no-mind" state I have darkened the background of the artwork as the eye descends and thinned out the liquid sun (that is in the form of a bolt) both elements of which I believe indicates - in a more subtle manner - a wintery feel.

My ten unconscious musings may not be yours, but that is okay. Sit down and look at all sorts of artwork that you know has “worked” and distill from these pieces the criteria that make them “work”. Engineers do it all the time when reproducing electronic devices that they have not designed themselves – it is called “backwards engineering”. Hence, once you know your criteria, then you are in a position to re-work your own pieces in order to fashion them to be much stronger pieces of art than previously conceived.


Flora Fascinata said...

I really enjoy your posts so much, I felt truly mesmerised as I scrolled down to reveal the bolt creation. It's really beautiful and has some sort of energy even from the iPad!

Lesley Turner said...

Thanks for another insightful post.

Art Quill Studio said...

Hi Flora and Lesley, thank you for your kind comments regarding this post. I am really pleased to hear that you enjoyed the information and images!