Reflections on art and leadership

I use my art to reflect an artist and a senior manager in the financial services industry. I notice that the deeper I understand myself the more I succeed to impact others; in both art and work.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

philosophy and clichés and art and me

Recently I have been looking into what philosophers over time have said about art and aesthetics.
I plan to write more about different philosophers, their ideas and how they could impact the way I view my art or even how I will make my art going forward. This is all part of a desire to develop a deeper understanding of art, maybe even as a contrast to all experiences of myself and other artists focusing on showing work in exhibitions; something not essential to art.
This time the topic is inspired on Immanuel Kant for his concept of understanding art and beauty as well as a biography on Albert Einstein where it shows how he uses metaphors and insight to create insight on very complex subjects.

One of my first small drawings
Copying Vermeer's painting
Is this a cliché, or just practice
Clichés in art

Definition of cliché would be something like:
a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought (Oxford dictionary).

I would say that when looking at art a cliché is an art work that is known by many and initially has become a symbol of a genre or style. And at current times this has become so well-known and 'seen' that it has lost its power to touch people at first sight.
This idea also aligns with a definition listed in wikipedia of cliché which enlarges the scope of the definition to art:

A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel

Interesting is that some paintings represent a cliché to domain experts, but not to the wider public.
Definitely full of cliché
But several people liked it...
This is also the reason that philosopher Hume defines 'knowing many similar art works' as a condition of being a true critic of beauty.
As an example; People not familiar to the distinctive paintings of Gustav Klimt might be touched by such a painting; they might even enjoy a new painting by a painter that mimics Klimts' style and expression.
Domain experts will of course still value the original painting, but whenever a painter sort of copies too clearly the original it will be seen as cliché.
In addition the cliché paintings lose their ability to deeply touch us, as we have seen it many times before, and this even distracts us from appreciating all the beauty in this art work that at some point in history represented a new and unique view on reality.
Examples could be: the Mona Lisa, the self portraits of Van Gogh, and the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. They were originally revolutionary, but at first sight are no longer touching us as deep as it has touched the original audience at the time it was created.

Why is this relevant?

In history several philosophers have looked at art, at the pleasure we derive from art objects, at the definition of beauty. And on how our 'universal pleasure' looking at a new work of art gets constructed.
Portrait of Danish philosopher
Sören Kierkegaard
Original thinker and inspiration
Philosopher Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement expresses the view that we obtain a pleasure from viewing when an understanding is combined with triggering our imagination. More strongly he believes that we can only build imagination if it combines concepts that we know.
Consequence of his view would be that, if we see an object and have no clue what it is about, we will not be able to understand it nor appreciate its beauty.
We grow up concatenating impressions and interpretations of art works, and those we see many times and what they represent become part of our vocabulary, our foundation, formed by clichés.
When looking in this way to art and new creation, and how they build on existing concepts  in a way:
- clichés are the subconscious building blocks that the artist uses as a foundation for creating his/her new view on the world, materialising in the art works
- clichés are the starting concepts that help the viewer understand the art work, see what it was based on and appreciate and enjoy the new aspects that were added by the artist.

What can we conclude from this?

Several conclusions can be derived from these few ideas and statements, some more impacting than others.

1. the clichés as part of the artistic journey
Definitely cliché
Somehow embarrassed that I made this
But has to be shown here I guess
When an artist just mimics what has been done in the past his work will be seen by experts as 'cliché', although the wider audience might appreciate it for its basic expressive values.
Many artists in the beginning opf their carreer create art works that are subconsciously a copy of what has already been done. These cliches are so much part of them that it takes a lot of time to 'live' them and surpass them to obtain the basis for truly free and new expression. In a way the clichés are the building blocks for future innovative art works. And these innovative art works will become the cliches of the future.
Personalmly I even observed this in my own art in several ways.
- The first art works were highly influenced by earlier examples I had seen, and in many cases aiming to please people I valued.
- I also observed this in a similar but different area where I have been making cartoons. Initially when I wanted to make truly distinctive cartoon characters, yet still once they were finished they always ended up looking very much like my own favorite cartoons. I observed the same concepts when teaching people about making cartoons by the way.
As Picasso supposedly said: every artist needs to go through at least 500 art works before being able to create truly original work.
An interesting theory that seems to relate to the same concept is the Helsinki Bus Station Theory; read the article here
Drawing I made of my oldest son, still captures me every time I see it.
Odd is the role of the red/magenta...not conventional, but quite expressive

2. Tempation of becoming a designer
If an artist actively continues to mimic and use previous well-known art forms to ensure the broader public likes the art works, this is more 'design'. The role of the designer is to please the public; the purpose of an artist is more to find his/her own new path based on the paintings, concepts and images of his/her ancestors.

3. creating new concepts to touch the audience (and oneself)
If the artist in fact desires to touch his audience in a deeper, more than just aesthetic way, he/she needs to create a personal new path to the existing clichés  and surprise the viewer; making the viewer go in awe when seeing the object.
In some cases the artist uses (a) a new way of seeing the world, and (b) sometimes an artist can use new technology to add dimensions to the art work. Examples could be:
1. Seurat basing the pointillism on the new colour theory, using basic contrasting colours next to each other to obtain a more vivid image. Later this was used by Van Gogh, who supported the concept, but felt the pointillism was too rational, not allowing free expression. He then came up with his renowned expressive style using quick brush strokes.
2. Impressionism based on the invention of the paint tubes, and the possibility the artists had to then go out in the fields capturing their impressions directly on the canvas.

4. bridging the gap between artists new concepts and the audience
Drawing made of a
fado singer in Lisbon
In addition the continuous re-invention of art and its concepts by artists implies a large set of concepts (often clichés to the artist) to be known by the viewer in order to understand the art object. And just by reason we can conclude that this gap between artist and the 'average' viewer will further increase over time.
Some artists contribute to closing the gap in two ways (while others couldn't care less):
1. providing material explanation concerning the art work; ensuring that the viewer has a basic understanding of the artists concepts. At the same time not over-explaining as it reduces the space for the imagination of the viewer.
2. ensuring the art object remains appealing in a classical sense; allowing the viewer to appreciate and explore gradually the deeper meaning and concepts of that art work.
This also explains the view that my mentor Frederik Beerbaum expressed: Maurice, do not worry about the opinion of your viewers, more than 95% of them has no clue about what painting is about...

5. Historic perspective
cliché or authentic ?
or authentic cliché ?
Some people might raise the point that these concepts have not always applied to art, as at some point for example most art was made as commission; and the primary purpose of that art was to please the mecenas that had ordered the painting. We do see however that even at that stage the artists had a drive to renew their vision, to add something new. Whether it was renewed perspective, new techniques, new compositions or new expressions.
Some other aspects seem to be relevant when looking into art from a historic perspective:
- the artist getting bored making each time the same thing that he has done many times before, searching for a new challenge and new variations or specialisation
- the artist hiding certain innovative aspects in the traditional form, invisible for the 'dumb' audience but very clear for the more trained viewer
- the fact that also the person ordering the art work was always proud to show that he had something 'special', as long as it was close enough to the aesthetic values of that time.
As such I think there are sufficient examples showing that the aspects of clichés and innovation have played a role already for a longer period time.

- Limitation of Kants view is that he only looks at the pleasure of viewing a beautiful object, where we could challenge whether that pleasure is actually the true purpose of art objects. In addition I will study the critics of Kant, as a large part of this article is based on his views. Still, I feel the view of Kant is relatively straightforward and in line with insights I have obtained before.
- before mankind there was no art, and even at the early stages of mankind there was no art. Or more precisely, the earliest evidence of art dates from the stone age. It is however difficult to assess whether this was more decoration or truly art in its current from and definition.
- of course not all building blocks and experiences that we build our new thoughts on are per definition clichés; but the interesting part of clichés is that they have so much become part of ourself that we do not observe them any more, even when we use the ourselves.

What does this mean for my art?

The purpose of this article is primarily for myself, forcing myself to give words to my recent thoughts, and in such a way consolidating the progress of my insight in art. The same accounts for my art. And because of that it seems good to see what conclusions I should draw from the above; where can it help me.

Well, I need to study the basics, and look for new elements to be added that exceed the expression and quality of the clichés. At the same time I think that after all very interactive and outgoing experiences of last year I will re-focus on the quality of my journey, ensuring I stay close to myself, close to that young boy that was once so deeply fascinated and energised by drawing, by seeing paintings that brought something new.
I guess as an artist we try to combine the child that is exploring the world in full openness, with the expressive power of the experienced artist.

I have made hundreds of drawings over last 2 years. Several drawings are pure cliché. It is funny to observe that most people prefer these drawings that are more cliché to me. Only when you stimulate them to observe and really see the other drawings they sometimes start to build a deeper fascination.\Maybe the best drawings combine newness with traditional quality or expression and colours, alluring the viewer to be fascinated and exploring the many aspects of the work of which some are more hidden and indirect. As such the art work builds the bridge between itself and the viewer, without explanation. And I should probably define how I build the bridge between my art and the (possible) audience. In the past I had the approach that I would share the context of the art work with my audience, but not explaining the actual meaning. This allowed people to build a bridge with the art work, yet have the space to create their own interpretation and appreciation.
Not the most beautiful self-portrait
But what type of portrait can we still make without ending up in clichés

And now, stop writing, stop thinking of art, find myself in art and retrieve the initial passion and drive to draw and draw and draw.