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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Painting with meaning


The paintings that catch our eye aren’t necessarily the ones that are perfectly executed.
American Eagle in Drydock, by Carol L. Douglas
While I’ve had an Instagram account for a long time, I’ve only recently understood how it really works. I’m not talking about its mechanics, but the algorithms that drive it. It has the power to be a massive dipping net. When you use it as a tool instead of passively looking at what it throws up at you, you see a lot of art outside your own little puddle. That exposes you to style and content you wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s all at thumbnail size, so the work must compel you instantly, just as your own slides must compel a juror’s.

Obviously, high chroma wins over subtle color every time. To imagine otherwise is to think that a fruit compote could be savored by a person who is stuffed full of Christmas cookies. Some of the qualities of painting that we traditionally admire—finish and modeling, for example—seem irrelevant, even counter-productive. Such paintings can seem academic and dull on Instagram, whereas they’re the ones that would look the best in real life. The exception is composition; it’s more, rather than less, important at such a tiny scale.

Dyce Head Light, by Carol L. Douglas
Instagram is chaotic. A painting by a complete duffer will appear in your feed after something by a well-known contemporary artist. The well-known artist will have more followers, increasing his chances of being seen. But if the duffer uses hashtags properly and you’re looking for paintings of his specialty, you’ll find his work.

That’s why I’m suddenly wasting all my free time on Instagram. A whole world of painters who will never be represented in New York galleries are there, painting their hearts out. I want to see what they’re doing. I want to understand my reaction to their work.

Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas
What moves me, overwhelmingly, is content.

I recently saw a painting of a small house decked out in Christmas lights. It wasn’t a brilliant painting, but it was accurate enough that I could see my own life reflected in it. It was a portrait of coziness and contentment. It has been on my mind all week.

Emotional content doesn’t come easily to me. It’s possible that I’ve trained it right out through my fingers. When we do plein air events in unfamiliar places, we’re not expressing anything about purpose or meaning. All we can do is paint beauty.
Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, I confused the suffixes amity and amor in writing. At 2 AM, I was awake and restless and beating myself up about it, as we like to do during bouts of insomnia. I’d been writing about domestic intimacy, so it was easy enough to slip up between ‘friend’ and ‘lover.’

A different thinker might be able to find concrete images to convey the easy, old relationships within a happy, functioning family. If I ran across that painting on Instagram, it would be the one that would still my hand and echo in my thoughts all day.

Now how do I get some of that for me?

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