Is it Authentic, Respectful, Intelligent?

Popular is to authentic what glamour is to beauty. One is fleeting and contrived while the second is timeless. Paris Hilton to Audrey Hepburn.  The market doesn’t always tell the truth.

Audrey Hepburn - Timeless!

Audrey Hepburn - Timeless!

I came upon this ARI litmus triad when I was listening to my sons’ music. They are in the process of recording an album of original music – rock and roll – and brought the instrumental CD in for us to hear. The vocals and lead guitar – the fancy stuff – weren’t
down yet – just drums, bass and guitar. But the music was good. Actually it was better than good – and I have been a stern critic when I felt their music was brash and self indulging. Yes, they had a niche with their younger music, but what I heard yesterday blasts them across a diverse demographic.  Art of quality transcends boundaries and can never be pigeon holed.

The music grabbed me by the senses. I was moved and moving. It wasn’t literal. It drew me out and I followed my own inner experience with the rolling melodies and thrumming beat. I didn’t have to be the mama to know that what I was hearing was authentic and original. The music was respectful – both of the listener and of itself. What I mean by that is the music was layered and each instrument had equal balance. It was rich and complex and interesting. There was great detail in the nuances. The pauses as well as the intricate drum fills. There was no rush to the finish, no dangling phrases

As to intelligent, well each song was a complete work. Melody, beat, rhythm, balance, harmony were all mixed with thoughtfulness and consideration for the whole and the parts. It was symbiotic – the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. It was musically articulate with a complexity – evocative cadences that rush forward and recede into the distance – much like a classical piece. And while there was a distinctive signature, each work was singular.

What does this have to do with painting? Just this:

Your experience of a work of art has to be based on your own authority. Your purchase of a work and continuing relationship with it has to hang on much more than someone else’s say so. The art market is a marketing machine. It makes money on itself much like stock promoters sell excitement more often than value. Fundamental valuation is vastly different often from market value. And we all know that market value is as quixotic as a summer thunder storm. So, how do you judge for yourself?

Like music – you’ve just gotta feel it. After you feel it – something lit up inside you when you saw it – try my ARI litmus. Is it authentic, respectful, intelligent?

Authentic: This is not about a certificate. In this case I am referring to the originality and authenticity of the artist’s own expression. Is he or she in the work? Is their question or statement or process of exploration part of their work? Do you feel that there is an underlying objective? Is there a plot to the story?

Not long ago, I was writing a piece and in my search for an image, I googled images and came across an apple. But it was an interesting apple. A painting. It caught me as much in what it didn’t say as what it did say. I was immediately part of the conversation with the apple. Naturally I followed the link to this young artist’s website, dashed through his still life gallery getting more and more excited by his work and his singular expression. Through the link I landed at a gallery in North Carolina and into a conversation with the owner.

Joshua Flint "Searchlight" 8" x 8" oil on panel

Joshua Flint "Searchlight" 8" x 8" oil on panel

He asked me if I had seen this work in person. I explained that I was from Toronto and how I had come upon it. He didn’t have to tell me how exquisite it was in person. I could feel the energy lifting off the computer screen. That painting is mine – and one day soon I hope to own it. That compelling emotion in my deepest knowing tells me the artist and his work is authentic.

Respectful: If this seems an odd value to place on a painting, I will explain what I mean. The other evening we were out walking through the village here in the centre of the city. In a gallery window we saw an eye catching painting. It was tall and narrow, bright white with colours chasing across it in a rush of movement. It was well done and I wanted to know more. We gazed at it a long time – it seemed to be aglow in the darkened gallery window.

Some days later, I stopped into the gallery to find out more about the artist and their work. I was told it was very popular and selling well. At the opening – quite a number of works sold. On the back wall of the gallery was another one of the artist’s pieces. It was instantly recognizable. Bright white with colours chasing across the canvas in a rush of movement. Sound familiar? It was. It was identical except that the little figures of colour were in a different configuration.

While I continued a polite exchange with the owner who promised to email me images, I was already heading for the door. All interest and intrigue had drained from my body. What I witnessed, was something that I feel happens all too often in the art market. An artist is talented, has an authentic voice and then is marketed in a way that stunts their creative growth. They stick with what is commercial and what was once original is now a gimmick. This happens to seasoned artists too. Galleries support sales and not always creativity with the result that artists are stuck in a role identity like an actor.  As a buyer, I want the work of an artist who is still engaged in their own creativity. Simply put, an artist has to respect his/her own work for me to respect it. If I will accept rote work – no matter how big the name – then what does that say about me?  Art is a relationship – do I want someone to pander to me?

Intelligent: A work doesn’t have to be complex to prove its intelligence any more than big words are the only way of expressing big ideas. A haiku is as compelling as a sonnet but both adhere to rules of nature. Balance, tone, harmonic, spacing, cadence, rhythm, texture. All these describe patterns of nature and as patterns of nature these form the language that we humans require to reach a deeper understanding. The more educated, experienced or competent an artist is the greater his ease with this language. He/she will say more with less. An intelligent work will assume that it attracts an intelligent viewer.

An intelligent work is confident of itself and will invite the viewer in to share the experience, interpret the experience, or draw a completely different conclusion from the artist’s experience. But the language has to be there – spelling, grammar and sentence structure are essential to a good read. Talent alone is not enough. Skill, inspiration, and discipline define a greater work. An idea alone cannot fill the pages of a book.

Last winter I was sitting on the sofa chatting with my son on the phone. The winter sun was cascading through the shutters and flooding the room. Above the fireplace was the work of artist Linda Kemp, a client new to me. Linda’s work is non representational and in this particular piece, I am drawn to the colour and the hint of far hills at sunset. But as my eye passed over it casually I was suddenly riveted. There before me picked out in the sunlight were layers and layers of colour, texture and pattern that I had never seen before. Tears literally sprung to my eyes as I witnessed the subtle revelation that this artist had offered me in her care and skilled reverence for the tools of her craft. An intelligent painting will continue to reveal itself over time like the qualities of a worthy friend.

Linda Kemp, "Shimmer" 36" x 48" acrylic on canvas

As a culture we live in our heads. Our fixation on computer communities tells us that. So in this high tech world, it is imperative to regain the balance needed for a fulfilled life by reaching toward the creative arts. Music and dance, painting, sculpture and literature bring us back to the centre of our own knowing. Through our collection of original authentic art we express our own individuality and authenticity.