Sometimes, a thousand words can be helpful, in illuminating one's visual art for those who might be our audience. But, for most of us who are primarily visually oriented, verbalizing the what, how and why of our working process can be challenging. To commit words to something that is both cerebral and intuitive, thought about and felt at the same time, forces us to examine ourselves in depth and explain our findings in an organized way. And, it can be difficult and scary to expose those thoughts and feelings.
Recently, I was asked to provide a statement to accompany a series of paintings for a show, currently on view at the Gallery at Indian Hill School of Music in Littleton, MA. As is usual for me, I was painting madly, right until the night before the morning scheduled to hang the show. Once the work was completed, and I could see it as a body of work, I needed to write something up, ASAP. The idea of writing under the pressure of limited time can be paralyzing, so what else could I do, but Google the problem?
I found a very helpful resource online in Ariane Goodwin's eBook Writing the Artist's Statement. Ms. Goodwin's information and exercises will get the creative juices flowing! I highly recommend her book to those artist-writers who may be struggling.
Good luck with your writing! Here's what I came up with:
Variations on a Theme: The Music Makers
Any description of the evolution of this body of work would have to include a brief history of my lifelong involvement with my twin disciplines of music and visual art. I remember having a strong emotional reaction to music of all kinds, even as a very young child. My family was large, and of such modest means that there were no resources for things like instruments or music lessons. My mother, however, was a music lover, and would spin old 78 rpm records for our entertainment: everything from the big band sounds of Glen Miller and Artie Shaw to Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra; classical favorites such as Peter and the Wolf and Swan Lake, dance music for Cha-Cha and Rumba, and popular folk music of the day: the Clancy Brothers, Peter, Paul and Mary, and many more. They were the source of much merriment! I used the first tax refund I ever earned, at the age of 17, to buy my first instrument, a 5-string banjo. It was an S.S. Stewart Universal Favorite manufactured in the early 1900s, which I still own and play.
I've also been drawing since before I can remember, creating recognizable horses before I could write my name. I was never without paper and pencil, the outlets for my fertile imagination, throughout my childhood and youth. Eventually, I earned a BFA in printmaking, and continue to create woodblock prints regularly.
As an adult, I took up the Irish fiddle, and found my tribe! I discovered a welcoming community of like-minded musicians, and found the experience of participating in a group music session to be not only thrilling musically, but visually stimulating, as well. I keep a pocket-sized sketchbook in my fiddle case, for when, well, just "in case!"
As my interest developed, I couldn't help but notice the connection between my art and music. Even some of the terms are common to both disciplines: composition, rhythm, harmony, color, shape, line, texture. These are mere words, themselves an abstract construct, which may attempt to describe shades of emotional feeling, whether aural or visual. We speak, for example, of color in music, to mean a mood expressed through musical means. Color in visual art also has a direct emotional impact on the viewer. The same connections may be drawn between any of the other elements mentioned.
I thought it would be fun to create a series of paintings of musicians for this music school. What better way to integrate and share my two passions? I began by thinking in terms of archetype, but soon realized that my personal experience with music and musicians held more meaning for me. Most of these works are based on real-life musicians, the figures and compositions mined from my sketchbooks, or drawn from memory and imagination. In striving to convey my intended feeling to the viewer, I pare away inessential detail, preferring to allow color, simplified shape, and rhythm of line convey my message. Layers of color whisper quietly or build to a crescendo, and tracings of pencil provide grace notes. Each piece celebrates the joy of music, in its many moods.
Kate Hanlon September 2013