Friday, November 27, 2009

Keyboards and Canvas, can they live happily ever after? Should they?

This past fall, I was asked to be the guest judge for an art show at a major Texas university. One of those all expenses paid trips which is flattering to the ego, but not all that practical for the sponsoring organization. I accepted, but also “declined”, suggesting that the money it would cost to fly me down, put me up, chauffeur me around and feed me, would best be spent on scholarships for students in the arts. Yes, it would have been nice to add that to my resume, but in this economy and with the arts suffering like everything else, other chances will come my way. With a “judge’s mindset”, I recently viewed the Annual Myers Juried Student Exhibition at the University of Akron (on view 11/16/09 – 12/5/09) to see what is happening in art schools today and what was selected by their jurors as representative of the best works. However, when I walked through the doors, my teacher’s instincts took over and rather than judge any works, I decided to learn from them. I wanted to see what is happening in the minds of art students these days and what is influencing their art education. I learned a lot.

First and foremost is the influence of the digital camera and computers to make decisions. Canvases are far larger than 30 years ago with figures at oddly angled viewpoints, rendered realistically. A camera or computer obviously cropped the images for the students as the viewpoints could not be drawn from life for any extended period of time. I see this in high school art too, way too much. Paintings of figures looking up and down and at the viewer from extreme poses are becoming more and more prevalent. No futzing of the sides to make things work or fit. All the decisions are worked out ahead of time by technical means. Sometimes I wonder, why not just show me the photo?

Oddly enough, what used to be rendered by hand is now photographed. A series of objects or a luscious surface are captured on film, not in paint like Wayne Thiebaud could do with much flair and sparkle of color. The subjects of the chosen photos (which could be based on a class assignment so I have no way of knowing), show lots of people or complete isolation which is an interesting concept when one considers this generations’ obsession with social networking. They sit isolated at a computer screen but want lots and lots of people as their “friends” as if craving a crowd but in reality, unable to deal with actual people.

Missing from the show are any more than a few examples of hand crafted works. A series of wheel thrown pots, a welded metal sculpture, a wooded sculpture, three metalsmithing pieces, one crafted book, all of which struck me as sad in their runner up status like the states nobody notices in a beauty pageant, poor Miss Idaho comes every time. They were included as if to say, we still teach this stuff too, but it is not all that important anymore. Gone is the weaving department and full scale drawings from the advanced levels of art class. Even the printmaking pieces are digitally influenced. I understand that technology is the way of the future but I fear the loss of the artists’ hand in his own work or in the development of the artist’s “eye”. When a computer can crop an image so the artist just applies it to canvas, where has the decision making gone? Where is the fun of trial and error and having to make adjustments? That being said, the show does have large canvases of works which show no digital influence that I could find. The best in show is one such piece. Could it be that the judges too have somewhat of a tinge in their soul over this development?

The one big negative peeve I have with all shows, student or otherwise, is allowing works to be hung as “untitled”. To me, that is a sign of laziness and lack of creativity. Especially for a photograph, seriously people, nothing moves you about the image enough to give it a title even though you took the time to print it and mount it? I counted 7 untitled pieces which is very annoying to me as a viewer. A title gives me a bit of insight into your thought processes. If I had fulfilled my jury duty in Texas, any piece untitled, is out. If you can’t care enough to come up with something, then why should I care about it?

Overall, it is a well hung exhibition, each piece given a fair amount of space so as to be viewed without interference. The students must have more money than we used to as the mattes and frames are sometimes professionally done. The gallery is well suited but I have to wonder how many people have fallen down those narrow twisting stairs. Stay to the outside of them or a hip replacement could be in your future. And speaking of the future, it would be interesting to see a show that has two sides, one of pieces which used cameras and technology and one that relied completely on the artist’s natural abilities. This Annual Juried Exhibition at the Emily Davis Gallery is a show worth seeing however, especially if you are a high school student deciding where to go to art school. Looking at student work will give you the best insights as to what opportunities lay ahead.


  1. Judi, Very cool! Thanks! - Bruce

  2. Hmmmm...I wonder if folks lamented the Impressionists's integration of the film camera into their work as you are lamenting the use of digital camera?

    I use the digital camera and the computer a lot for my artwork, and yes, I agree that it has been a huge influence on a new generation of artists. But it is not necessarily a bad thing.

    I use the computer and the camera as tools, just as I would a paint brush or pencil. But there is still a great amount of artistic creativity that goes into the work that makes it my own creative vision. Whether it is left as a digital photo or translated further into a painting, it always has the mark of my own "hand" and "artist's eye".

    Perhaps the key is for art instructors to challenge students to find ways to use technology's tool in innovative ways and in ways that reflect something about the artistic vision beyond the lens and computer screen.

    Love your blog Judi!!!


  3. Thanks for the reminder to study history and yet to incorporate it into todays trends.