Search This Blog

Friday, September 4, 2009

Is there Magic in Art (or) A Simple Portrait

I think that most people would agree, in theory at least, that there is some sort of magic in the arts. Somewhere between the artist and their canvas, script, lens, or myriad of other mediums, lies something that is hard to grasp. Why is it that music is a class I never here about from high school students? Why is being an artist so damn novel to so many people? What the hell do I care that your cousin is a real good drawer?

As an artist I have created thousands of drawings, paintings, prints and all sorts of other kinds of artwork. Some of those pieces are, of course, more substantial than others, in terms of importance, to me and/or to the world in which they reside. Art is no joke. There is some serious stuff going on here and the proof of what is going on there is often just out of reach. With historically famous artists being quoted as saying thinks like, “There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.” George Braque or “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” Rene Magritte, we, as artists, live day to day, working within this mystery, trying desperately to explain that our work is important to someone somewhere.

In 2001 I began a project I simply call my Portrait Project. In this project I bring art into homes by doing portraits of people. It is a huge project and I have done 473 portraits, to date. The portraits are done in oil pastel on Bristol board and, that is where the technical aspect of this project ends. From this point on I am going to talk about the mystery of art and how I have been stumbling on the threshold of something very interesting.

Upon completion, every portrait I have done, has been given to the person it is a portrait of. This was, and is, an attempt to help people have art in there lives, to try and explain or impart some of that art mystery into the lives of people.
A funny thing began to happen after I had been working on this project for a time. People who had their portraits done were telling me about a process that I was familiar with. They were telling me that over the first 48 hours of owning the work, their feelings about it would change. One moment they would love it, the next they would be self conscious about some aspect of the portrait. They were going through, what I now consider the taming of an artwork.

Lets say that art is some sort of raw creation, and that an artist has a very specific skill of tapping into the ether of what binds us all together. Under these circumstances, when a piece of art is completed by an artist there needs to be an amount of time to look upon their creation and exclaim, "it is good". While this raw art is being examined by the artist, they begin to struggle with decisions they made, they think about their life they meditate, all sorts of things go on during this process, all the while imbuing the recently complete work of art with meaning, vitality and life. Personal insights, political commentary, reality that is so real it is hardly recognized as such, these things are there with us not really knowing where they came from, we are lucky if we get to recognize any of that before it gets either piled in the studio or shipped off to a gallery. Once again art is no joke.

Moving back to the Portrait Project, people take these portraits willingly, and for the next two days real in self reflection, hopefully changing them from that day forward. It is hard to know if this process is similar to musicians, and actors or performance artists. I would assume that they have something that is similar but as a painter I stare into a painting, and I have watched people stare into their portraits unable to look away, gathering and instilling information, understanding something very primal and raw. Unable to explain it they grow knowing that not everything needs an explanation.

For those of you who know about this phenomenon please let me know by leaving a comment. I would also like to hear from people whose portraits I have done, Thank You.


  1. this is a really nice essay. I love the way you equate the artist's gaze with a sort of "infusion"-into the portrait. and then the way a person may change through art by creating layers of meaning for a piece. even seeing themselves differently. i love my paintings and art and never get tired of them.Annie

  2. yes there is a magic. it is the magic of all creativity. it is the oneness of truth of physics, that is, we are what, there in, we create. good or bad up or down right or left ... in art, as in no other process, does one physically toil with creation, to the extent that the metaphysical is inevitably unveiled.

    the question though is what do you do with that magic? ..

  3. even when making a piece i love it then hate it, sometimes when i hate it, i give it some time befor i work on it again, sometimes i never come back...

    the same process happens with my comics, I can read through the whole thing one day and love it, hate it the next day, then love it again....