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October 31 2009
Way back when I had my first real job, working as Office Designer for a multinational corporation in the Canadian Head Office in Toronto, I was promoted after about 18 months and asked to find and hire a replacement for myself. We advertised the position, and I waded through stacks of applications, most from only marginally or remotely qualified applicants, and a surprising number from people who obviously never read the job requirements at all. One applicant, Pat McClellan, stood out above the others and I asked Human Resources to arrange an interview. I was called by the HR Manager the next day to be told in almost hushed tones that "Pat" was actually a "Patricia". Despite her having all the qualifications we were looking for, he suggested I select another candidate. Incredulous, I asked why and was told they had never had a woman in that job, and because the work required travel across Canada, it would be much better to appoint a man to the job. I insisted she had the right qualifications and didn't care what her gender was - she was the best applicant. My immediate boss summoned me into the office of his immediate boss and the two of them tried to talk sense into my head, but to their credit they gave in and allowed me to make the decision as the person would be reporting to me directly. I hired her, and although I stayed with the company for just over six years, Patricia was still there twenty years later, doing a great job for them.

Over the next many years as I travelled on business trips across the continent, more and more women were boarding airplanes carrying briefcases, and by now I believe the gender mix on most business flights is virtually balanced, as it should be. After all, the general population is pretty evenly divided between males and females.

Then I got into the art world. Verrry interesting, as that little guy on the Carol Burnett Show used to say. At first I was working on my own, oblivious to the existence of other artists. Not until I started getting involved with internet art forums, art organizations, seminars, and so on, did I begin to detect an odd imbalance in the gender mix of the community of artists. It is mostly women! It really struck me a couple of years ago when I showed up for the Federation of Canadian Artists intermediate acrylics classes with Janice Robertson and found myself the only guy in her class with 14 women. Although I was familiar with the work of a few women artists, almost all the big names I knew were men. So naturally, I expected a reasonable representation of males throughout the organizations and events of the art community. That does not seem to be the case. And yet, despite the apparent overwhelming majority of women in the ranks of declared artists, when someone commenting on a previous blog posting of mine provided a list of five of the most prominent artists in the U.S. today, not a single female name was on that list. I don't intend to speculate here on why that may be, but I just have to wonder where are the guys? And if there are so few of them in the general ranks of artists, how come it is predominantly men sitting on top of the pile? It's a somewhat topsy-turvy repeat of the situation I found myself facing so many years ago in the corporate world. It is as if the art world has not kept up with the business world, just the opposite of what you might expect.
Posted by Peter Kiidumae at 10:17 6 Comments
October 06 2009
I just attended a painting workshop conducted by Robert Genn, and, rather ironically, Alan Wylie as a substitute for the second afternoon because Robert had to be absent. Ironic because the two men, while both exceptional, successful, even iconic artists, are at completely opposite ends of the style spectrum, Robert's landscapes being virtually abstract paintings, while Alan paints in a highly realistic, detailed, precise style. As one of only two openly realist-style painters in this group of 25 participants, by the second day I was finding myself in need of some sort of reassurance that my approach to painting was at least equally valid as the minimalist, "painterly" approach. It was a relief to hear Alan say, as he entered the room, that it was perfectly okay to paint with small brushes, knowing full well that using large brushes on tiny canvasses had been the order of the day for the first day and a half of this workshop.

I hasten to emphasize that absolutely nothing that Robert or any other participant said or did in any way demonstrated any prejudice or discrimination towards the two realist painters in the group. In fact, our work was very well received, somewhat to my surprise, but the fact remains that we realists are heavily outnumbered in current painter ranks, and suffer the scorn and disdain of many who have been enlightened by the religion of the "painterly" way of painting, making us rather sensitive to our perceived place in the grand scheme of contemporary art.

The word "painterly" itself is an excellent example of the subtle discrimination we face. Who decided those who painted quickly, loosely, even sloppily were "painterly"? The implication is that we who paint with precision, methodically, carefully, and with attention to detail and reality are somehow outside the brotherhood of painters. This is the burden we realists have to bear in a world of painterly fashion. We are but nerds in the nightclub of High Art.

How often have we heard that we need to "loosen up", that our work is too "tight", that there is no "emotion" or "feeling" in our work? I'd like to see the proof that a sloppily and quickly painted approximation of a particular scene conveys more feeling and emotion than a lovingly crafted, joyfully detailed rendering of the same scene. Just believing it is so does not make it so. Ask the Emperor about that. Show me some hard proof.

Where did the odd idea come from that a painter should pare down a scene to its most basic elements, leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the details in his own mind? To me that is like suggesting a chef leave out the spices, sauces, and condiments of a meal, leaving it up to the diner to imagine the flavours and aromas of the meal. It's like suggesting that Beethoven should have limited his symphonies to a simple melody line, allowing the listener to fill in the chords and harmonies in his head. H.D. Thoreau said: "The more a painter invents, the further he takes us from the world which actually exists; and to that extent may even encourage us in the alienation from the real".

What is wrong with delighting the viewer of a painting with the richness of abundant and beautiful detail that can be discovered through the adventure of exploration by eye over the whole painting?

I suspect what is wrong with it for some painters is that such richness is beyond their ability or inclination to produce. It can be difficult, and require an enormous amount of work. Could the elevation of paucity ("less is more") to the status of a virtue in painting merely be a convenient way to justify a painting process that allows higher productivity with less effort while providing the credibility of being "in style", and therefore of value?

The outstanding work of Robert Genn demonstrates the high level the so-called "painterly" style of painting can reach when exercised by the hand of an exceptionally talented artist. However, the very fine art of Alan Wylie shows that realism need not take a back seat to any style of painting, and that being a realist painter is totally okay, even if we are outnumbered. For now.
Posted by Peter Kiidumae at 08:49 9 Comments