Month: April 2016

Cut to the Heart

You know how listening to music can bring forth memories, that join together?

Art can bring forth the same magic, where you were, with whom, when and how you were affected. Art is more than just a picture, it leaves you with a montage of memories, the best to be milked when hearing the artist’s name, or a reproduction in a book.

My memory chest of art is a map of my adult life in art, crossed with my personal life. A marriage of wonder and warmth, sadness and ill.

Though I’d been drawing since grade school, I fell away from it, taking a still-loved interest in literature and writing. Then friends, boys, jobs and finally college fell in line, with literature at the top. The second year, looking for an elective in the college catalog, art popped up.

After years of absence, art entered my life again. This time, to stay.

Pumped up, I went to my first exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art, featuring the German Expressionist, Kathe Kollwitz. I had done woodcuts back in public school and was curious to see a master’s work.

What I saw floored me. Passion, love, misery, rawness. The bare bones. I wanted to have that fulfillment, that letting go of the best and worst of life. The bluntness of the cuts, the dark smears of ink, the haziness of style. A wonder is the image below: “Woman with Dead Child”, etching, 1903, 15 in x18 in.


I had been painting nudes for some time, finding comfort and life in the abundant female folds of flesh, and the core quiet of male strength. But Kollwitz experienced the horror of war, the love and loss of family, the contrary bittersweetness and exhausting drollness of being a mother. At that point, I had a daughter, a safe family, living in suburban ease.

But I was sensitive to life. As a child, my parents took me to my first movie, “Ben-Hur”. Filled with deathly action, blood, and cruelty. I was mortified for weeks. Later, I couldn’t watch a war movie without leaving the theater, shaking. And my heart beat fast when I tutored in the Detroit projects, the families grateful for any help for their children.

I am one of the Kollwitz children. At least as an artist. Woodcuts are a soft spot for me, as is the human figure, though models aren’t as available to me as I’d like. But the woodcut, it cuts deep.

This Is a Title

As I’m typing out artwork labels for the next show, I’m sighing again.

I sigh because a title cannot sum up a work of art. I sigh because titles can be confusing. They can be cryptic. And even boring.

When I view artwork, I view it first. From all views. And again. Like a movie or book, you miss things the first time. Then I check for the artist’s name, unless the gallery held only one artist. If there’s a price, I notice that. But that’s another story.

The title, in my book, is just what I said in the second paragraph above. I rarely remember titles, I think for those reasons. But I don’t forget the artist, the style, palette, composition, etc.

Those titles, “Untitled”, or “#2”. Really. Why bother? Just number the artwork on the back or bottom , unobtrusively. The artist and gallerist naturally need to identify and inventory the work.

But apparently viewers need to have a title, but just what does that add to the information, or more importantly, to the art of the art?

Many titles are ignored and forgotten, with popular substitutes. As in “Whistler’s Mother”, which is actually titled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1”. Which title will be remembered? Though the original title is more descriptive, it’s a mouthful.

Some are entertaining and spot on, though. “The Scream” couldn’t be more identifying. But still, boring. We can see the screaming. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” Yep, we can see that. “Woman with a Hat”. Why bother?

Then there’s the poser’s name. That’s more useful, at least to satisfy our curiosity. But, as in “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere”, a woman is the center of the painting. Who is she? Artistically, again, not that important. But we naturally want to know who this important, beautiful subject is. The Bar just does not justify. But again, is the subject’s really useful to the art? No. But human curiosity prevails.

Anyway, back to finishing the labels. Maybe I’ll just skip the titles on my work. Why bother?