Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

May 30, 2013

100th Post… Hitting the Three Year Mark!

I can’t believe I have been writing this blog for three years. I hope it has been of interest or use to others. I have not done as many tutorial posts as I intended and posted more on philosophy as regards to painting than I might have expected. It is just when it comes down to it the thought and motivation that lies behind making a picture is as important as the actual smearing on of the paint! This is a discovery for me and a change of perspective that writing these tracts has brought about. It is also 3 years since I set about making painting original pictures the main focus of my day to day life. I am pleased and a little surprised I have mostly managed to stick to my original intention. I have produced  300 watercolours and 330 oils so 200 per year or 4 per week along with many hundreds of drawings. I have also squeezed in enough commercial work to pay the bills. I may have many faults but perhaps laziness is not amongst them!

I am also managing to sell pictures, indeed this year I am substantially in profit, a target I had vaguely expected to reach at about the five year mark. So a big thank you to all those who have bought a painting online as It is very brave to spend money on the basis of a screen image and I do hope that no one was disappointed by the actual painting!

In popularity by far the most popular posts are not about my pictures alas. Top of the list is the one on Spherical Perspective, and the next ones are my appreciation of other watercolourists down the ages. I must apologise here for the many typos and posts in need of editing, I intend to go back and do the thankless task of tidying, but the idea is not attractive… a bit like contemplating doing the hoovering when it is sunny outside and there are pictures to be painted!

I am more and more coming to the belief, especially having read many arguments of the “Yes it is!”, “No it isn’t!” variety that there is no quality in an object that confirms it can be called “Art”. We cannot define it, we cannot say with any confidence if an object has what it takes or not. This leads me to think the quality only exists in the cultural and individual mythic imagination. So a superstition then, not a real quality. I am guessing we like the idea that such clever mammals such as us can produce an object that has some mystical aspect. By our working we imbue an inert object with some soul, maybe some small part of our self is preserved from the coming dark. Magic and conjuration with the artist as prophet and witch doctor. Old idea I suppose, but we have always loved totems. Royalty, pop stars, celebrities, brands, masterpieces and magic swords, they all seem cut from the same cloth woven of wishes, dreams and disappointments.

I can argue that there is no actual art, only opinion as to what might be art. It is art only because we agree it is. Due to the fact we differ in point of view an object can be both art or not depending on who is having the opinion. There is no inherent property of an object that confers art status, therefore the property must come from elsewhere. IE from the opinions of those both alive and dead whose belief made it so. That opinion is also mutable, what was considered art is not necessarily art today and todays art may not be in the consensus of art tomorrow. So art is not the business of artists as it is not in their power to instil that imaginary property and beatify their own work. They may and do work at getting their work canonised, but that is called marketing and has nothing to do with the making of the thing.

So you cannot say if one thing is art or another not, as art is an imaginary mythic property. The same as the holiness of icons or the magic of a tarot pack. The bible is holy to a Christian, but the very same item physically unchanged is not holy to a Hindu.That a Warhol, a Leonardo or a Rothko is art depends upon faith. If you believe it is art then it is, but your opinion is no more right or wrong than someone who thinks the opposite. There are of course the Blessed Serota and the Sainted Saatchi who may with a wave beatify your effort, but such power is not granted to mere artists only to prophets. So photography or painting is both art and not art. It is your decision as the observer, not the photographer’s or painter’s.

There is only craft. Whatever the arena, be it photography or painting. Whether the result of that craft comes to have some totemic quality for an individual or a society or not is as far as I can see completely irrelevant to the crafts person. The carpenter merely makes a chair in a workshop, it is society that later says it is a “Chippendale” and thus imbued with some extra invisible quality due to the history of the place in which it was made. Leonardo painted a portrait as best he could, it is us who later created the masterpiece and icon in our imaginations. It is not Leonardo who placed his painting in a vast cathedral upon an altar of bullet proof glass to be worshipped.

In Bonhams and Sotheby’s we see them praying to the holy Warhol and the blessed Rothko. The rich give of their wealth in search of absolution as they always have. Indulgences, chantry chapels, immortality has a price. What a terrible trick was played on the collector and connoisseur when the words, “Less is more.” were uttered! If less is better surely nothing is best? Ah well, no matter, we have worshipped dafter things than a patch of canvas painted black.

For you as an individual painter or photographer or whatever none of this matters a fig. Learning a craft is a journey, it is important only in the changes it makes to you as an individual as you tread the path, not to the changes you make to some bit of primed cloth.

It is common now to think of the goal as celebrity or recognition. People say to me, “It must be wonderful to be able to paint like that.” I have heard the same thing and indeed thought it myself when I saw wonderful musicians playing. I know now however that the wonder is for the listener not the player. They think perhaps you see with other eyes, gazing past the ordinary to some deeper truth. It is not so however, my world is the same as that of any other, as far as I can know my eyes see what you see. If anything my efforts have been aimed at seeing less not more. You can expect no rewards for the mastering of a craft other than the occasional satisfaction of having done a job as well as you are able and the disappointment that it still fell short.

After that sermon, a few pictures.

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St Ives, Cornwall, Harbour, boats, watercolour, painting

I am trying to get more Cornish pictures painted before the memory fades. This is St Ives. Painted half from a plein air and half from a photo. It only looked

like this for about 10 min, but I do love the light you get after a rain shower when the sun comes through. 1/4 sheet Atches rough.

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Mousehole, cornwall, fishing boats, watercolour painting

This is a re working of the plein air oil I did of the same subject. Nicer as a watercolour but still a bit too pretty for me! It is Mousehole in Cornwall.

1/2 sheet Arches Rough.

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Leigh on Sea, fishing boat, watercolour, plein air , painting

A day out with the Wapping Group. I wish I had taken my oils as the light was very transient. With oils you have a chance of catching the light when it

suddenly comes through This is Leigh on Sea in Essex. With watercolour you can’t back track! 1/4 Sheet Arches not.

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Leigh on sea, Essex, Fishing Boats, watercolour, plein air

Leigh on Sea again, again there were some wonderful moments of light, I tried to get some idea by doing a quick sketch as I painted this one. 1/4 sheet

Arches Not.

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Leigh on Sea, Essex, watercolour, plein air

A little 7in by 5in done in my Moleskin as the light changed.

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Richmond upon Thames, Surrey, watercolour, river, rain, plein air

Another Wednesday with the Wappers. This time in Richmond Upon Thames. It was determinedly wet and grey so I sat under a tree and did this little

10in by 8in on a bit of ancient Whatman paper.

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Richmond Upon Thames, watercolour, plein air, river, boat

The drizzle increased so I stuck to my Moleskin as anything bigger was impractical. The dappled texture in the trees is caused by the rain getting through!

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Richmond Upon Thames, River, Watercolour, plein air

Last one from Richmond, I was not going to paint another just take photos, but this scene took my eye and I couldn’t resist. I was glad to get to the pub

just before the tide cut it off! That’s it off to France so I hope the rain lets up!

6 Comments »

  1. I suppose it is the desire to be profound that partly defines an artist… i do it also.. try to define art… but in the end, all i can really do is enjoy or not enjoy mine or someone else’s work… I enjoyed your blog, and your paintings… and i like ‘pretty’… the rain drops were a great addition to your trees….

    Comment by vanaly — May 30, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

  2. @vanaly, I was not really trying to define art more show that it probably could not be defined!

    Comment by admin — May 31, 2013 @ 9:00 am

  3. One of your best posts Rob, like how you try to make sense of the world of art.

    Dave.

    Comment by Dave — May 31, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  4. As someone who can at best be called an enthusiastic amateur (in the sense of dabbler), but who is working on taking his painting to the next level, I can assure you that your blog is by far the most useful “instruction” I have found by a wide margin. Of course, learners like me want to see the techniques that lead to a recognizable product — the tricks of the trade, if you will. And technique is important and can be learned. But I find that what I most need now is a view into the mind of the artist so I can learn how to think like one. I’m not talking about academic theory. I’m talking about how to set and deal with one’s own expectations. How to critique one’s own work; maintaining that fine line between realism and self-loathing. Perhaps most important is how to get up and get out and paint — the sheer volume of work you produce in often ridiculous conditions is both inspiring and challenging to me. Most of all, I just love your work. So, thanks, and I’ll keep reading as long as you keep writing.

    Comment by Dewayne Matthews — June 1, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

  5. Wise words Rob. I work with people who have learning disabilities, some of the things they make fill me with pleasure and are so intriguing, but often only to me. Is it art? No training or qualifications involved here, just expression and joy. If we like something, that should be enough to warrant some wall space, without wasting time and energy in measuring it’s merit or supposed quality. Likewise with children’s paintings. Great post. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

    Comment by Kevin — June 3, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

  6. Thanks Dewayne! When I started this blog I decided it wouldn’t be worthwhile unless I put in the failures in with the successes and the doubts in with the certainties. I sometimes feel accomplished artists put on a slightly mysterious mask to make others feel they have some special magic, in my opinion there is no magic other than hard work and no success without many failures!
    Best
    Rob

    Comment by admin — June 10, 2013 @ 9:13 am

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