Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 4, 2015

It’s all the Viewer’s Fault

I watched a whole slew of YouTube videos on what art is recently. Well it was a dull evening on telly and I didn’t feel like painting! I’ll attempt to embed one below that I found interesting.

She talks entertainingly and tries to persuade us that heaps of rubbish, Mr Creed’s light bulb and Ms Emin’s bed are relevant to all of us and interesting. She essentially says that the viewers who could not see anything in the works are not taking the next step and thinking philosophically about where the works might lead. So it is the viewers that are lacking, not the work. Now this is not a total loss as an argument. A tribes people from the Amazon were unable to recognise photographs at first. However I would go on to say that they got the hang of it very quickly and that is not the case with the works mentioned above. Nonetheless this is one of the best explanations of the current art model I have seen or read.

She argues that Emin’s white bed when empty is essentially no different from a blank canvas and the accrued debris is no different from the paint another artist might apply. These items she says tell a story of an everyday existence in a similar way. The argument does however not work so well when extended. You might say that when a museum display case is empty then it is as a blank canvas and if you place anything within it then it is art. Many contemporary artists would be happy with that, the famous pickled shark is an example. Or an empty fridge becomes art when you put a pint of milk in it. Emin and our lecturer are saying we should look at these things in our lives and appreciate their aesthetic qualities and the deeper things they tell us about our lives.

This is all well and good and it sort of adds up. However even though all this is explained to me it still doesn’t cause me to be moved in the aesthetic sense. I might think the folds in the sheets beautiful or whatever, but that is not due to Emin’s intervention. There are beautiful and intriguing sights to be had in most everyday things if we take the trouble to notice. However we are judging Emin’s intervention here not the intrinsic qualities of the objects. The lecturer says the work might lead us to examine our own unnoticed fetish of tidiness, or a mother’s obsession with a teenager’s revolting bedroom which is fair enough, but I cannot help but think that an article in a magazine about it would do the job better. Indeed she says that most don’t manage to get into that territory when seeing the installation. Once explained anyone could make their bed into an art object it merely requires removing it into another context. An unmade bed is a remarkable object on a railway station concourse, but an unremarkable one in a bedroom. We do of course often take ubiquitous objects and separate them out. At the V&A museum they display everyday objects out of context so that we can appreciate and compare their design qualities. No one thinks they have become art through this process though. I could argue that Emin’s bed falls into the informative display category not the art one.

She says several times that people look and dismiss but do not take the next intellectual step. Then her explanation of the next step is so underwhelming that I struggle to find it remotely interesting. It certainly does not illuminate my mental landscape even when it is a light bulb. She says it is philosophy but if it is it is not very profound. She stresses the word “conversation” a great deal. She says that unless we attempt to answer the questions asked by such works then we are locked out from properly appreciating them. The problem with this is that the works are all questions and art in my opinion is about seeing possible answers or observing and defining qualities. It is very much not a quiz, exam question or a philosophical puzzle.

She effectively undermines her own arguments at the very beginning with a devastating statistic. On both Emin’s and Hirst’s shows the average time each work was considered and was calculated by examining the cctv footage of visitors to the shows. The result was less than 5sec per work… not much time for a conversation of any kind in that time frame, let alone a deep philosophical awakening. It shows that contemporary art is mostly very poor at contriving the initial connection that draws people in to look. Although not at all scientific I recently visited the Tate Modern and ended up watching the people rather than looking at the art. They watched the video installations longest, static artworks received only very cursory attention. Indeed the installation that seemed to provoke most intense consideration was the cake display in the cafe. People are drawn to looking at a painting by the possibility of an aesthetic reward, much in the way that a laden dinner table is offering the potential of sustenance and pleasurable or exciting tastes. If the painting does not offer the cues of potential reward or deliberately denies any such possibility then no one will stop to appreciate. Why would they?

The argument that you must reach into a work or “engage” as they are fond of saying is very poor. If you assume your audience has a similar social programming as the artist, then any work worth its salt should attract attention however blatantly or subtly. The better the work is at reaching those with differing or divergent social programming, either due to culture or time passing the better the work is. Will Emin’s work be pivotal in 5oo years? We don’t know but I suspect not, other than as a small footnote in social history.

I have been busy of late, but have still squeezed in a good deal of painting. With my new house liveable and my studio in operation it is easier to concentrate. I even managed a day out to the wonderful town of Wells… more on that below.


Oil painting, blandford forum, dorset, plein air

This is Blandford Forum one of the nearest towns to me. Unusual in that it mostly burnt down in 1731, due to this it was rebuilt in mostly Georgian style. I have drawn this view in pen but am planning a bigger painting so I went again to sketch from the same viewpoint. On the day I was there a market was happening on the left hand side but when I got home I didn’t like it so replaced it with stuff from the  pen drawing. 10in by 16in oils.

Child Okeford, Dorset, lane, plein air. oil painting

This painting of one of the ancient green lanes around Child Okeford was and still is a real struggle. It is too busy and I might have to add a figure but will need to get someone to pose. It has taken two plein air sessions to get this far and it is still not hanging together properly. In town I could just wait for a passerby but out here you could be waiting a fair while! 10in by 14in Oils.


Fontmell Magna, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

In between sessions on the green lane I went to Fontmell Magna and very quickly painted this. It went a bit swampy from getting too much paint on too quickly but catches the feel of the light adequately. Interesting view with strong silhouettes, I shall go back and see how it looks in other lights. 7in by 12in, Oils.


Sturminster Newton, oil painting, Dorset

This is the small town of Sturminster Newton. I actually started this months ago but only had time to sketch it out and lay in the main tones. I finished off using a phone snap but am rather pleased by the result. I think only the sky tone and the road survive from the original plein air. 10in by 12in oils.


London, soho, walkers court, plein air, oil painting

This is Meard St in Soho. The first time in a while I had taken my oils on a trip to London. I rather like the square format and will be doing more. 10in by 10in oils.


walkers court, soho, london, plein air, oil painting

This is the insalubrious alley called Walkers Court that leads through to Berwick St. I was very attracted by the light pushing through the alley. I had to paint very quickly as the wet pavement was drying rapidly as I painted. 10in by 10in Oils.


Wells, Cathedral, pen and ink, drawing

My first day out just for painting was to Wells. Almost too much to draw here and the day was gorgeous. I set out on this wondering how the hell I was going to get all that detail in without spending all day. I was very careful to set the level of simplification quite high. I essentially combined all the shadow areas into a simple broken vertical hatch, then indicated the architectural breaks with as few lines as possible. I stopped once there were enough hints to convey the rhythm the ornament produced. I love the way this blue paper takes a white highlight. Pen and Ink.


Somerset Levels, watercolour

This is a drainage ditch on the Somerset Levels, a bit rushed but I was painting in a very uncomfortable position! Watercolour.


Glastonbury Tor, somerset, watercolour

Last from my trip to Somerset, I drove miles trying to get a view I liked of Glastonbury Tor. I ended up miles away but loved the levels and will return to paint there again. watercolour.



Greenwich, Ballast quay, London, Thames, drawing, pen and ink

Another trip to London for the start of the season with the Wapping Group. This is Ballast Quay in Greenwich. Pen and Ink.


October 14, 2014


Do you find that everyday chores and responsibilities get in the way of painting? Even someone like myself with no family responsibilities finds it hard to get “easel time”. I take my hat off to those that manage it with job, house and kids to juggle with. Often I find these interruptions are painting related. I have to take paintings to galleries, attend private views, write blogs, I have just spent 3 days framing! I have a painting that has been sitting for 2 weeks on my easel waiting to be finished off, but I haven’t been able to find the 4 hours that would take. It does however have a lovely frame… This is exacerbated recently by moving to the country. An old house to refurbish, studio to build at the bottom of the garden, it all eats time. As I am about to hit 60 time is all the more precious.

I wonder in reflective moments if I had painted for all the hours I watched telly, or more recently floated round the inter web, over the years just how many more paintings I would have got done. Also having done them, how much better at the whole business would I be? The odd thing is I can get up and paint all day without interruption if I am doing an illustration for a client, but find it harder to do that for myself. I suppose that if you don’t get the commercial job done there will be immediate consequences but if you don’t finish that landscape then no one will tick you off!

I think I ought to implement an organised regime, but am not sure I have the will power to stick to one. Even if I set a regime of 5hrs a day 5 days per week I would I suspect still improve my output. Twenty five hours, I doubt if I am making 15hrs at present. Discounting commercial work of about 10 weeks leaves 46 weeks in the year so 690hrs of painting time. I have completed 200 works of various kinds. So I am being a bit unkind as I think maybe an average of 4 hrs per work including studies, preparation and finding subjects on location. Which means I have put in about 800hrs of painting and drawing this year or about 20 forty hour weeks.

Exactly why I feel I have to put in this labour is another matter. I am fortunate in that I do just enough commercial work to feed and keep me. Many I feel artists overstate the importance of their art in order to legitimise the work they produce as being the result of some irresistible drive. Mostly we tend to look upon obsessive behaviour as a negative thing, but if you are an artist then you can wear such behaviour on your sleeve. I don’t think I am obsessed, I have said before I could stop painting and just write or play music, but what pushes me along in interest and fascination. The more I learn the more I wish to learn.

So here is what I have got done despite distractions! A mixed bunch, but I feel it is important to post the misses as well as the ones nearer to the target.


Queenborough, Sheppey, Kent, Oils, Brass Monkeys, plein air

This is Queenborough on the isle of Sheppey. A very fine day out with the Brass Monkeys. This was such fun to paint and unusually I took it to a finish on site. 14in by 10 in Oils.


Queenborough, Sheppey, Kent, drawing, brass monkeys

Queenborough again, very pleased with this one. Pen and ink 9in by 7in.


Royal Hill, Greenwich, Brass Monkeys, London, oils, plain air

Another Brass Monkey day. This is Royal Hill in Greenwich. 10in by 16in oils.


Greenwich, London, Observatory, park, brass monkeys, oil painting

Very quick sketch of the Observatory in Greenwich park, not one to take any further but fine as a sketch. 10in by 10in oils.


Isleworth, watercolour, Wapping Group, Thames

This is Isleworth on the Thames. My heart wasn’t really in this it doesn’t have a natural focus. With plein air it is sometimes impossible to juggle all the requirements that make a good picture, but sketches I feel have a charm of their own. 10in by 8in, watercolour.


Isleworth, London, London Apprentice, drawing, pub

This is Isleworth again on the river terrace at The London Apprentice.


Shaftesbury, Golden Hill, Dorset, Pen and Ink, drawing

This is the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury in Dorset. This is the “standard lazy view” but I hope to return and find a few more original angles! Pen and ink A4.


Lastly a few life drawings, I have found a new group in Dorset so will be able to keep up the figure work which is wonderful.

Life drawing


Life drawing


Life drawing


Life drawing

The above are 5min each. The village hall where the session is held has wonderful light so I am looking forward to future days.


Life drawing



The model view was no good so I sneakily did one of my fellow artists! That’s it for this episode, there may be a bit of a gap asI am rather thinly spread of late!

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