Thursday, May 7, 2015

Essex Art Association, and How Do We Judge Art, Anyway?

An artist friend of mine and I have been talking about how to view and judge a work of art. She feels that if the work demonstrates artistic experience and competence, if the colors are blended well, the drawn lines follow the bark on the tree precisely and the shadows are credible, well, then, it's a solid piece of art. And that’s enough.

But I feel that if the first thing I notice is technique? then a trickster, not an artist, has pulled me in.

Emily Dickinson told Thomas Wentworth Higginson that 

If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. 

(Higginson reported Dickinson’s comment in a letter to his wife, 16 August 1870)


I think that the visual arts should be “felt” in this same way. And that makes it pretty subjective. Two exhibitions currently on in Connecticut are a good test for me of just how “personal” art can feel.

The Essex Art Association (on Main Street in Essex, Connecticut) has opened "Mixed Bag," their Spring Juried Exhibition. This very strong show consists of 80 works chosen from 246 entries. Jeff Cooley, the owner of a gallery in Old Lyme, Connecticut, juried the exhibition, which is on view through May 23, 2015. The space is large and open and there’s more than enough room for art and viewers. I would like to single out the 3 works from the show that stay with me, days later.

The bright colors balanced by dark blues, and some of the brushstrokes, in Claire Crosby’s watercolor, “The Last Café,” are Matissean.  Like his work, Crosby’s shapes come forward into, but then pull away from, a sense of figuration. 
The central dark brushed rectangle may be a garden doorway, or it may be a geometric form, offsetting the organic borders. This is a bold and striking use of watercolors, and quite beautiful.

Thomas Stavovy received “Best in Show” for a monotype called “Dappled,” 
but I found myself drawn to Stavovvy’s etching called “Tonal Gradation.”   

There is something to the mix of vertical soft brown rectangles, overlaid with darker and lighter rounded scribbled lines, that, again, comes and goes, foreground and background alternating. The freedom of marks here is intoxicating.

“Neverland,” a mixed media piece by Pam Erickson, rows of xxxxx’s, stitches, stamps, photographs and collages combine to suggest a series of rejections, and yet, the random placement of all these “messages,” the x-ing lines that just run out and the alluded-to yellow and orange depths promise something more.... cheerful. 

This could be a page lifted from an artist’s book; it has the hand-crafted feel of a transformed text. The title imagines a world of infinite play, and this piece has that feel to me.

The whole truth: I was so intrigued by the show and the artists that I am now a member of the Essex Art Association.  Go and see this show, and the one after that... and check out the website, too: