Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
One of my self appointed roles in life is to give you permission as a beginner, to make art without judgement. Knowing that you will improve. To feel you can make mistakes and it’s ok. No dire consequence will result. So what follows in this chapter are not rules: more gentle suggestions, something to think about.
I am not a big fan of what I will call cheesy art. Have you ever seen an art work you liked but you heard someone else say it’s crap and you don’t understand why? You think it’s quite good, but others think it’s rubbish?There’s a good chance that it’s because its cheesy. It’s hard to define cheesy art, but let’s start with corny, or overly sweet and sentimental.
It can be tricky for beginners sometimes to avoid making art that looks a bit cheesy. We start out with the best of intentions and at the end you realise you’ve made something kind of corny looking.
My beach watercolours tend to fall into this category but I’m ploughing ahead anyway as I know I will improve. And also because it’s fun.
Beginners will often wonder what the difference is between something cheesy and something classic. Classic art is painting a bowl of apples. There is always something to be learnt for the individual in doing classic art. Drawing a nude figure. Finding objects in nature and assembling them.
When we are listening to our own self, jotting down ideas that genuinely come from us, rather than trying to copy someone else’s ideas, we are less likely to make cheesy art. We are far more likely to come up with something cheesy when we are trying to make what we think people want or when we don’t think our idea is big enough, or interesting enough.
Please note what I just said: We are far more likely to make something cheesy when we do what we think others want.
Maybe it’s time to look at a different medium to help you if you still can’t see what others would think of as cheesy. Let’s look at the movies. Most of us understand what I think of as the ‘Hollywood Language of Movies’. We know what things mean. We know a montage means time is passing and a map with a dotted line means travel. We know a shot fading to darkness means the hero is becoming unconscious.
I confess that I have rather low brow taste in movies and I watch a lot of action movies. Recently there have been quite a few superhero movies released, with the likes of DC Comics and Marvel trolling their own back catalogues for ideas. And frankly a lot of it is appallingly cheesy, even within the already low standards of the action film genre. They are positively rolling in old fashioned values and sentimentality. But I think a new level of melted cheese was reached in ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.’
This rather foolish film was moving along at a typically cheesy rate until they introduced the femme fatale/ villainess of the story, played by Sienna Miller. She jumps out of a helicopter wearing: a cat suit. A black leather catsuit with high heel boots. What remarkable lack of imagination led to this costume decision I can only imagine. If you remember in Austin Powers, Elizabeth Hurley is wearing a black catsuit which they have chosen deliberately to be rather kitschy and 1960’s. They picked this costume based on rather obvious messages.
For many of us, a black cat suit is forever reminiscent of Catwoman in the old 1960’s Batman series. Putting our villainess in a catsuit seems so old fashioned. When we see someone in a catsuit our brain says baddy: no thinking necessary. It’s like seeing a chap with a curly moustache in a black cape.
In the scene where she first appears, she is surrounded by her goons, military men in khaki military clothing. Why is she not also in military garb? Why does she appear to have escaped from some old man’s fantasy in her tight black leather?
We learn later in the film that she used to be a good person before she became all twisted and bitter, and rather appallingly, she used to have blond hair then. But now she is bad she has black hair. Goodness; could there be more corniness? Or more racism?
Whilst it’s easy to identify cheese in movies, it can be mighty hard in art. As the language of art is less well known to us than the language of movies. But if you think about the characters in that movie: how flat and one dimensional they are, it might give you a little clue about cheesiness elsewhere. And when we think of recently beloved on screen characters like Walter White in Breaking Bad or Tyrion in Game of Thrones, what works so well is that they are atypical; full of both flaws and good points. In real life people are not ‘the baddy’ or ‘the goody’. In cinema multi dimensional characters work when they have elements that work in contrast.
Why am I so against corny movie moments? Because they’re boring and predictable. You learn nothing new when you watch a movie where you can absolutely predict what will happen next. It brings nothing you don’t already know into the world. And in a way, really corny art is the same.
And for me one of the most beautiful things in art making is that it tells me something about the world or the artist that I didn’t already know. It makes me see something in an unexpected way, or something that didn’t even exist before. It doesn’t have to be huge or absolutely amazeballs. It can be a small charming moment, that someone has carefully wrought. They have put themselves into this piece and now they are sharing it with you.
A painting of fruit: it doesn’t matter how many times I see it I never find it dull. Or a sketch of the human form. Always worth doing. Or a handwoven basket.
Lets think of some ways to go beyond that typical moment.
I was reading a book with watercolour techniques and exercises, and they gave an example of how to paint a ‘bridge in springtime’.
In the example it was a pretty little wooden bridge over a stream with flowers blooming on the riverbank and I was really attracted to it, but then all of a sudden it seemed quite absurd and it made me crack up laughing. The idea that I would paint a ‘bridge in springtime’, even though;
There’s no bridge like that in my life
It’s not spring.
And there are no beautiful streams with soft green banks anywhere nearby.
I tried to think about why I was attracted to this exercise. I think the very fact that there’s nothing like that in my life, such a pretty scene and so romantic. Sometimes I just want to paint water lilies too.
And of course people want to paint pretty scenes because they think they will sell better, and perhaps they will. But think about what you want to paint and why.
So I tried to think about what I could paint somewhere not too far form where I live that would satisfy those urges and the techniques in the exercise. Not far from where I live there is an area where factories back on to the local somewhat scungey river, but there is actually spot where waterlilies grow. Romance meets industry, contrast and interest.
When you explore what you want and why, you are being yourself.
Can you transform something cheesy into something interesting?
When you are making art, think about whether you are doing something the way you want to, or doing it the way you think it should be done.
Don’t give the villain a curling moustache and a black cape. Unless it’s a lady. That might be fun.
Now off you go and make some art.