What is good art?

The euphoria of our big European trip is wearing off and life has returned to its normal hum of kids, school, business and routine. My eldest has been couch-bound with the flu and as such studio time has been put on hold.

Unfortunately no studio updates to report but I can report on the feedback I received from my last blog post – Constructive Criticism.

Thank you for all your heartfelt responses. It was a pleasure to read them here, via email and all social media platforms.

I thought I would share some responses.

Paul Mordetsky (artist), USA writes: “… it wasn’t criticism at all. It is more like you inviting me over for dinner, serving a splendid stew, and I tell you that stews - any stew - gives me indigestion due to the vagaries of my own digestive system. …… I am not saying anything about you or about your cooking - just stating a valid but purely personal opinion”.

Artwork by Masolino & Masaccio at the Branacci Chapel Florence.

Demetria Verduci (Architect & Manager, La Macina di San Cresci), Italy writes: “As a person arises in front of a work of art … (their response) depends on their background, their culture and even their daily life.  It should not be interpreted as a negative criticism of your paintings, but as a subjective reaction…I believe that if we are serene people and in peace with ourselves, we are also able to understand that a painting, a piece of music or a book express the vision of the author, its personal aesthetic and its message”.

Amy Menzies (artist), Australia also feels the same. “Art is subjective so criticism is an occupational hazard. Emotional on both parties..”

Personally, I want art to make me think. Art that makes you question aspects of life. I think that is the responsibility of the artist. Artists are sensitive (there’s that word again!). These days I see it as a gift, not a hindrance. To convey ideas, feelings and opinions through our craft. After all we are a visual culture.

Art is a powerful visual language which can access society and make us think/feel and act upon. For example, Renaissance art was simply a form of advertising to the masses. Works usually commissioned by the church to teach society how to behave.

Judith Slaying Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614

The Madonna is often depicted breastfeeding Jesus in paintings and frescoes. I had the opportunity to visit the earliest recorded Renaissance frescoes while in Florence at the Branacci Chapel.

One of my favourite paintings from the Renaissance is Artemisia Gentileschi’s, Judith Slaying Holofernes (I don't know if this was commissioned by the church!). You can see it at Florence's Uffizi Gallery. On its own it is a powerful religious piece but to understand the artist’s background makes this piece even more poignant. A female painter in a male dominated profession must have been challenging.

I love it when people respond to some art and say “Oh but I could do that!”  and my favourite is “My 5 year old paints better than that”.

So, what do you think constitutes good art?

What type of art do you buy?

I love reading your comments. Please feel free to comment and like below.

Yours in art,

Bec x

“Various Storms and Saints: paintings & drawings from Hunter Valley, Australia and Tuscany, Italy” is currently on at Galerie Belimage, Switzerland.
Please view Australian works here.
Please contact the gallery for sales: info@belimage.ch

Residency life.

I’ve been asked by Emma Targett to share more about my residency experience. She asked some really interesting questions and I thought I’d share my response in this post. I hope you don’t mind me answering them here, Emma?

I’d like to start off my saying the following is purely my experiences. Residencies come in all sorts of incarnations, so everyone's experiences will be all different. I’m also travelling with my family which is another entirely differently experience than if you are travelling alone.

About 8-10 years ago I discovered artist residencies. I never knew about them at art school and I don’t know if they are more popular now than when I first started college in 1994. In any such case, when I found them, I really wanted to attend one. The idea of intense focus on your practice in order to develop your work was a dream which I wanted to achieve.

I discovered the website www.resartis.org. It lists all the residencies throughout the world. To my delight it also had a drop down menu and offered residencies for families. This is where I found La Macina di San Cresci.

There are many listed here. You can tailor it to suit your needs and apply to those which are appropriate to your work. There is no point in applying for a city residency when your work is about Nature (unless you have a reason for it!).

The process for applying is different to all residencies, however I feel the key point is to think about why you are applying to that particular one, what you will gain from the experience and what you can also give back. Residencies are usually a communal experience both physically and metaphorically. You may be the only artist at the residency but you are part of a bigger thing. Be prepared to share your space and time with others (many tourists drop into the studios at San Crecsi).

Communal life at San Cresci. Mimma and Duccio live downstairs and the other artist apartment is above left. This is the inside courtyard. Opposite stone wall is the church.

Logistics! This one is interesting, as last time I drew really large pastel drawings and now I’m painting rather small and en plein air. Be mindful of how to send work home as I had to buy a very large plumbing tube to send my work in the post!

Making do with my art supplies and painting outside.

Research local art supply stores before you go, however do take your necessities with you. I have reduced my palette and supplies only through trial and error.

Once again it is all a learning curve and you can ‘make do’ with what you have if you are unable to track down supplies. It may be an opportunity to learn a new technique! You take advantage of any situation as a reason to grow your practice. I try to look at how I can make it work rather than why I can’t do a work, even if I don’t have a certain colour or special pencil.

Finally, I don’t think there are any ‘bad’ moments. The challenging ones test you at times but if you find the good out of them then they are just another reason to grow as a person and as an artist.

You are out of your comfort zone so expect the unexpected but most of all have fun! It is such a special time in your artistic journey.

For me the opportunity to completely immerse myself into a foreign culture, learn a different language, make wonderful new friends, practise my art and share it all with my family is a very memorable experience.

My advice is simple, just do it, your art will thank you for it!

I hope this has helped, Emma.

Please feel free to comment and like below.

Yours in art,

Bec x

Postscript... La Macina di San Cresci Residency

Having been successful in an application to attend La Macina di San Cresci residency, my family and I travelled to the beautiful and historic town of Greve in Chianti, 50km south of Florence, last year to spend a month at the artistic oasis. 

Steeped in history, the residency is set amongst the grounds of the oldest standing church in Florence, San Cresci. Some of the first recorded history dates back to the 10th century where pilgrims to Rome would stay at the church and leave their valued possessions to be collected on their homeward return. La Macina means ‘the millstone’ in Italian and in the bowels of the villa you can find the original olive press used by the monks during former times. The history includes modern times with the famous French philosopher Guy Debord living there as a child. 

Today the new tenants of the estate (still owned by the Catholic Church) have lovingly restored the church and villa to house up to 5 artists at any one time. The owners, architect Demetria (Mimma) Verduci and world renowned light sculptor Professor Duccio Trassinelli, opened up the residency to welcome international artists about 15 years ago. The estate is an oasis for artists across all disciplines. When we stayed there we shared the facilities with 3 other artists including a choreographer, visual artist and another graphic designer/visual artist all from USA. 

We were extremely fortunate to find a residency which was located in the heart of Tuscany, 40 mins from Florence. Surrounded by the hills of the wine and olive growing Chianti region and set amongst the historic building of San Cresci. We had a wonderful apartment with views of Chianti, plus I had fully equipped studio and access to great facilities 24/7. The entire residency was a very special and unique experience. 

The self-directed project, which I undertook during the residency, was a body of work based on the local produce and ceramics of the Chianti area. Italy is renowned for its relaxed lifestyle with beautiful healthy food, which is grown in abundance. I was inspired by the weekly village markets where we would buy our fresh fruit and vegetables from local growers. The produce was delicious both visually and to taste. This coupled with our evening communal meal with our fellow artists and hosts, inspired me to create my body of work – In Season. Our hosts Mimma and Duccio were wonderful and welcoming. Many nights were spent in their beautiful garden talking broken English and Italian, eating delicious food and drinking local wine together with the other resident artists. I realised that an intrinsic part of Italian culture was the communal sharing of food. Food brought people together and evening times were a celebration of sharing the day’s events together with a meal.

Focusing on local seasonal produce which I had bought from the local market, I did preliminary sketches, which eventually I translated into larger drawings to emphasise the importance of the subject matter. Georgia O’Keeffe once wrote: “I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty”.

As I live on a vineyard in the Hunter Valley and have a family vegetable and fruit garden, I am conscious of the seasons and eating produce directly sourced from the garden. Eating with the seasons has a direct effect on your health and wellbeing.

All drawings created there and subsequently in Australia are watercolour, charcoal, pastel and conté on Fabriano paper. The paper I use is made in Italy (Fabriano) and of a very high quality. It is a heavy weighted paper (300gsm) and can withstand vigorous treatment. It is cold pressed and therefore has a textured surface, which I really enjoy. I utilise this aspect and love working on the ground creating frottage (texture) in the drawings. I used this process in Italy and took the work outside the studio and onto the floor of the church. It was wonderful to create a site specific work while there and think about the many pilgrims over the 1000 years who have trodden on the ground where I was drawing. There are still remnants of renaissance frescos on the ceiling of the church. 

This amazing experience has spurred my interest into contemporary drawing practice to the point where I have started my Masters of Creative Practice majoring in drawing. I look forward to the journey artistically and returning in 2016 to the artistic oasis of San Cresci -the place which fuelled my passion for contemporary drawing. 

The exhibition "In Season" will be shown at Muswellbrook Regional Art Centre June 2015. 

Bec xx