Dec 2008

Ignorance and Want

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

Charles Dickens, (The Ghost of Christmas Present from, “A Christmnas Carol”)

We’ve all seen, heard or read Dicken’s famous Christmas story, (you can read the original text on Google books here), probably many times. It’s omnipresent this time of year in almost any form you can imagine. There have been several film versions, all playing in heavy rotation this time of year, (the best in my opinion being the 1951 version with Alistar Sim as Scrooge). There are innumerable stage productions from grade school to pro, readings, radio plays, even a Mr. Magoo cartoon version, not to mention all the retellings and parodies. In fact the story of Scrooge is such a staple that I believe there is a Screenwiter’s Union rule stating that, “Any tv sitcom running during the “holiday season,”must include, at minimum, one episode based on, “A Christmas Carol.”

Dickens was of course telling us a story of moral redemption, reminding the world that the true meaning of Christmas is one of love and forgiveness not the accumulation of material wealth. But, as in so many of Dickens works, the story has much more depth to it than the obvious lesson, as Dickens includes elements of political and social commentary. One part of the story that I’ve always found interesting, is when the jovial party guy, The Ghost of Christmas Present, shows us the dark side of life, Ignorance and Want, by pulling back his fur trimmed cloak and revealing them to Scrooge. (if I remember correctly on a “very special” episode of Full House Ignorance and Want were played by the Olsen twins in an Emmy nominated performance). It’s a reality check, a counterpoint to all of the scenes of fun, frivolity and Fezziwigged halls, that Scrooge has been shown beforehand. Dickens reminds us that need doesn’t go away even if it does get covered over by the gloss of celebration, and that ignorance and stupidity are the ultimate dangers to humanity. Amazing how a story written in 1843 still has such relevance today.

My painting grew out of a sketch done one evening and was completed entirely in Painter. When I was working on the drawing I couldn’t remember if Ignorance and Want were girl and boy or boy and girl. Proving Murphy’s Law is still in effect during the Christmas season, I got it wrong, and had to reverse the sexes in the finished art. The “Want” figure is painted as starving and gaunt, with deeply sunken cheeks and eyes. To help show the character of “Ignorance” I’ve shown him picking his nose and staring off in the wrong direction.

Most of the painting was done using the Oils brushes on a toned ground, using the Bristle variants for lay-in and the Variable Round as I tightened things up. For detail work, and to introduce some sharper edges, I used the Fine Round Gouache brush.

The Story of Christmas Demo

To be an artist is to believe in life.
Henry Moore

The nativity scene above was painted for a pop up book titled, “The Story of Christmas,” which is in book stores now, (December 2008). The artwork for the book was completed just about a year ago. Interesting that the print schedule so often results in working on projects “in season.”

I have posted a demo movie of the creation of the painting along with a small write up that can be viewed here.

But is it Art?

Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.
Frank Zappa

I recently received the latest issue of the Corel Painter newsletter, (free to anyone who signs up on the Corel website), which contains an opinion piece by John Derry in which he discusses whether or not digitally created work should be considered real “Art”. There is no doubt that a prejudice exists against digitally created artwork, the example he begins his article with, a local art show not allowing entry of a digitally created piece is pretty common. Seeing as how Derry has worked with the Painter people since the get go, and even refers to himself as, “one of the fathers of Painter,” it’s not exactly a shock to hear which side of the argument he comes down on.

As for myself I can’t believe that anyone is still holding on to the outdated opinion that digital work cannot qualify as “real” art simply because of the media choice used to create it. As Derry points out the discussion is not one of defining what art is, but rather whether using digital media automatically disqualifies the work. Certainly you could wrangle over the merits of a particular piece and its qualifications, but to discount the genre as a whole, simply because the media is new, or different from long established methods of expression, is ridiculous. I know that part of the problem for some is that there are perceived shortcuts available to the digital artist that aren’t available in say, traditional oil painting, at least as most people, (especially non-artists), picture it. If this truly is cause for rejection however, then I would assume that we should change the status of all the paintings whose creation was aided by modern innovations like the camera lucida or acylic paint. This doesn’t mean of course that all digital work is necessarily “Art” any more than all traditionally crafted work is. Trash is trash no matter the high brow lineage of the materials used in its creation.

I think, as Derry points out, the better way of approaching the discussion is to ask what qualifies any work to be considered “Art.” What is the purpose of artistic expression? While that discussion dances along the edge of the “what is art,” black hole, I think anyone who makes an honest attempt to understand why we are compelled to create and experience art could not possibly exclude a form of expression that can connect the creator with the viewer so successfully.

You can read John Derry’s article here.