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Grey Cross Studios
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Artist and the Hidden Enigma

People like minutia. They like tiny details that they are not sure others catch. The more simplistic something is the easier it can be forgotten. Detail is something that make some movies and video games so successful. Its not just great effects but great attention to details and settings. The minutia.
People like secrets. They like the tiny details that make up a fantasy in their head. They like the hidden messages that they need to figure out. The solution is never quite as important as the quest to find it.

Take books. Stephen King comes to mind. He is constantly hiding details or linking one totally unrelated to story to another that many readers miss, but many catch on to. It is this attention to the tiniest details and the links that connect us all together that forms part of his success.

Lets move it back to the art world. The Mona Lisa. One of the reasons for her popularity through the ages isn't just the quality of the painting. Its the enigmatic personality of the lady. Da Vinci knew this and turned it into the most successful piece of minutia ever created. You stand before her and once you get past the painstaking details of the painting and the brushstrokes, the mind settles on the enigma. What is she smiling about? Whats going through her mind? There is so much there. We are left creating the story in our minds. But Da Vinci did one other thing. He was known for hiding things in his works. It matters not whether there is anything hidden in the Mona Lisa. What matters is that there might be. 

The great masters knew how to create details in their brushstrokes that surpassed a mere painting. This was one of the things that made them masters.

How do we as artists make this work for us? Its not a formula, its a way of thinking when you are creating something.

Your painting a forest scene. Its beautiful, the brushstrokes are perfection, the colors are stunning. But is it more? Does the viewer stop and wonder whats behind that tree to the left? Does he/she catch a shadow that looks like something emerging? Does the viewers mind shiver at the darkness in the distance? Or is their heart uplifted by a shaft of light coming from above? This is a skill just like how you paint your brush strokes. Its also something that permeates all your work, not just one or two paintings.

Okay, so you don't paint forest scenes. Your a gothic artist that creates skull paintings. What is the message? Why is that skull staring out at you? What makes the viewer want to know who the skull originally was? How did they die? What is the message? If its just a skull then there is no message and the viewer might think it looks fine, but its doubtful they will remember it from a thousand other paintings of skulls they've seen.

As a sculptor, I am blessed to be able to pile on the "subtle", and sometimes not so subtle details. Sometimes people miss my messages. Its almost like I create them for only certain people to get. But let me tell you that as I mature in my art career I find myself filling everything I create with messages. There is almost always a message. I admit its hard for me to just let go an create merely an abstraction. I can't do it. I find myself thinking "well its pretty but a two year old could make it. Where's the hidden message?" It "feels" too easy. I don't mean from a skill level, but from a message standpoint. To disregard the message is to throw out half of what I do as an artist.

I want people to take a second look at what I create. I want people to puzzle over it. I want people to seek the deeper details. And in the end this is what I am trying to say with this post. Don't be afraid to express a deeper level interaction with your viewer. Don't be afraid that when they see it the first time they won't grasp it.

If you create, make people look twice. Whether its a strange shadow, an odd smile, or a cypher painted in clear view, you are making people look twice. Minutia. Its all about minutia. 


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