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Monday, December 21, 2015
The Artist and the Hidden Enigma
We just got back from seeing the newest installment in the Star Wars series. No this is not about the movie although I will say it was freaking awesome.
Its about something that was very noticeable to this artist. 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 makes Star Wars so successful. Its not just great effects but great attention to details of the past and setting the framework in place for details that will occur in the future.
So whats this got to do with art? Well movie making may be a different form of creativity than what most artists do, but the same rule applies. People like secrets. They like the tiny details that make up a fantasy in their head. They like the hidden message that they need to figure out.
Take video games such as World of Warcraft. Have you seen the amount of detail involved in this game? Its success is not just built on its beautiful graphics. Its built on a wealth of information that has come together in this fictitious place.
But its not just about animation. Look at the fad of the game called Magic the Gathering. This card based game was about so much more than the play. It was about a massive amount of detail and data that rested behind the game.
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. I am convinced this is one of the things that makes him such a popular writer.
I could cite dozens of other examples but its unnecessary to make my point. People get off on details.
Lets move it back to the art world. The Mona Lisa. One of the reasons for her popularity through the ages isn't 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 that a thousand other paintings of other women never achieved.
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. So what makes your work masterful?
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?
There is so much more that your work can be if you take into your conception of the piece just that tiny twist of fate such as the Mona Lisa's smile. You can't make it obvious. It must be subtle but it can be done.
Okay, so you don't paint forest scenes. Your a gothic artist that creates skull paintings. Aren't those enigmatic enough? No, in fact you have to try twice as hard to find the enigma of detail in a skull because people will easily overlook it. 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 out there.
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, whether its painting, sculpture or a thousand other forms of art and you are seen, it does not mean that you will be perceived. This is a fact all artists must face. So make it as meaningful as you can. Someone will eventually see what you are trying to say.