Art... Before we go too far
into my own personal perspective of what art is, let's get the 'meaning of
art' out of the way. According to the
Cambridge Advanced Learner's
Dictionary, the word 'art' has the following meanings:
1 [u] the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings:
Can television and pop music really be considered art?
I enjoyed the ballet, but it wasn't really great art.
2 [u] the activity of painting, drawing and making sculpture:
Art and English were my best subjects at school.
an art teacher
3 [u] paintings, drawings and sculptures:
The gallery has an excellent collection of modern art.
an exhibition of Native American art
Peggy Guggenheim was one of the twentieth century's great art collectors.
The Frick is an art gallery in New York.
4 [c] an activity through which people express particular ideas:
Drama is an art that is traditionally performed in a theatre.
Do you regard film as entertainment or as an art?
She is doing a course in the performing arts.
5 [c] a skill or special ability:
the art of conversation
Getting him to go out is quite an art (= needs special skill).
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Oh, yes... Art. For some people, 'art is life'; for others, it is a form of expression; yet for others, it is a way to make money. For me, art is a
form of relaxation, a way to engage my mind on a different level. To a
large extent, I like art but that doesn't mean that I'm an 'art bluff'.
Art is subjective and there's no one way to engage it. In itself, art is
the very opposite of logic and science, hence the saying that the
performance of a certain task is 'more an art than a science' or
someone has refine the process of doing such and such 'to an art form'.
Nowadays, art can be interpreted as being many things - movies, music, theatre, poetry, etc, and I accept that they can be considered as art forms and that applies to the processes of their creations also. However, I prefer to take a more 'traditional' or 'simplistic' interpretation of the word 'art' and only include paintings, drawings, sculptures and perhaps include photography in this category. To a large extent, the perception of what is considered art or an art form has changed. An example I would like to use as evidence of this change of perception is pre-historic cave paintings. Now, you may or may not agree with me on this but this is one of few examples I can think of where the original intention of the painting, or a 'work of art', may not be artistic but of a more practical purpose. We have discovered cave paintings dated back to tens of thousands of years ago and we consider these cave paintings as art. However, are they there just because whoever drew them decided to record (or capture) the method of hunting for food and pass on the knowledge of his peers to later generations and since there's no spoken or written language available, painting it on cave walls became the only method of communication? Is this still art?
I would like to look at another aspect of what we, nowadays, consider as art. Some artists like to produce works that question our 'artistic values' - that is, to visually and/or emotionally (or by any other means) challenge us and our value systems. I would like to take two examples: 1) a piece of fabric with plain dark monotone color (blue/black), mounted on a square frame and given a title was displayed in an modern art exhibition and 2) a mature milk cow being sliced into several vertical sections and each section embalmed and encased in a glass structure. The first is a piece of work which may be a little obscure and I don't think many people would have come across it. The second piece is a famous 'sculpture' created by a British artist. The common link between these two piece of work is that they both challenge our 'artistic value'. I am not going to question the technical aspects of producing these works. However, I am questioning what the 'artistic values' of these works. For me, the fascinating aspect of these works is not the end results, but the motives of the artists. What makes them think that their works would be considered as 'art'?
The number of times I feel hugely disappointed after going to modern art exhibitions is alarming. I recognize that for some artists, art is a way to express their own emotions in a non-verbal method. For others, it is a way to challenge our social values. However, the number of times I feel that the emotion of the artists at the times of creating their works is 'look at how clever I am and how stupid you are to want to derive meaning from my work'! Yes, I agree that some of the works I've seen are very clever in their presentations and/or the processes of creation, however this cleverness doesn't mean that these works have any artistic value. The even sadder aspect of all this is that there are people who devote their professional lives interpreting artists' works and they attach all kinds of meanings to flashes of 'cleverness'. As far as I can guess, artists use their artistic skills to bring out feelings and emotions of their audiences - shock, happiness, fulfillment, anger, etc or they employ their skills to record or capture moments in time or they apply their imaginations to interpret ideas or events. The list goes on and on. However, I feel that those rely simply on their audiences' appreciation of their 'cleverness' is not actually creating anything of artistic value. They're playing with a very basic human instinct - curiosity.
Some people argue that the artists' 'cleverness' and the audiences' curiosity are 'pushing back the boundary of art' and are 'making art more accessible' to the public. However, I believe they're only fooling themselves. These artists and their works are actually making art more inaccessible to the general public and are obscuring the value of other works which have genuine artistic value.
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Now that I've expressed my view towards art, I want to talk about what is art to me. As I've already mentioned,
art is a very personal and subjective and I've mentioned to that art, for
me, is a form of relaxation. I guess art is 'in my blood', so to speak. My
dad is a very talented artists - drawings,
paintings, sculptures, woodwork, interior design, technical drawings...
You name it, he can do it.
started out his teaching career as an art teacher. He gradually worked
his way to train art teachers and eventually he lectured on art education.
You would not believe it when I tell you that I've yet to meet an art
teacher in Hong Kong who wasn't taught by my dad or know of him. Scary! I
didn't take art seriously and my dad didn't push me, which led to an
infamous (and rather embarrassing for my dad and I) conversation I had
with one of my art teachers back in primary school.
I took art at 'O' level to fill my time table and I guess I've been blessed with sufficient talent that I managed pretty a good grade without trying. In the UK, after completing 'O' levels, students have to choose a small number of 'A' level subjects; mine were chemistry, mathematics, further mathematics (which I dropped just before the exams), physics and art. Can you see the odd one out here? I was taking five subjects of eight classes per week. There were only 40 class in our time-table. To add to my difficulties, and my teachers' and my tutor's alarm, my chemistry and art classes were at the same time which meant that I had to find my own time to attend the art classes. But why? Why, indeed! Was I crazy?
Well, I guess I was a little crazy, but those art classes were important to me. I knew that studying for four science courses would drive me mad and I saw art as a way to throw all my worries away, temporarily at least, and keep me mentally balanced. May be my insistence in taking art class caused my science classes to suffer and resulted in pulling out of the further mathematics exam, but I don't regret taking those art classes in my own time. After leaving school, I continually used my art to relieve pressure during stressful times during university. You may wonder why I don't practice this 'hobby' of mine now to relieve stress from work. There is a very good reason for that - I don't have the time. For me, there is little point in doing something if I don't process the time to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion and in a typical working week, I'm not allowed the time to focus myself towards this task.
Now is time for the questions: what do you do and what are your subjects? I draw and I draw with pencils, pens, charcoal or crayons. Basically, I use any 'hard media'. Paint brushes are not my friends - I used to have a nightmare of a time trying to paint watercolors or oils - I just don't have the touch, I guess... All my best works have been when I used pencils or crayons. My specialty is reflections and shinny objects. I can draw people but not animals. However, I need to add a qualification to this 'I can draw people' statement - I can draw people well from the neck down... Back at school, when I had to carry out figure studies, I used to draw a big circle where their heads are meant to be and start really drawing from the neck downwards - I have this ability to make faces not looking like the faces that I was studying...
Below are a number of my works that I've captured on film. Don't forget, I'm not a professional photographer and photos are not the best medium to capture pencil drawings...
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Breakfast, still life (1985)
This is the only surviving work I've from before my 'O' level exams. This is a good example of my early attempts to master pencil as my medium of choice. Some of the skills in capturing intense details in later works were also experimented here and of course, reflections are clearly evident in parts of this study.
Railway Nostalgia (1986)
This was the title of my 'O' level Composition paper. This is one of the small-scale drafts I produced as part of the preparation for the paper and it was on A4. By the way, preparations for the papers, if required, had to be handed in as they formed part of the assessment, they're indications of how the idea around the final piece was developed and the candidate hasn't simply picked up someone else's work and copied it. I carried out a timed 'dress rehearsal' on A2 paper, as the exam was 3 hours. The final exam piece was done on A2, but as the result of time recorded of the 'dress rehearsal', I decided not to fill out the entire piece of A2 paper.
A study of a dented hub cap (1986)
This was the first piece of work I produced in my 'A' level art course and it is the first time I spent the entire project focusing on reflections. In addition to being a study of how light and reflection play with the image of the object, this was also a self portrait of sort - it is a clear indication that I can't draw faces.
Old fashion typewrite (1987)
In my humble opinion, this is one of the best pieces of work I have done. This was an enormous project - it took nearly 2 months of my art classes to complete. This is the first time I attempted to study an object in this level of details. In most of my previous works, I tend to concentrate on several areas where I would place particular emphasis. These were usually objects or parts of objects that are very 'near field' (close to the observer). However, with this piece, I carried out highly detailed study on each part of the object. To draw a part or parts of an object to very high detail, artists tend to 'isolate' that part and concentrate on it. The initial fear was that in order to draw the entire typewriter to very high detail, the object as a whole would become 'disjointed'. However, as you can see, the end result is rather pleasing.
Old fashion sewing machine (1988)
It was rare that I worked with crayons. However, this was not a full color study - I primarily used yellow, green, brown and red to illustrate the object. Also, this was the first opportunity in my course to return to studying an object at very high level of detail. Like the previous typewrite project, this was another long and drawn out study. I managed to obtain a level of details beyond my previous works. The trademark study of reflections was again evident and once again, I managed to include myself in the picture. This, as it happens, is my best work.
A study of a mirror sunglasses (1991)
By the time this project started, I've left high school for a couple of years. This was my first serious attempt to return to using art as a form of relaxation and I could not have chosen a more difficult target for observation - a highly reflective surface with strong lighting. An unexpected benefit of having very strong lighting was that the study turned out to be a lot lighter than it would otherwise be. For my 'A' level examination, one of the papers required me to make a composition which included a study of how light plays on reflected surface and at the same time that objects behind the surface remain partially visible. This study was another attempt at solving this rather technical artistic problem. It was fortunate that in choosing to carry out the study under very strong lighting, the problem was partially side-stepped.
A study of a SLR camera (1992)
Before the days of silver and grey tones being fashionable colors for electronic equipments, cameras, hi-fis, VCR, etc, all these equipments were finished in black, this camera was no exception. In an attempt to prevent the study to become one big dark mess, I used the different quality of the surfaces to highlight to different tones of 'blackness' of the camera. The metals, plastics, rubbers and different finishing methods were all used to exaggerate the difference in tones. Additionally, I attempted to dramatize the positioning of the object to make it appear that the observer is positioned very close to it by exaggerating the perspective. Unfortunately, I failed to pay sufficient attention to that and therefore parts of the object appeared to be on different axis.
A collection of sterling silver rings (1995)
This was a gift to a friend and the picture was taken at an angle to the surface of the picture. I took the opportunity to carry out a study of reflections on several rings. This project is particular pleasing since I managed to portrait these objects orientated on several different axis and successfully captured them.
Skull in top-hat, smoking a cigarette (1989)
This was a highly unusual project for me - the composition was carried out using a brush; the medium was model paint and it was done on the back of a leather jacket. This was a high risk project - the leather jacket in question is mine and if this failed, it is almost impossible to completely remove model paint from leather! The project was inspired by the album cover of Gun 'n Roses' Appetite for Destruction. The project was completed in several stages. First the skull was drawn. Unfortunately, I failed to do sufficient research on the shapes of human skulls, so it actually doesn't look 'right' (as some of my medical friends have kindly pointed out). After the skull was finished, the cigarette and the smoke were added. It is not entirely evident since the white paint on top of white paint did not result in the colors 'running'. There was a lot of difficulties in 'fixing' the paint even after it was dried. I found that some parts of the skull actually stuck on some places that I was leaning on and had to repaint the missing parts several times. I eventually found that by spraying shoe polish on it helped fixing it. Several weeks after completing the skull and cigarette, and I was happy with result, I decided to add the top hat. The painting of the top hat was not, in itself, difficult. However, as the solvent of the new paint came in contact with the dried white paint, the old paint began to mix with the new black paint. After several layers of paint were dried and new layers applied, I eventually managed to have sufficient layers between the white paint and the newly added black one that the old layers did not show through. However, as time goes by, some of the layers of black paint got chipped away and now parts of the skull have become visible again.
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