Friday, April 29, 2011

Does Tradition Trump Creativity?

Today has been an interesting day for the argument of "Traditional vs. Creative" for me.  Like millions of others, I started this morning extra early, setting my alarm to wake me for the Royal Wedding.  I know I could have watched it a million times in re-runs (it's on again right now!) but there's nothing like seeing it as it happens.

I was giddy with the anticipation of the wedding dress.  A modern, stylish bride, any designer at her beck-and-call, ready to design what would become the most iconic wedding dress of the century.  In my head there was an asymmetrical neckline, innovative pleating, a nod to the past while looking at the future. When I caught the first glimpse of the dress, I couldn't help but feel disappointed...hadn't we seen this before?  I wasn't the only one who felt that seconds twitter was abuzz with references to Grace Kelly's wedding dress.  (PS...I thought she looked gorgeous!  Just not what I expected...and I totally understand her design)

That was about all I had time to watch before mom duty took over, and after getting the kids off to school and a short visit to the studio to take care of some portrait work, I headed into Atlanta to visit the Portrait Society of America's Conference.  I was eager to see what was new in the world of portraiture - what was deemed the best of the best.

Of the top 15 works represented at the show (some works are only shared during a slide show lecture)  many were very traditional oil portraits, reminiscent of many of the portraits you would see in galleries around the world, including a portrait of a religious figure (stunning for it's drapery, detail, and the quality of the skin.)

But the pieces that held my attention, the pieces that went beyond impressing me to inspiring me, were decidedly not traditional.

This self-portrait by Evert Ploeg was just fantastic.  Decidedly direct and un-adorned, the artist is posed just stepping out of a long shower, as evident in the foggy mirror which has been half-wiped to reveal half of his figure, just the top of a towel wrapped below his full stomach.  I only mention "full" as a description because I took great notice of the reflective light under his stomach and chest - it was so important.  When I was staring at the portrait, it didn't occur to me to think "oh he needs to do more sit-ups!"  which is really funny because...a few moments later I got to meet Mr. Ploeg in person!  And one of his first self-depreciating comments was "I should have done more sit-ups, huh?"  I re-assured him that it was a non-issue.

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Evert for a few moments, telling him how much I enjoyed his painting - the way it made me want to paint, how I loved his pallette, his use of that slate blue square to balance his warm fresh from the shower skin on his face.  He shared with me his genuine shock that his painting was selected, seeing that it is very different from the traditional portrait styles and subject matter that the PSA seems to favor.  To me - that was exactly the reason it needed to be in the show!  

And that got me thinking about tradition again...can traditions of style, a desperation to hang onto the classics, be stifling creativity?  Are we occasionally trapped in a desperate attempt to "appease the masses" that we deny our true desires and tendencies to speak in our own voice?

I do not want to discount tradition, I have seen too many artists completely skip the LEARNING process - how to draw, how to paint - before jumping into styles of their own, yet not having the (painting and drawing) language to express themselves effectively.

I also want to mention one of my other favorites from the show - this portrait by Rose Frantzen.

Forgive the poor picture...I wish you could see the quality of the light she captured!  I could have stared forever at the colors she found in her subject's hair.  I could feel the temperature of the cool air under the shade tree, knowing the warmth of the sun was a few steps to the right.  

The subject matter, like Ploeg, was not monumental nor traditional.  But human.  I love the relationship between the wife and husband seated behind her.

I hope you take a minute to look thru Mrs. Frantzen's website - she captures the most amazing light quality in her portraits.

So how can I bring my two synaptic misfires together? Traditional wedding trumps individuality?  A quest to please the establishment squelches artistic expression?  I'll have to share my latest wedding portrait and see if this helps...


Sharon Tomlinson said...

I enjoyed this post so much and the wedding portrait is stunning.

rateyourart said...

What I think is interesting is your response to the show.
My reaction was simply boredom, I never saw so much skill wasted in technical expertise and rendering of photos. I have been assured that the work by Villarret and Frantzens were done from life. Probably why they are the best pieces in the show.
The PSOA has lost its edge.

Georgianne Holland said...

I really enjoyed this post and thank you for it. I love how all three pieces of art capture humanity...that will never go out of style.

Krystyna81 said...

I agree rateyourart...I don't think the PSA has an "edge" - but I also do not know what their exact mission statement is - it it to present the most cutting edge and thought provoking work? or is it to MAINTAIN the tradition of the "great" portrait?

I'll stand by what I said in my post...the work, overall, was impressive, but not inspiring.

FasiArts said...

Wish I could have seen the show. You have to keep in mind the target market. Most of the paintings at these events are portraits that were done for clients. Don't know how much cutting edge a likeness most people want. I certainly would not want a portrait in my shower.

Krystyna81 said...

Fasi...that would be an interesting sub-section for the show - non-commission portraits.

FasiArts said...

Yes, it would. More common among photographers than painters, for some reason. More cutting-edge, as well.

Yevgenia Watts said...

Thanks for pointing me in Frantzen's direction, Kristina! By the way, she has an image of the painting on her website: