My first date with Arts

This semester marks my attempt to venture into the last unknown territory, the dreaded water ever since Elementary School: Arts. The most euphemistic description of my artistic potency would be clumsy, and someone with more malice may declare my utter ignorance with my feebly putting on a show of protest.

Yet not unlike a baby’s, my ineptitude grants me a fresh eye. My newbie status, indeed, makes me an expert in how laymen approach arts. The class that I took itself seems to incline in the same direction. Aptly named Intro to Arts_Practice and Theory, it puts equal emphasis on Practice and Theory: not too taxing on the newbie’s lack of skills, not too abstract that it misses a layman’s fascination with simply visual beauty. Even though to focus firstly on Practice seems like a wiser approach (if to woo the ladies is your main concern), I found that only by thinking about Theory, about the more abstract and conceptual arrangement, can you transform and re-transform and re-re-transform the way you see the world. You acquire an artist’s hand by practice, and an artist’s mind by theory.

That is not to say, however, that a purely representational still-life must be a mere display of skills, a transcription of real world onto paper, and must be void of any compositional deliberation. Quite the contrary, as in this drawing:

Seems like I’m simply following the dictation of the real scene, right? It turns out, that there is a plethora of choices that the artist has to make.

The lighting in my room was not so. I rearranged my lamp for a focused and directional light source, carving out two spaces with light usage and without any physical demarcation. Adding to the contrast between spaces is the conscious attempt to darken corners and slits beyond what they really were. An air of bipolar solitude.

The objects in my room were not so either. The bottle, besides adding to the theme of one-ness, helps solidify the surface of the table. The same goes for the objects on the floor: the unpaired pair of shoes and the misnumbered numbered clock conceptually summon untidiness, yet also visually creates the floor and pulls the furniture from floating in mid-air (yup, the floor isn’t there until there are objects on it.)

The to-do list, as you may guess by now, wasn’t there either. Positioned at the brightest, the most open space in the drawing, it is at the pivot point, which edges the viewers to think about it, and inevitably think about it in relation to the face hidden in the darkest, most closed space in the drawing. (What the viewers think is obviously at their discretion, not the artist’s.)

Other methods that artists frequently use are framing and narrative, both of which join force in this series of drawings (meant to be seen in succession.)

An artist’s canvas, a photographer’s print: they are frames. And as limiting as they sound, these four boundaries force the artist to explore the conceptual dimension, and hence, in an oxymoronic way, stimulates his creativity. As seen in this series of drawings, especially the second and the third ones, framing is deliberately used as a device, and is not simply avoided as a limitation, to bring unusual angles to a usual book.

And that is not only for the sake of visual ingenuity. These frames also resonate with the narrative element of the four drawings: from the surreptitious glove (arranged to look like a hand – yet not a hand) and the forbidden book in the first, you turn to the left, and turn to the right, for the curious and slowly revealing peeks in the second and the third. And finally, arriving at the final drawing, when we see the book open, the hand-glove palm up – candid and truthful – we have completed a change in mood started at the beginning.

To conclude, and to illustrate what I would call a heavier emphasis on Theory, here is a collage, a 20th-century medium that allows, encourages indeed, ideas to be conveyed without being constrained by representational, realistic requirement.

Freedom turns out to be quite disorienting. Artists that follow a more abstract method, like this one, find themselves in a sea of materials and ideas – meaning exponentially more choices to make. Whether it is exhilarating or overwhelming depends – and it can very well be both. Luckily, despite us moving on to this abstract realm, my professor still insists on a convincing visual integrity, which both limits the chaos of too many choices and induces us to make works that are more palatable for laymen.

This work, for example, is a response to the assignment of “anything concerning femininity and masculinity – contrast or harmony, juxtaposition or unification, indeed, whatever.” And since the appeal of this kind of work is mainly conceptual, I would wisely leave you now, and would not presumptuously feed you my interpretation, which would take away all the fun there is.

P/S: I apologize for the less than 100% images of these drawings. All of them are quite large, and do not fit in a scanner. These are all pictures graciously taken by anh Nam Kieu.

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