Artists express their personal styles in worksVisual artists confront a set of problems that differ somewhat from other arts media. We bow to the artist for sounding like a well-known recording artist for example, or being able to replicate a dance movement.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
Visual artists confront a set of problems that differ somewhat from other arts media. We bow to the artist for sounding like a well-known recording artist for example, or being able to replicate a dance movement. But all the arts, no matter how perfect the step, how exact the note, or adept the brush stroke, always require something hard to define: individual style.
As allusive as that term is to define, it is perhaps even harder to develop. We recognize an Elvis impersonator, a Marilyn Monroe-type singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” and late-night comedians doing Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance movements. Their art has style.
But artists, no matter how skilled, must answer the question, “What does this contribute to the world of art?” Experts insist that individual style separates the artist from simply painting recognizable images on canvas.
No one would be able to recognize the sitters in Picasso’s cubist portraits based on his paintings. The women depicted were so distorted that hair or eye colors were the only features distinguishing one fragmented female shape from another.
A recent John Lamb story in The Forum, on Erik Hougen’s watercolor portraits, brought home that attitude toward visual arts. If a piece looks like another artist’s work, it doesn’t resonate the same value with experts in the field as much as a work that is unique in a new style. He cited a New York Times arts critic.
Hougen’s work was compared to the portraits of artist Chuck Close. Close’s work is huge, abstracted when viewed close up, but photographically realistic from 100 feet away. When Close’s work was first shown in museums in the 1960s, it was blasted as being paint-by-number enlargements of photographs. Now Close’s work is used as a reference point in the world of art for photo realism.
Hougen’s work is large-scaled as well, but his work is done using transparent watercolor brushwork, not impasto acrylics. When Hougen’s piece was accepted to be shown at the 2011 group show at the Bronx Museum of the Arts it led to a write-up in the New York Times. The critic said Hougen’s work “owes too much to Chuck Close.” In the Times piece, it lauded Hougen for “a persuasive technical ambition.”
Since then, Hougen’s portrait of his father, John, has been accepted to be shown in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Hopefully, the Times writer has taken some deep swallows and perhaps reconsidered his assessment of Hougen’s fine portraits.
Hougen and other artists can sell on commission (which some consider akin to prostitution), or they can do enterprising work and hope to get an exhibit in order to sell. Regardless, it’s always a challenge and once they exhibit, are open to critiques from experts, many of whom haven’t painted a wall, much less a passable likeness of anything.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.