November 23

Are we losing our sight?

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We are inundated with imagery, these days. And I ask myself: in the onslaught of visual material and the open access to art of every type and quality, have we simply become addicted to immediate impact? Have we lost our faculties of quiet inquiry and depth of appreciation that used to grow in us, forming friendships over time, with subtle and complex artworks? Do we see more and more? Do we appreciate more and more as images flash by us? I don’t think so, and I wonder, are we losing our sight?

As an artist, I find that the left brain/right brain relationship is being strained. I struggle to keep my intuitive, creative, sensitive self alive while also perceiving a need to be the ‘squeaky wheel’ that gets attention, in order to build an online audience so that my work finds its way into the lives of others. For me, this is a process of completion – when the artwork changes hands and becomes part of a client’s life. It’s the final act in producing a piece.

In the onslaught of visual material and the open access to art of every type and quality, have we simply become addicted to immediate impact? 

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However, in a world of restricted movement, enforced isolation and, subsequently, online everything, digital imagery has supplanted the act of actually viewing real artworks. And digital imagery, however sophisticated, can never replace the experience of standing in front of an artwork and feeling its presence. The digital world is devoid of touch, texture, presence and the power generated by an original artwork. One cannot appreciate, on a computer screen (or, worse still, a smartphone) the size, intricacy, subtle overtones or undertones, vibrancy, finish or physicality of a painting.

The digital world is devoid of touch, texture, presence and the power generated by an original artwork. One cannot appreciate, on a computer screen the size, intricacy, subtle overtones or undertones, vibrancy, finish or physicality of a painting.

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I once did a commission for a firm of realtors in Spain. We spent many meetings going over abstract concepts and ideas, getting nowhere. In the end, I invited them to visit my studio, where I had constructed the huge canvas on which the painting would appear. Even before I had begun the painting, just staring at the blank canvas, which seemed to have a powerful presence all of its own, was overwhelming for them and they realized that meetings and sketches on notepads bore little relation to what I was about to do. All they could do was tell me to just get on with it; do whatever I thought was best. And they loved the result. I sometimes wish I had taken a photo of the work, but then I would have merely reproduced the problems I have just described.

Why write about this now? I was prompted (and very moved) by the feedback from a client about three abstracts he bought recently. When they were delivered, he wrote to me:

I have been looking at them intensely, and I am going to talk about one of them, probably my favourite. I have to admit I didn't get this from looking at the appealing, tiny online image, which attracted me in the first place, only by staring at the real thing most of the day. 
It starts with a slightly off-white, slightly speckled background, and I can imagine you doing that while thinking about what you were going to superimpose. Then there is a slightly smaller, slightly skewed rectangle in a sort of turquoise. It covers most of the space, but there are streaks and gaps and, again, a few speckles. I am guessing that you already knew the colour scheme of the finished work.
The next layer is a delicious darker blue. At first, the shapes appear amorphous, like prehistoric creatures in the primeval swamp, but gradually you realise that some of them have straight edges that are putting down parameters for the next layer to come. And it comes—those gorgeous bright yellow triangles and quadrangles. At first they just look like random shapes but, as you look, you begin to realise that they interrelate closely. There are shared straight lines and parallels all across the landscape (if I can use that word). I wonder whether you had this in mind all along, or whether it sparked on you some way down the process.
I keep looking at these shapes, and finding those ley lines and losing them again and finding them again. It is difficult for me to even imagine how you made this. You must have needed rulers, masking tape, and thick, scuptural paint. In the middle of the painting there is a disconnected arrow, like an upward streak of lightning, and you are invited to believe this has caused the randomness of the rest of the painting. But then you remember that the painting has precision, it is not random at all, so there is nothing figurative, such as a thunderstorm. And after that, another set of lines, thin and black—this time in plain sight. They exactly follow the yellow shapes, but at different lengths and with different impacts on other nearby shapes. And they end in little red blobs that don't seem to have any meaning, but decorate the painting like jewels. Also, some yellow shapes that lack these black lines and red blobs. A final paradox to make this painting endlessly intriguing.

To receive such a message was deeply gratifying. Here is someone who really appreciates art (in our discussions he had revealed his deep knowledge and appreciation of 20th century art) and who has the wherewithal to express what he observes and feels about a piece that I produce. That, for me, was a wonderful ‘completion’ on that artwork, which is shown at the top of this blog. It goes so much further than what we have become used to on social mediaa like, a brief comment, a gush or a criticism has little value. It also demonstrates that not all of us have lost our sight. Thank goodness for that.

What do you think?

 Have most of us become dumbed down, brain-addled and superficial in our viewing habits? Are we simply unable to cope with the visual onslaught that our brains may not have evolved quickly enough to cope with? Have our powers of observation and our descriptive abilities been suppressed? Do we spend so much time on impactful trivia that we don’t fully develop as sensitive, intelligent, observant and healthily critical human beings? How could we even tell, if this is what has happened to us?

About the author 

Lewis Evans

Lewis is a multidisciplinary creative. A prolific artist, he works with a 'beginners mind', using a wide range of painting, cartoon, video and other media. He is an author and also coaches and provides brand development and marketing communications consultancy worldwide.

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