26 March, 2007

Which Artist Lives Here? Abstraction vs. Realism vs. Process - A Tag Team Battle

@7" x 6"
Graphite on 70gr. Sketch Paper
Casey Klahn

In the past, before I had this blog, I worked hard at unifying my work. My Colorist American Landscapes are a nicely coherent body of work, where abstracted landscapes reveal color stories that speak immediately to the viewer.

Now I have started posting both finished and process sketches, realist paintings (usually of Italy), realist farmscapes, and some abstracts. You may be asking yourself, "How many artists live here?"

I am not, as far as I know, Schizophrenic. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here, and assert that I am not. But, I do enjoy expanding my limits. Growing my artistic abilities, if you will. I have had an urge for some time to return to my realist roots. So, I started the 100 Paintings Project which stays focused on the Italian Landscape and realism, with effects of my colorist tilt. Then I put it on another blog, hopefully to reduce confusion between my styles and genres.

It's perfectly okay for Pablo Picasso to inhabit any number of genres. But not an unknown such as myself. BTW, I saw an awesome artist's tagline the other day : "So-and-so, the nation's favorite unknown artist". Anyway, my goal is to stay focused for both artistic and marketing reasons. At the art fairs, I am rigidly focused on one style for just those reasons. You have mere seconds to impress the passerby, and they don't want to be confused about how many artists are showing in that booth. Also, the fair committee takes a dim view of non-coherency.

But, here in blogger-land, I have become motivated by so many of my blogging chums and also by the famous artists that I research and oogle at on the web. So, first came some drawings. Then I fell totally off of the wagon and posted some of my abstracts, too.

Plus, I have gallerists looking in on me. They probably say, "this guy's not focused".

I am happy to be more inspired and ready for growth in my art. I want to return to figurative work, too. But, I am determined to always have a fine art body of work that stays unified. I make sure that I always have at least 40 framed pieces of these, as well. That way I can go to the art fairs and not run out, and I am ready to hang a gallery show at the same time. The probable solution for me is going to be to put up a static website that houses my Colorist American Landscapes, and keep this blog for process and broad subjects.

I am really pleased to have painted a new Colorist American Landscape around the subject of barns and outbuildings. Look for me to post it here at the end of the month.

One thing that I discovered has been the answer to a question I have been pondering for some time. I always felt that the abstracted works (see a page of them here) were harder to do for me than strict realist work where the subject is more centered on the illusions of perspective and the goal is to allow the viewer to "read" the landscape as they expect it to be. That's a forest, leading down the hill to that set of buildings. Stuff like that.

I kept thinking, "If I return to stricter reality, will the requirements of perspective and rendering be harder than these intentionally abstracted ones?" Turns out that the realist ones are easier for me, just like I suspected. They are improving as I go along, but I fail less often, and I can leave them on the easel to change a diaper, put in a movie, make lunch, etc.

On the other hand, the Colorist Landscapes require strict focus, and the finished painting needs to be done in one (or close to one) sitting. More failures happen, even though I have been at it for a number of years, now. I have found that the requirements of good abstract work are more taxing on my brain, and simple compositional mistakes have a greater impact.


Casey Klahn said...

It seems like Alyson is on the same wavelink over at ArtBizCoach, today.
Cut and paste the link to see her article about "branding" your art.
Then you'll have a better idea of why I am twisting in the wind about my "brand creep".

Lindsay said...

If you really think about it, even "realism" is an abstration of reality. The two can peaceabley co-exist. Beyond the need to earn a living, any other art can be strictly for JOY!! I for one, enjoy seeing a varity of your work and enjoy creating variety in mine.

Anonymous said...

Casey...what a wonderful post! I have been wondering what type of art that I should do. What type of abstracts though. I'm not that good at realism. I do find that sometimes when I do Abstracts and my mind goes blank. I can't think freely enough to know what the next move should be. I find that is happening less though. I can't say that I totally understand your meaning about being able to go back to realism seeing as how I do not paint realism. I RESPECT those that do though. ....great post! Be well Casey! :)

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks, Lindsay. Yes, it occurs to me that this whole post is as much about market as anything else. I decided when I started full time as an artist that I wouldn't split my mind between the two. If people buy, they buy because they like the art. If I'm not putting heart-and-soul into my work, it'll show, anyway.
I have seen trite, though. I never hope to go there.
I like the point you make about realism. I think the part of this post I like is reflecting on the differences for me in the disciplines that I am doing, now.
Angela, I love your work so much. Those cards are a great idea, too. They have a great coherent statement, and they seem so free.
Keep it up. When I figure out what to tell people to think, then I can retire...(humor, there;)

Philip said...

It would seem a pity, Casey, if you were to stop doing such a wide variety of things for the sake of conforming to what the art world (whatever that is) seems to dictate. I understand you are first and foremost a commercial artist but I think one of the reasons Picasso was so successful was that he was very much his own man. For my part, if I chose to return to realistic or figurative work I would simply do it - or anything else I wanted to. I can never accept the way the art world likes to box people in but at the same time pours tons of recognition on people like Salvador Dali who also, for example, did a terrific range of stuff including designing tiles for a tile manufacturing company. I do understand your dilemma though as it seems the art world is not at all very creative in its thinking.

The final point you make is an interesting one. I agree with what you say but for me, that is the challenge of abstract work. If it ever ceased to be a challenge that gets me tied up in knots sometimes then I would stop and do something else. If you enjoy doing abstracts then I see no reason for you not to continue but you will have to present several different faces to the art world until you are famous that is. Then the diversity will be valued and the art world will claim to have made a great discovery!

Lisa B. said...

Branding seems very limiting to me. I associate brands with corporations and cows, not individuals.

How is an artist supposed to think outside the box if he's stuffed into one with a label already on it?

Greatness is never achieved by following in the footsteps of another. Shine in your own light Casey.

Casey Klahn said...

Hey....a commercial artist (many of whom are very great) does illustration and graphic art.
A fine artist does his art (let's take painting as a for-instance) as he likes and sells it on the open market.
That is as basic a definition as one can give, IMO, of the differences between applied and fine art.
I am in the marketplace, though, and so you are right, there. Perhaps your meaning is that one artist is responding to market forces versus one who is blind to these forces. Now, that is a good argument to have.
I decided to not let myself get too whacked out about the dimensions of market vs. muse, though. I think the tension between the two can become so compelling that it could effect me too much.
I prefer to think of it this way: I get a positive response from patrons and artists, and a negative response from some - I'm good to go! Then there's the whole tension between do I like the art or not. 'nother whole conversation!
I like the Dali example. He truly was very eclectic or broad.
Interesting that "branding" has created a fuss. I can see why. I know from personal experience at the art fair (which is a very refined and tough marketplace) that a coherent look is critical. The same thing goes for any juried undertaking, such as membership applications to art societies, or to contests or exhibitions.
Monet was a big stickler for his "brand", and so only now his drawings and pastels are arranged in a show.
My thread is meant to explore the blog and the artist. This blog goes out to patrons and peerage (which include artists and art professionals). I am simply talking about the possible need for split up venues, not the end of artistic growth by trying new genres. I probably give that impression, though.
As my kids grow, I have just that much more time to explore. Before, the focus on one body of work was a requirement of my limited time.
Thanks for the discussion and for reading here!

Philip said...


Let me be clear - I was not using the word 'commercial' artist in the sense of illustration and graphic art. I was simply meaning that you are aware of how the market operates and need to live with the reality of it. You are right that a coherent look is critical though. I think we are agreeing with each other but using different words. Perhaps you could invent a different name for your abstract work (Casey Krasner?) and wear a silver wig when making appearances with it!!

Mary Richmond said...

it's interesting to notice that "branding", a term coined first in advertising, then used in marketing, has even crept into the "inner sanctum" of the art world....so "pop" goes our culture. by nature an artist's work reflects the artist, no matter what they are doing, no matter what style they think they are trying out, etc. we can only do what we ourselves as artists do, no matter who we may try to emulate in our explorations. our style happens, regardless of our thoughts about it. we can try on different personas, different styles, perhaps, but ultimately aren't we still looking and perceiving through our own eyes, our own experiences? hence, our work can only be our own in the end and as such, is our own unique brand....it is probably good to look for the single thread that binds your work...and ultimately isn't it the idea and heart you bring to it that ties it all together?

Casey Klahn said...

Har! The wig idea crossed my mind.
I do have some interesting ideas floating about on how to "show" the abstract work, whether it be the market place or some other venue.
Gee, Mary. "Branding" isn't my term, and I think the analogy that it makes to the artist's marketplace is only good to a certain degree.
Are we denigrating art, or are we putting it too high up on a pedestal?
Maybe your ideas have more to do with style. I was more focused on genre.
I do find the thread between my more realist, and less realist works. Thanks for bringing that up, because it helps me to see a thread I hadn't thought about.
You are very eclectic, yourself, Mary, with the tiles, painting and writing genres. They seem to inhabit three very separate disciplines, though - which makes them easier to understand as coming from the same person.

Mary Richmond said...

hi again--i went back and read your post and all the comments again, including my own and your reply....and i had these thoughts...i think your work all looks like your work. i realize you may think it looks really different because you have different thoughts and feelings about it when you do it but to me, it all seems pretty related. your way of looking, of seeing and of expression is similar whether you think you're being abstract or realist. to me, it all looks like "Casey" and i say that as a good thing! it's all your relation to the world through your sense of color, composition, etc. do you really think your clients will be confused? if so, how about putting out works at the art fairs that you think are related and keep some of the ones you think less related in a bin or off to the side so that the first impression is cohesive? as for galleries, they probably do want a body of work if it's for a specific show and i know they like to think their artists will stay on course so they can keep their customers happy....so you'll have to figure that one out.
as for myself--i don't do fairs, i show in very few galleries and i don't ever expect to be in a museum and i don't much care. i sell most of my work, whether it's my art, my writing or my workshop proposals. as an artist, writer and naturalist, which are all related in my work and in my heart and mind, my goal is to share my love and awe of nature so that others may learn to respect and take better care of her....and y'know, if that confuses people or makes me seem eclectic...oh well, what can i say? i think you're building a nice body of work and that you should just keep painting and putting forth what you do...;-)

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for the comments, Mary. I am happy that you can recognize a style in my different genres. They will all look good in my monograph, some day.
If I put out something thought to not be "in the same body" as what I showed in my slides, the fair may have a talk with me. It's a strict business, you know.
Don't worry, I'll keep up the different muses, but the venues may have to be different.
Thanks everyone for all of the comments. I think we'll have some (lighthearted) fun with "art criticism" next month!

diosaperdida said...

I know it's a cliche...but you just have to enjoy what you're doing. The results come through that.
We started a life as artists...or should I say, we continued our life as artists, long after we were suppose to put away childish colors...because we love making art.
One should stand back and coldly look at one's own work, in order to make it the best we can.
But a balance has to be struck between self critsism for improvment, and crippling nitpicking that we hope serves to justify what we are doing to ourselves and to other artists, and art lovers.
It doesn't have to fit in a neat catagory to be justified...nor does it even need the justification.
Neat catagories can also be restraining boxes.

Delilah said...

I like this idea, Ilike to see the beginings of works and ideas.

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