Category Archives: meaning in art

Artists’ Blog Tour

BLOG TOUR . . .

Studio of Judith Joseph, 6-2-14

Studio of Judith Joseph, 6-2-14

A wonderful artist and compassionate spirit, Catherine Meyers, from Catherine Meyers Art Blog,  invited me to participate in a Blog Tour.  It’s been going on for a while, with many wonderful studios involved!  So in order to participate, I’ll answer a few questions and then introduce the next couple of artists who will be the next stops on the Blog Tour.

What am I working on?  I have been creating works of calligraphy and illumination.  I specialize in the Ketubah (illustrated Jewish marriage contract, a folk art.)  Since marriage season is in full swing, I’ve been busy writing out texts by hand in calligraphy with hand-painted, customized illustrations.  I’ve also been producing art for reproduction, where the image is printed with a digitally-produced text that I generate in a graphics program.  Here are some recent works:

I also participated in a gallery show in March at ARC Gallery called Fractured Yet Rising, about violence against women, where I hand-wrote one of my poems on the gallery wall.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  I think of myself as a painter who includes calligraphy, rather than a calligrapher who decorates text.

Why do I write/create what I do?  I was raised in a family environment that was richly steeped in my Jewish cultural heritage, and text (reading lots of books, learning to read and write Hebrew as a child) was a big part of this.  So, it seems natural that text would be an integral part of my artistic expression, along with narrative imagery.  I also am a people person, and I find the collaborative aspect of my work to be very joyous and inspiring.

How does your writing/creating process work?  My commissioned work begins with people requesting a ketubah.  I interview them and sketch, which leads to the finished work.  For work I produce independently, I work with ideas or materials that engage me, and this feels more like play.

Ghost Scroll, cut and painted,mixed media, 3' x 4'.  Judith Joseph, 2014.

Ghost Scroll, cut and painted,mixed media, 3′ x 4′. Judith Joseph, 2014.

So, now you know a little more about me, let me introduce you to the next amazing artists in the tour.

Peggy Schutze Shearn is a Chicago area painter whose work incorporates letterforms, abstract calligraphy and text into colorful semi-abstractions.  Her sense of color and pattern is gorgeous.

Nancy Charak is a committed abstract expressionist who makes paintings and drawings in Tucson, Arizona, recently transplanted from Chicago.  Her watercolors are sensitive and reflective of nature.

Letterforms prominent in “Fractured Yet Rising” exhibit at ARC Gallery

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“Fractured Yet Rising” is a juried multi-media exhibition of works on the subject of violence against women.  In addition to works submitted by artists, the artist-members of ARC, a women’s co-op gallery, worked with residents of a domestic violence shelter on collaborative pieces, giving voice to their experiences.

Dates:  March 5-29, 2014.  Details here.

Who’s In Charge Here?

"Interior With Cubist Chair," by Susan Chertkow

There has been much debate lately in the advanced painting class I teach at the Art Center, Highland Park, over whether or not an artist should explain “what she meant” when she created a work of art.  Stephanie looked at Susan’s series of paintings and asked her, “What were you thinking about?  What does this mean to you?”  Susan replied, “It doesn’t matter what it means to me, what matters is what it means to you, to the viewer.”  Stephanie made the case that it is interesting to know what the artist’s intention or story is.

I weighed in to say that, as the creator of a work, I don’t feel that my version of what it “means” is any more significant than anyone else’s.  In fact, once I finish a painting, what it means for me usually changes.  I’ve been painting long enough to have people show me works they bought from me decades ago, and not only do I not remember what I was thinking when I made it, occasionally I don’t exactly remember the piece!  (This is a rather disorienting feeling, since I remember selling it to them, and I can easily recognize my style, as familiar as looking at the shape of my own fingers.)

Serena Kovalosky, in her blog “365 Days Of Everything I Love About Being An Artist,” addressed the idea of interpreting art by saying:  “I’m not particularly attached to my translation of a piece and I find it fascinating to learn how my work affects others.  I’ll offer my version, discuss my influences as I was creating it, and I’ll gladly share the technicals.  But what people will remember most is how my work made them feel.”

I go a little further than Serena.  Not only do I enjoy hearing what other people bring to my work, I have found that sharing my version seems to quash their creative response.  Once they hear my “version,” they no longer feel theirs is valid.  I always hope that the engaged viewer actually has a creative experience when reacting to art, whether it’s visual, music or literary.

The great literary critic William Gass explores the notion of the “self” in art in his new book, Life Sentences.  As discussed by reviewer Adam Kirsch in the New York Times, Gass says:  “‘What works of art testify to is the presence in this world of consciousness, consciousness of many extraordinary kinds,’ he writes…  But this is ‘not that of the artists themselves, for theirs are often much the same as any other person’s…  It is not the writer’s awareness I am speaking of but the awareness he or she makes.  For that is what fine writing does:  it creates a unique verbal consciousness.'”

This is a fascinating idea:  that art creates a unique consciousness in the viewer’s experience of it.  This goes beyond what I tell my students, that the art should always “speak for itself.”  What do you think:  do you prefer to know the artist’s story behind his/her work, or would you rather experience it without explanation?