Abstract Answer: Baseline banter

I ended the Semantic shakedown with a paragraph noting that “I’ve come to realize that part of the misunderstanding between Jones and I lies in the very different physical qualities and historical aspects of the media we work in.” Of course, he may not think this, but he doesn’t have to for it to be true on my end.

As I thought about this more, I devised a graph that elaborates on one part of these differences, their relationship to function, or craft.

This image makes use, in part, of my own knowledge of historical aspects of these art forms. This chart is by no means concrete or comprehensive, but it helped me along in my consideration of differing baselines among artists.

With respect to historical qualities
Painting is usually the finest of the fine arts in the context of the art world. Sculpture may be more elite, in a sense, but I’ve put it closer to “Craft” on the above graph because it isn’t usually as accessible to the general public as works that hang on a wall. Further, some of the materials used in sculpture are more closely tied to functional applications.

Ceramics is farther down the the list, being strongly rooted in the crafts. Sure, clay has been used as a sculptural medium for millennia, but when people think of it they think of thrown vessels: Water pots, beer steins and rice bowls. I am undoubtedly drawn towards clay over paint, to three-dimensional media over two-dimensional (which is why, when I do dabble with the brush — or knife, as it were — and board, my strokes emulate those of Wayne Thiebaud). The history that comes along with my three-dimensional media of choice, clay, absolutely plays a role in how I approach my work and think about the arts.

With respect to physical qualities
It goes without saying that paint and clay are very different materials. The differing palpable qualities of common artistic media, I’ve realized this week, probably play a significant role in an artist’s work and philosophy. Yes, I’ve used a brush and canvas, but I’m naturally drawn to three-dimensional materials such as clay and wood. Something in my brain is predisposed to working with my hands in this way, working around a medium.

Another observation, carving on wood or modeling clay us usually a more physical act than mixing and applying paint. When I’m working with clay I’m kneading, pounding and rolling before getting into the details. Cajoling blocks of wood or stone into new forms is even more muscular. This is part of what I enjoy about these media though. I’ve always been a pretty active bloke, and these kinds of physical exertion are more important after sitting behind a desk at my “day job.”

Process over product
One final note which may be a bit tangential to baselines, but is in my notes.

I first heard the phrase “Process over product” some 10 years ago as an art student. Where it was cited back then, the quote was attributed to da Vinci. It resonated with me immediately. Perhaps this was, at least in part, related to my position as a student, where part of the job of learning in the arts is exploring a variety of media. But the desire to see how things work, to see how far I can push something and to explore new techniques sticks with me.

This is not to say that I’m uninterested in the finished product. I am very interested in creating bodies of work that are significant in relationship to my own personal and artistic philosophies. But if I have to throw a few things in the garbage along the way I’m not going to cry about it. I value the process.

In essence, two-dimensional and three-dimensional artists probably work from very different physical and mental baselines. Each media, if an artist works mainly with a particular one, contains a unique history as well as modern connotative “baggage,” so to speak, that influences how an artist approaches his or her pieces. This may be conscious or subconscious; it may bear a positive or negative result in a painting or print or sculpture.

But it’s there.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

One Response to Abstract Answer: Baseline banter

  1. Pingback: Abstract Answer: Decorative details « The Aesthetic Elevator

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