I was taken aback with the volume of very perceptive and positive responses to my latest blog: “The Blurry line between bad art and applauded contemporary art” from many artists whose work I admire. Their words were so insightful that I’ve included them here!
A constant theme in the responses was how a lot of so-called contemporary bird art has a narcissistic overtone. It’s never about the subject, but all about the artist. With their high flown arty-speak they are signalling that they belong to an exclusive club and if you don’t understand the art-speak you are an outsider. It is all about self-promotion for the artist who produced the work.
For me personally I paint birds because I want people to see how amazingly beautiful they are. I approach each painting wanting the viewer to respond to the subject I have painted - “Have a look at this Black Cockatoo, isn’t it the most incredible thing”. I’m much more comfortable talking about the subject than blowing my own trumpet. What they think of me as an artist is up to the viewer. There was also a lot of feedback regarding galleries. Or as Andrew Denman so elegantly called them “the gatekeepers”. Enjoy!!!
Francisco J. Hernández “I think dear Tony, you're absolutely right, and I like how you speak so clearly, calling everything by its name. I do´nt know exactly what it is that makes good naturalist art and good art dedicated to birds reach our hearts when we look at it. But perhaps the difference between simply contemporary art and art with heart, is that in the second one, the true protagonist, is the bird, while in contemporary art, the protagonist, is always the author, paint what he or she paint, draw what he or she draw, he/she does not do anything more than pretend to talk about him/herself. I think that to paint or draw nature with the heart, you must to love it and admire it deeply. And I also think that artists, in general, who try to manifest the beauty that exists in nature, are the only human beings who, at least for a moment, stop talking about the human being, and give voice to everything else, which is the vast majority.”
Andrew Denman “Tony, thanks for brightening my morning! Nothing quite like a good rant! Over and over again, I have encountered just this issue. For those of us who paint birds or ANYTHING representationally to one degree or another, the understanding that detail for detail’s sake is just noise (and a distracting one at that) is fundamental. The concern that in over-detailing, the artist can lose the vital sense of volume, movement, and tension in a subject, the very anima, the life force, is equally valid. Yet I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen stiff-as-a-board illustration, looking like bad plates in a poorly done field guide, lauded as great art. What it suggests more than anything is that such a gallery is filled with people who have never observed birds (or whatever the subject may be) enough to know what they are looking at. They may also make the common mistake of being impressed with the time they assume it takes to paint “all that detail.” A man I knew years back once memorably described his favorite artist as being “so good that he only does two painting a year.” The suggestion that hours spent noodling on irrelevant details equals good art is a wrong-headed and poisonous misunderstanding of what the labor of art is really about. On the other hand, many galleries (especially when wildlife art is NOT their focus or expertise) will promote sloppy, badly drawn animals, lauding the artist for being “gestural,” “lively” or some such nonsense. There is a HUGE chasm between loose, we’ll-observed, improvisational brilliance, and loose, sloppy, and poorly-observed dreck. Not only do many galleries not know the difference, they blithely and wrongly interpret sloppiness as “interpretation” or “artistic liberty.” Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen birds that are represented beautifully with a just few sketchy, thoughtfully placed lines; sadly I’ve seen more representations of birds where the attempt at this kind of simplicity is simply childish and primitive...and not in a good way. There is room in this world for all kinds of art and artists, and I am happy beyond measure for anyone who can make art a part of his or life and career, but I share your frustration with the gatekeepers and tastemakers who have no idea when to raise or lower the drawbridge or why. Cheers friend, A”
Szabolcs Kókay “Fantastic reading, Tony!! It was so refreshing to read a non PC opinion about wildlife art at last! I'm too chickenshit to write similar. And it's true to nature art in general. I'm soooo bored to see another and another Lion/Tiger/Leopard/Snow Leopard/etc. portrait. Every single hair painted. What's new in this?
As nature photography has exploded, I want to see something different, something new from nature art. A good example is rare or extinct species, like you did with those parrots. Or an action scene that is rarely photographed, rarely observed, like your Brown Falcon attacking Parrots.
More of this kind of reading can come!”
John Perry Baumlin “Couldn't agree with you more. There is more to a bird than feathers, there is a living, breathing animal underneath and you and all the good ones understand that fundamental fact. The posers think if you paint one good feather (or even bad one), then another next to it, etc., voila! you'll have a bird at the end of this pointless process. Detail that isn't informed by good observation is a waste of paint.”
Brett Jarrett “As many artists know, speaking out about this absurdly ridiculous situation plaguing the art industry feels like a poisoned chalice. There are also many of us out there that need to get behind artists like Tony Pridham and begin to use our voice, otherwise guess what? Nothing will change. Throughout my career of 28 years being rejected by the most basic small business gallery takes its toll. In Australia for example, a well known group of artists producing 'decorative and kitsch' still dominate the wildlife scene with what can honestly be best described as 5th grader art. These individuals have made millions in sales and with a well rehearsed spiel about 'accuracy, environmental concerns and apparent intimate knowledge of the subject', galleries basically shut the door on any serious painters.”