One Hit Wonder, or Consistent Album Artist?
Do you have a favorite musical album you associate with your teenage years? Did a musical artist touch your heart and tell your story? My favorite artist at that time was Joni Mitchell. I remember pouring over her albums with my friends, debating the nuances of her lyrics, the beauty of her painted cover art, and the unique way she spoke for my time, my gender, and my generation. Each song is a work of art in its own right with a theme, a glimpse into Joni’s heart and mind which contributes to a greater overarching statement that is the album. Her “Blue” album compiles a series of bittersweet, nostalgic contemplations on love and loss that are a contemporary counterpoint to the work of Spanish artist Picasso’s own blue period.
Pablo Picasso’s blue period stretched from 1900 to 1904 and during those years everything he painted was mostly monochromatic blue and blue-green to express his emotional and financial turmoil. The blue paintings touched the hearts of thousands and elevated him to his first encounter with immense popularity. If Picasso had painted only the “Old Guitarist” it would not have had the same impact as the extended contemplation of depression in his series. Joni Mitchell’s most popular album is also a sustained investigation of sadness that would not have had the same resonance if she only published her song “River” as a single. Both artists had lengthy careers exploring a variety of thematic subjects.
Why not take your own inspiration to another level by developing a personal theme for a year, a stretch of time, or a lifetime?
Working in a series allows an artist to dig deeply into their experiences and discover a universal connection shared with the rest of the world. In AP Studio Art the series is called a “Sustained Investigation”. It requires that the student artist establish central questions for planning, exploration, experimentation, and risk-taking over a 6 to 8 month school year. The more personal the exploration, the more growth the artist experiences and the more it resonates for the viewer.
Vicki Amorose says it this way, “Self-knowledge is not the same thing as having all the answers. It means having some awareness of what you know, what you question, and what keeps you wondering.” Some of these questions can occupy us for a lifetime if we're lucky.
The road from the first idea to the completion of a series is never straight and smooth. High school students may have limited life experience, but they ask deep questions, make unexpected connections, and have astute observational powers. They also have very heavy time commitments to advanced classes, sports, internships, and college applications. Finishing the series is often one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in their lives. When the sustained investigation is complete each of these young artists has a better understanding of their personal fundamental questions, their own grit, as well as, an artistic vocabulary of marks, color, symbols, shapes, and viewpoints which are all their own.
I never know where my students’ explorations will lead and I love the process of supporting and making a safe space for this work. A few of the topics my past students have chosen are; the feeling of isolation when you belong neither to your native nor your adopted country, the memories that live as ghosts in your shuttered childhood home, a graphic novel that chronicles a heroic journey through depression to the moon and back, images hidden in nature, tragic love stories and most recently, a student is creating portraits of members from her favorite K-Pop bands to explore the relationship between her subjects' personalities and the plant or animal manifestation of their soul.
For my student artists, an important part of the investigative process is learning to articulate their thoughts and feelings in speech, writing, and visual imagery. We spend many hours discussing their ideas - pulling out what it is that draws them to a particular image, debating placement, color, and methodology. It is exciting when they argue the case for a viewpoint I misunderstood or when they convince me to see things in a new way.
Even the agonizing pressure of the deadline is an important part of the series process. Whether you are producing your series for AP Studio Art, a gallery show, a book, an album, or another project - there is never enough time for every artwork to attain the perfection you envision. In the rush to complete on time, there is a mastery breakthrough to greater fluency with mark-making and capturing the essence of an idea. Sometimes, the biggest breakthrough is finishing and accepting that this is the best you can do - right now.
I like to think of my series as art "albums" that cover a particular question, place and point of time in my life. If you would like to delve more deeply into your own inner questions and create a series for a gallery show, a book, or another project, please reach out, and let’s talk. I am happy to support you in generating ideas, developing, and/or expanding your painting process. I invite you to allow me to lovingly guide, support, and accompany you in your artistic growth.
With light and delight,