photo collage C. Ascher
People often ask artists, people often ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” which actually seems to mean, “Where do you get your strange ideas?” It seems to stymie them how artists working expressively can keep generating image after image, many of them rendered in very unique, unexpected and yes, sometimes weird ways.
It’s one thing to look at a beautiful landscape or flower, even to see a group of pleasantly arranged objects or an attractive face and be moved to want to represent it realistically. That’s what I call ‘apparently direct inspiration’, the impulse comes from wanting to capture that exact image, and the focus is on gaining the technique to do so. Once the image is made, the usual reaction is for the viewer to experience the skill of rendering and thus be transported into the presence of the object or subject as if standing before it. The artist has fixed the image in time and place so that her/his experience of noting it, of being moved by it can be shared.
This ‘apparently direct inspiration’ creates the illusion that it is an outside-in process, a ‘pure’ response triggered by the sight of something that exists supposedly independent of the artist. This is the most expected way of receiving and rendering images, and most of us who are sighted can create in this way if we acquire the required mastery of the materials. Our success or ability can then be judged or measured in comparison to that of others who have chosen to render in this way no matter when, historically speaking, they did so. The image can be experienced directly; the artist’s interpretation (subtlety of brush or tool stroke, composition, lighting, the very moment or perspective chosen, etc.) must be invisible, subliminal, or at the very least discreet. This gives the impression that the artist doesn’t mediate the viewer’s experience.
To render in this way, people think ‘all’ the artist has t do it seems is to look around, see something and render it. Viewers accept this as obvious and relate to it quite readily.
It’s altogether another thing for an artist to render something by what I call ‘obviously filtered experience’. This inside-out approach shows the way a perceived image or an experienced event is processed, understood, integrated, altered and expressed by the artist. The artist in this case has to either align him/herself with a technique developed by others whose process is similar, their ‘style’ or their ‘ism’, or try to create her/his own.
While we’ve been exposed to the first rendering method for centuries, viewers often seem to have a hard time understanding the latter, more recently developed processes, hence the above question.
Since my art is largely the result of a mix of these former and latter processes, I sometimes answer the question by saying,
“Think that my head is like a food processor: images go into my eyes and sensations go in via my other senses; on the way from my heart to my mind they fall into my memory and get scrambled with the memory of other sights and experiences; my dreams, personality, culture(s), thoughts, conceptions (or misconceptions) get mixed in. The resulting concoction pours through my hands into my media and expresses itself as my work, coming out more like a pulpy, Expressive juice than a Realistic smoothie. Things are represented as they seem, or feel, or inspire, or provoke, not necessarily as they are. There are as many more variations, endless in fact, than there are objects or experiences my life.”
Then I ask hopefully, “Does that help answer your question?”