I am including my revised artist statement for this series, which I have called Voices and Visions, but I am now calling Constructed Realities. I am finally getting into he value sketches and drawings, and its starting to slowly come together. But I still have a long way to go toward the final product. I’m not sure if they will be traditional oil paintings or mixed media pieces. Right now, I am looking for readers to let me know how my artist statement sounds, and if the artwork I am posting here, “matches” with it. If you could, post a comment on my website, http://www.artofschmidt.com or Art of Schmidt Facebook page and let me know how this statement and artwork make you feel. I want to be sure that I am not too esoteric, and that everyone who reads it can understand what I hope to express in my art. Thanks!
Artist Statement for Constructed Realities
How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it’s sometimes a memory being replayed, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to telling a story or visiting an inspiring art exhibit. This series of paintings focuses on the connection between the human condition and stories described in the written word, through poetry and song lyrics. The works may describe a feeling, such as a search for love, broken relationships, and homes, uncertainty, nostalgia about one’s childhood, wishes and desires, journeys, the modern world and industrialization, overcoming adversity, artist’s block, etc. These themes are described using metaphors and symbols, such as maps, industrialization, etc. In addition, limited. The color palette in oil paint, to keep the focus on the content of the artwork and not the color.
Two things have sparked this re-current theme about visual storytelling, and they are: 1.) An art class that I took at Frederick Community College, and 2.) Learning about art journals and mixed media artwork. In January of 2015, I took a drawing course at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. One of the final assignments I tackled was to illustrate a poem of my choice using pastels. A major challenge in this assignment was to find a poem that had some concrete images to illustrate. I chose Robert Frost’s poem, Ghost House, which has an abundance of concrete imagery. The first lines, “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago, and left no trace but the cellar walls …”
(Frost) griped me with a strong visual picture. I immediately thought of a derelict house and I tried to create a narrative about this haunted house. Slowly, different images popped into my head, a derelict house, a ghost bride, a tree, a path, and some crows. To facilitate this process, I collected artwork that inspired me on Google image searches and checked out art technique books on vampires and fantasy creatures from the public library. To create this current body of work, I collected a notebook of images that inspired me, from Google searches or Pinterest, and stitching them together in PhotoShop to create unique compositions. Next, I read books on poetry or did Google searches to look for poems that lent themselves to visual depiction. Brief lines from the poems or songs which inspired these works are embedded within the works so that the viewer can make the connection between the imagery and words which inspired each work.
I then collaged various photos of the house, ghost bride, path, crows, landscape, etc. in Adobe Photoshop and printed out the collage on copier paper in the size in which I intended to create the artwork. The final step was to trace the image with carbon paper and Pen and to begin filling in the pastel paper with tones and shades of blue and purple pastels. Some of the poetry that has inspired this new series, entitled, Voices and Visions, are verses written by Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot, among others.
And my second inspirational spark to create this series is the art journaling movement. A new trend in popular culture is the concept of the art journal, in which the artist writes and illustrates specific things, feelings, seasons, etc., often in mixed media materials. According to mixed media artist, Dina Wakely, art journaling is a way to express your emotions through imagery and text, and no specific rules need to apply to this process. She also shares that the idea of art journaling is not a new one, and well-known artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, kept a series of notebooks. Like Dina, I find that creating narrative art can be a meaningful process, either to express difficult emotions such as sharing universal truths with others in
Much the same way as song lyrics do. In a similar fashion to the poets, Dickinson and Frost, songwriters such as The Cranberries, Sting, Shawn Colvin, U2, Roseanne Cash, Johnny Cash, and Coldplay, and many others have masterfully shared universal truths about love, loss, uncertainty, identity, depression, and loneliness. A good case in point is Sting’s song, Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, an ode about uncertainty and the process of finding answers in the midst of it.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I haven’t been painting much lately. This is a challenge because, without artwork to illustrate my blog posts with, I don’t know what to write about. Over the past few weeks, I have considered writing about art business related topics. However, since I have been having some doubts about whether I want my art to be made mainly for pleasure, such as a hobby or for profit, based on a business model. In fact, I sometimes feel that making art for profit, sometimes steals the joy of creating, and it often involves a host of other tasks I don’t enjoy such as marketing and bookkeeping, which also takes away the limited time I have to make artwork. To resolve this problem, I am going to return to an earlier topic which I had enjoyed writing about and that is, artists I admire. In this case, I will focus my discussion upon the life of John Singer Sargent, and his subsequent reinvention as a painter around 1900, in which he shifted his focus from creating oil portraits of high society figures to creating watercolors of people and places he visited in Europe.
Re-Invention of the Self: A pop culture staple
All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, and imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people. —Ursula K. Le Guin
The topic of reinvention is important to me because I am in the process of trying to separate others ideas of what they think I should be doing with my life, and my own conflicts between pursuing art, and what role I want it to play in my life. Is it a profession, a hobby or something in between? Along the way, I have also been sidetracked with other pursuits such as pursuing more practical lines of work, such as graphic design and social work, and even, art entrepreneurship. This is a process that began in 2005 when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree to the present moment.
That is why reading about Sargent’s journey to aesthetic reinvention, in the article, “Examining Sargent’s Shift from Oils to Watercolors”, by Judith H. Dubrinsky, of the New York Times, caught my eye and inspired me to write about him. I took classes in both graphic design and social work and after much ambivalence and indecision, decided ultimately that they were not interesting enough for me to complete a degree and change my career direction. It seems that I always return to making art no matter what other avenues for employment, volunteering or education that I have pursued. As I have been introspecting about this process of shedding layers of false selves, my truer self-seems to be emerging, and I am finding fulfillment in finally getting to pursue my dream of teaching art. Meanwhile, I am working part-time as a receptionist, who provides stable income and a sense of security, when art sales are low or the teaching contracts are not long-term, as is the case with my new contractual position at Buckingham’s Choice. The topic of reinvention, however, is not just limited to the past, as in the case of Sargent. Instead, it can still be observed in more current times.
For example, in popular culture, a good case in point of the re-invented self is found in the 2009 movie, Julie and Julia, a biopic about the life of the renowned chef, Julia Child, which is intermingled with the life one of her fans, Julie Powell who aspires to be a cook, but struggles with finishing things, like her novel. Powell gets inspired by Child’s book, The Art of French cooking, and takes on the challenge of cooking all of Child’s recipes from the book, and blogging about her adventures and mishaps during this journey. In addition, the writer, Georgina Del Vecho, in an article, Can You ReallyReinvent Yourself? States that, “Countless teen movies revolve around the plotline of a transformation—“The Princess Diaries,” “Grease,” “She’s All That” and “Clueless,” to name a few—which, even if the transformed character ends up realizing they’ve forsaken their morals in pursuit of popularity/fame/a man, still suggest that changing your appearance or other aspects about yourself can help you reach your goal.” (Source: Del Vecho, Georgina. “Can You Really ReinventYourself?”The Chronicle: The Independent NewsOrganization at Duke University, 09/13/2007, https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/09/can-you-really-reinvent-yourself, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
Another example of transformation, which is popular today, is the notion of changing your profession and seeking to find a dream job, such as leaving the corporate world to start your own business, especially during the retirement years. (Source: Freedman, Marc. “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention.” The Harvard Business Review, January 1, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/01/the-dangerous-myth-of-reinvention), accessed on November 15, 2018.)
These examples, however, opens up the question, such as, do these types of transformations really change who you are as a person, or not? I’m particularly interested in this questions and the journey of reinventing myself because I have been making some significant changes in my own life. For years I have wanted to teach art, but haven’t known how to go about it. For example, I have faced many roadblocks to getting qualified to teach after I obtained my baccalaureate degree in art. Despite taking the standardized teaching certification test, called the Praxis 1 test many times, I could not pass it. This test is required to obtain teacher certification in the state of Maryland, and it allows you to apply for teaching jobs in the public school system.
After that, I was rejected to four graduate degree art programs, which is a required qualification if you want to teach art on the college level. It seemed that all doors for teaching art had been effectively closed. I have driven down many detours and pursued lots of classes and volunteering, most of which not related to art, but seemed more “practical.” Making time for art and thinking about how I wanted it to be a part of my life got sidelined. For years, I simply focused on survival and paying my bills, which was important because I had student loans to pay off. However, after my father died in 2011, it was a catalyst to motivate me to find a way to make art a part of my life again. Initially, this began by taking art classes with Rebecca Pearl, a local Thurmont, MD artist, and teacher. Later, it grew to include a sideline as a pet portrait painter and exhibiting my artwork in local art shows. Recently, I have begun teaching art classes in an enrichment art class at the retirement community in Adamstown, Md, called Buckingham’s Choice, and I have applied for a position as an enrichment art teacher at Frederick Community College in the Institute for Learning in Retirement. However, this journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work against my inner resistance to change, even good change, and fears of the unknown, to get to this new destination in my life. But, upon reflection, I’m realizing that perhaps the biggest failure of all, would be not to pursue one’s hopes, dreams or ambitions and settle for the unresolved life, which is characterized by “what might have been,” or “if only.”
John Singer Sargent: Artistic Scope and Reinvention
I tend to associate Sargent with oil paintings of well-known entities such as Theodore Roosevelt and the robber baron John D. Rockefeller. But, little did I know that he had much more range and ability in the arts than I can imagine. In fact, sometime around 1900, Sargent abandoned his oil paints and picked up watercolor paints instead. (Source: ibid) According to the author, Dubrinsky, he abandoned painting portraits of high society figures and instead focused on painting “gardens, exotic locales, and people at leisure, at work and at rest, often on his travels in Europe and the Middle East. Experimenting with unusual compositions and new techniques, he reinvented himself aesthetically.” (Source: ibid)
Furthermore, later in life, he painted a series of murals for the Boston Public Library, with the theme of the Triumph of Religion. According to the Boston Public Library, Sargent, depicted several themes in his murals, including “early Egyptian beliefs, Judaism and Christianity”, in his murals, located in the McKim building of the Boston Public Library. (Source: “Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Collections Online, Mural Cycles at the Central Library in Copley Square”: Boston Public Library, https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:sq87dv033, accessed on November 15, 2018, and The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
He obtained his artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. (Source: ibid) Furthermore, some of his artistic influences included: the artists: Goya, Velasquez, and other contemporary Impressionist painters, and he quickly put into practice the lessons he learned from these masters. (Source: ibid)
What Made John Singer Sargent’s Work Exceptional?
According to the website, The Art Story.org, John Singer Sargent was a celebrated portrait artist who specialized in painting pictures of the elite members of society, such as the oil magnate J.D. Rockefeller, and the presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, in locations such as Paris, London and New York. (Source: The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
What distinguished him from other artists was the way that he revolutionized portrait painting by utilizing impressionistic brushwork and nontraditional compositions to “capture his sitters’ character and even reputation.” (Source: ibid) And sometimes his models did not like the completed painting and even refused to buy it, perhaps because it revealed uncomfortable truths? (Source: ibid) The portrait, Madame X, painted early in his career is a prime example of this tendency. (Source: ibid)
Sargent’s Range of Artistic Projects: Watercolors and Murals
However, he did not limit himself to portraiture; instead, he also painted outdoors with his colleague, Claude Monet”. (Source: ibid) In addition, Sargent also created murals which were commissioned by government officials in the US and in the UK later in his career. (Source: ibid) He was a talented young painter and he created a “spectacular array of exciting and masterful paintings while only in his twenties.”(Source: ibid)
Scandal in Paris Salon of 1884: Madame X Painting
Despite these accomplishments, in 1884 at the Paris Salon, his portrait, Madame X, created a stir amongst the leaders of the Paris art establishment, who found its depiction of the American ex-patriot, Virginia Gateau, too blatantly sexual, in her low cut black dress which showed a shocking amount of her skin for the 19th century time period and standards of the day. (Source: Baker, Harriet. “The Story Behind John Singer Sargent’s RA ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.” The Royal Academy, 13 February 2015, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/john-singer-sargent-carnation-lily-lily-rose, accused on November 15, 2018.
After his debacle in Paris, Sargent moved to England “and spent summer seasons in an artist’s colony in Broadway, Worcestershire”. (Source: ibid) At this location, he painted the stunning and timeless painting, Carnation Lily, LilyRose, which epitomized the innocence of childhood, and helped to bring him back into the arms of the art establishment. (Source: ibid) Sargent’s inspiration for this double portrait came from a variety of sources such as artwork by the English Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists who painted en plein air. (Source: ibid) However, his initial inspiration for this painting can be traced back to “an evening boating trip along the Thames at Pangbourne in 1885, when he saw Chinese lanterns hanging from trees.” (Source: ibid) He began working on Carnation Lily, Lily Rose during a visit with Francis David Millet. (Source: ibid) The two girls who posed for the portrait were Polly and Dorothy, who were daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard. (Source: ibid)
Closing Thoughts: Why I feel a kinship with Sargent
In conclusion, I feel I can relate to Sargent’s life story in a small way, such as his search to find success, his failures, and his desire to reinvent himself in his middle age. In a similar way, I am at a crossroads in my life and looking for ways to reinvent my life via teaching art. I’m also shedding old selves, perhaps influenced or invented by others or myself. I’m trying to be completely honest with myself about what I really want to do with my life and what I want my contribution to society to be. I am not even sure I want to be an artist-entrepreneur anymore, and I am re-examining what it means for me to be an artist. For now, I am finding that teaching others to draw and paint is incredibly rewarding, and it seems to be part of that answer. I admire Sargent’s courage to break free from his comfort zone, and perhaps from the expectations of others about what he should paint. I hope that I can grab onto some of that courage.
Readers, Please Note: The paintings I am posting to accompany this blog post include not only a portrait that Sargent completed, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, but also some other master artworks
which I have copied and which I intend to make part of an art history blog series. Thanks for reading! Next month I plan to write about the artist Eastman Johnson. Have a wonderful day!
This week I am between projects, as I have just finished the 100 Faces in 100 Days drawing challenge. I also completed some paintings for the Frederick Coffee Company Art show I just finished. So now the perennial question, what do I work on next, and what do I blog about next? I have finally picked up the brush and pencil this Monday and started to revisit the drawings and photoshop files I created for my Voices and Visions poetry illustration series. These works are in the very beginning stages and I started them with evaluating the compositions of some of these files in Photoshop and re-organizing them. After that, I worked on transferring the photocopies of these illustrations to watercolor paper and illustration board. One painting even got to the basic lay-in with acrylic painting stage, but the others need another coat of gesso before they will be ready to paint.
It seems that the bad news I got from the Doctor’s Office on Monday has helped catapult me to action with this series. For the past several months I have been focusing on promoting art shows and administrative duties such as marketing, data entry, pricing, packing up art shows and setting new ones up, etc. However, the phone call I received this Monday, reminds me of all the other times I got disturbing news but had to find a way to get through everyday life in spite of it. This week has really been a déjà vu, of all the experiences and emotions I felt during my dad’s illness from March 2011-September 2011 when he passed. But with all that being said, the real take away I have had from these experiences is that tomorrow isn’t promised and that I need to make the most of the time I have today.
In March of 2011, I got the phone call that everyone dreads; my father had had a stroke. My sister had called the ambulance and he and was at Montgomery General Hospital where they were testing him for various things. This event ushered in several months of inconclusive tests, different diagnoses, hospital visits, sleepless nights and ongoing stress and uncertainty for me and my family. I felt totally unprepared for this kind of long-term stress and I didn’t know how to cope with it. The situation was also a shock because my father had always been a healthy man and never seemed to have any ongoing illness, other than his recent bout with shingles. I turned to making art as a way to try and introduce some calm and predictability into my days so I could go on working, doing laundry, etc. I discovered that attending art classes every week with a local artist, Rebecca Pearl
Source photo for Dad and Holly painting.
Dad and Holly, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches, Jodie Schmidt, 2011.
A photo of my dad and a 1929 Ford was used to construct the oil painting, Dad and 1929 Ford.
Dad and 1929 Ford, oil on canvas panel, 16 x 20 inches, Jodie Schmidt, 2011.
School photo of my father as a child provided the inspiration for my painting of Dad as Young Boy.
Dad as Young Boy, oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14, Jodie Schmidt, 2011.
A photo I found of my father and his first wife, Phyllis, taken sometime in the 1940s or 1950s, provided the composition for the painting, Dad and Phyllis.
Dad and Phyllis, oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14 inches, Jodie Schmidt, 2011.
introduced some much-needed structure into my days. After my father passed in September of 2011, I was still dealing with a lot of emotions. I decided to create a series of portrait paintings about his life to try and process the grief and to create a meaningful way of honoring his memory, using family photos as references for the oil paintings. Some days I could barely paint and looking at the photos of him in happier times was really difficult. Other days, I was able to paint without feeling so sad. And now, several years later, I am turning to art again as a way to cope while waiting for answers about my diagnosis of a low platelet count. I have to wait for two more weeks for another round of tests to get some more conclusive answers, hopefully.