Cutting Edge Art v.s. Stodgy Landscapes

Philip Koch, North Passage, 18 x 24" oil on panel, 2011

(Above is a photo of eight shipping crates I made to send my paintings down to my exhibition this summer at the art museum in Newport News, Virginia. My wife commented how much this reminds her
of a sculpture from the early 1970's by Don Judd, who at that time was considered very cutting edge).

I often wonder whether there are more badly painted landscapes out there or more woefully unsuccessful attempts at "cutting edge" contemporary art.

To see a truly excellent landscape painting is rare. So is seeing a really well done piece of avant garde art. Perhaps I'm less rattled by unsuccessful landscapes because they're usually pretty small. Most work in alternative media like installations, perormance art, or video takes up either a lot of physical space or consumes more of your time. In return for that, one's likely to expect a bigger reward for looking at the work.

I teach in a big art school and am surrounded by all sorts of art by artists who don't all speak the same language. It's a real free for all.  But I do see good art of all styles on a regular basis. 

To get anywhere as an artist, one  has to be intensely serious about ones art making. You pour vast amounts of your heart and energy (and your time and your money) into it. With some luck, you grow as an artist. 

We live in a time when the art world has splintered off into different and seemingly competing directions. I've never met anyone who genuinely responds with equal enthusiasm to all the different directions artists are taking these days.

To be passionate about the art one makes makes you do good work, but sometimes it also means learning to bite your tongue.  Mine has lots of holes in it. A good sense of humor helps.

(p.s. As most of you figured out, that is a photo of a Don Judd minimalist sculpture from 1971 above. Wouldn't they make great shipping crates for paintings though!).


  1. great work.... no holes here;)

  2. (since you mentioned it) Its interesting to reflect on the power of your personal visual landscape language and the myriad of "badly painted" landscapes, in that they (the bad ones) often seem to be kitschy reproductions of what is thought to be seen (by the painter) but never approach what is felt when one is in the land. Whereas, your language conveys what is felt and leaves the viewer to ponder both the "real" land and the art historical connections you explore in paint. (just sayin)

  3. Dear Anonymous, thanks for your complement!

    I think key to getting the feeling of infusing real feeling into paintings of nature or wilderness actually has to happen indoors- studying the best of painting that have been done before by those who preceeded us. Visual art is a language with its own grammar and conventions. We have to soak that up as much as we can. And we have to have a genuine relationship with the natural world.

  4. you comment made me think about the future of landscape painting in a world of nature deficit disorder... its fun to add that in this case anonymous IS a women. lol.

  5. "I've never met anyone who genuinely responds with equal enthusiasm to all the different directions artists are taking these days."

    This is probably fact. Still, for me, trying to understand those ideas, if only to see what I can learn from them and how I might adapt them to my own use seems necessary. The schism between traditionalists and conceptualists, to generalize, seems ultimately counterproductive to me on both ends. While all of it out there might be difficult to swallow, and there is stuff that works and fails all around, I really would love a new paradigm, a new synthesis that reaches beyond clear-cut self interest on both ends of the polarized spectrum. Considering centuries of history I might be hoping for too much?

  6. Hi MCGuilmet- whatever comes to us in the future, art for me will remain first of all a visual experience. When an artist has an important concept behind their inspiration that's OK, if they can find the forms and colors that will delight and entrance their viewers' eye. I teach at a big art school and see all sorts of avant gard work daily. Sometimes it fails, but every now and then it's both conceptually intriguing and visually exciting. Those are happy moments.


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