Experience vs. Memory in Painting

The video embedded below is a talk by Daniel Kahneman entitled- “The riddle of experience vs. memory”. Kahneman discusses how the mind can be thought of as two different parts, an experiencing self and a remembering self. The experiencing self is aware of experiences, of what’s happening in the ‘now’. The remembering sense recollects what happened, and places it in a narrative. The remembering sense is primarily responsible for what we remember about our experiences.

An analogy can be made between this way of thinking and painting. The experiencing self is in charge while painting, while the work is being made. We have experiences, but we’re not quite sure what they are and it’s hard to articulate them. Painters often use the word ‘intuitive’ to describe this phase, while they’re working. It’s used to mean- “I have no idea what I’m doing” or “I know what I’m doing but don’t care to explain it.” The artist can’t place their work in a narrative.

It’s only after the work is completed (and often after some time has gone by) that the remembering self takes over. The remembering self can articulate what the artist was trying to accomplish and what the artist was thinking about. The remembering self can put the artistic process into a cohesive narrative allowing the artist to talk about and understand their own work.

However, there is a gap between these two selves and the experiences they describe. The story as described by the remembering self makes sense, seems cohesive, but doesn’t completely capture the true nature of the experiences.

Some artists have a very difficult time articulating what they’re doing or what the intent of their work is. Perhaps they are responding only with their experiencing selves. Their experiences are truthful and vivid, but can’t be articulated by their remembering selves.

Kahneman’s idea is useful in separating the information (or often verbal gobbledegook) of an artist’s statement with what could be seen as the inherent truth of the artwork itself.

Sometimes painting is a slog

This painting is fighting me. The gunky canvas surface is making it harder to get the textures and details I’m looking for. It’s a nice location though. I had three people stop by to chat- two friends and one shutterbug with an awesome Leica camera. The painting will need at least another session or two if it hopes to reach Finished Paintingdom. We’ll have to see how it goes…

Painting at the end of day 2

Painting at the end of day 2

Larry drops by for a visit

Larry drops by for a visit

Behind the Safeway – in progress

The first outside painting day of the year found me not far from the previous painting spot. The lumber store I like to go to has been closed for New Year’s so I had to paint on an existing canvas, in this case the one that was left over from Restless Portrait, layers of acrylic paint and all. The previous painting had Bob’s Gas station and the bank vaguely in the background, and these show up a little more prominently in this one. I was attracted to this spot by the sheer nondescript blandness of the back of the Safeway grocery store. There’s a large, fairly vacant stretch of asphalt and the windowless back edifice is distinctly plain. The roof has a gently curved structure that gives the view some evocative power- in this case the curved roof evokes for me a domed temple.

Behind the Safeway

Beginning Behind the Safeway with a Toned Canvas

These bland urban inter-spaces have long had a prominent place in American landscape painting, with Edward Hopper probably the recognized master of the form. Hopper’s work seems to comment on a particular American disconnectedness, a sense of alienation.

While I revere Hopper, this is not quite what I want the work to be about. I think we live in a different age, a more connected time. These lonely, marginalized spaces exist, but perhaps how we see potential and the possibility for change in them.

Another contemporary American painter who deals with what he calls these “Non-Places” is Trevor Young, someone I was in high school with. Trevor takes this nondescriptness to a grand scale and adds some really beautiful paint handling to the mix.

Today I was aware that in standing in the Safeway parking lot I was technically ‘trespassing’, standing on privately-owned space that is not truly public, shared, communal space. The act of setting up my easel and my painting paraphernalia is a way of claiming this space, domesticating it, somehow making it more human scale and accessible. This was brought home to me when a gentleman pulled over in his truck and stepped up to chat with me about my painting. He was an artist himself, someone who likes to draw. I felt that, if only for a short while, I had made this otherwise fairly unwelcoming space one where conversations and artistic chit-chat were possible.

view of Safeway and easel

view of the back of the Safeway and my easel

The painting at the end of the day has a reasonable amount of progress and a good start to subsequent sessions. I was only able to work on this for an hour and forty minutes. It was roughly 24° and very, very cold even though it was sunny. Let’s see what subsequent painting sessions hold for this work.

painting at the end of the session

painting as it stands at the end of the session

Westfield and Illinois in Winter

Today was the second (and final!) day working on this painting. We’ve had some rain and warmer weather so the snow was melting and things were slushy. We also has a 3.8 magnitude earthquake this morning, with the epicenter about an hour north.

It immediately became clear that I’d have to change the painting to incorporate the now visible grass and the slushier snow.

Painting begins on Day 2 with the snow melting

Not long after I’d started painting I turned around to see a reporter and a videographer standing nearby. They asked me if I’d felt this earthquake this morning. I said “No, but things seem to have shifted slightly between day before and today.” The clip showed up on the evening news today and is embedded and linked to below. Pretty hilarious. I guess I can now put an ‘as seen on TV’ sticker on the painting. (as a side note, the reporter seriously deserves an award for pronouncing my name perfectly).

videographer from WTHR Channel 13

link to video:

After the hubbub, it was time to buckle down and work. I modified, painted over or added to every area of the painting.

I painted the grassy spots revealed by the snow melt and tried to make the trees more organically shaped and varied. The local bank branch is visible at the left edge of the painting as is Bob’s Gas Station in the background. The sign that’s at that slightly crooked angle reads ‘Illinois St’ and “Stop Ahead”.  I also added the oncoming SUV and the cars stopped at the light because the picture really needed some sense of human activity and human scale. The headlights and brake lights are all on because I’ve always felt that seeing headlights on during the day has a surreal touch to it. As to the ambiguity about which lane the oncoming SUV is in? I’m going to chalk that up to artistic license and how swervy some drivers are.

Winter on Westfield

finished painting- 'Westfield and Illinois in Winter' 16" x 20" (as seen on TV!)

The painting’s finished and I’m pretty happy with it for a quick two days of work. The important thing is- there are some pretty unique stories that came out of the process.

Painting on the corner of Westfield and Illinois

So this is today’s story. Very recently I’ve begun to see paintings again. What I mean is, I’ll be out for a walk or an errand and I’ll see a grimy CVS parking lot and the scene will cry out to me to be painted. I’ve been seeing potential paintings everywhere; particularly around Westfield Blvd. This particular scene contrasts the shimmery nature of the canal water with the intricate complexity of the retail shops to the left. It’s a classic nature/culture pairing and I was eager to get out and paint. To me these views are not particularly noteworthy or picturesque, but they speak to me on a deep level. To take the ordinary mundaneness of the routine and see something special in it.

A sunny start to the day

things are roughly sketched out at this point

The trees are dripping a bit at the bottom with the addition of some linseed oil to the paint. The session had some of the challenges associated with painting on the spot-a few of the paint tubes were crusty and I couldn’t get them open. But I’m relishing the challenge of doing this work and found ways to work around the unopenable tubes.

close up of painting being sketched out

stage that it’s in at the end of the day

all bundled up to paint

There’s still quite a bit of work to do on this. I don’t know that I’ll be able to get out in the next two days, but hopefully I’ll be able to soon. Let’s hope the snow stays in place!

Painting in progress in a noisy studio

These are in-process shots of a new painting in the works. It’s a simple painting, meant to be a warm-up for other work that’s coming up. Possible titles at this point are “Mugged” (cute) or “Interlocking Rings”.

Studio shot of Mug Painting in Progress- Stage 1

I associate these mugs with a warmth that seemed appropriate for wintertime. I’ve painted one of these guys before in Still Life with Webster’s.

Studio shot of Mug Painting in Progress- Stage 2

I was attracted to the set-up by the way the handles of the mugs overlapped- hence “Interlocking Rings”. I was thinking of this delightful Vi Hart video, part of her series on the connections between drawing, doodling and math.

The noisy studio in the post title refers to the dialogue that happens as the painting is created. What could be a quiet, meditative process turns out to be a noisy one with cameos by lots of ghosts and voices. As I studied the top of the mug on the right, I was struck by how dark it gets near the rim. I felt that heavy darkness made me look ‘under’ it and created a welcome sense of tension in the painting. This idea of looking under a line or shape in a painting has long haunted me. It’s straight out of Diebenkorn, Ocean Park- a painting like “Ocean Park No. 129” where he gets you to look under the lines at the top like ducking your head under a clothesline.

Richard Diebenkorn- Ocean Park no. 129

The dialogue and free-association are part of the pleasures of the painting process for me. I’m hoping to wrap this one up soon. It’s getting pretty close.


7 Simultaneous Lecturers: Indy Arts and Globalization

Tomorrow, I’ll be a speaker at the event: 7 Simultaneous Lecturers: Indy Arts and Globalization

I’m speaking about “Design Art in Indianapolis” and highlighting some really exciting local designers and artists:

Terry Border, Amy McAdams, Artur Silva, Emma Overman and Ryan Abegglen.  Should be fun!

Indy Talks Poster

Rose Illustrations

Variations on Roses done in Adobe Illustrator.

Spaceship Rose

Spaceship Rose

Ziggarat Rose

Ziggarat Rose

Opening of IAAC Erasing Borders: Passport to Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora 2009

Erasing Borders: Passport to Contemporary Indian Art of the diaspora 2009

My video “Restless Portrait: A Disappearing Painting” was selected for inclusion in the exhibit:  Erasing Borders: Passport to Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora 2009 organized by the Indo-American Arts Council.  The opening was this weekend at the Dowd Gallery at SUNY-Cortland.  I’m thrilled to be a part of this exhibit!

An “Everything is Miscellaneous” approach to Web Design

Tag Cloud image

I’ve been anxious to put together a website for sometime now, but I was stumped by the design of it.  I wanted to put my work into neat categories- paintings, videos, design etc.  and subcategories- digital life, blocks etc.  but some videos were of paintings, and works about blocks were done in both painting and photography.  The tidy buckets I’d hoped to build were broken even before I’d made them.  In frustration I went to my friend Jon Sorenson, a genius Computer Science professor at Butler University, and within ten minutes he’d solved my problem.  He immediately advised me to use a category system whereby items could easily reside in more than one category.  This multivalent approach really helped to break the narrower view I was trying to impose on the work.  The suggestion I most valued was where he pointed out that for future work, I shouldn’t have to worry about which category the work would fall in.  Under the approach he suggested the new work could find its own categories organically and without predetermination.

This conversation jogged something in my memory, I remembered David Weinberger’s book, “Everything is Miscellaneous” and I read it immediately.  I loved it, and his discussion of tagging led to the tag cloud on the landing page of this site, and the tag collection in the sidebar.  I love his discussion of the three orders of order, and have been fascinated by his ideas.  I’m intrigued to think of the impact category-atomization might have on academia.

Anyway, that’s the story of how the current organization scheme of this website came into being.  It will be interesting to see how long this system works for this site.

Creative Commons Licensing of Paintings and Other Works

creative commons- some rights reserved

As the saga of getting this website up and running continues, I’ve added another element to the design.  I’ve decided to release my work under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.  I did a good amount of research about this “some rights reserved” approach and feel that it’s appropriate for my work.  I hope others can share and benefit from the work I’ve done.  The only works that this does not apply to are those for which I’m not the copyright holder, eg. the logos and other commercial work I’ve done.

I’ve used CC licensed audio tracks for videos I’ve done and I’m excited to see if people find ways to use my work.  I’m a fan of Jonathan Coulton and Becky Stern, and both of them use CC licenses for their work.  Larry Lessig is such a compelling speaker and advocate for Creative Commons and videos of his talks played a role in the decision.  (by default the WordPress theme I’m using (deFusion) adds a “Copyright ©” line to the footer). My CC attribution label is in the footer of this site, so share, remix and otherwise enjoy my work!

Speaking at the 2009 Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities


A bit of exciting news!  I’ll be presenting at the 2009 Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities in Honolulu on January 9th, 2009.

My paper is entitled: Painting in the Digital Age: When Pixel meets Paintbrush.  Here’s the abstract I submitted:

This paper examines my paintings from the series “Digital Life”, comprised of computer screen imagery rendered in oil paint.  The paintings form a link between traditional painting and the contemporary digital world and as such, connect the past with the present.

As an avid museum-goer, I am startled to see how little time viewers spend looking at paintings, but will spend countless hours staring at digital screens.  My idea, in order to bridge this divide, has been to turn the screens into paintings: to inject the texture, brushwork and physical quality of oil paint into the virtual, technological realm.

The subject of these paintings is the UI (User Interface) design of computers, the icons and symbols that characterize the digital experience.  This interface is familiar to millions of people, often as a mundane feature of their work-lives.  By making paintings of them, I am memorializing an experience that millions have on a daily basis; in a sense finding art within everyday experience.

This paper examines these paintings within the context of both contemporary painting and the historical oil-painting tradition.  Additionally, this work is influenced by innovations in the fields of computer science and graphic design, and these connections are highlighted and examined.

Finally, since digital images of these paintings are scattered all across the Internet, I examine the recursive nature of making paintings of computer screens and displaying them on the Web.

In an era when there is fierce competition for people’s attention, and digital screens are often examined far more closely than paintings, my work forms a bridge between the two, breathing new life into the dialogue.

Student Success

One of my Graphic Design students, Audrey Carie, won the top prize in the DAAD Poster Contest. She won an all-expenses paid trip to Documenta12 in Kassel, Germany. Another student, Anne Cauley, had her design chosen as an Honorable Mention. Very exciting!

This is Audrey’s design:

and here’s Anne’s:


Cool Frame

Olga Yiparaki has posted some photos of this painting in a tasteful, minimal frame. Her Flickr set is here. I think it looks really nice.

A Painting Matching Game

I created a Painting Matching game using Scratch. Click the image below to check it out.

Painting Matching Game