paintings of people
Dan Beck, "Solitude," 20 x 16 in.

“To constantly strive to get better at my craft as well as remain open to what I see and feel and think is an ongoing way of life.”

Staying Open: Living the Artistic Adventure

By Dan Beck

No matter what approach I use in a painting, I am an artist who is still usually painting an image that is somewhat “believable.” I am painting the visual world that I see; I am painting “what is there.” The truth is, however, I have no idea what is “there.” I think and wonder about it a lot. What am I actually seeing? Am I “seeing” the way a camera “sees?” But even a camera can see a scene differently depending on how the photographer changes the camera’s settings or frames the shot.

So again, what is really there? I love and embrace the idea that I don’t know what is there, and I think this is fertile soil in which an artist can dig forever. We live in this visual world, but all people see things differently. You can measure and analyze all day and still no two people will see a thing exactly the same.

portrait paintings
Dan Beck, “Black Cap,” 16 x 12 in.

So for example maybe we see an apple. We see the apple as very firm and bright red, and perhaps we see the air between ourselves and the apple, and we notice how ethereal the apple appears. Even its color tones seem to bounce and fit into its environment. Perhaps we see the apple in some literary or symbolic context, or we feel the need to see the exact “uniqueness” of that particular apple. Or maybe we need to see something about the apple that gives us a feeling of the universal “apple.” Maybe the apple is just a shape that is relating to other shapes in the scene in a particular way that appeals to the artist. Maybe an artist’s emotional, spiritual and/or intellectual fires are burning so intensely that the apple is just an excuse to capture the actual (inner-life) subject that the artist is dealing with.

still life paintings - Dan Beck, "Purple," 11 x 14 in.
Dan Beck, “Purple,” 11 x 14 in.

These are just a few examples of how different the visual world can appear from person to person—and I’ve only scratched the surface of possibility. All this mystery and wonderment and possibility is what gives birth to so many great and beautiful and interesting paintings done in so many different styles and approaches. I am a huge fan of artists who see and work in very different styles. And I want to stay open so that my painting reflects the interest and journey that I am on.

Paintings of geraniums
Dan Beck, “Geraniums,” 12 x 16 in.

Having established my need to stay open to possibilities as an artist and the freedom that comes with it, the next thing I need are tools that allow me to express my intent. In today’s art world there are so many schools of thought and rules to picture making that it can get confusing. I feel that I only have to learn what I need to learn in order to paint the paintings I am trying to paint. I think as artists we have to trust ourselves to know what is important to our pursuit and what is not.

figure paintings
Dan Beck, “Red Kimono,” 18 x 14 in.

My visual language will have a correlating vocabulary and I have a better chance of making my intent clear if my vocabulary is strong enough to get me on the right road. Like most artists I use line, shape, value, texture, color and edge. Everything I do will fit into one of these basic elements.

For example, behind a figure there may be a wall (shape) that I need to gradate. I could gradate it using value; i.e. from light to dark, or with color—warm to cool, grey to pure, etc., or both. I could also vary my texture from smooth to rough. My choices may be intuitive (for me, intuition—to get into a “zone,” is the best way to paint), or they may be more thought out. But I am aware of a certain vocabulary, contrast, rhythm, balance and harmony. I am aware of light situation, focal idea, and compositions—from big shape/value ideas to internal structure (how the shapes are dealt with.)

I need to know if I am approaching a subject more impressionistically or more naturalistically. Can I combine the two? How far can I push? And on and on. It’s easy to see why some great artists who have painted well into their 80s have expressed towards the end of their lives that they are just beginning to get the hang of it.

impressionist figure paintings
Dan Beck, “Back to Nature,” 2016, 20 x 10 in.

This artist life is surely an adventure. To constantly strive to get better at my craft as well as remain open to what I see and feel and think is an ongoing way of life. I am aware that no two people see the apple the same way, no two people see the stream the same way, no two people see the model the same way and no two people see the painting the same way.

And that sounds pretty fun to me.

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