Get Your Facts First And Then Distort Them – Mark Twain Advises the Visual Artist

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Janis Joplin – Jacki Kellum – Watercolor

[For this painting of Janis Joplin, I didn’t have a photograph to follow. I combined several photos, a great deal of inspiration, and a tremendous amount of freedom.]

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Mark Twain

When I was in college, abstract expressionism was still a rage in much of the country.  I love it.  I love looking at good, abstract expressionistic work–like that of Hans Hofman–and I love DOING it.  Painting expressionistically just FEELS good.  Swish, Swipe, Splat!!!! Ah, BRAVURA FEELS good.  Yet, it frustrated me that few–if any got my drift.

Not long after college, I was in an art show; and I overheard these young boys [about 12-years-old] giggling about my work.  One said, she might as well paint the whole thing black and call it night.  That comment caused me to think.  While abstract expressionism is a wonderful cathartic, I am not sure that it actually communicates–at least not to many.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not entering the debate as to whether art has to communicate–I am just saying that it made me wonder if I was doing what I wanted to do. It also made me wonder if I really could draw things and paint things more realistically or if I was just trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

I began what has become my lifelong quest to satisfy both needs–my need for an expressionistic catharsis and my need to communicate to at least a few. This boils down to my need to be technically good enough that I can paint or draw something anyway that I want–without limitations.

Having taught art for many, many years, my philosophy has been that all art students should learn the technique of making things appear real–and then they should move beyond technique to the actual making of art.  Otherwise, we, as artists, might fall into the sham of abstracting images simply because we cannot draw them.

“All art students should learn the technique of making things appear real–and then they should move beyond technique to the actual making of art.  Otherwise, we, as artists, might fall into the sham of abstracting images simply because we cannot draw them.” –                                   Jacki Kellum

Abstraction is good–it is great.  My digital art is very abstract; and that is one reason that I love doing it.   I provide many clues in my digital art; and I believe that the meaning is not totally obscure.  Yet, I believe that even the digital artist should have a full arsenal of tools–a complete visual vocabulary–so that he/she can pick exactly the correct amount of abstraction or realism that is needed relevant to any situation.

As Mark Twain has advised us,

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” – Mark Twain

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