We want to be sure that it has that drama to it, that vividness to it, that focus, that cleanliness to it that is going to say something to you.
The words above from chef Thomas Keller, owner of the fabled French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, were in reference to food but I couldn’t help thinking that it was good advice for artists as well.
As an artist, you want your work to have a sense of drama that compels the viewer (or listener or reader or whoever it is that is taking in your work) to pause and ponder the work. This sense of drama tells the viewer that there is something beyond the surface if they only take the time to fully appreciate it.
The vividness is in the uniqueness of it, how quickly it reaches out with its essence and reaches its intended audience. I think of this as the work being a sort of beacon that is calling out. Sometime, I will go in a gallery or museum and there are things on the wall that just call out to me from a great distance away. It can be in the color or contrast or composition– something that just grabs my eye.
Focus is in the sense that all of the elements in the work come together in a harmony that pushes the central theme through. I think there is a lot of work that is quite well done but never fully comes together in a single message that comes through to the audience. I’m sure you’ve experienced work that you know is well done but just doesn’t seem to have much to say to you. It kind of leaves you cold. Focus, I believe, brings the work to life.
And there’s cleanliness. I don’t think Keller was speaking about the cleanliness of a sanitized kitchen in his quote. I think he was referring to the execution of the work– in his case food– so that all the elements of it sparkle and there is no distraction from what it is meant to be. There are no unnecessary flavors or embellishments. All excess has been pared away and there is a lightness and brightness to it.
Taken all together these qualities make for a delicious dish. But it doesn’t happen with every effort. There are days when finding one of these is difficult. Then there are days when they just emerge, seemingly without effort.
The example I’m putting forward that I think fulfills Keller’s requirements — you might not agree– is the painting at the top, a 10″ by 30″ canvas called The Bridging that is part of my show at the Principle Gallery, opening in a couple of weeks on June 3.
It was the first piece I looked at after reading Keller’s words and it just seemed to have that beacon effect on me. It was vivid and focused in it’s communication and there was a sense of drama to it. Plus, there was a sharpness in its look and finish that just made it very appetizing. ‘
If this were food, I would gladly eat it.
As I said, you might disagree. Our tastes in food and art may differ.
And that is just as it should be…