Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian followers! We had our turkey feast, complete with cranberries, gravy and of course, pumpkin pie, yesterday; and what a feast it was! In observance of the holiday, I'm taking the day off from painting. However, as I was looking around the studio this morning, this recent piece caught my eye and I realized I hadn't discussed it.
I called it The Magnificence of Something Subtle and the truth of the notion of the beauty of subtlety. There was, or is, to my surprise, an entire debate about subtlety in art and whether it's a good thing or not. I won't get into a complete review of the debate here, but the quick and dirty version is that those opposing subtlety see it as an outdated, somewhat hoity-toity notion, favouring the more in your face approach which seems to have come, at least in part, from the comedic movement. And then there are those who continue to favour subtlety as something potentially beautiful.
I, of course, lean much more toward the pro side. Let me explain. There is, first of all, absolutely a time and place for in your face bluntness. The confrontational is often necessary to shock us into seeing what's really there. Taking an example from film rather than fine art, take a Spike Lee movie, you can't really effectively get the idea of racism and the fact that it exists across without just putting it out there. Sometimes, it's just necessary to shock, to startle, to alarm in order to make people see and understand the things they don't want to face. As Dr. Phil would say, "you can't change what you don't acknowledge".
I have been quite direct and confronting in some of my work, when the piece and the message required it. Take for example my 2017 piece, "Meat", pictured here:
As you can see, it certainly is confronting and it really is in your face. It has to be. The point of the piece was to visually depict the present-day idea that there always has to be an "other", an enemy to rise against that isn't like us and that such a notion is patent garbage because, at the end of the day, when you strip us all of our skin, no matter what race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation or whatever, we are, we're all pretty much just meat. Subtlety, or as the older generation would say, pussy footing around, just doesn't work in this context.
However, in other contexts, subtlety is called for and is absolutely beautiful. There are times when we just don't want to be hit over the head. Some things are just more beautiful when nuanced a bit. Take for example a beautiful woman. She's much more attractive when she's slightly understated, soft makeup, flattering clothing that enhances her shape. Or take the written word, we'll use poetry as an example, you could say, "I feel like crap because you dumped me" and get your point across or you could say something like, "your warmth began to fade as a chill sets in upon my soul." One is blunt, somewhat inelegant and just not as melodic or enjoyable to read. The other, is, well, more poetic, it evokes imagery and gets your neurons firing. It's more subtle.
In painting, like poetry, subtlety is often more beautiful than the blunt. Take the piece above, for example. It's beauty is in the muted tones, the small blossoms, the gentle blurring of the lines. It just didn't want to be a loud brightly coloured "hey, look, we're flowers!" type of work.
Despite the debate, the truth is, as you can probably guess by now, is there's a place for both the blunt and the subtle in art and both are equally meritorious. The trick is in the honesty of the work and its creator. You just don't go out and say to yourself, "I'm painting an in your face piece", or conversely, "today, I'm painting subtle stuff." When you approach the canvas with preconceived notions like that, you'll come up with a piece that's empty, devoid of any emotional depth at all. Trust your gut and trust the paint, let it rip and you can't go wrong.