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Labor of Art

Oil on Canvas Board - 24"x20"

Finished June 3, 1988


This was meant to be my definition of art. I determined that my definition of art was “When an individual creates order...blah, blah, a skilled manner that evokes an emotional response”. Ok, I can’t remember exactly what my 20-year-old self’s definition of art was verbatim, but I can discuss the thoughts that I brought forth in this painting.

This was my 74th oil painting. I had been painting in oils for four years, and it wasn’t until my 70th painting that my drawing was relatively weak, and my colors weren’t consistent and mostly muddied from over-mixing my paints. I credit three factors to getting out of my muddy period. First, I started painting in watercolors, realizing that one does not have to over-mix colors. Second, I’d gesso and paint in oils my clay sculptures, and in doing this, I didn’t have to shade and over-mix my colors since the sculpture’s form would provide all shadows naturally. And lastly, I started using much better synthetic brushes for the detail and bristles, mainly for the initial broad coverage of the canvas. 

I’ve created a temple or shrine to my beloved art. The structure has three steps symbolizing the periods for an artist: the early, the middle, and the late periods. I had enough self-awareness to sign my name on the first step since it was my early artistic period. There is a statue of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods and the god of communication. I thought that this was a great symbol to use since art is a form of communication. I also have examples of art: drama, sculpture, painting/painting, writing, architecture, photography, music, dance, and comedy. The scale represents that artists try to create order and understanding. The flags are meant to represent the different races.

At the base of the stairs is a globe with an inner fire burning that’s resting on the shoulders of Atlas with a heart underneath and the top portion of a human head representing the mind. This represents a sign displayed in one of my art classes: “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” ― Saint Francis of Assisi”. The fire represents an artist’s passion, and I chose Atlas since his holding up the heavens was a labor and a burden. 

Next to the temple, there are various examples of artists again. There is the architect, painter, architect, photographer, dancer, actor, comedian, musician, and singer.

In the background, there are several forms of communication (telephone poles, a satellite, a mailbox, and a radio tower). The moon is so significant has no meaning other than trying to add some symmetry to balance the temple’s dominance in the painting. I wanted to show how art can affect people by bringing together a family or different types of strangers. Also, I show how art can bridge together people who are separated geographically by showing land on both sides divided by ocean in the middle.

I wanted to separate the artist as children at the bottom by having the canvas curling up in the bottom right corner. Signs that these children will be future artists include: a child’s fascination with reading comic books, a child creating a building out a box, pan, cup, silverware, and sock, a child looking at a framed photo in amazement, a child dancing with her teddy bear, the musician is playing with a toy keyboard and more.

As a young artist, I tried to put as much as possible into this painting. I succeeded in some aspects and failed in others. However, every time I’ve picked up a paintbrush and smeared paint onto the canvas, I’ve learned something new about art and myself as well—every single time. When I fail to do so, then art will have lost its true meaning to me. And I hope that time never comes.

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