By Kristin Hoerth
“Art is more about the artist, not the subject that is depicted. Art is a voice to express ideas and how you feel about what’s happening in the world.” So says California painter Danny McCaw, who is the subject of this month’s Success Stories column. Lately he’s been working on a series of figurative paintings in which a faithful likeness of the subject matter is decidedly secondary in importance. He uses words like “elusive” and “thought-provoking” to describe these recent works.
I like Danny’s statement, and I agree with it in many ways. More than anything, though, it got me thinking about all the other things that art can be “about.” Sometimes, in fact, I think art really is purely about the subject that is depicted. Perhaps this is the case with an awe-inspiring landscape, like a Curt Walters painting of the Grand Canyon. Other times art can be primarily about the medium: Think of an oil painting that’s been done with a palette knife, leaving behind hard edges and furrows of paint that allow you to trace the movement of the artist’s hand (Louisa McElwain’s luscious landscapes come to mind). Or think of a stone sculpture that takes full advantage of the material’s natural colors and striations; Steve Kestrel’s wildlife sculptures carved from river stones are a perfect example.
And it doesn’t stop there. Any plein-air painter will confirm that art is always about the light and its effects on the landscape. For other artists it’s all about color. And I’m sure we’ve all seen paintings that are chiefly concerned with composition, that rely upon unconventional arrangements and placements of the subject to catch our eye.
Ultimately, though, I come back to Danny McCaw’s statement and its underlying truth. No matter what an artist chooses to concentrate on—an arresting subject, making the most of his or her medium, an artful composition—the resulting work always speaks volumes about the person who created it. No one else could have created the same piece the same way, because no one else saw the sunrise or the flower or the model’s expression with quite the same perspective. So I believe that above all, art is about an individual. It’s up to us as art appreciators and collectors to seek out those individuals whose particular perspectives strikes a chord with us and support their creative efforts. -September 2011