Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Applying for Graduate School

In choosing a graduate school in the visual arts I mentor students towards programs that I see them, and the direction of their work fitting into. In the discipline of ceramics it is my job as a professor to know the other programs available to my students, so I do have educated guidance in this step. In the fields of painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture, fibers, metalsmithing and wood I am not as well versed. But as a professor in music can have their main instrument be bass they may also know quite a bit about the amazing professor in trombone at another school.

I believe the first step in choosing a school should be the guidance of a professor who has worked closely with you, and has an understanding of your interests and goals. After that initial guidance I then I stress the importance of the student to do research in their chosen media and look at the professors who they would be working with. Seeing if their expertise may be of interest to them and if the professors’ work is exciting and dynamic to them. The perspective student might also be wise to look at the resume of the main person they wish to study under.

The other great avenue for research is finding out what the present and past graduate students are doing. Do the universities you are looking at mentor their graduates after the degree? How many past grads can you find out there in the professional world whether it is as professional artists, professors in academia or other career choices like directors of galleries, museums, or community art centers. Sorry for the cliche but as they say sometimes the proof is in the pudding.

Of course the importance of being prepared to apply to graduate school with a solid cohesive portfolio that shows good technical skills and work that exemplifies your best with a strong understanding of formalist issues, or utility and ergonomics, and or content is the most important part. There are several other issues that the perspective student must take into account with respect to the body of work they are using to apply to any given graduate program. Assistantships and even being accepted into a program is very competitive.

One other tool you need as an applicant is an personal statement about why you are making what your making. An artist statement is a difficult thing to write and there is really no one-way approach to this but there are some do’s and don’ts. I set up a blog that covers some information for my students and one blog entry was specifically on how to get started.


Many students in art have a real aversion to writing. But this is a necessity for you and there are people outside of the studio who can help. The writing center on your campus would be a great place to help with clarity and grammar. Of course any of your professors in art have used their artist statements as reflective tools for years and have had theirs evolve as they made advancements in their areas of research. So give your professors a try also as a starting point. In art we have a capstone class that teaches you some about artist statements and resumes. And in most of the upper division studio classes students are required to work on such statements.

“Why”, is the question you are answering when writing your statement. Maybe technical considerations can be worked into your statement but they really should be separate from why. The other tool is a strong cover letter related to why you are applying to that particular school. In your cover letter you should try and gently add your experience and knowledge about studio management and technical understandings of the media. Many assistantships in MFA programs have a technical component, such as running the kiln room or glaze lab. So technical knowledge should be addressed to show your assets, but the primary goal of your cover letter is to address why you think you would want to pursue your MFA at that school.

Receiving good letters is important to your application. Make sure the letters you request are from people who you have had quite a bit of contact with. For instance I had one student ask me to be a reference and I had only worked with him for one class. That would not be the best reference. I suggest that you have at least worked with the professor for a few upper division courses. Letters of recommendation could come from other sources from outside of academia but it is not suggested that they come from a place of employment that really would have no connection to what you are going to school for. For instance if you worked at Gallery One and you are apply for an MFA program that would be a good letter. But if you worked at a pizza joint that would not be a very good letter.

Visiting a school is sometimes putting the horse before the cart. I suggest applying to 3 to 4 schools and once accepted then visiting the school I believe is very important. In the visual arts some disciplines have a national conference once a year. It is really at these conferences that networking and an understanding of what kind of graduate program they offer comes together.

I also think it’s a good idea for students to think about setting up a blog where their artist statement, resume and images of their work can be viewed outside of the application. Sometimes this gives the professors reviewing their application a little more insight into their work. Using YouTube and linking videos to your blog can be another added bit of information for a perspective grad program. The following links are a few examples of my student’s bogs.




Monday, December 28, 2009

Vocabulary List
Basic Design 2
Introduction to three-dimensional design
Professor Stephen Robison

Abstract: Referring to art that simplifies, emphasizes, or distorts qualities of a real life image, often in order to present the essence of that image.

Abstract Expressionism: American art movement of the 1960s which synthesized European Modernism with America’s post-WWII social and cultural emergence. Characterized by bold expressionistic abstraction always communicating the actions of the artist in addition to any other narrative. Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline.

Academic Art: Term applied to any kind of art that uses established rules for technique and form organization.

Achromatic: Without color; characterized by black, white, and/or gray.

Activated Space: The space controlled or energized by a 3-D piece.

Additive Color Mixing: color mixing in light, where each additional color increases light energy, and all the combined colors give white light. See subtractive color mixing.

Additive Sculpture: Sculpture made by putting pieces together.

Allegorical: Using figure or emblem to stand for theme or idea.

Alignment: Arrangement along an axis.

Alternative Space: Non-traditional space used for exhibition of artwork.

Amorphous: Without definite form; lacking in structure.

Analogous Colors: Hues lying adjacent on the color wheel, often used together in color schemes.

Anthropomorphism: Giving human- or animal-like qualities to inanimate objects.

Applied Arts: The disciplines in which functional objects are created.

Applied Color: Color added to the surface, rather than the local color of the material itself.

Appropriation: the use of existing imagery not created by the artist in order to communicate a new idea.

Armature: A simple wood or wire inner skeleton providing support for modeling in a plastic material such as clay or wax.

Art Deco: Art movement in the early 20th century featuring machine-like forms and surfaces.

Art for Art's Sake: The essential credo of Modernism, implying that art need not serve to communicate a recognizable narrative, but can be made purely to enliven or activate a plane or space.

Art Nouveau: 19th century art movement featuring curvilinear design often featuring plant motifs.

Articulate: To connect or juxtapose shapes or forms logically.

Assemblage: A 3-D artwork made from found objects.

Asymmetrical Balance: Balance achieved by different visual elements which command similar visual emphasis.

Automatism: Closely associated with Surrealism, art which is created subjectively and/or randomly without imposition of the artist’s rational thought process.

Axis: A conceptual straight line indicated by the dominant linear concentration of shapes or forms in a group, or by implied direction of movement.

Avant Garde: French term meaning "out front," used in art in reference to conceptually innovative work.

Balance: Quality of stability and equilibrium controlled by location and emphasis of major parts of a design.

Bauhaus: Design school founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919, emphasizing clean, minimal design. Drew its inspiration from the philosophy of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement that there should be no distinction between fine arts and applied arts. Bauhaus was forced to close by Hitler and many of those involved emigrated to the U.S.

Biomorphic: Shapes and forms associated with those found in nature, non-linear. See organic.

Buoyancy: Impression of physical lightness or upward movement in a work.

Cantilever: An object which projects horizontally into space, supported at only one end.

Classical: Referring to the art and culture of ancient Greece or Rome; referring to any style of art in its period of maximum perfection; referring to art based on order and proportion rather than on expressiveness and emotion.

Closed Form: A relatively solid form with little negative space.

Color-Field Painting: 1950s movement emphasizing broad fields of color. See Post-Painterly Abstraction. Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland.

Color Vibration: Perceptual phenomenon of vibration or movement along the contact line between two highly-contrasting colors.

Color Wheel: In color theory, circular chart showing primary, secondary, complimentary colors.

Complimentary Colors: Colors opposite one another on the color wheel - red/green, orange/blue, yellow/purple.

Composition: The arrangement or structuring of various elements.

Conceptual Art: Works or events where idea is more important than visual form.

Confined Space: A spatial field with clearly defined enclosing boundaries.

Constructivism: The reduction of two or three-dimensional art to abstract geometrical essentials. An international style which gained its greatest momentum in 1920s Russia. Archipenko, Rodchenko, Tatlin, Gabo, Moholy-Nagy.

Content: The subject matter of a work, plus its intellectual, symbolic, spiritual, and/or narrative implications, as opposed to physical form.

Contour: The outline of an object.

Contrast: The interaction of areas dissimilar in color, value, shape, texture, size, etc.

Cool Colors: Hues in the green and blue range.

Cubism: An early 20th century art movement originating in France in 1907, characterized by reduction of realistic form to abstract planes, often portraying several views of an object at once. Divided into analytical cubism, abstracted om response to the actual form and surface of an object or scene, and synthetic cubism, invented from the imagination in order to create a composition (may still be objective). Picasso, Braque, Leger, Duchamp.

Curvilinear: Stressing use of curved lines, as opposed to rectilinear which stresses straight lines.

Dada; Dadaism: An international style of anti-rational, anti-aesthetic art which was very active from about 1915 to 1923, playing upon the absurd and inhumane environment of the post-WWI machine age. Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Frances Picabia, Beatrice Wood.

Deconstruction; Deconstructionism: The practice of interpreting meaning in a art by intellectually and philosophically dismantling image and meaning into component parts, systematically revealing hidden message or meaning.

Decorative: Art characterized primarily by pleasing appearance rather than strength of narrative; visual treatment that embellishes a surface.

Delineated Space: In 3-D works, negative space or unfilled areas described or delineated by positive shapes or filled areas.

Direction: The line (actual or implied) along which an object or element seems to be pointing or moving.

Directional Line or Shape: Line or shape with a clearly perceived sense of direction, guiding the viewer’s eye along a visual path.

Discordant Colors: Outmoded term referring to use of a color with those adjacent to its compliment (see complimentary colors). Once considered inappropriate, now often used for emphasis or attention.

Documentation: In contemporary art, the surviving documented record of a remote, inaccessible, or transitory art installation or a performance art event.

Dynamic Form: Form that conveys a sense of movement or change.
Earth Art or Environmental Art: Art movement beginning in the 1960s which rejected the commercialization of art while embracing ecological concerns, primarily in installation art involving the outdoor environment. Christo, Alice Aycock, Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Alan Sonfist.

Economy: Deletion of nonessential details to reveal the essence of a form.

Emphasis: Use of design elements to concentrate visual attention on particular areas or elements.

Environmental Art: see Earth Art.

Ergonomics: The study of how people relate physically to their living environment; the study of how to make manufactured products physically user-friendly.

Expressionism: Art that puts primary emphasis on the expression of emotional and psychological content. First emerged in late 19th and early 20th century with European artists like Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, James Ensor, Oskar Kokoshka, Kathe Kollwitz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Vassily Kandinsky, George Roualt.
Fabrication: Assembling and attaching of rigid materials in creation of sculptural form.

Figurative: Art that is representational rather than abstract; art representing human or animal forms.

Figure/Ground: Terms generally used in 2-D art, parallel to positive/negative space, referring to the relationship between foreground object(s) or element(s) as figure, and the background field or surrounding space or ground.

Fluxus: A 1960s art movement growing out of the Dada movement, emphasizing reexamination of the parameters of art, often with unconventional or absurd installation or performance art activities.

Focal Point: The primary area or point in a work to which the eye is drawn.

Folk Art: Art arising from rural folk traditions. Traditionally considered low art, but now a major component of mainstream art and outsider art.

Form: The volume and shape of a three-dimensional object, or the illusion of volume in a two-dimensional work; the overall physical aspects of a work, as opposed to its content.

Formal: Having to do with the design structure of a work without consideration of the content or recognizable subject matter.

Formalism: Theory or art that deals only with formal elements.

Found Objects: Objects or materials not created as art materials but used in a work of art.

Frontal: 3-D works which invite observation and appreciation primarily from one vantage point, as compared to half-round or full-round.

Full-Round - 3-D works which invite observation and appreciation from all directions.

Gestalt: The sum total effect of a work of art, combining the visual appearance, physical presence, objective narrative, and subjective psychological and emotional impact.

Gesture: Arrangements of design elements creating expressive or evocative association with movements and poses of the human figure.

Graffiti Art: Art movement beginning in 1970s inspired by New York City subway graffiti. In Italian, graffiti literally means scratches on the wall. Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lee Quinones.

Graphic Impact: Attention-getting quality of a work, often dependent on high-contrast color or value.

Ground: Background or surface upon which marks or shapes are created.

Grouping: In perception, the tendency to search for connections and similarities between objects in proximity. In design, the attempt to establish those connections and similarities which add to a coherent whole.

Half-Round: 3-D works which invite observation and attention within a 180-degree field of view.

Happening: Subcategory of Pop Art - early 1960s performance art events, primarily in New York City, involving interaction of artist and audience, addressing everyday life activities, and often incorporating multi-media effects.

Hard-Edge: Art characterized by clearly-defined sharp-edged lines and shapes.

High Art: Traditionally refers to "fine art" such as painting, sculpture, classical music, classical theater, etc.

High Relief: 3-D form rising considerably off a flat background.

Highlight: A point or area characterized by brightness of color, value, or direct reflected light.

Hue: The actual name of a color, such as red, orange, blue, etc.

Icon: Greek for "image." In historic art, sacred paintings of the Greek Orthodox Church. In contemporary terms, any art image or object expressing basic values of the culture; any art image or object that creates the impression of being expressive of basic values of a non-specific culture.

Iconic: Art having the quality of an icon.

Idealized: In art, attempting some imagined rather than actual level of perfection.

Illusion: Appearance that is contrary to fact.

Implied Line, Plane, Shape, or Form: Suggested to the eye but not actually present.

Installation: Artform arising in its modern form in the 1970s, featuring site-specific work that creates a complete ensemble or environment to be experienced by the viewer. Judy Pfaff, Terry Allen, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Jonathan Borofsky, Hans Haacke, Nam June Paik, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Bill Viola, Lucas Samaras, Edward Kienholz.

Intent: The central idea or problem that an artist or designer is trying to deal with.

Interior Form: The internal shape described by a hollow work of art.

Junk Sculpture: Assemblage fashioned from castoff products of our society, often mechanical or industrial debris. Appeared first in 1920s and 30s in Picasso, Braque, Julio Gonzales, Marcel Duchamp, and Kurt Schwitters. Gained momentum in 50s in Europe and America. Lee Bonticou, John Chamberlain, Eduardo Paolozzi, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, Jean Tinguely.

Juxtaposition: Adjacent placement of visual elements.

Kinetic Art: Two and three-dimensional artworks incorporating virtual or real movement. Pol Bury, Jean Tinguely, Alexander Calder, Yaacov Agam, George Rickey.

Kitsch: The tacky, low-art artifacts of everyday life, such as Eiffel Tower lamps, black velvet paintings of Elvis, lurid images on romance novels, hallmark iconography… The list is to long.

Line: That element of form that is primarily understood in terms of length and direction.

Linear: Consisting of or based upon lines or line-like divisions in space.
Local Color: The natural color of an object or material.

Low Art: Traditionally refers to common arts, popular arts, applied arts, folk art.

Low Relief: 3-D form that is only slightly raised from a flat background.

Luminosity: the actual or illusory effect of giving off light.

Machine Art: Aesthetic based on machine forms and imagery.

Maquette: A small-scale model of a large sculptural work.

Mass: Perceived weight or density of an object or area.

Media Art: American 1970s art movement emphasizing use of popular mass media in art expression. Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Chris Burden, Joseph Beuys, Guerilla Girls.

Minimalism, Minimal Art: Nonrepresentational art simplified to the maximum, using very few forms and colors. Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Robert Mangold.

Mixed Media: Combining several different media in one work.

Mobile: A word originally referring to the early work of Alexander Calder, now refers to any suspended kinetic artwork whose movement is powered by a natural force, usually wind.

Modernism: The widely diversified late 19th and early 20th century movement towards less objective or totally subjective art, characterized by the notion of art for art's sake.

Modeling: Shaping work from a pliable material such as clay.

Modifier: Something that changes the perceptual effect of form in space.

Modulation: Smooth transition or change.

Moire Effect: An illusionistic effect caused by close juxtaposition of high contrast lines or waves, overloading the optic nerve. See Op Art.

Monochromatic: Color scheme developed from tints and shades of a single hue; any color scheme emphasizing a very few closely related colors.

Monolithic: Characterized by a primary connected volume.

Motif: An element, frequently the theme of a work, which may be repeated or elaborated on.

Movement, Actual: real physical movement.

Movement, Implied: Abstraction of static realism to create the visual effect of movement in progress, as in Giacomo Balla's study of a walking dog, or Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase."

Movement, Optical: Effect of movement created in 2-D work by the graphic juxtaposition of abstract patterns of contrasting color or value. See Op Art, moire effect.

Movement, Pictorial: Movement depicted realistically in a completely static way - movement frozen in time, as in Degas' horse racing scenes or Gericault's paintings of mounted horsemen.

Movement, Virtual: Effect of movement created by three-dimensional raised layers of patterns or shapes which seem to move as the viewer moves by the work.

Multi-Media: Combination of visual art with popular arts media, such as television or recorded sound.

Multiculturalism: In art, the purposeful incorporation of influences or imagery from multiple cultures.

Multiples: 3-D artwork produced in multiples, either for greater visual/narrative impact, or for broader distribution. Jonathan Borofsky, Alexander Calder, John Chamberlain, Mark di Suvero, Marcel Duchamp, Ellsworth Kelly, Edward Kienholz, Isamu Noguchi, Claes Oldenburg, Man Ray, Victor Vasarely.

Naive Art: Art created by individuals lacking in formal training, but often obsessed or driven in the creation of their artwork. Grandma Moses, Simon Rodia, Howard Finster.

Narrative Art: Art in which the primary function is the narration of a specific message or story.

Negative Space: Open space penetrating openings and surrounding the outer contour of a shape or form; the ground in a figure-ground relationship. That space which is controlled or affected by a shape or form.

Neo-Dada: Revival of Dada, primarily in New York City beginning in 1950s, generally incorporating sense of paradox and ambiguity, challenging traditional expectations of art. Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Allan Kaprow, Edward Kienholz, Bruce Conner.

Neo-Expressionism: Art emerging in the 1980s closely allied to early 20th century expressionism. Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Jonathan Borofsky, Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Sue Coe, Eric Fischl, Nancy Graves, David Salle, Julian Schnabel.

Neo-Geo: The ultimate obscure 1980s art movement. No single defining characteristic. Ashley Bickerton, Jeff Koons.

Nonlinear: Art that emphasizes organic and/or painterly form and surface, minimizing hard-edged rectilinear form. .

Nonobjective Art: Having no readily identifiable resemblance to recognizable forms or objects.

Nonrepresentational: Art that features no overall recognizable object or scene.

Neutral: Color of very low saturation, approaching gray.

Objective: Referring to objects as they actually are.

Op Art: Style of nonobjective abstraction based on visual sensation known as optical movement, created by graphic juxtaposition of high-contrast abstract patterns, resulting in sensory overload to the optic nerve. See moire effect. Bridget Riley, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Larry Poons, Victor Vasarely, Yaacov Agam.

Opaque: Having the property of blocking all light.

Optical Color Mixing: Colors that occur as a result of visual perception, as along the contact line where two contrasting hues are juxtaposed.

Organic: Having a shape or form referential to biological structures; form emphasizing curved shapes and volumes with minimal angularity.

Outsider Art: Contemporary rt created outside the established traditions of art. Includes folk art and a variety of syntheses of non-mainstream art. The irony is that outsider art has become mainstream. Faith Ringold, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lee Quinones.

Painterly: Surfaces characterized by aggressive, nonlinear application of paint.

Patina: Surface finish composed of a thin transparent film, usually conveys a sense of age or use.

Pattern: A regularly repeating decorative design.

Performance Art: Vague category of art beginning in 1960s encompassing work where the primary feature is enactment before an audience, either directly or documented on video or movie film. Vito Acconci, Scott Burton, Laurie Anderson, Chris Burden, Gilbert & George.

Picture Plane: In 2-D art, the flat plane upon which the image actually exists. Any illusion of depth is said to exist beyond the picture plane.

Pigment: A powdered colorant that is the coloring ingredient for paint and other color media.

Planar: Characterized by juxtaposition of planes.

Plane: That element of form that can be described in two dimensions, predominantly characterized by surface.

Plastic: Any material that may be molded or shaped without adding or subtracting mass.

Pluralism: Art that combines different styles and/or movements.

Point: A real or conceptual mark indicating location but no specific direction or dimension.

Point of View: The distance or angle from which something is seen.

Polychrome; Polychromatic: Multicolor.

Pop Art: 1950s and 60s art movement drawing primary inspiration and imagery from the popular arts. Andy Warhol, Robert Arneson, Jim Dine, Richard Hamilton, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha.

Popular Arts: Radio, television, cinema, advertising, etc.

Positive Space, Area or Form: The parts of a design that are perceived as being shape or object; the figure in a figure-ground relationship. In 3-D work, that which occupies actual physical space.

Postmodernism: Direction in modern art beginning in the late 1960s involving a shift away from the formalism, optimism, and idealism of Modernism. Modernism specifically sought styles distant from traditional art, also often distant from the imagery and realities of everyday life. Postmodernism reinterprets the past in contemporary terms, reconnecting art and everyday reality, dissolving traditional categorical distinctions such as popular arts, low art, high art, naive art, and folk art.

Post-Painterly Abstraction: After the flurry of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s and 60s, a 1960s movement turning to clearly defined often geometric color-field painting. Gene Davis, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella.

Potential Energy: The stored energy implied by mass elevated into space, often involving the impression of impending falling or other movement.

Primary Axis: The major axis of a form or object, such as the spine in a human skeleton.

Primary Colors: In color theory, red, yellow, and blue - those colors from which all other colors can theoretically be mixed.

Primary Contour: the shape of the outermost extremity of a form.

Primitivism: The purposeful creation of art that displays primitive and/or tribal qualities. Early examples are Gauguin’s incorporation of Tahitian tribal imagery, and Picasso’s use of imagery from African tribal sculpture. The term is obsolete, because it generally involved tragic misinterpretation of tribal imagery, due largely to the post-colonial idealistic notion of the "noble savage."

Principles of Design: The unifying principles governing composition - variety, contrast, rhythm, repetition, balance, emphasis, economy, and proportion.

Process Art: Art emphasizing the means rather than the results. A process set in motion by the artist determines the end product. Joseph Beuys, Hans Haacke, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra.

Proportion: Comparative relationship of parts in terms of size, value, color, etc., independent of any specific measurement.

Proximity: Relative nearness of shapes and forms to each other.

Public Art: Art produced for and owned by the community. Often site-specific installation. Alice Aycock, Mary Miss, Joyce Kozloff, Isamu Noguchi, Claus Oldenburg, Albert Paley, Tony Smith, Richard Serra, Alan Sonfist, Mark di Suvero, Jackie Ferrara, Luis Jiminez.

Radial Balance: Balance in all directions around a central point.

Radiation: The quality of form which visually activates an area of space around it.

Readymades: A manufactured functional object from everyday life presented as a work of art for its unintended aesthetic qualities, as in the work of Dadaists Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray.

Realism: Visually accurate representation in art of known objects.

Rectilinear: Composed of straight lines, as opposed to curvilinear.

Regionalism: Art that emphasizes positive narrative content specific to a particular geographic region.

Referential: Having the property of resemblance to an identifiable object, idea, or emotion.

Relief: 3-D form rising from a 2-D surface.

Relief Sculpture: A sculptural work where the image is carved inward or built outward from a two-dimensional surface.

Repetition: Occurrence more than once. One of the basic unifying principles in design - can be repetition of shape, color, position, direction, etc.

Representational: Art that objectively represents things.

Rhythm: An arrangement of visual features in a measured sequence.

Saturation: The measure of brightness or intensity in a color.

Scale: Size of an object or the elements that compose it, in relation to the surroundings or the external world.

Secondary Colors: Colors achieved by mixing adjacent primary colors; orange, green, and purple.

Secondary Contours: Forms developed within the outer boundaries of a work.

Semiotics: The science which studies signs and symbols used in communication. Since the 1960s, an important way of interpreting visual art.

Shaped Canvas: In painting, an unconventionally-shaped 2-D canvas, or a 3-D object or surface which is used as a substrate for conventional painting media.

Signifier: A mark or symbol that communicates a concept or idea.

Simulation, Simulationism, Simulacrum: Beginning in 1980s, art which emphasizes appropriation of multiple objects or images form contemporary culture as a comment on the whole notion of originality. Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Allan McCollum.

Simultaneous Contrast: Exaggerated visual contrast resulting when two highly-contrasting colors are juxtaposed. See optical color mixing and color vibration.

Site-specific: referring to works designed for and installed in a specific location.

Social Realism: Beginning in 1920s, narrative art which addresses contemporary issues of social injustice or decay. Edward Hopper, Charles Burchfield, Reginald Marsh.

Space: Total area of design consideration; total area affected by a design.

Spatial Orientation: The physical relationship of an object to its surroundings.

Spatial Presence: Total field of space defined by a work, including activated space.

Stabile: Alexander Calder’s term for a free standing mobile.

Static Form: Without movement, implied or actual.

Subjectivity: Concern with the ideas, thoughts, or feelings of the artist rather than the external verifiable qualities of objectivity.

Subtractive Color Mixing: creating color with pigments, where added pigment results in a darker value, subtracting from reflected light. All colors combined give black.

Subtractive Sculpture: Creation of a sculpture by carving away from a large piece of material.

Surface: The planar areas of an objects which are exposed to the viewer.

Surrealism: Art based on dreamlike images from the subconscious.

Symbol: A figure or character signifying some concept, idea, or emotion beyond its visual appearance. See semiotics.

Symmetrical Balance: 2-D or 3-D form that is a mirror image on either side of a central axis.

Symmetry: Degree to which form and/or elements are arranged in mirror image on either side of a central axis. See symmetrical balance and asymmetrically balance.

Superrealism: Extremely accurate representation of actual 3-D objects.

Tactile: Appealing to the sense of touch, either actually or visually.

Temporal: Relating to change occurring over time.

Textural Field: A broad area with a unified texture.

Texture: The tactile aspect of surface, actual or implied.

Thermoplastic: material which becomes plastic with the application of heat.

Totem; Totemic: form composed of stacked parts that show visual or narrative distinction between the parts.

Topographic: Area of surface referencing a rise or fall in elevation. Relating to cartography. Representation of the surface features of a place or region on a map, indicating their relative positions and elevations. Can be used especially in relief work but also to study in the round objects and the figure.

Trompe L’Oeil: Literally, "fool the eye" in French - optical illusion which convinces us we are seeing actual form or space when it does not exist. Or in 3-d work the work is so real that it visually becomes the object it is intending to represent.

Transition: Area featuring contrast or change from one quality or appearance to another.

Unifier: A formal or narrative element which allows a viewer to visually or conceptually connect or group various components of an image or object.

Unity: Organization of parts, visual and conceptual, so that all contribute to a coherent whole.

Utilitarianist: An artist who creates objects that encompass conceptual concerns but who’s primary focus is on objects that also have a function related to a specific use.

Value: Relative degree of lightness or darkness.

Value Contrast: Juxtaposition of light and dark areas.

Value Pattern: The total overall pattern of lights and darks in an image or object.

Vertical Balance: Distribution of visual emphasis determining impression of lightness or heaviness in a work.

Visual Density: Concentration of visual elements activating a localized area.

Visual Texture: The illusion of texture on a 2-D or 3-D form.

Void: see negative space.

Volume: A containment of space enclosed or implied by points, lines, or planes.

Warm Colors: Those in the red, orange, and yellow range.

Zeitgeist: In German, "spirit of the time" or "what’s in the air." In art, the essential character, atmosphere, and expression of a particular situation or period. Also can be thought about as the bandwagon or what is in style.

Zzzzzzzzzzzz: What happens to the viewer if your work is boring.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Formal Concerns and Content Issues

Professor Stephen Robison

There are many issues to take into consideration when you are analyzing, planning out and creating a piece or a body of work. These are not rules that are followed, but these elements may be thought about as guidelines. The idea is the starting point. Not all formal concerns are reflective in a piece of art, nor are they all always a concern of the artist as he or she plans out and/or produces their work. However, both formal concerns and reflection on content are important in critically analyzing the work. Generally, most artists that are formally trained go through 2 and 3 dimensional design courses that introduce these formal concept and then sometimes become ingrained in their process of creating their work. But even untrained artists have many of these elements in their work. Sometimes the artist may not be purposely including formal concerns as they conceive their work, but as we critically analyze a piece of art, we can use these formal elements to dissect and explain the work on a formal level. Subjectively and objectively breaking down the content that the work holds, is also the substance in the analysis of the work.

First I want put out a few ideas relative to formal issues and then I will write briefly on content, concept development and the evolution of ones content.

The formal concerns or elements I want to analyze are color, craft, form, shape, space, volume, line, materialality, movement, proportion, scale, balance, weight, tactility, texture, surface and unity.

Within content issues I will include discourse revolving around art theory and craft theory.



Color is the property of objects or pigment to reflect light that is perceived as red, blue, green, or other shades.

Color is much more than what Sir Isaac Newton discovered. Within art, it is also the psychological response to color and what color can signify to people. Color is an expressive tool the artist uses to show the world how he or she sees the subject matter they represent or the feeling they are trying to express.

The psychological response to color can control, pacify, give discomfort or pleasure, make us feel warm or cold, can arouse us, scare us and effect our actions in a variety of other ways. This happens from day one, when someone may choose to paint their girl’s room pink or their boy’s room blue. This is in some way a form of brain washing or encoding and is a cultural use of color. The issues revolving around these colors in our culture relative to being a signifier for the sex of your child is not the same throughout the world. It actually seems to be a 20th century idea and was opposite before. Some say that pink used to be the signifier for a baby boy and blue was for girls. There is not a lot of evidence on this, but color in general was not used much as a signifier for gender before WWII, when people would generally dress infants in white. The point is that our perception is based on some sort of fashion choice and nothing reflective that is inherent in the chosen colors. However, color affects us on a day-to-day basis. In many schools and prisons a mint green is used on walls because some studies say it has a calming effects. Its analogous color, pink, is often used in holding cells for the very same reason. The studies say that the length of time an individual is exposed to pink is important to its control over the individual’s behavior. Over long periods of time pink can create agitation instead of a calming effect, this is why it is found in holding cells and not long-term prison cells. Pink has also been used in prisons for uniforms. The idea behind this is also one of a psychological use of color in that it causes an emasculating affect on the inmates. Psychological effects of color can fill several books and be the topic of thousands of studies and it has. But as culture changes with the rapidly shrinking world, so too can perceptions of what colors mean and how they affect us.

Here is a list of colors and some ideas on how they may affect us. Some of these word associations with color I am sure you will connect with and some you won’t. I would bet you could think of some word associations that that are not listed under a specific color. Color associations are sometimes internalized culturally and sometimes some studies say are physiological responses that are pretty much the same with humans in all cultures. However, I would argue that most are nurtured through cultural signifiers.

Red is a primary color that has green as its compliment and is at the extreme end of the visible spectrum.

The color has been said to increase pulse rate and breathing and causes blood pressure to rise. Infants respond to red well, if they are given a choice between a red toy and a blue toy they usually play with the red toy.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are stop, hot, passionate, urgent, danger, blood, devil, angry, enraged, amorous, sexy, communism, outspoken and optimistic.

Yellow is a primary color that has purple as its compliment and is between green and orange on the color wheel.

The color of yellow reflects a sunny disposition and the idealist. It takes more chemicals in the eye to see the color yellow. Yellow enhances concentration and speeds up metabolism. Yellow can have some negative effects -- babies cry more often and longer in yellow rooms; in convalescent homes it makes older people shake as it affects their minor motor movement.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are, yield, caution, coward, bright, bees and sun.

Blue is a primary color that has orange as its compliment and is between green and violet on the color wheel.

Blue is the number one color choice of the introspective and educated. Blue causes the brain to send off 11 chemical tranquilizers and is a wonderful calming color. But at the same time, it is also said to pump people up and is proven to increase energy. Weight lifters should lift in a blue room.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are responsibility, trustworthiness, compassion, honesty, integrity, righteous, puritanical, moral, severe, prudish, cool, melancholy, sad, glum, downcast, gloomy, unhappy, quality and first place.

Orange is a secondary color between yellow and red with its compliment being blue.

Orange is a color not many people like. Not often do you see people wearing orange, driving an orange car or painting their house orange. Those who do like orange are generally thought of as social.
Some words that come to mind related to the color are confident, creative, adventurous, social, Halloween.

Green is a secondary color and is between yellow and blue and has a compliment of red.

Light green for long term is said to have a calming effect and help with concentration. Green represents the god of fertility in Celtic religion, Mother Nature, money and means go.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are nature, health, generation, contentment, harmony, fresh, sick, unripe, immature, simple, jealousy, new, go and the movement that can fix the world’s problems.

Purple is a color having components of both red and blue and is the compliment of yellow.

Purple is the color inducing the impression of richness and reverence. The other side is instability and uneasiness, as some countries relate this color to death. If you use it as a pastel tint, it is said that purple can trigger soft, romantic feelings, soothing and sedative. Most men don’t like purple.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are royalty, intelligence, wealth, beauty, inspiration, sophistication, high rank, exalted, imperial, princely, excessively ornate, rhetoric, profane, death, shocking.

Pink is a color from light crimson to pale red and is a combination of red mixed with white; pink has a compliment of green.

Pink gives a feeling of being pampered and is used in jail holding cells to create a short term calming effect. It is hypothesized that Baker-Miller Pink, has a measurable and predictable effect on reducing physiological variables associated with aggression in subjects of normal intelligence. Pink is also a color used to treat patients suffering from headache disorders.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are femininity, sweetness, and communist.

Brown is a dark tertiary color with a yellowish or reddish hue. Mix a compliment with its primary and you will obtain a type of brown.

Solid, reliable brown is the color of earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are earth, natural, drab, tan, leather, coffee, chocolate, solid, sad, and genuine.

White- is a color without hue and is at the extreme end of the scale of grays and opposite to black.

White has strong meanings and many cultural. For instance white would be inappropriate to wear at a wedding in China for it is the color of mourning, which is of course the opposite in European cultures and in America.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are innocence, purity, virginal, sterility, fairness, snow, frost, milk, ghostly, blank, empty, transparent, honorable, dependable, auspicious, fortunate, harmless, light, reverence, purity, truth, peace, innocence, cleanliness, simplicity, security, humility, sterility, winter, coldness, surrender, fearfulness, unimaginative, fire, death in Eastern cultures, life, marriage in Western cultures, hope, bland, empty and celebration.

Gray – is a color between black and white.

Some studies say it is a good color for an office as it promotes productivity and stimulates creativity.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are neutral, ambiguous, intermediate, apathetic, dull, drab, monotonous, mature, sober, industry,somber, mousy, mediocrity and smoke.

Black- is a color lacking in hue or brightness and absorbs light without reflecting any hues composed in it.
Black can produce a feeling of solidarity and formality. It can be a color of authority and power but at the same time can imply submission.
Some words that come to mind related to the color are aloof, evil, death, unknown, fear, mystery, dark, night, sad, murky, sinful, inhuman, fiendish, devilish, infernal, monstrous, horrible, nefarious, treacherous, traitorous, villainous, depressing, somber, doleful, mournful, funereal, disastrous, calamitous, harmful, deliberate, pessimistic, dismal, hostile, threatening, wicked, disgrace, morbid, grotesque, undesirable, dangerous, and of course, Johnny Cash.

Studies on the physiological effects of color have never been all inclusive or conclusive. They are studies and not necessarily fact, but we all have to admit that certain colors affect us and certainly affect the way we see art. We could for example be hard pressed to see a dismal scene created with bright tones in yellow, or a joyous scene created in blacks and browns.
Other uses of color as a signifier are in front of us every day, such as red for stop, green for go and yellow for caution. Another use of color as a signifier is within tribal association and has a long time use as a communicator in this respect. From the Norse tribes to African and indigenous peoples of the Americas, color has a significant meaning within ritual and tradition. Present day tribal associations with color can also be found in gang representation such as the Crypts and the Bloods. Just as the psychological effects of color can fill several books, so have studies on color as a signifier.

Color Terminology
As in many others areas of knowledge, Color has its own set of terms which convey specific meaning and which may not always coincide with common usage of a term.

Hue is the traditional color “name”, such as red, which represents a specific wavelength of visible light. In most instances color and hue are used interchangeably even though they do not exactly mean the same thing or refer to the same phenomenon. The hues in the spectrum are traditionally listed as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. ROYGBIV is a common mnemonic for remembering the order of colored light in the spectrum. Black, white and the grays produced from them are not usually considered to be hues. The average eye can differentiate approximately 150 different hues.

Value is the gradations of light and dark on the surface of objects or the relative degree of lightness or darkness. Most colors are recognizable in a full range of values; e.g. we identify as a form of “red” everything from the palest pink to the darkest maroon. Even though we assign different names to the different values of red, we still know that they are derived from red. All hues have a normal value, the lightness or darkness of that hue as it appears in the spectrum. Yellow, for example, is a light-valued color while violet is a dark-valued color. As a result, there will be an uneven range of light or dark values for each hue.

Tint is the term used to describe a hue that has been lighted in value from its normal value. Pink is a tint of red. Tints are achieved by mixing white with a pigment or by using a pigment in a dilute form to allow for the white of the ground to show through.

Shade is the term used to describe a hue that has been darkened in value from its normal value. Maroon is a shade of red. Shades are achieved by mixing black with a pigment.
Intensity refers to the purity of a hue. Intensity is also known as Chroma or Saturation. The highest intensity or purity of a hue is the hue as it appears in the spectrum or on the color wheel. A hue reduced in intensity is called a Tone. A tone is a hue with reduced or dulled strength.

A tone of a hue is created in two ways:
1. By adding a neutral gray, equal in value to the hue. For example, a light gray added to yellow or a medium gray added to red or a dark gray added to violet.

2. By adding its complement. Tones that have their intensity reduced almost to the point of appearing gray are referred to as a Chromatic Gray.
Local Color refers to the natural hue/color of something independent of any lighting conditions. For example, the local color of a STOP sign is red, grass is green and the sky is blue.

Complementary Hue: In most color systems the complement of a hue is the hue directly opposite it on the color wheel. For example, in the Prang system green is the complement of red, yellow the complement of violet and orange the complement of blue. The dictionary defines “complement” as something that fills in or makes up what is lacking.

Primary Hues: These are red, blue and yellow in the Prang color system. They are referred to as primary because (theoretically) they cannot be made by mixing other hues and because other hues can (again in theory) be made by mixing two of the primaries together.

Secondary Hues: These are orange, green and violet in the Prang system. Each can be produced by mixing two primary hues together.

Tertiary Hues: These are hues intermediary between primary and secondary hues. These are usually named and mixed by combining adjacent primary and secondary hues; e.g. red-orange is the tertiary between red and orange.



Craft can be thought of as the skillful outcome of a technique or use of material and tools with a sense of professionalism and refinement. Not all art has a high quality of craft and it is not a necessity for the art to be critically analyzed in a positive light. The same can be said if the work is nothing more then being skillfully crafted, it will also not perform well when being critically analyzed for its merits conceptually.

The craft media much like fine art media can be broken down into specific materials used within the piece. The main craft media are ceramics, fibers, glass, metals and wood. The lines between the two disciplines (art and craft) have somewhat been obscured in the last few decades and I hasten to say have always been obscured before the very recent advent of the term “artist” as compared to the later adjective that referred to the maker as “craftsman”. Some of the best craft artists and movements throughout history and into the contemporary scene take into account the same formal concerns and address all content issues as fine art media artists do.

“Utilitarianists” are artists using craft media for work that also has a function of use. This work has one more added element or possible layer to the work, for instance a cup is also handled intimately and put to the lips during its alternate function of utility. For each purpose of utility within each individual media in craft, there are some parallel concerns such as ergonomics and the tactile qualities of the piece.

Non “utilitarianist” craft media artists who choose to focus on issues of addressing something with the figure or any other subject matter, do so just as a painter who uses oil, acrylic, encaustic, or any painting media or matrix or a sculptor who uses bronze, steel, stone, fiberglass or any other material that doesn’t fall into the craft media category. Within the contemporary art world, installation, site specific and performance pieces can also be found using a variety of media and often we find craft media imbedded in their work.

Although in the 1960’s there was some debate over “art verses craft”, in contemporary art today the dividing lines are not considered much. When analyzing both utilitarian and non-utilitarian craft pieces, we still rely on formal elements to dissect the work. But there is more and more of a movement to create an individual discourse that revolves around craft theory. Even though much of it is based on theory and conceptual issues related to art in general and may be somewhat redundant in purpose, there is one issue that comes up in this piece of writing and that is “anything can be art but not everything can be craft”. In craft theory this is accepted as true among most practitioners of the media. If there is new discourse and new theory it may revolve around “utilitarianist” concerns in relationship to mass produced products and individuals’ missions to give the public more of a grass roots connection to art and objects that are on a more accessible monetary level. John Ruskin talked about this issue with printmaking back in 1870. Crafts as a media have the ability to connect with more people of different economic backgrounds, just as Ruskin discussed the accessibility to art through printmaking in his “Lectures on Art”.

Some words and ideas to think about that may reference craft as the skill in making are smooth, polished, sanded, buffed, clean welds, solid stretchers, strong joints, clean joints, smoothed joints, hidden joints, embellished joints, dovetail or complicated joints, findings, sharp edges, rounded or smooth edges, precision, measure twice and cut once, process or the voice of the making is not evident or it is evident, voice of the material is used or materialality is not apparent.


Form, Shape, Space and Volume

These four elements often relate and reinforce each other.

Form - A three-dimensional volume or the illusion of a three-dimension volume. An edge can define the inside or outside of a perceived form.

Shape - A two-dimensional area or plane that may be organic or inorganic, geocentric, open or closed, natural or of human origin. A line can define the inside or outside edge of a shape.

Space - The emptiness or area between, around, above, below, or contained within objects. Shapes and forms are defined by the space around and within them, just as space is defined or inhabited by the shapes and forms within it.

Volume- The quantity of space a shape inhabits and/or contains or the size of the three-dimensional space enclosed within or occupied by an object.

Words and concepts that can relate to form, shape, space and volume are plane, placement, horizontal, vertical, rectangular, spherical, cubic, architectonic, figurative, abstract, representational, organic, natural, wabi sabi, solid, negative space, positive space, implied shape and implied form.



Line can be thought of as an identifiable path of a point moving in space. It can vary in width, direction, length and texture.

Line is used to define shape and allude to space and volume. Line can create perspective and control the composition within the framework of the piece. This is an element that is used in both 2 and 3 dimensional work.

The variety of line can be firm, solid, sketchy, variant, heavy, light, translucent, hesitant, zigzag, straight, hard, soft, directional, contouring, delineating, bisecting, segmenting, bordering, an edge, leading, broken line, gesture, calligraphic, fast line, slow line, wobbly line, ordered line, chaotic line, and it can be relative to brush or stylus, quality or load, like a dry brush, crayons or pastel.



Materialality is about the substance used to make things and its perceived and innate qualities. Issues related to it can be of formal and/or conceptual decisions. Many craft artists are dedicated to their media and materialality may play an important role in their goal for highly crafted work. Many artists who don’t work with craft media also find an affinity towards one media, for instance an oil painter may paint with acrylic sometimes but would choose to stick with oil for most of their work. The intrinsic value of a material along with the visual voice and the way an audience may view something are some issues revolving around materialality. An object made out of wood as compared to one made out of a precious metal is one way to look at what the material brings to the piece. So what are the materials an artist can work with? I would say anything. Here is a list of what I have seen art made from: human hair, human skin, animal skin, animal hair, toe nails and finger nails, fecal matter, urine, blood, semen, milk, wax, wood, gold, lead, silver, brass, bronze, steel, iron, chrome, clay, oil, gum, leaves, rocks, sand, water, ice, vegetables, meat, glass, styrofoam, plastic, fiberglass, reeds, mud, dirt, bubble wrap, card board, canvas, silk, linen, polyester, nylon, cotton, cement, plaster, gas, fire, air, paper, grass, rubber, gem stones, coal, earth minerals and synthetic pigments mixed with a catalyst such as oil, ceramic or glass, wheat and commercially made objects. I am sure I have missed a few here and you may think of other materials. The point is every material an artist uses has its own esthetic quality and also can have a conceptual relationship with the content of the work.

Certain properties or workability characteristics and inherent qualities of materials can be thought of as plastic or moldable, easily altered, hard, dense, opaque, transparent, translucent, ridged, brittle, fragile, castable, smelly, drippy, fabricated, found, altered, connection to natural world or man made, monetary value like silver gold, silk, and bronze.

Perceived qualities of a material can be both subjective and objective and also can parallel some of the inherent qualities. The audience of a piece of work may have opposite reactions and perceptions of the materialality that a piece of art uses. Some materials an artist may choose to work with such as semen, hair, blood or materials that may bring a level of disgust may not bring the same feelings to others viewing the work. Sometimes because they can look past what the material is and see the visual value and or conceptual value of the piece, and sometimes they may not view the material with the same stigma as another viewer may. When it comes to the monetary value of specific materials we can see judgments differ also. The value of little glass beads from France may be more valued than gold to some people in the past as we can see from indigenous peoples of this continent.



In art we have both literal movement as in kinetic, installation, performance and video work, but we also have the illusion of movement in static work. Color, texture, line and other formal elements can create a sense of movement. When the values in a work jump quickly from very high-key to very low-key, a feeling of movement can be created. When you want to create movement with color you can also use values of pure hues as well as those of tints and shades. Movement creates the illusion of action or physical change in position. Texture can reference a repetitive quality to something like snow, rain, waves or other movements in nature. The texture in Van Gogh’s wheat field talks of the movement of wind. Line can be used to create movement through undulation, direction, tension and weight of the line.

Rhythm can be used to create movement also. Rhythm is the use of repeated elements to create the illusion of movement. Visual rhythm is perceived through the eyes, and is created by repeated positive spaces separated by negative spaces. There are five basic types of rhythm: random, regular, alternating, flowing, and progressive.


Proportion, Scale, Balance and Weight

These four elements can also enforce or work off of each other.
Proportion - is the size relationship of one part to the whole and one part to another. Work that is concerned with exacting proportion or proportion askew or juxtaposed to other form in the piece or the space the piece inhabits are two basic ways proportion is used in a piece. Proportion relative to scale in reality or relative to other forms within the piece are also directions where proportion is used as a visual device. Tip Toland’s piece called “Inheritance” is a great example of this juxtaposition; in it you see the body of a young boy with the arms of a grown man. The piece may say many things to it’s audience, one meaning may be related to how a boy’s father dies and he has to then become the man of the house, much like filling your father’s shoes.

Scale – is the ratio representing the size of an object in relation to the object it represents or the extent or relative size of something related to its surroundings or another form or image within the composition. Size of the art object can change the piece and it’s meaning. Claus Oldenburg’s work plays one such concept related to scale, as he enlarges everyday objects to monumental scale. A large piece may command the space around it while a small piece may require a more intimate presentation. There once was an adage on “If you can’t make it good make it big”. The ideas of making maquets and doing preliminary drawings or thumbnails are relative to working out the piece before you make it in the scale you perceive the final piece to be.

Balance – can fall into two categories one being symmetrical and the other being asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is a composition where the main elements in the work are equal in volume and visual weight on all sides of the piece, which creates a sense of stability and solid nature in the piece. Asymmetry is a composition that has off balanced forms and lines that create a sense of tentativeness, instability and at times a precarious nature to the piece.

Weight – can refer to both the actual or physical weight and the visual weight of the piece or elements within the piece.
Physical weight can say something of why a chosen material is used and can be a part of the formal and conceptual framework of the piece. If it is heavy it can be so heavy as to be immoveable and it speaks of permanence; if it is heavy like a thick tea bowl it can be about the utility of a winter tea bowl and its ability to keep the liquid hot for a longer period of time; and if it is physically light it can speak of air, fragility, translucency, or the utility of a summer tea bowl allowing the tea to cool more quickly.
Visual weight can also be of a light or heavy quality. Visual weight that is of a light quality can be simple, quiet, delicate, refined, or translucent and are areas that can draw attention by their understated qualities. A heavy visual weight can be thought about as thick line, saturated color, high quantities of detail compacted in one area or dark forms or dark volumes. Generally speaking heavy forms, highly saturated color areas or busily detailed areas will also draw attention and at times seem to carry more visual weight than less saturated or visually simpler areas. The weight of a line through its thickness or variation in the line in 2 dimensional work and the use of undercuts that create shadow in three dimensional work are both ways to create visual weight within the use of line.


Tactile concerns generally fall under utilitarian considerations and relate to their audiences tactile experience and the intimate relationship their audience has with their work. This is a major focus for many potters, textile, wood, metal and other craft media “utilitarianists”. Tactile considerations are also addressed by installation and performance artists, who may invite the audience to interact with their work. Although the “utilitarianist” may be concerned with a tactile experience that is about comfort, other artists may be interested in discomfort or other possible feelings the piece generates when the audience comes in physical contact with the work and can be taken into account as a tactile experience. Again, generally this tactile element to the work would not be found in artists who deem themselves to be strictly “utilitarianists”. There is a dedication to this formal element among strict “utilitarianists”; their work must function in a pleasing way in reference to tactile concerns. However, their work may be discomforting through its imagery or the works conceptual concerns.


Texture and Surface

These two components of a piece can sometimes be related to tactile concerns also. They are elements that are relative to the quality of material, either actual (tactile) or visual. The qualities we could talk about with the actual or implied surface or texture could reference something we would interpret as soft, scratchy, representational or tromp l’oeil, repetitive, wabi sabi, machined, slimy, sticky, metallic, furry, electric, shiny, matt, transparent, layered and stratification. The surface and texture of an art object are the first things a person sees and therefore this fa├žade is an important area to consider in a piece.



This allows the viewer to see a combination of elements, principles, and media as a whole. Unity is created by harmony, simplicity, repetition, proximity and continuation. For example, you could use the repetition of a color scheme to unify a composition. Another way to unify a composition is to simplify the color scheme by allowing one color to dominate the work. This is called tonality. Tonality does not have to be monochromatic, however, the overall effect appears to be of one color.


The various issues and meanings or messages contained in a creative work as distinct from its appearance, form, or style, is one way to describe what we mean by content. Content is what the work is about, not how is it made or the breakdown of formal issues. What do you think about when you visually read the content of your work? Personal issues relative to sexual identity, sexual preference, racial identity, physical or verbal abuse, disease, addictions, political convictions and concerns, societal observation, referencing scientific observations, reiteration, interpretations and influences from the natural world, (from the obvious to the researched, within a more in depth investigation relative to scientific theory and or observations under the microscope, with the eye, or other sensory observation such as through the telescope or other tools that may expand our physical sensory capabilities or be developed in us physically), observation, interpretation or ideas derived from the machine, industrial, architectural, urban, suburban, or rural settings or situations, influence within allegory or metaphor, telling a full story, a short story or using linguistic or poetic devises such as simile or haiku, (only a few examples relative to allegory or metaphor), are all only a small possible list of examples where one finds content in art.

The vast variety of media in art also has a large and diverse array of content and conceptual concerns. Considering I am a Professor in Ceramics I would like to start out by addressing one aspect of within craft theory. Again remembering that craft as a media is as diverse in its ability to perform in any direction related to whatever content or conceptual idea that an artist wishes to focus on. I will first discuss some issues relevant to the “utilitarianist” agenda.

Content within utilitarian work can be found in all of the above along with a possible contemporary, historical, traditional or mission like philosophy rooted in the maker’s intention. Just like an artist in any media, intentions of the maker are sometimes tied to a movement or an individual concept on why they make their work. Even within their individual intentions they still may parallel to others within the media and are at times connected to the objects they choose to make. One concept may be to give to his or her audience an object that may or may not reference any other conceptual concerns, but primarily is focused on concepts that are rooted in day to day rituals of life and adding to those rituals by giving their audience an object that has been internalized with the touch of the hand and the thoughts of the maker on how to add to those every day rituals, (again possibly though formal concerns and conceptual ideologies). What are every day rituals that the “utilitarianist” can be addressing? I would say clothing, adorning or embellishing oneself, eating, drinking or cooking are some areas of reference for the “utilitarianists” work. These are every day rituals almost all humans have in common. The Bauhaus philosophy that said form follows function is a rooted concept in some “utilitarianists”. Other famous philosophies from Yanagi and Leach are also rooted in many ceramic “utilitarianists”. Yanagi’s book, “The Unknown Craftsman” is an excellent source of conceptual development within the concepts of today’s “utilitarianist”. It is also possible that a “utilitarianist” wants to give their audience an experience that is of an intimate quality and draws from the historical and contemporary sense of humanity encapsulated within the object. This may be a vague and far reaching possibility, but there are craft artists who feel strongly about this connection. The “utilitarianist” also may want his or her audience to gain from the experience something that they might not be able to obtain from a commercially produced product. One mission-like attitude that could be an agenda of a “utilitarianist” is one that goes against everything that a chain store stands for when they sell mass produced imported cheap products of utility that may only reflect a pop culture related trend or reference an esthetic of the mundane. Some examples of this are The Martha Stewart Collection or a drinking glass with a decal of the teenage musician of the day on it. Some “utilitarianists” also have a moral agenda to introduce a product that is not made in sweatshop by a 6-year-old girl; this kind of agenda certainly can be part of conceptual concerns any artist can have in their work. Primarily, quality of the tactile and ergonomics in the work are formal concerns, but there also can be a conceptual element to the work. One form that is used frequently in many of the craft media is that of the container. The idea of containment has been talked about past the pure sense of the word in reference to the utility of the piece. What the vessel contains in many other respects is reference in a variety of concepts such as containing a message visually about politics or other issues. This is a duality of function because the work is also physically able to contain either space or other material and still commands the space that envelops it. In history we see Moche and Greek pots that certainly reflect this issue. Many other cultures in history also have used the vehicle of the vessel as a platform for many conceptual or content issues, long before the canvas was used for the same issues. In the contemporary craft world we find this tradition continued and at times a platform for investigation. The “utilitarianists” in other craft media have similar tradition comparisons and more importantly similar contemporary directions that are utilized in their work.

Other issues where content in the work may lie are the concept of art for arts sake, pure formalist or modernist and post and post-post and post post-post-post philosophies. In further discussions we will briefly review content issues in minimalism, abstract expressionism, impressionism, realism and super realism, constructivist, site-specific work, performance, and installation work. Again, as a Ceramics professor I will use ceramic artists as examples in this discourse.
Preliminary Assignment for Critiques
Professor Robison

Being prepared for a critique is not just having your work ready to present, but also requires that you are ready to explain your work and ask your peers for constructive criticism and feedback on your work.

You are required to have a statement and a minimum of two questions written up for each critique. These will need to be photocopied or printed up from a computer. You will need to bring a copy for each student in the class and one for me.

1. Your statement will need to have a list of at least three goals you had at the start of the piece or pieces. These goals can be an ongoing and evolving list for the entire semester and should relate somewhat to your artist statement. The remainder of your statement needs to address the outcome of these goals and objectives, both in a positive ands negative manner. Basically what you think worked visually, formally, and technically and what you think did not work and what you need to do to make the next body of work more successful.

2. Your questions for the class and myself are to be well worded and thought-out.

a. Your first question needs to address technical issues related to hand building or throwing skills, surface treatments such as slips, glazes or room temperature patination, and firing issues.
b. Your second question needs to address either formal considerations, conceptual concerns or esthetic decisions.

Five areas to consider that may help when analyzing your own work or others work

1. Immediate Response
What are your immediate responses? These are what stand out first and are your instant gut reactions to the work. These responses to the work are not always the conceptual objective of the maker. This instant reaction to the work can be a visual hook or devise the maker uses to draw in his or her audience.

2. Objective Description
Objectively describe what is in front of you as if you were telling someone about it who cannot see the object.

3. Formal Matters
Formal critical feedback and compliments related to the presentation, material choice, composition, craftsmanship, line quality, color choice, surface texture, command of space, use of negative and positive space, size, weight (physical and visual), shape, scale, tactile qualities, and so on.

4. Allegory (the story it tells)
What is the meaning of the work? Does it tell a story? What is the title? What associations or connotations does the piece evoke? Try naming the piece with one word and then try naming the piece with a sentence or a paragraph.

5. The Piece in Reference to History and Contemporary Use of the Media
How does the work reflect or relate to the world in general? How does the work connect to other works within and outside of the media in the contemporary sense and historical sense?

Understanding the Word Critique and its Etymology

The words critique, critic, criticism, critical, and criterion all come to us from the Greek language. They refer to judging, analyzing, distinguishing and selecting. A professor sees a critique as a place for assessment and constructive evaluation. The assessment portion of the critique quite often is relative to criterion or parameters of an assignment or set goals by the artists themselves. Those parameters and goals are where critical analysis can start. What is it that the work was to express and how well did the artist get across his or her audience that said content? Constructive evaluation can be the remainder of the critique and can stem out of the successes and more importantly failures in the artist to get their point across about the esthetics, content, or formal concerns that their own individual goals or the parameters of the assignment were demanding of the piece along with reflections by the audience that may be not relative to what the makers intent.

One of the professors jobs is to break down the basic elements of the piece and give useful criticism that will offer the student possible solutions to possible deficiencies. These perceived problems in the work could relate to formal considerations and content. The professor’s job is also to bring an informed conglomeration of viewpoints that are coming from an educated and mature practitioner of the media and a well informed professional in the discipline of art. These viewpoints and type of feedback the student may obtain from the professor may or may not be the professor’s actual opinion and quite often are not opinions at all but informed observations of the world in which contemporary art operates. Some of this should also be the job of his or hers peers that are attending the critique.

There are many jobs that are the student’s responsibility, past the fact that they need to have the work ready for critique. The most important job of the student who is being critiqued and the students who are a part of the judging of the work is that they stay as objective as possible. To stay detached to some degree helps the student in the hot seat actually stay focused on either a defense of their work or be open to the possibilities of growth for their work. The last part of this statement is maybe the most important part of the student’s responsibility and that is to be open to the possibilities of growth and insight on the outcome and direction of their work. One job of the student is to realize that their peers and professors giving them feedback are there to help the student grow and not to hold them back from growth. With this the student must remember the professor holds a terminal degree in the subject they are teaching and has generally a broader sense of worldviews then most students do. Therefore the student may be challenge to think outside of their preconceived ideas on their work and their worldviews; this is one major area where growth occurs. Another job of the student is the necessity to take notes during this process. These notes will help with future reflection on the feedback given to them long after the critique session is over. Sometimes an issue the student being critiqued on is combative with their initial observations because they are in too much of a defensive posture, but some times something that a student is threatened by may later be an issue the student will embrace or agree with. This almost polar opposite change can only occur when they have notes to reflect on that are coming from an objective form of note taking. Detaching oneself from his or her own work is a difficulty that the individual must overcome. Putting yourself in the shoes of the audience is an important way to see the successes and failures of your work.

The critique itself needs to be looked at as one very small hurdle that is a constant in the student’s career. This hurdle is one way to move forward with your work, if you use it as an effective tool for growth and not look at it as a goal that your work is directed at. The critique is an ongoing process that will occur in a variety of ways outside of academia. But there is seldom an opportunity for an actual critique by your peers that has the same dynamics outside of your academic career. The initial judgments outside of academia will lie in competitive situations like gallery representation, job placement in the artists chosen field and juried shows (which should also be experienced over the course of the last few years of an undergraduates career and during the entire course of a students graduate studies). Critical feedback and judgment on the work may also be found in reviews of shows, articles on the artists work and other peer reviewed publications. Local newspaper articles are of course good as publicity artifacts but are not within the context of scholarly or a critical venue for feedback on the artists work. The level of review in a local newspaper is generally not relevant comparatively to a review by an art critic from the New York Times or News Week, or an article in Ceramics Monthly, American Craft, Sculpture Magazine or other reputable publications.
Monetary feedback is certainly an area where tangible representation of appreciation of an artists work can be seen. But monetary feedback is not necessarily a validation or critical evaluation of quality within the context of art. Nor is it relative within the context of critical thinking and evaluation of one’s work. It may be solely that the artist has created a product that is desirable to public and the content or even quality of craft in the work are not aspects that the artist’s audience is concerned about. This happens often in the fine art media and craft media.
Basics on Writing an Artist's Statement
An artist statement is a necessary tool for reflection and explanation of an artist’s work. It is a constantly evolving piece of literature. It is modified as your focus evolves and when you change the focus in your work. It is a tool to help others understand your work more and a tool that helps your work to evolve. Putting together and reflecting upon your own thoughts and goals with your work would is a great reason for working on your artist statement as a piece of writing that is always growing and changing.
An artist's statement is also a good marketing tool. People who like your work want to know more about why you make it. Offering your audience more ways to connect with you increases their understanding in what you do. An artist's statement builds a compelling bridge between you and your audience. For the buying public, the artist's statement provides a better understanding of the work and more reasons to take your work home.
Working on an artist's statement can be difficult when the artist doesn’t really know why they are making art or what they want to communicate with their work. It is very difficult when you are starting out in art. For intermediate and advanced students it is very important to start finding a direction of their own. Often when someone starts thinking about their first artist statement, they will say because I like to make things, I like to paint, I love clay and how it feels, because its fun and pretty much other very superficial reasons. These reason really get down to yes it is enjoyable to create something. But it is very important to get your thoughts down about what you want to accomplish with your work and why you chose a particular subject matter or direction with your work.
The idea of a subject matter or focus in your work is a real starting point. Why did you chose to make work that was of a political nature, what are your concerns, what have you researched in that particular direction, or what do you know about the natural world and how does this illuminate your expression of nature in your work. It basically does get down to why do you chose to do what you do. The content of your work can be extremely weak and hard to really write about. Many students start out with ideas that are not so mature or are somewhat sophomoric in a way. Sometimes these ideas need left behind for something of a more personal nature or a subject they can really reflect their feelings in, leaves them room for growth, and has many avenues of research.
When you start to write a statement, every thought you ever had about your work needs to be systematically scribbled down. Free writing is helpful, try and write in a way your don’t really care about spelling or grammar, you just let your mind go free and write thoughts about the subject you are interested in. Do not fake it or you will end up with insubstantial or flowery words that are not true to why you make your work or what your work is about.

Edit the writing and then do more research on some of those thoughts. Research your subject matter past the superficial layer and understand it from many other angles then you may presently understand it. It is important to use your own words. But at the same time it is wise to look at artist’s statements from others working in a similar vein as you. Other statements from a historian, scientist, philosopher or any other discipline that may relate to the content in your work, can add meat to the content of your own statement. Of course if you do site another professional within or outside the field of art you need to site your source and quote them properly. Maybe there are parallel ideas that are a part of your thoughts on the why of what you do in your work.
The Outcome of this Venture
Your ability to write an artist's statement will improve with practice. There will generally be no remnants of your first artist statement a year after you write it. Just as your work grows and changes, so will your artist's statement. Your ideas will grow and new ideas will be added to your thoughts and new subject matter for your writing and your art will also add to your enjoyments and excitement about the creation of your work.

An artist's statement is not a resume, or a historical summary of your work, a critique or a list of accomplishments. Nor is it how the work is made, however technical considerations and material choice may be part of your statement. But the main meat of the statement should be reflective of what your work is about. An artist's statement is a reflection on your work, a personal revelation about your work, a psychological bridge between you and your audience and helps to illuminate some of your concerns that may not be right on the surface layer of your work. It is somewhat of a back door to the work that allows you and your audience to look at it from a more informed perspective. Introspection is the main tool you will use to start your statement and also even more of an important tool for you to have your ideologies to continue to evolve, which in turn makes your work evolve.
So the main outcome may be not really be an outcome at all, but as I said a continuing process of growth for you and your work.
Teaching Philosophy by Stephen Robison

My aim is to direct students toward problem solving through creative research and critical discourse. Since there rarely is only one solution, I do not adhere to any single standard of style or content in my teaching; but strive to provide a wide base of information to encourage students to become free thinkers and find their own way of expressing ideas within the media. I urge ceramics majors to expose themselves to other disciplines inside and outside of art to help build on their visual and conceptual framework. Students are also encouraged to do their own research by visiting; artists' studios, museums, shows, the library, and attending workshops, conferences, and other organized field trips. I try and get at least one organized such event to happen each semester, for instance taking a group of students to a NCECA conference.

Teaching ceramics also requires structured assignments based around specific techniques (with formal, esthetic and conceptual outcomes), and technical projects or classes related to kiln building, glaze calculation and materials and effects. Technical projects and classes also need to address the safe use and handling of materials and equipment. I use frequent demonstrations, slide lectures, kiln building and glaze calculation projects, health and safety lectures on equipment and materials, reading assignments on philosophy and techniques, actual objects from my own collection and through museum and studio visits, and textbooks to instill part of that knowledge. I demonstrate techniques within hand building, mold making and throwing and relate the techniques to both contemporary and historical clay work. This opens up avenues to work with anatomical, architectural, natural form and utilitarian concepts. It also allows students the individual freedom to fully express themselves in both the sculptural and utilitarian aspects of ceramics on and off the wheel. Students are taught the technical skills and given the information necessary to form a foundation from which to make their own decisions about esthetics, concept and their preferable technique. In a recent article titled “Teaching After the End”, in the Fall 2005 issue of Art Journal, Daniel Joseph Martinez had been talking with David Levi Strauss about the continuing relevance of Joseph Beuys. He said that Beuys did not say, “ ‘ learn how to cut a piece of wood first.’ He said, ‘have an idea first.’ Once you’ve got an idea, the rest is simple.” I believe this to a degree and feel that with all the skill in the world you can become excellent at the crafting of an object, but without a strong concept you cannot craft an excellent piece. I also believe craft is not always a part of art. The idea of the piece, however, is not always the starting point. And a very important part of teaching which I beg to differ is not “simple” are the techniques that need to be learned. Through the execution of certain skills or techniques, one can develop an idea or concept. I believe that teaching someone how work with the clay on and off the wheel can be a springboard for a student to develop ideas. When they learn how to manipulate a material, they can then understand what can be done with that material. Within this philosophy a work ethic can also be instilled and a student can learn that nothing is more beneficial than the actual act of working with clay.

When students are exposed to what has been done with clay from contemporary artists such as Marilyn Levine’s work and other trompe l’oeil artists to the work of historical pots and sculpture and what is being done presently with installation, utilitarian, figurative and architectonic work, they are then exposed to the full scope of ceramics. They then have the capacity to develop ideas in any direction because they realize there is an unlimited potential with the media from scale to surface to color to concept. That is the initial direction I coax my students towards to find ideas, I do stress the most important question the student needs to ask when making their work is why they are creating it.

Regular sessions encouraging critical dialog about art, craft, philosophy, history, and current issues help students to create their own conceptual basis. Students must learn how to write an artist statement, resume, and learn how to document their work. Advanced students give presentations on contemporary artists that help them to express aesthetic ideas in both the spoken and written world. In this research they are exposed to several media such as Keynote or PowerPoint and most recently Podcasting their work. Advanced students are also expected to have goals set for entering shows and getting exposure to their work outside of academia. In this pursuit the advance student learns documentation, presentation and how to create a digital portfolio and areas on the web where they can archive that portfolio.

I also address professional options. Students are challenged with discussions about what they want to do with their degree; these topics start to enter my lectures around the beginning of the students’ third year. I help them determine what they need to prepare for graduate school application and other options such as residencies, workshops and apprenticeships to further the evolution of their work. When working with MFA students’ goals, I also direct them toward artist residency programs and apprenticeships but also help them put together a clean well-read job application. This kind of mentoring along with my dedication to each student’s development as artists, demonstrates my genuine concern for the future of each individual. I do not, however, have any sort of idealist notion that each individual student is driven enough to make it as a practitioner of the arts within the realm of education or the professional world of art.

I believe that my goal as an educator is to be a conduit of information for students to tap. With that said it is my responsibility to not only keep up on my own research as it pertains to my investigation into ceramics but also possible avenues that may help me direct students down their own road. My research and production of my own work and a constant show record; along with setting an example with a strong work ethic are also definitely major teaching tools. Students need to know that they need to be seriously dedicated and set goals for their careers as artists if they are to be successful.

Artist Statement
Stephen Robison

In my work I focus on vessel formats as platforms for utilitarian, conceptual and spatial investigations. I continue to have a focus on the strictly utilitarian. However, over the last few years one concept that has dominated my work incorporates forms and surfaces related to diatoms and viruses. This work is still meant to function as containers, pouring vessels or drinking vessels, but some of that function may be sacrificed for form and concept. Tactile considerations are still of importance in the utilitarian based work. However, form, surface and concept are my primary focus in this work. The forms and surfaces of some viruses and diatoms have been a great source for abstraction. What viruses can do for or do to our world is fascinating and frightening to me. Genetic virology is not always going to be understood by the viewer, but I don’t find that to be crucial for the work to be appreciated.

My direction in both sculpture and utilitarian ceramics both feed one another. Historical and contemporary use of visual language and utilitarian objects are two main sources for my research. Working within the context of sculpture along with the utility of ceramics allows me to communicate more than purely the use of the object and working outside of purely sculptural considerations I have the addition of utility and an intimate contact between the audience and the piece.

Objects of use and domesticity have a common language, which a large and diverse audience can appreciate and relate to. This may be the initial draw to my work but appreciation of the concepts and esthetics may seep into the viewer after further investigation. The sense of humanity that a well thought out handmade object can obtain is not found in objects that can be purchased at Wall Mart or produced by the machines of industry. Thoughts about the user of objects are often negated for practical reasons such as economic, shipping or durability, and this results in objects that have no life or value of their own but fit very well into our disposable society. Furthermore, the content that use to be in objects of utility has turned to nothing more then trite or kitch reflections of hallmark holiday tributes. I have a firm belief in the connection of the mind to the hand and the hand to the media. Like the lips to a read, technology can not replace or even come close to the sensitivity that the artists has with his or her material. A major intent of mine is to create tactile qualities in these objects that offer an intimate relationship with the user and provide the objects with an inherent value that gives them a life of their own. I cannot do this without my touch playing a part in the creation of the object. Generating a pleasurable and possibly a reflective experience when being used and viewed creates new challenges with each object made. Visual balance by using proportional perspectives, physical balance within the weight and pivot points of the piece along with tactile qualities are issues I address to achieve these goals.

Ultimately, I want my utilitarian objects to be used. This objective is for both my virus pieces and my strictly utilitarian work. With work that is firmly based in utility I still want an esthetic to prevail and at times I want conceptual concerns to also be inherent. It is almost more difficult to work within those restraints of a utilitarian piece because they are just that, restraints. Calligraphic work and textiles influence much of my utilitarian work. Using brushwork with slips and terra sigillata and the use of repetitive marks like a stitching pattern are reflective in much of my strictly utilitarian work.

Purely sculptural work for me still has parameters, so there are sort of rules when I work in that direction. I set those rules based not on an already prescribed vocabulary in the vernacular of the ceramic vessel, such as handle spout, foot, body, belly or neck. However parameters are still set by some prescribe formats that I have mentioned. For instance when I work with the landscape format I set a primarily horizontal restriction. In recent virus landscapes I have not gone to far out of the horizontal mode. In some that are still in the drawing stage I have worked out more vertical focal points. In an installation I am planning, one of the parameters will be the space it will be contained in. I like the word parameters rather then restrictions, it sounds more like a guideline not a set of exacting rules. In my work I do allow quite a bit of intuition and evolution to occur in the making of the piece, the firing of the piece and or reductive work or additive work after the first firing.

Technical Considerations

Presently I am working with porcelain and stoneware clay bodies. I am using a variety of techniques using slips, under glazes, terra sigillata, glazes and atmospheric effects to achieve my surfaces. I am primarily working with high fire temperatures and using some low temp techniques on top of the high fire surfaces and sometimes using sandblasting to achieve a surface. I have also returned to soda firing and wood firing, having just finished building a new wood kiln and finishing up a new soda kiln. The kiln quite often is the means to the end and using certain types of firing such as soda, salt and wood firing adds subtleties to the surface of the forms. I also have a slight problem with addiction to process and wood firing does have a slight hold on me, but I use the glaze and firing technique that best works with what I want the final outcome of the piece to be.

Building techniques are on and off the wheel. I use throwing, altering forms, slump molding, molds and other additive and subtractive techniques.