Painting contemporary realism and the path of being an artist
Contemporary Realism Spotlight: Finding Your Way
by Dina Brodsky
“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow … I learn by going where I have to go.” ~Theodore Roethke, The Waking
I have spent the first ten years of my life as a painter constantly feeling the need to catch up. At first, when I first picked up a brush as a freshman at UMass Amherst, I was catching up to my classmates who had been drawing since childhood. A few years later, attending the New York Academy of Art, it was catching up to a different set of classmates, who had been studying for longer than I had the kind of painting I was set on learning. After graduate school, I kept feeling the need to catch up, although what I was catching up to became less concrete and more elusive—my former professors, the old masters whose techniques I was studying, the contemporary artists whose work I admired and respected.
As a result of this feeling, I treated every day as a deadline, and was so focused on the technical aspects of painting that I never truly thought about content; the act of painting, the act of learning to do what I loved, was enough. As someone who needs complete and has somewhat obsessive concentration, as well as vast amounts of time to paint, I would forget to actually be present in the rest of my life—I needed to stick to the internal discipline I required to keep painting.
It was therefore somewhat of a shock to discover a few years ago that this process of “catching up” was no longer valid for me. There is still more to learn, and more to discover, and always will be, but the need to frantically catch up to something, or someone, who knew more than I did was artificial, and probably had been for a long time. There will always be someone who knows more, who paints better, and that is a good thing, that is what provides inspiration and the desire to improve. However, I found that the world will not collapse if I am painting eight hours a day rather than twelve, and I might actually get a chance to experience some of it.
It was at around this same time that my mind shifted from trying to figure out how to paint, to trying to figure out what to paint—the problem was no longer technique but content. As everyone who starts painting seriously knows, my desire to learn how to paint was so I could have the technical ability to express my thoughts. Strangely, however, after ten years of learning technique, I no longer remembered what thoughts I wanted to express.
It was a terrifying thing, this freedom to paint anything, and my first reaction to this freedom was to freeze up entirely. In response, I read a lot of fiction, went for a long-distance bike ride, stared at the wall and tried to think about ideas, about narrative, about purpose. And then I realized it is impossible to think your way out of a situation. You can, however, paint your way out of one.
I ended up with a painting of some ostriches wandering around in a post-apocalyptic fog. It got easier after that. I would paint every day, and eventually, without the constant pressure of self-imposed deadlines, I started to feel out the stories I wanted to tell—vaguely at first, then more clearly, as one painting would lead to another, and ideas would crystallize.
The surreal landscape the ostriches inhabited led to a body of work involving semi-imaginary landscapes based on Robert Frost’s poem, “Desert Places.” This organically morphed into a series of deteriorating, abandoned interiors inhabited only by birds. I would find inspiration for these paintings through the vacant buildings I happened upon during the course of long-distance bike rides.
In turn, this led to a series of miniature paintings tentatively entitled, “A Cycling Guide to Lilliput,” which combines my love of miniature painting and bicycle travel.
Editor’s Note: Read about Dina’s adventure and contemporary realism painting series at our sister site, FineArtConnoisseur.com.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had the kind of education that I did. It gave me a solid base from which to make the kind of paintings that are meaningful to me. I have also been incredibly fortunate to have found enough of an audience for my work that my love of impractical miniature paintings has become a valid, financially viable career.
One of the amazing things about painting is that part of the magic in it comes from not knowing exactly where you’re going, as when wandering through the fog you see a road clearly for a second. You decide to walk it despite being unable to see more than a few feet ahead, despite having no clue where it will lead, or what will happen next.
Learn more about contemporary realism paintings by Dina Brodsky at: www.dinabrodsky.com
The above article was originally written and published in 2013
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