Not to pick on any specific “How To” book on Making Journals, Scrapbooks, and Albums Beautiful, but this (see above) is the kind of craft project that is ruining a generation of art journalists. Besides instructions on how to splatter, carve, scrape, rip, applique, and glue all kinds of material (and paint) onto the blank pages, these books also invite journalers to add silverware, collage, threads, stamps, grommets, found objects, metallic doo-dads, and “encrustations” onto the prepared surfaces. Why? Why?
If the object of all this busy-ness is not to torture an innocent piece of paper then I don’t know what all this effort is about.
I don’t want to put any one’s hard work up here for ridicule so I’m not scanning in pictures of some of these “art” journals, but the results that I’ve seen of such over-wrought decoration reminds me of a criticism that the great Arthur Danto once leveled at the paintings of the superstar artist of the 1980s, Julian Schnabel. Danto said that Schnabel’s paintings had all the hallmarks of “serious” art: they were large, the paint showed evidence of furious brushstrokes, the subjects were iconic, and the titles were anguished; the visible effort (Schnabel was famous for embedding his canvases with broken dishes and for heaping on the paint like it was Play-Dough) convinced a lot of naive consumers that his art was important. But to a connoisseur, all that effort did not hide the fact that the work was cliche and silly.
Same with the current style of art journaling. The distressed pages, the bulky hand-made bindings, the layered text, the bleeds (especially the bleeds) all make the journals look artistic…but no amount of applied crap can hide lack of originality, individuality, and content.
So throw away all your Art Journal How To books. They are only good at showing you how to imitate art. What I want to show you, here in VivianWorld, is how to find The Real Thing.
I should know: when I was an expert at Christie’s auction house, most of my daily job was separating the fakes from the genuine article. Any antiques or decorative arts specialist sees a LOT of fakes in her line of work – some fakes can be quite good in theirown right and that can be kind of intriguing, but some stuff is just soooo bad that it was just insulting. In time, I ceased to be amazed that a person could mistake a strand of plastic Mardi Grasbeads for a pearl necklace (true story) and became plain disgusted. I wanted to yell at them (those people who dragged in hideous porcelain knick knacks, sloppy enamel jewelry, cheap knock-off objets) “Have a little self-respect! Stop settling for such crap!”
The next time you go into Home Depot (or Lowe’s, or your local home improvement center), you’ll find plenty of authentic art journal inspiration in the paint aisle. No, not the cans of paint: the free paint-color brochures that are there for the taking.
Paint companies spare no expense in producing these beautiful brochures — the photography is splendid and the production is lavish and the text is efficient and evocative. These brochures are not selling you paint: they are selling you mood, desire, fantasy. If you want to learn how to present a complex sense of yearning, recapture a delicate frame of mind, catalog a cherished memory, study how these paint companies do it.
I have before me a brochure for white paint, called “An Inspired Collection“. Besides the photographs of white objects and tastefully decorated rooms full of white walls and white-ish furniture, the brochure invites you to “open yourself to the possibilities of whites — the feeling of simplicity, openness, calm, elegance…”
And the brochure opens up to reveal paint chips: 28 shades of white. To show you cool whites and warm whites, “to help you choose the exact shade that speaks to you”. (Hey — it’s January; this is a good month to think of new names for all the colors of snow, as long as we are talking about shades of white: Ice Queen, Winter Silence, Deep Stillness, Hush, Dream of Rio de Janiero, Vanilla Frost, etc.)
Among the 28 shades of white in this brochure there’s Heirloom Lace, Adobe White, Navajo White, Glazed Pears, Featherstone, Pegasus, Ash Mist, Dogwood Blossom, Mountain Grey, Moonlit Snow, Sentimental, Rose Dust, Peach Linen, Silent Delight, etc. And that’s just the whites!
Now, I don’t for a minute think that every word in these brochures is totally sincere, but there are days when I need a boost to get out of a creative rut. Or I need help in switching my mind on. On those days, I thumb through my paint brochures and something– an especially weird shade of green, an intense blue hue, a rich tint of red, a sales pitch in the form of a koan (“the possibilities of white”, for example) — will flip a lightswitch in my brain and brighten some dark hidden corner where I can excavate something new, maybe even something surprising.
Inventive color, carefully chosen words, uncluttered presentation: these are things that you will also learn from a simple paint brochure. No gimmicks — no splatter, nothing scraped, ripped, appliqued, glued, mounted, punched, threaded, or encrusted. Just a nice, clean, focused message.
And that’s enough. In fact, it’s plenty.
The next lesson is on Thursday: Another January source of inspiration.