The bigger questions
by Rogert Genn

September 7, 2010

Dear Rodney,Yesterday, Robert Isler Wanka of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada wrote, "I'd like to see 
my work move toward saying something about this century and our civilization. In 
other words, deeper considerations rather than just pretty pictures. With the 
sundering of science and religion I suppose it was only natural that art would 
remove itself from these as well. Is it possible that art may once again be 
employed to look at the bigger questions?"

Thanks, Robert. For everyone's interest, we've put some examples of your art at 
the top of the current clickback.

Robert, while there are a million directions you can take your art, there's the 
old tug between relatively neutral subject matter and the possibility of 
meaningful social comment. The international contemporary conceptual art world is 
currently dedicated to the latter proposition. Slicing up a cow, uterus and all, 
and putting her in formaldehyde and on display in the Tate Britain, talks to 
people about life, death, mistreatment of animals, public cruelty, vegetarianism, 
food sustainability and other of the "bigger questions."

This type of art is the legitimate end-result of the longing you mention. 

On the other hand, there will always be believers in the difficult business of 
painting well and delivering life-enhancing objects of beauty and personal 
passion. Further, popular collectorship will continue to find a need for 
landscapes, figures, florals and portraits. And while there are plenty of 
seriously dark concerns out and about these days, there is not much wrong with the 
sunny side. 

My own feeling, and it probably coincides with yours, is that works of art can be 
made in a respectful, craftsmanlike way, and still subtly tell a modern story 
that's not too sentimental, commonplace or banal. Art can indeed say something, 
and when you combine your craft with your better mind, great and lasting images 
are likely to arise. This, in a way, is our job description, and it's a tough one, 
especially these days when the visual arts are in competition with newer creative 
technologies like film and video. For those who take the challenge, there's a 
tangible reward that's right up there with science and religion. 

Best regards,


PS: "A painting doesn't have to have a profound meaning. It doesn't have to 'say' 
a word. We fall in love for simpler reasons." (Harley Brown) "A painting without a 
message is wallpaper." (Sam Adoquei)

Esoterica: The often unrequited longing for meaning is part of our territory. I 
encourage artists to give in to the impulse. Once, at a beach workshop where 
people were madly painting the scenery, a disgruntled fellow decided to dig some 
clams, shuck them and lay their nude bodies on a full sheet of weathered plywood 
in the design of the American Confederate flag. In the bright sun the art soon 
became offensive, and the local gulls had a feeding frenzy just like a major art 
gallery opening. "That felt good," said the ungruntled artist, who returned to 
his scenery painting with a new dedication.