View Full Version : "Best of Pastel" - help me understand

07-28-2008, 10:00 PM
Okay, I know I'm terrible at having a critical eye. I keep trying to develop it, but so far seem to be still totally hopeless, like I have a "blind spot". The teacher of my weekend workshop let me borrow a book of hers, "The Best of Pastel". I've been enjoying looking at some wonderful works in the books. Christina, my current teacher, has 4 paintings in the book. Alex, my life-drawing teacher for two years, has 2 paintings in the book. So that makes it fun for me.

There are many different styles of course, from very loose to almost photographic. Interestingly I found there were many more paintings that I didn't particularly care for one way or the other than I loved. Though naturally there were some I loved too. There was one by Kitty Wallis called "Hot Tub #11" that I really loved (among others). But there were some I could not even imagine why they were in the book!

Obviously this is often a matter of personal taste. But there were several there that did not look like *pastel paintings* at all to me! At the very best they looked like *extremely* preliminary underpaintings. Truly, they looked like the first step that Christina demoed for us when talking about underpainting.

So I just want to show a couple here, no names, :lol:. But I really want to *understand*. WHY are these paintings among the Best of Pastels? What do they have that makes them among the *best*? I mean, IMHO (and very 'H' it is) I see far better things posted here every day on WC.

So here they are, among the "best of the best" - and I am trying to understand why.



Paula Ford
07-28-2008, 10:07 PM
Oh boy that's a loaded question. I feel the same way Debbie. Sometimes when I get the Pastel Journal, Southwest Art, Artist's Magazine I wonder "gosh, why would they put this stuff in here" when there are so many talented and gifted artists whose paintings are so absolutely beautiful.

I don't have an answer for you. Maybe the more experienced memebrs will shed some light.

07-28-2008, 10:34 PM
Yea, a loaded question, lol... I actually like them both:p ...
I have seen art that I wonder what is the point, but it is as they say, very subjective. Although with these two pieces, the color harmony, the shapes and contrasts are all pleasing to me. Another thought is that most(but not all) artists who have work of this nature displayed, also have traditional pieces to their credit. They can draw and paint, and have earned the "right" to be interpretive...but like you, that is just my opinion:wink2:

ps...I am by no means a photorealist, but not normally abstract in pastel, but one of the first Panpastels I did was published. Not my normal thing, but it was fun, and is very vague in subject matter:D . "Clouds Over the Blue Ridge"

07-28-2008, 11:14 PM
GREAT question, Debbie.
Each of us is one person with an opinion. I always view a "Best of" list of anything as a list of somebody's or a group of somebodies' opinions who have agreed upon the list contents and then went on to publish these contents whatever media they choose. Or, perhaps, "Best of" lists are actual award winners in shows throughout a calendar year and published together, again chosen by a few people's opinions. Or maybe a "Best of" collection is only from a group of people who all belong in one particular society but yet who all have different styles. Whatever the criteria for the collection, someone's personal opinion helped choose the work included. I don't know how that book is assembled via artwork choices but if you put together YOUR own "Best of" paintings in a book, you could publish it and put it out there and have just as many people agree with you, but again, just as many would not agree with your choices. Same as this "Best of" book you viewed.

I really do like these two pieces you've chosen to show....why? I like them for the wildness of the pastel on the surface, the texture, the shapes, the palette, the mood....doesn't matter if it's photorealistic or abstract or doesn't resemble anything at all and is just scratches on paper, just has to have life to me, to my eyes, it's movement and mood. I like all kinds of styles of art completely. I can't choose and probably won't ever choose one artistic style over another. I enjoy looking at markings of art materials on surfaces as well as the actual finished pictures of art. I like to imagine the brush, the hand movement, the thought process, the moment in time.... and this enjoyment has less to do with the finished painting and more with the experience I am imagining.

I think it's wonderful to be included in a book like "Best of Pastel" for the exposure but do I think that the artwork included is really the ultimate best of? No....I think there are many many many more people out there who could have been included IMHO but maybe they didn't enter their work for consideration, or maybe it didn't interest them this year, or ever. Who knows?
There I go, rambling again. Thanks for the thread. :)

07-28-2008, 11:56 PM
Well.... I happen to really love both of the examples...the range of colors, the values, the emotions they evoke in me.... they look like wonderful landscapes to me....now I LOVE things that are not too centered on 'photo realism'.... to me THAT is true ART... why make it look like you took a pic with a camera?

07-29-2008, 01:12 AM
I also like them including the one from Tressa for all the same reasons already mentioned. One thing I can say is from experiance, an artist in is late 70 and I were talking, I told him I didn't like abstract art because I didn't understand it, I didn't get it, He then told me did I know that all art work starts out as an abstract. I didn't believe him so i went home and looked it up and lo and behold I was wrong and He was right. Abstract is shape and form, and to me these have great shape and form, as well they have great color. This has help me to view the work of others from a different view point.

07-29-2008, 05:41 AM
Ooooo, loaded!!!! Mine-field...

Those two examples are near abstracts, or abstracted landscapes. Where details and forms are subtracted. (Original meaning of 'abstract', in art.) To me, it is often a distraction... :-) Abstraction is either a simplification, or a "complification", when it is not pure fabulation.

These are more in the realm of "less is more". Personally, I do love the colours of the first, while the second leaves me un-moved. Both are seemingly 'effortlessly' executed, and flow beautifully, thus obviously painted by someones who are masters -- or someones who had a good day whilst playing.

Tressa's is beautiful, and part of why I think so is because it is zoomed in on clouds, and my brain gets *happy* when it figures out what that pattern is. And the colours are gorgeous.

Most peoples brain function in the way that they seek to make sense out of the random, to find repetition in patterns, to find meaning in what is perceived. Therefore, the natural inclination for most is to like fairly representative art -- where you still can see clearly what it is a representation of. Doesn't have to be high realism -- just clear enough.

A fewer number of people love the intrigue, the unclear, the not spelled out. Take the first of your examples: is it a glowing lava-stream with smoky mist raising from it, or is it an autumn moore with gentle mist? Some people love the uncertaintly, and the opportunity to participate in the creation of the work by means of interpretation. Perfectly valid -- only less common.

And then you have the art-world, where there is a lot of 'politicking', where styles are in or out, where the different is 'avantgarde' and where dripped paint on a canvas on the floor can be hyped up to be regarded as the greatest work ever...

There often is no reason. Or, the reason might be that it is a very well known 'name' that has painted it.

Someone here on the pastel forum had a painting that was not accepted into a show, then entered it in another show and won! Which jury was right? My personal take is that the second jury was, as the work was great, in my opinion.

I guess the short answer is that those are included because some people will like them, and because the *names* have to be included, or because the editors want to show they have a broad educated taste. :-)

Charlie (who has a lots of Not Really Humble Opinions)

07-29-2008, 07:42 AM
I agree Charlie, the seemingly "effortless" application of shape and color;you hear lots of people say "my kid could do that", or "I can do much better than that",etc...but abstract art is more difficult to accomplish than some are led to believe. Part of that is the ability of the artist to be able to let it stand on it's on merit, rather than trying to make it into some "thing". It takes discipline and confidence to put your thought processes out there to be interpreted by the masses.
And just throwing some random splashes down may be art, but color theory, shape, masses; all of these things may be planned or accidental, and the really "grab yous" are usually not an accident.

I totally agree with Cindy re these books; they are put together by a group, committee, publishing editor, whatever, and are selected not only on merit, but personal observation and opinion. One can be as biased as possible, but our own thoughts do leak into our decisions, we can't help it.

Donna T
07-29-2008, 08:23 AM
A fewer number of people love the intrigue, the unclear, the not spelled out. Take the first of your examples: is it a glowing lava-stream with smoky mist raising from it, or is it an autumn moore with gentle mist? Some people love the uncertaintly, and the opportunity to participate in the creation of the work by means of interpretation. Perfectly valid -- only less common.

This basically describes me. As someone who is trying to break free from the bonds of realism I am drawn to these kinds of images. They look kind of abstract yet they are based on reality. I do feel like I can participate when I view them, and, depending on my mood at the time, I might see them differently from one viewing to the next. I would love to be able to paint so expressively some day. But I'm not there yet because I would have put vague cow shapes in at least one of these paintings, thus ruining the interpretive experience for someone else!


07-29-2008, 09:20 AM
Obviously this is often a matter of personal taste...I really want to *understand*. WHY are these paintings among the Best of Pastels? What do they have that makes them among the *best*? I mean, IMHO (and very 'H' it is) I see far better things posted here every day on WC.

So here they are, among the "best of the best" - and I am trying to understand why.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about it! It IS mainly a matter of personal taste. A painter's reputation also plays a part in how their work is judged. With more experience and knowledge, we are better able to evaluate and critique works of art, but whether we like it or not is very subjective. In has become very common in our times to judge artwork on how different or unique a piece is - in many cases for its "shock" value. I try to avoid such pieces, myself!

Trust your eye. It is probably as good as anyone else's.


07-29-2008, 12:37 PM
I am by no means a photorealist, but not normally abstract in pastel, but one of the first Panpastels I did was published. Not my normal thing, but it was fun, and is very vague in subject matter:D .

But Tressa, I *love* your painting. I think it's just fabulous. It fills my heart with joy. I certainly *don't* think that work needs to be photorealistic, or even extremely representational. Even in my own art I'd prefer to be *less* representational rather than more. There is plenty of fairly abstract art that I find powerful or moving in some way.

But I guess that's one reason art can be so subjective. Several of you have said that you like the two examples I posted here, and have explained why. Yet I just can't "see" it. Even with your explanations, and trying to look at them with your eyes, all I can do is scratch my head and say "huh?"

And of course a "best of" is only the opinion of the judges at the time. And I'm clearly not a judge! But if someone DID give me that power I would not have chosen these two works! But I probably might not have chosen some that are really ultra-photorealistic either, ad that does not "speak" to me in general either.

07-29-2008, 12:52 PM
The art world is something I will never understand! I am pretty much a traditional painter. I don't have to have a photo copy results, in fact I prefer not to have that look. But I will never understand the abstract world of art. I guess it is my lack of formal art education. I can appreciate it more now than years past, but still doesn't strike me as something I would enjoy. I am sure that those who really like the abstract world feel the same about the traditional artist of the world as well.

Great world we live in...we all get to decide what we do and do not like in the art world...hopefully we enter shows that have judges who can appreciate all styles of art.

There was once a quote inside an order box I received from Cheap Joes...Went something like this.

"I learned a long time ago that just because someone doesn't like my art doesn't mean they do not like me!"
"I learned a long time ago that just because someone does like my art doesn't mean they do like me!"

Pretty much sums it up in my book. For me it is about the journey...if my finished painting is attractive, well done and appreciated that is just a destination bonus.


07-29-2008, 03:31 PM

I noticed this and thought I'd add my thoughts. I do actually like the two paintings, because they are understated, but I don't know that I would select them to be included a 'best of' collection. I think what appeals to me from the first two images is that they are both almost like landscape abstracts because the landscape elements aren't really overly identified, so my brain does get engaged a bit trying to determine what I am looking at. The pastel application also appears to be done well - it doesn't seem to be tenative or labored. I prefer these types of images a lot more than images that look like the Thomas Kincade type where the leaf on every tree is painted and the subject matter is sort of maudlin. Just my opinion.

07-29-2008, 04:47 PM
I won't comment on the two works under discussion. But in defense of the book on the best of pastels. In all probably they wanted to show a variety of styles and they chose these two as the best of that particular style of painting. Neither do I have anything against photo realism. I have neither the skills nor patience to produce that kind of painting. I just don't think the artist has shown us his or her soul.
The worst miscariage in judging, in my opinion, was a featured artist in either American Artist Mag, or the Artist Mag. of about 10 or 15 years ago.
The magazine featured a pastel showing an oval rock leaning against an upright oval rock. Nothing special about the rocks or background. The painting was very flat. It was featured because It was judged to be the best pastel for the state of Pennsylvania that year. OMG what an appaling state of pastel art in Pennsylvania if that was the best.

Two years ago my state pastel society had an awards show. I was shocked by the pieces chosen for the awards at that show. There were magnificient pieces that were passed over (no I didn't feel I deserved anything) and the major awards were given to some miminalist pieces that were, in my opinion, nothing special. Third place wasn't too unreasonable but still no match for many of the passed over pieces. I looked up the work of the Judge after the show. It turned out that she was also a minimalist. I guess she was just rewarding her own kind.

No matter how objective a judge claims to be, they always bring in their own preferences.

07-29-2008, 04:48 PM
Well, I agree with you, Debbie! I think the first one would be critiqued with horrible composition, given that it is nearly divided in half. There is very little going on in the top half. I do like the shapes & colors in the bottom half. Made me wonder if it was printed upside down! Sky & rain, you know. I don't even know what to say about the second one! I said the same thing you did to my hubby yesterday, upon seeing the results of another art contest - any medium. Whatever, I guess there are lots of different opinions!

07-29-2008, 07:46 PM
i have also been really disappointed when getting a 'best of...' book or mag. also agree, i see some finalist and wonder, why on earth didnt' that get top!! if that didn't win, i havent' got a chance! then i study the big winner, and think geesh, was the judge sleeping??? i do not really care for either painting in the OP. i think the top one is too vague, but i do like the color and find it much more appealing than the second. sorry, but to me it looks like it was done on cheap paper by a novice. JMHO!!!!

i do not think everyone should or needs to paint realistic to be 'good'. there were some abstracts recently on ebay that if i weren't trying to save money to build and move our house, i'd of bid...i do not DO abstacts and have never really felt drawn to them, but that one, oh, was gorgeous!!!!!

i am not a real flower fan, but i can see if a flower painting is well done. to me, neither of the samples felt 'well done'. but this thread just shows how it happens...look at all the varied responses! good thread too.!