Tuesday, June 16, 2009

En plein air workshop

I wanted to let everyone know I am conducting a 1-day plein air workshop this Saturday, June 20th. We will be meeting at the Chesterton Art Center in Chesterton, IN at 8 am and traveling to a nearby location from there and end the day around 4 pm. I will do a quick demo in the morning and discuss several aspects of painting outdoors. Then the students will be sent off to paint and I will teach in a more one on one fashion, addressing each student's individual needs and concerns.

Cost for the workshop is $50. For a supplies list and more information, please contact me at 219.241.1392 or through email at mark@vandervinnestudio.com.
This is always a fun time and I hope you can come join us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

ahn ple nare (or what's in a word?)

Talking with a friend the other day I mentioned painting en plein air. I pronounced it "en pline air" out of habit, and he questioned my pronunciation. He thought it was pronounced "en plane air". So I thought I would seek the truth out. Little did I know we were both wrong, and I am still trying to kick the habit of pronouncing it incorrectly. To hear it pronounced properly (in a wonderful French accent) visit this link.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?fwenpl01.wav=en plein air'

Which got me wondering why we use French words for so much art related stuff? En plein air, atelier, grisaille, giclée, trompe l'oeil, avant garde, art neaveau and art deco to name a few. Let's face it, most of these words describe ordinary things. It's not like "amore" or "raison d'ete" which have a deeper meaning to them than their English counter parts.

En plein air, literally translates to in open air. So "painting en plein air" is "painting in open air". I don't know about you, but I know I don't talk that way. Now, imagine simply telling a person you were outside when you painted it, instead of "en plein air". Would someone think less of the piece? Would it really sell for less than the value the artist or buyer has placed on it? Recently I heard someone calling it wilderness painting, which is nice, but doesn't capture the idea if you're painting in a city, suburb, small town or even on a farm. I've heard some artists use the term alla prima painting. While most plein ain air work is done alla prima (or all at once) it doesn't describe the act of painting on site. Also it's an Italian term, with premier coup being the French equivalent. So I guess we artists are not just prone to taking words from France, but Italy, too. Being of Dutch origins (though wholly American), I wonder if I can start using Dutch words to describe art related things. After all, we owe a lot to the Dutch painters, too. Op plaats means on site.

One of my personal favorite artspeak words is giclée.
According to Wikipedia, the word giclée is derived from the French language word "le gicleur" meaning "nozzle", or more specifically "gicler" meaning "to squirt, spurt, or spray." Imagine telling a client that the giclée print you just sold them was printed on an ink-jet printer? After all, that is what a giclée is: a recently invented name for the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. In the graphic design world, we simply call it digital printing. Off-set printing is probably the best form of printing but can be very expensive, especially for small runs, probably why artists don't use it often. Iris prints are a form of giclée, just printed specifically on an Iris printer. It still sounds nice, but doesn't hide the fact of what it is. So why the term giclée? To make it sound better than what it is?

And how about "atelier"? Another one of my favorites. it means an artist studio or workroom. Recently, though we seem to have changed the meaning. It is often
used as a shortened version of The Atelier Method which "is a form of private instruction in which an artist, usually a professional painter, works closely with a small number of students to progressively train them." (Wikipedia, again.) So basically, the word means art studio, but the new meaning is an art school founded and taught by one artist often out of his studio. Hmm? Does it make the artist sound more legit as an artist? More professional?

So why do we use these foreign words instead of our English language counterparts? Is it strictly a marketing tool to make something sound better than what it is? Like Jeep's "Trail Rated" — it doesn't mean anything, but is speaking to the target audience as a marketing communication tool. Or are we trying to mask what it really is?

My philosophy is simple. It's the KISS philosophy. I prefer to keep it real and simplify it as best as I can. So while I use some of these terms, I also find that I do what I can to explain what they really are. After all, if we are ashamed of what they really mean, we, as artists, shouldn't be using the terms. And, if we are trying to purposefully mislead people, then ethically we should be ashamed of ourselves.

The really funny thing is that after doing even more research I have discovered e
ven the word "art" is of French origin. So they invented art? Well, the Lascaux Caves are in southwestern France. And France has more Upper Palaeolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 BC) paintings than any other European country. So maybe they did invent art and that's why we use their language more than others to describe it.