Doggie at the Beach and an Aesthetic Musing

Newberry, Doggie at the Beach, 2020, oil on panel, 9x12"

Just finished this. Taking a little one week break, perhaps two, from painting on Model in the Studio, I am revisiting some small plein air paintings. A departure for me is that I painted in this dog into the landscape. Artistically I love what it did to the composition, creating a “<” axis from the highlighted glimmer to the dog, then to the bottom right corner. I also love the mood of it. In the past I have rejected doing animals because humanity is at the forefront of my mind. I love my dog, Frida, and she loves me, but she doesn’t even glance at my art. :(

Some very interesting aesthetic problems with philosophical implications are the size of the subject in relation to the canvas and what that subject is. I know this sounds highbrow but bear with me, or at least indulge me to share the kind of thing I think about when painting. Most of my definitive works feature humans and their size dominates the canvas–they feature prominently in the painting’s universe. Landscapes serve well as a back drop for human activity, or when it is just a landscape there is an implication that we as humans are looking at it through a window of our beautiful home, or a view from a hike, or day at the beach. Though, if you take a naked landscape literally, with no humans present, it could imply that humankind does not exist–a very interesting rabbit hole to go down. There are also the cases of massive landscapes with tiny itty-bitty people implying that humanity is insignificant to the awesomeness of the universe. But seriously, if there are no humans or aliens, the concept of a caring or meaningful existence simply wouldn’t exist. My conclusion is that humans are top dogs when it comes to the humanities and to our psychology.

Many friends have asked me if I have painted Frida, which so far is a “no.” I just can’t bring myself to do a dog portrait (though I did one as an 18-year old for a fraternity brother as a fine art major). It feels like I would be elevating them above humanity. But with this new mini series with smally painted animals accenting the comparatively larger landscapes, it definitely feels like a massive “YES!” It makes sense to me that animals figure in our universe but do not rise up to the stature of humanities uniqueness, which art, philosophy, language, politics, and spirituality matter. So it is official!–I have lifted the animal embargo and now feel free to paint animals as long as they are tiny enough not to upsurge humanity.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 3/1/2020

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this, you must have some interesting ones.

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