Recently I attended the International Association of Pastel Society's (IAPS) Fourteenth Biennial Convention in Albuquerque, NM ostensively called the "Biggest Pastel Party on the Planet".
This is the first pastel convention I've attended and it may be the last.
Whereas there were some highlights overall I was disappointed with the event. Primarily because the type of art I love the most wasn't being discussed.
When I studied with Nancy at the Masters' Atelier in Port Townsend, WA the goal was to be truthful about what I saw. To create something "as like" the thing I was seeing as possible. Sometimes that goal was a pain the in butt because the human eye sees so much, but the end results were always amazing and I love how my work looks. The other thing Nancy always emphasized was "why"--why are you making this painting? What story does it tell?
However, the current trend in pastel art seems to be towards fast, impressionistic, colorful works that are only loosely inspired by something observed in the natural world. The goal seems to be more about capturing a feeling through either gentle or aggressive abstraction.
As an example see below...on the left is the original photograph and on the right two different artist's depictions. These were completed in an hour during an event called "Dueling Artists". At the end of that hour both artists thought their works were finished.
Additionally there was no "why", no message, no story.
And I love stories!
For another example, here is the "Best In Show" 20" x 20" beautiful painting simply titled "Still Life with Imari" by Daniel Keys. In his description he says:
This piece is comprised of some treasured items that I've collected over the years. I love to gather such treasures for a complex still life composition and relish the opportunity to recreate all the color and light before me.
There is no doubt that this artist is very talented and I was drawn to this piece in the gallery. Many of the marks are raw pigment in blocks--i.e. more abstract. He expects the viewer to fill in the gaps -this is what I call a gentle abstraction--and it works but also feels blurry to me. And there is no story--just a random collection of items the artist liked.
The four days I attended IAPS included two day-long workshops held in a small room with 20 artists and four demonstrations (two or three hours each) in the dark (see photo above) with up to 50 artists, I learned a few tips here but came away with more frustration than anything else.
Much of what they talked about is in direct conflict with the art fundamentals I learned at the atelier. For them size didn't matter--make the mountain bigger if it is important to you. Creating accurate shapes didn't matter--just capture the idea of a leaf with a "s" stroke. Careful observation of color didn't matter--pick a pastel color close to what you see and use one stoke--no blending or mixing necessary.
Thankfully the "Candy Story" or vendor hall was interesting with pastels, papers, and accessories for sale. I came home some new paper to try out and a new wooden backpacker travel pastel box/easel by Edgmon Art in Arkansas which is a woman-owned business. In fact, the woman who designed and builds the boxes was there and autographed the one I purchased after we shared a big hug. The design of the box/easel is elegant and beautiful and I'm looking forward to getting out in the field for some landscape sketches and being able to travel easily with my pastels.
Additionally I felt out of place as an individual. Many of the IAPS attendees seemed to be female retirees over 70 who picked up pastels as a hobby whereas most of the instructors were a bit younger and a mix of men and women. From what I saw, the focus was on making "pretty" art--no one talked about creating thought-provoking art or using art to start a difficult conversation, both of which feels like important role for art in our society to me.
Overall it feels like I'm having a very hard time finding my "art tribe".
Upon reflection though, at least it was nice to spend a few days with people who care about creating art.