Thursday, January 29, 2009

New at the ArtHouse Cafe- Writings by Gretchen Kuntz De Stefano

Tell Me Baby; What’s Your Story?

I am convinced we all have a story. Most of us have shared excerpts of our lives in numerous ways. We tell our tragedies, victories, and fantasies to close friends over cups of mediocre coffee. We reconnect with relatives catching up at tedious family reunions. Our co-workers go off on monologues of current fiascos and we interrupt with empathic renditions of our own.

These stories, reflections, accounts are our way of communicating our life’s meaning. We want to confirm our being, our existence chronicled some way. Some of us are great story-tellers. The listener can tear up at our latest disappointment by our inflection and tone. They can delight with us in humor as we relay our klutzy behavior at a cocktail party or convey how the piece of spinach remained coating our front teeth while flirting at a bar.

The extrovert shares a lot of these antidotes, usually unsolicited. It’s easy to know where they are in life, who they love, how they will bring misery to a foe, or how, when having too many Alabama Slammers, they grabbed the band’s mic and sang “We are Family” at Cousin Marcy’s reception. Of course, it can reach the TMI (too much information) zone. Daily play-by-plays of little Billy’s high scoring at all the soccer games, remodeling plans that involve intricate ceramic tile details, and the foot fungus that plagues them, backed up with visual evidence!

Most of us have experienced the dreaded holiday letter summarizing, in 1,000 words or less, a year’s worth of triumphs and challenges. Mostly triumphs, however. The dream job, vacation of a lifetime...blah, blah. Disgusted or enthralled, we read on and take in another’s words and voice, putting another notch in the timeline and draw our own conclusions of the writer’s intent.

We are not all outspoken, of course. The introvert is journaling in a well-worn spiral notebook from his/her bedside table. A day in the life inked on the paper noting habits, disgraces, and small accomplishments. Forever in print, the realness of their journey takes meaning. Maybe even a hidden desire that someone, in a distant future, will stumble across their memoir and give proclamation to their earthly stint.

The ways of communicating our lives are endless. Texting, e-mailing, blogging, and web pages dedicated to our spaces and our faces are now our tools. Cheers to the person who still sees the charm in archaic ink and parchment! We are still seeking the same age-old result; to tell our story, to have another hear, take interest, and, above all, agree we exist.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On The Menu At The ArtHouse Cafe

Well, here's my first food feature (this is a cafe, afterall!) Now, I don't know about you, but I am always on the lookout for the perfect brownie. It's one of my favorite desserts; it can be casual with a tall glass of cold milk, or sophisticated with a steamy hot espresso-YUM! Here's a recipe I found in a great cookbook called "Ten-All the Foods We Love...and 10 Recipes for Each", by Sheila Lukins, and its actually from a Brooklyn, NY bakery aptly named Baked. ENJOY!!

Brooklyn Brownies

3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan

3/4 tsp instant espresso powder

5 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

3/4 c granulated sugar

1/4 c packed light brown sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla etract

3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 in.x 8in. baking pan. Line the pan with wax or parchment paper, then butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together in a medium size bowl; set aside.

3. Combine the butter and espresso powder in a large heavy saucepan. Place the pan over low heat and stir until the butter has melted. Add the chocolate and stir constantly until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add both sugars, stirring until well combined.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the chocolate mixture. Then add the vanilla and continue stirring until it is well incorporated and the mixture no longer appears grainy.

5. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, stirring until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, if using.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the top with a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 28-30 minutes. Be sure not to overbake the brownie.

7. Let the brownie cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Carefully remove from the pan and peel off the wax paper, cut into 9 squares. Store the brownies, covered with wax paper, in a tightly covered tin in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are You an Objective Observer? (How Do You Connect To Art?- part two)

In my last post I talked about narrative being an obstacle in fully appreciating a piece of art. Speaking as a painter, if I write about a painting I've done, I am, in a sense influencing you to see the piece as I see it. Should I want to do that? Clyfford Still refused to even title his paintings because he did not want to influence the viewer. He even forbade anyone from writing about his work, which stemmed, in part, from his contempt for art critics, but again, he wanted the viewer to be free to interpret his work. You may think to yourself, "but you painted it, I want to know what it means, and I want to hear your explanation". But I think an artist's life experiences have more value in "explaining" their work than even anything they themselves would write. Our own life experiences allow us to empathize, love, hate, and sympathize with others, and ultimately that serves to connect us in some way. So does an artist's character, personality, life have any bearing on how you connect to their work? Is it possible to separate the artist from the art and be a purely objective viewer? My gut reaction is no, because when someone creates something, be it a painting, sculpture, a book- whatever, a piece of them is in that creation. It's a very personal, courageous way to speak. When you feel yourself drawn to a particular painting, you naturally want to know more about the artist- that's just human nature. For example, the notion of the "tortured artist" is very intriguing, and perhaps it does influence us on some level. Does knowing that an artist suffered from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or some other physical ailment make their work more interesting than the work of a happily married housewife? Perhaps. I think it may depend in part on what you identify with, or what you are drawn to. According to Tom Ludwig (whose article I referred to in the previous post) we need to be objective when viewing art. But let me play devil's advocate here: is it really possible?

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Do You Connect To Art?

I recently read an article by Tom Ludwig entitled "The importance of flatness and self-containment in the visual arts". Quite a long essay, but he addressed some very important points about the relationship between the artist and viewer, the role of the critic, new expectations that have been placed upon the artist, what we should expect from the visual arts and how these factors influence how we connect to art. I must quote Tom Ludwig's opening sentence, because it sums up what I feel has been lost in contemporary times. He states, "In the best art, the image triumphs over the narrative; the visual triumphs over the cerebral." As artists, (and I'm not speaking soley about visual artists, because I imagine musicians face the same expectations as well), it seems that the image (or the piece of music) is no longer enough- it seems like connecting to a work of art purely on an emotional level no longer suffices. As a visual artist, I am expected to write an "artist's statement"-an explanation of what influences my work, what I am exploring through my work, why I paint the way I paint, what that says about my work....(you get the picture). I'm fine with that-it's kind of an introduction to me and to my work. But I think that's where the "narrative" should stop. Because now, a great deal of importance is placed on an explanation of each individual painting. The end product isn't permitted to speak for itself, now we need to explain all the reasons we had for creating the piece in the first place and what we are trying to say, why we chose red paint over blue paint, etc. all to aid the viewer in connecting to the work itself. WHAT? In this case, words just get in the way. To be honest, sometimes I'm not trying to say anything, and I don't have a particular reason for painting a certain piece other than I just felt like it. Of course, something obviously inspired me to paint a particular piece, but as the person looking at the painting do you really need a written explanation about all that in order to fully appreciate it? I don't think the viewer is being given much credit here. Aside from the fact that I painted the piece, leave me out of it. Just look at the painting and let it say to you whatever it wants to say. Connect to it on whatever level your emotions guide you to. Isn't that the true role of art? There's so much that can be debated about this topic, I may have to continue in another post, but in the mean time-what do you think?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Abstract Expressionism

I recently read an article in the latest issue of ArtNews about Clyfford Still, the Abstract Expressionist painter and it got me thinking about that movement as a whole. Now, I have to admit, that Abstract Expressionism was never a movement that particularly interested me (from a stylistic perspective), but I appreciate the fact that it was a purely American movement, and I understand the desire the Abstract Expressionists had to break free of the viewed constraints of representational art and embrace a new approach . I think abstract art requires a very open mind to be fully appreciated, and I've heard countless people say, "I don't get it". At times I've agreed with them (I hate to admit). On a recent trip to New York I had the opportunity to go to the MoMA and the Metropolitan and stand face to face with some monumental Abstract Expressionist works. It's a breathtaking moment when you see paintings that, until that very moment, you've only seen in books. It's quite easy to overlook a painting that's represented by an 2 in. by 2 in. picture, but in person, they take on an entirely new meaning for you, and in that one trip I think I gained a whole new perspective on Abstract Expressionism. Whether it be the spontaneity of Pollack, the spirituality of Rothko, the grotesque figures of Kandinsky's Woman series, or the flames of color bursting through the canvases of Clyfford Still, I suddenly felt like "I got it". For someone who somewhat favors representational art, and whose own art falls under that category, abstract art can be a challenge to understand. What I think the great thing about Abstract Expressionism is, is that it doesn't really need grandiose explanations or interpretations. All that's required is that you open your eyes and your mind and feel. Here's a quote by Clyfford still that I just love: "To be stopped by a frame's edge is intolerable" . If you look at his art, you'll know exactly what he meant.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Welcome to the ArtHouse Cafe

If there was one thing I could choose to do in addition to painting, it would be to own my own cafe. In my dream I would make the food (nothing too elaborate, but sophisticated and scrumptious all the same), play really cool music, create an eclectic atmosphere with cozy lived in furniture, my own original artwork (as well as that of other local artists) peppering the walls, and an ever-changing, ever-growing library of books and magazines for my patrons to enjoy as they sat back and experienced the ambiance.

So, this is the next best thing. I've decided not to wait around for a "brick and mortar" building to house my dream cafe. This blog will do quite nicely. This will be the place where all my interests will converge-music, food, books and articles, and especially art. In the coming weeks I'll be posting new works of art, talking about food (and offering the occasional recipe), and discussing music and books. I hope you'll join me!