Carolyn Schlam, Meaning in the Visual

I consider myself a perceptual artist, focused on the visual elements of my images – the texture, color, saturation, intensity, flavor, substantiation, quality, shape, etc. of the marks I make on paper or canvas. I also care that all of these elements produce an image that I can call “evocative”. What does this mean exactly? It means that the image is not merely descriptive, that it suggests, in a metaphoric way, something deeper, other, more meaningful than just itself.

This, of course, is totally subjective. Oh, yes, viewers might see something in the piece that impresses them, or elicits a quality they can name, like innocence or frailty, or passion, and I may concur, but really there is no way to quantify this.

Then there are the conceptual artists, who create images arising from actual ideas, using a visual format to express them. The idea comes first; the aesthetic qualities are secondary. The ideas may be political, or feminist, or anti-war or whatever, but the image is in service to the idea.

Here’s the question posed by this blog: Are conceptual works of art more serious, meaningful or important than perceptual ones? Does “The Dinner Party”, the iconic feminist work by Judy Chicago, trump the magnificently sensual long-necked women of Modigliani? Does it tell us more about women? And, is this even a meaningful question?

I ask it because, like every artist, I want my work to be taken seriously, to be serious, important, ground-breaking, meaningful. I am not satisfied just to make pretty pictures. But does a picture really have the ability to convey an idea? A complex idea? Is this something that pictures need to be serious?

A work like Picasso’s Guernica succeeds as both a conceptual and perceptual work of art. It expresses the horror of war because of the power and sensitivity of the line and shape. This is rare, however, as most works veer to one side or the other. They tend toward being statements or being sensual, expressing nothing more than the beauty of a piece of fuzz on a peach in the sunshine.

I’m trying to work against my inclination to paint peach fuzz, to do work that is more narrative, and expresses something more significant. I want to be part of my time, not an anachronism, and so I am forcing myself to select some important, difficult subjects, and paint or sculpt them. Still attentive to the visual, but imparting a bit of consciousness.

I’m giving these works one word titles. Why? Because if it works, the image will impart the meaning, not the title. Here’s my first effort. It is called “Shoes”. I like it and think it’s a good beginning. I think it tells a story, or that you can read something into it. It’s not just a pretty picture.

What do you think? Am I onto something? Share your thoughts please.
Carolyn Schlam
Aug 3, 2016

Scroll to Top