Artist's Statement

Art can be an expression of desire. In the case of landscape painting it's the soul's desire to escape the daily entrapments of the mind's concerns. The landscape is a metaphor for the soul's going forth. Emerson wrote eloquently of the liberation he found in the woods in his essay "Nature," (opens a new window) whence comes the quote on the homepage of my website. This element of spiritual liberation as expressed by the Transcendentalists of the mid 1800s was a strong influence on the American landscape painters of that era--the Luminists and the Hudson River School--and continues to influence contemporary American landscape painting, even while we redefine humanity's relation to the natural world we inhabit.

Through art we attempt to possess, to inhabit, to identify withor become one with a thing or a place. The ancient cave painters painted what was important to them, the animals that provided their sustenance. In the same way, landscape painting can reflect a spiritual hunger.

A couple of years ago we were on an excursion in western Michigan, driving around in the woods at sundown. We were cruising a back road which paralleled Lake Michigan looking for a likely turn-off to the lake, which we found before too long. The road finally ended at a small parking lot for a local park. Stairs went up the landward side of a giant sand dune. Giant dunes are a common feature of Great Lakes coastlines. The stairs went up and up. Out of breath, we reached the top of the dune and gazed out over the great lake. The sun had just set, and soft gray and yellow clouds covered most of the vast sky and played their colors on the almost-still lake spread out before us in three directions. We fell silent for a while, and when we finally spoke we said, "This is amazing," "This is incredible." We really didn't have the words for it. It was one of those moments when natural beauty just overtakes you. It was a "transparent eyeball" moment.

It's not a matter of painting the place as it is; I try to paint the feeling of being in that place. I use the landscape as a way to try to paint the feeling of being.

For me, the process or act of creating should have at its core a contemplative, spiritual understanding of the landscape, which is to say nature. The act of creating is an act of learning. Unfortunately these ideal conditions don't always hold, and much of the process gets bound up in capturing certain fleeting moments with a camera, much as a hunter on safari would go after the next antelope or elephant.

I live in the Detroit area, a gritty urban hub of America's industrial rust belt. In light of that one could say painting pastoral landscapes is escapist, and I wouldn't argue. Lately, though, I've become interested in urban landscapes, factories, refineries, railroad tracks, trucks and dumpsters and oil barrels. These things can evoke feelings too. Buildings, city streets, bridges, these are things that show up in my dreams. I'm not as certain about the feelings such places arouse as I am with the coasts, for example. Painting these pictures becomes an examination of those feelings.

This work doesn't attempt to be ambitious art, in the art-historical sense. Look elsewhere for PoMo Irony. Mine is not an art of strategy, of épater le bourgoisie. What I have to say functions more as an emotional response to my surroundings.

I want to do at least a few canvases in my lifetime which will be an emotional kick in the chest.

---Arthur Chartow



Art that has given me that kick in the chest (not in any particular order):

Suggested reading

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Prepared by Art Chartow August 20, 1995. Revised January 8, 2003.