Emma Goodwin ’14, an anthropology major and art correlate, ponders the questions: What is art? What does art mean? These are two big questions that many artists face as they feel pressure to produce meaningful work in a society that often discounts art as a luxury and not a sustainable aspect of work culture. “Sometimes I want my art to say something, but it’s more of a feeling I want to express,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin began her art career in Drawing 1 as a freshman. She took some time away from art as a sophomore, and then returned to Painting 1 as a junior. “I was interested in color, and I really love the physicality of the paint,” said Goodwin. Painting, for Goodwin, is a very physical experience, both in the painting process’s bodily demands and the paint’s tangible characteristics. “Paint can be toothpaste, it can be cream cheese; it can be anything you want. It just feels so gooey and nice,” she said.
Goodwin begins each painting with an image of her piece in her mind. This image is not the picture that will eventually emerge; it is a combination of the picture and the specific feeling she wants her painting to express. She lightly traces an image on the canvas, and then she begins to paint, correcting the ideas that do not seem to fit from her original idea. Painting becomes most physically demanding for Goodwin when she is either stretching to paint a part of the canvas or crouching down to low parts of it, causing her a sore back and maybe sleepless nights. “There is always a point in the middle when everything is so bad, but hopefully, if you’re lucky, everything pulls together,” she stated.
Her favorite piece is an untitled work based on her experience in Ireland over the past spring break that she had hung in her bedroom. In Ireland, she found inspiration in the thick, oily seaweed and the secretive nature of mussels. She wondered how mussels look when they are open, and this question, along with the texture of the seaweed, inspired her painting.
What Goodwin sees in the world around her is her biggest inspiration. Growing up in the Bahamas, Goodwin’s uncle was a watercolor artist who painted typical ocean scenes. Even though she found some inspiration in the fact that her uncle was an artist, the typical ocean view did not inspire her.
So, when Goodwin came to Vassar, she realized that art does not always have to depict ideal images. “Art doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect; art can be broken. Art is something that challenges versus reaffirms pretty, cliché things,” she said. She then combined this idea with the visual world around her to develop her own artistic style.
Combining her inspirations and her preexisting affinity for paint’s tactile quality, Goodwin found a connection with the Impressionist style. Impressionism as a movement challenged the artistic way during its formation: it pushed both the painting style and the color boundaries. It challenged its audience to see beyond the more academic paintings. Goodwin explained,
“It’s hard to have a style that’s Impressionist without being too Impressionist. But, I love the physical quality of the paint that comes with Impressionism.”
When asked to describe her artistic style, Goodwin responded: “I think what I’m most interested in these days is the materiality of the paint, when you look at the painting and you can see the paint as a physical aspect and you can think of what the painting says. I am also trying to not be too finicky with detail.” She is aiming to find the balance between too general and too detail-oriented.
This move toward being less detail-oriented parallels the goals of Impressionist artists, who in turn challenged audiences to see beyond the more academic, precision-focused paintings. The idea of the audience is a notion some other art forms like writing can consider throughout the creative process; however, visual art’s audience is not necessarily as pondered.
An audience can appreciate art through the image, the colors, the style, and a number of other factors. Sometimes, the art prompts no intense emotional response from the audience, but even then an audience’s indifference is a response and therefore, the indifference can make that piece part of their personal experience. “When I paint, I paint mostly for myself. Sometimes, I worry about the audience and how they will perceive the piece, but the audience is not on the forefront of my mind,” said Goodwin.
This balance between the general and the detailed and the idea of living for you are both important aspects for Goodwin as she approaches adult life.
As a senior preparing for the real world soon, she is trying to find a bond between her two loves: painting and anthropology.
She recently took a class, the Anthropology of Art, which she found struck that balance. However, learning how to find the balance in the real world is a new challenge. Art can be a very difficult career to break into, but because art, as Emma explained, is what she is most enjoying at Vassar right now, she is hopeful she will find some way to continue painting.