Cambrian: Arts & Events

Ambiguity can be valuable in art

“Ifrit” by Gerhard Richter.
“Ifrit” by Gerhard Richter.

I am an artist and I’ve been working …

Usually I’m immersed in art, but rarely in art and wine in the exact same quantity and time. As opposed to most artists I know, I strive for moderation so I can maintain my stamina, avoid headaches and remember to feed my dog. That’s probably a good thing because I was asked to manage the 15th annual Cambria Art & Wine Festival on Jan. 27-29. I may have been drinking when I said yes.

Hundreds of happy people visited our villages, thirsty for wine tasting at one of the host venues and watching artists at work.

The art studio motto “Drink Until You Like It” clearly works, since I sold several paintings over the weekend without even being there to hold the bottle. I hope other artists enjoyed the same success.

At the Sunday art show held during this event, dozens of local artists showed their work alongside wine tasting stations. Between my duties of polishing glasses and not drinking, I was drawn to a striking work by Jeanette Wolff called “A Man and his Dog.” She told me that it was simply an impromptu portrait of a local man. The honesty in this composition is compelling. The technique of loose brushwork, light source and editing made me want to know more of the story. The fact that this piece had few details made it all the more arresting.

Some may find it unpolished, but I’m touting the value of ambiguity as it relates to art (as compared to an ambiguous answer to a question like “how long will it take for you to finish my dental exam?”). Let’s say, for example, that I felt the need to tell a client exactly what paint I use, why I use it, how it is applied and what is being depicted. Would those details imbue the work with greater importance or diminish the optical journey and imagination?

Some of our greatest artists have insisted on ambiguity, omitting certain elements in order to encourage contemplation. In Italian, the term is “sfumato” — literally, the blurred outline that allows one form to merge with another to leave something to the imagination (think Mona Lisa).

Taking this concept into modern art, consider Gerhard Richter, who said, “What I’m attempting in each picture is nothing other than this … to bring together in a living and viable way, the most different and the most contradictory elements in the greatest possible freedom.”

Alternating between realist and abstract style, Richter relied on ambiguity right down to his choice of title. He suggested that, rather than trying to extract “meaning” from a given work of art, the viewer might instead relish a simple experience of visual pleasure. And really, isn’t that what the Cambria Art & Wine Festival successfully accomplished? The combination of boutique vineyards and colorful local artists made a sensory feast.

While reflecting on how I can incorporate the element of ambiguity into my own work, I would be remiss in omitting Michael Ackerman’s artwork chosen for the Art & Wine Festival poster. The immediacy and color saturation are strong features, and the editing is notable. As is the case with many autodidacts, the rough-hewn “cruel line” gives a powerful sense of meaning even with a playful subject.

Ambiguity has its valued place in the art world, but if I say I’m slightly worn out from the weekend, well, let’s call it a definitive understatement instead.

Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at

Upcoming event

“Irregularity” featuring the works of Cambria plein-air painters, Allied Arts Association, Feb. 3-26,