Making art is a selfish pursuit.
If you think about it, it has to be. Art is only created when the artist takes time to explore what they selfishly are interested in. For me it's flowers, for others it's political statements, or justice issues, or pastoral landscapes, or abstract compositions. Why do any of us make anything? Because it is interesting. It fulfills some desire within our curiosity. It's something worth spending time with. Which actually means that we are worth spending time with. After all the art that we make is a reflection of the person who created it.
Have you paid attention to the evolution of an artists work? Can you see a difference between current pieces and older works? Yes? That is the evolution of the artist captured in physical form. What you are witnessing is the artist making different decisions than they made in their earlier work. It holds true that the more work an artist does the easier the artistic decisions will become. Not that the work becomes easier to produce because likely the work gets more complex in time, but that the actual deciding becomes easier. Less distraction from the uncertainty of what to do next.
For the beginning artists all the decisions often lead to almost complete paralysis. Standing in front of that first blank canvas with all the expectations and desires to make 'great' art are standing there with them. Crossing those initial boundaries of what should I create, how should I create it, will it be any good, are challenging hurdles for sure.
For the more practiced artist the blank canvas no longer creates the same paralysis, however, the doubt and expectation are still present. What if they never quite go away? How does an accomplished artist deal with these two aspects? They get on with it. They simply do their work. They pay less attention to these distractions of the mind than they once did.
After all, the barriers to creating art are all made up within the artists own mind. The paint doesn't care about your expectation. The canvas has no input into what you put on it. Neither material cares if you create something great. Only the artist cares. What is actually created comes down to what the artist imagines is possible. Unfortunately what is possible is limited by what the artist thinks about their ability. It's a chicken and the egg situation. Does great art come by accident, or does the artist believe they can make great art, therefore they can.
Which brings me right back to the title of this blog post. Making art is a selfish pursuit. When an artist stands in front of the blank canvas they are really exploring the relationship they have with themselves, with their ability to make decisions. They are confronted with the challenge of managing their mind, while their creative curiosity just wants to get going.
On the flipside, if the artist doesn't really think they can do anything significant, then guess what they create? Pretty mediocre art that they are not really that happy with.
Let's peel this back a little bit further. Painting is very simply, in my mind. You mix some paint and you put it on the canvas. Simple. If you create a painting that you are not happy with, frustrated that it didn't work out, then you have a couple of problems. You have either used the wrong colour or you've put it in the wrong place. That's it.
Now I'm really simplifying things here. Clearly the great artists, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Titian, Sargent, etc. have some skills to create wonderful paintings. They practiced and were able to make decisions with their paint choices, and how/where they placed that paint unlike most other artists. But the theory remains. With practice artists get better at making creative decisions and their work, it stand to reason, will also improve from those decisions.
I think there is also a self-improvement that goes on because as artists make more decisions at the canvas, they also challenge the doubt and uncertainty within themselves. I have often said that painting is the greatest self-help that I've ever embarked on. Simply because there is nothing standing in the way of my creative successes on and off the canvas other than my own ideas about my success. If I can manage my mind in a successful way, then there really is nothing I can't achieve.
I'm not suggesting that doubt and uncertainty go away with good mindset management or that they should even be squelched. After all they are just as valid a feeling as anything an artist might experience. What I am suggesting is that rather than have the feeling state of experiences dictate what, if anything, will be produce, that we learn to work with the seeming obstacles.
If I can believe most artists that I've spoken to about their process, each and every one has moments of doubt and the thought 'oh no! I've messed this up.' It's part of the process. Some call it the messy middle. This is where things get hard, the decisions don't come as easily, the judgments rush in, and you basically don't know where to go from here. I would expect that even the great artists of old also had these same processes wreak havoc on their artistic production.
Let's agree that being an artist and creating art is a selfish pursuit and one that bring the artist into a greater relationship with themselves each and every time they create something.
Here comes the dichotomy. If art is a selfish pursuit then how does an artist connect to a collector to purchase that art? How can this self pursuit have any meaning to the end collector? Now in the case of the old masters they were often commissioned by the clergy or wealthy patrons to create their art so a transaction to purchase was established to secure the completion of the piece of art. That is not the case in modern times. Patronage is something rarely seen in the modern art work.
Somehow, an artist has to describe/present their art, their self expression in such a way a collector can connect to it and wants to exchange money for that piece of art. Is it as simply as "Ooh, it matches my couch"? I don't think so. It can be that a piece fits into the decor of a room, and you may conclude that is the sole reason for purchasing the art. But I just don't buy it. There are any number of things you could hang above the couch that would work. What is it that actually has a collector purchase a particular piece?
I have a theory. One I haven't definitely proven in any scientific way, however, a theory it is. Let's go back to the ideas of art being a selfish pursuit. If the artist is successful in capturing what their imagination is guiding them to create, and their art is a mirror of the mindset and intentions they held while they created it, then those same characteristics are steeped into that piece of art. Could it not also be true that the viewer senses and reads the piece of art for the intention that it was created with?
This theory also helps support the idea that there is a collector for every style of art that has been created. Just take a look at social media, for example. I paint flowers, and on any given day I can scroll through my feed and see 15, maybe 20 different styles of flower paintings. Some are really great, in my mind. Some not so much. What I prefer in a flower painting, I guarantee, is not what everyone prefers.
Any artist new to creating art and thinking of selling their art has thought "This isn't good enough. Who's going to want to buy this?" There is a buyer for all types and styles of art. Please don't let that mind trick stop you from believing there is a market for your style of art. Does this mean that every piece of art is saleable - heck no. Bad art is bad art, and who decides on bad art? The jury is still out on that one. It may sound like I'm contradicting myself here. Bear with me. It's a tricky idea I'm trying to get across. Being skilled at creating art that is pleasing to look at, takes time, and effort. There are some conventions that assist you in creating a great image. Conventions such as composition, atmospheric perspective, convergent and divergent lines, perspective, proportion, shading, the relationship between lights and darks within the image and so on. These take time to learn and even longer to practice. If for instance you create an image with one object stuck smack in the middle of the canvas with very little attention to the surround area, it's likely not going to be very interesting.
I think where artists get frustrated is that they have missed learning about the tools that will help them create interesting images. Rather they keep trying to create something of interest using the same skills and ideas that they have always used and wonder why their work isn't improving. Wasn't it Einstein who said the definition of crazy making is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
In conclusion, yes, I do get long winded sometimes, I will wrap this up. Art making is selfish, for sure. When an artist is able to be with their process and their mindset while creating, they can create a piece of art that is steeped in that intention. Collectors feel it, and connect to the authenticity of the piece and may even want to purchase it. The key to this transaction is: Does the artist believe they can produce an interesting image? Do they believe someone will like it enough to buy it? Are they willing to do the work and practice making their art so they can move from uninteresting images to ones that hold the viewer's attention? Keep in mind painting is an illusion. It's creating something tangible on a two dimensional plane in such a way that it evokes a reaction in the viewer. In my case, I paint realistic flowers on a two dimensional surface. If the flower is flat, it might look like a flower but it's not going to be very interesting. If I can create that same flower in such a way that the viewer can smell the dew laden air and see the water drops scattered across the flower in the morning light.... now that's getting more interesting.
I hope you have enjoyed this little trip into my analytic brain. If you'd like to see the original paintings that I have available to purchase, I'll be publishing them in my magazine Direct From The Studio on the 28th of October. To grab your e-copy simply leave me your email address below. Feel free to leave me a comment in the comment box also.
What I learned from Anna Wintour.
First of all, who is Anna Wintour? She is best known for your role as the editor and chief of the fashion magazine Vogue and later as the artistic director for the entire Condé Nast suite of magazines. She is the daughter of Charles Wintour, the editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper.
Amy Odell has written an interesting biography on Anna's life which I found thought-provoking. Being the editor and chief of Vogue magazine is more than simply fashion curating. It includes creating opportunities for up-and-coming designers to be seen, to monitor and encourage connections between influential people, to understand the ongoing political environment, knowing how publishing fits into that mix, and being of service to non-profit fundraising events for meaningful causes.
How does Anna do it all? She focuses her attention on the things that need her and she eliminates everything else. Including the pleasantries as she greets people in the hallways of her offices. Her demeanor has been criticized as chilly. She rarely gives compliments and can control the room of staff with a simple look. No one wants to be on the bad side of Anna as she is the most influential figure in the fashion industry.
As I build my career, focus is one of the things that I repeatedly question. What do I focus on? Is it what I want to focus on? Does this bring me a benefit- spiritually, mentally, financially, emotionally, etc. Now I recall saying to my Mom, many years ago, "Do what makes you happy because you are trading a day of your life for it." It was sage advice for her and for me as I mature.
Prior to this fine art career, my creativity had been all over the place, for years.
Whew. It was a lot.
In 2020, when I went full time into my art career, I soon realized that this career was going to take all my attention. My other creative activities would have to pivot to make room for that. The transition was a bit unsettling because I was so used to being super busy. As a result, I filled my art career with all kinds of projects. Teaching students all over North America and the UK online, producing PDF materials to teach from, creating videos, starting a Youtube channel, creating groups on Facebook, etc. I simply replaced my previous busyness with a new form of busyness.
Focus is an essential part of actually being effective and what we are doing. Now I'm focusing exclusively on producing great paintings and selling those paintings directly to clients.
Back to Anna. Being a leader in the fashion industry comes with its own set of controversy. Ego's that get bent out of shape, opinions about editorial decisions, casting the cover personalities that may not be widely supported. Through all the controversy Anna, outwardly, was not fazed. She knew why she was making the decisions she was making, and she knew that others may not agree. She didn't try to please everyone, rather, she stuck to her vision for Vogue and the fashion industry that has led her through her 40 year career.
Having an opinion may not be popular and it may not please everyone. That is not the point. When an artist is making decisions about anything to do with their art, it's important to have an opinion. Just this morning I sent an email to a fellow artist talking about safeguarding those preferences. She is having a show and wants to provide food, specific food, because it matches her vision for the event. The atmosphere that we create when we present our art influences how people experience what we have created.
I have been asked over the years to produce art that is outside my preference. It could be a different subject/style, or a variety of flower that I don't want to spend time with. It's been important to decide, or rather listen to what my soul wants to create versus trying to please everyone. This is creative integrity for me. Might not be popular all the time with others, and that's not my main motivation. Yes, it feels good when people appreciate my work, and that is not the first thing I consider when I'm beginning a new creative project.
Back to Anna. She has her hair trimmed every few days; she regularly plays tennis to stay fit, and dresses for her job, often opting for heels with her polished outfits.
Now I work from home, often not seeing anyone other than my family. Is my hair always styled - no. Do I sometimes paint in my jammies all day - yes. Does it change my experience - sometimes.
One thing Anna safeguards is that Vogue is a brand and with her at the head of it, she makes sure she dresses to represent that brand.
My art is also a brand. I have a style unlike any other artist. I'm going to consider how I'm presenting myself and my brand of art in all my interactions.
Anna Wintour has been a guiding leader in the fashion industry, the go to person to discuss all things fashion. Designers have relied on her opinion to help them guide their careers. Her life's work is iconic. I enjoyed reading the book and learning more about her and her empire. I may never have several million dollars to spend on an event, yet I'm inspired to think about events and my art in a new way.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts. If you'd like to see my work you can go to my website. The button below will take you there.
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