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.
31/10/2022 09:18:27 pm
Well, Ciel, if you ever have to give up doing art, you could be a professional writer. You have eloquently expressed the thoughts I often experience when painting. There is a constant dialogue of "you can't do this" and "yes you can- you've done it before and are perfectly capable"-- back and forth... like a wrestling match. It takes a lot of strength to overcome the negative thoughts and push through, especially at the "ugly" stage. Thank you for your writing (and your art!).
1/11/2022 06:05:17 am
Oh Kim, thank you. I’m so glad this blog resonates with you. It’s often a lonely pursuit, the life of an artist. I’m thrilled to connect with you and know that I’m not alone in the ever growing process of meeting myself/ourselves on the canvas.
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