Checkmate - Graphite - 15" x 25" - 1984 - Private Collection
The beautiful word amateur once meant : “lover of”. Over time, it has evolved from its original French, Italian and Latin origins to becoming a generic belittling reference. Once, it highlighted a recognition of and respect for "appreciators" of one thing or another (whether professional or not). Now, it is often used with sneering emphasis to describe those who do not earn their living whilst doing this or that - or for that matter appreciating this or that. Today, amateur defines someone who is more or less (usually considered “lesser”) an “ugh!” hobbyist; nothing more. It is often how the least talented or skilled in an area of self expression are defined. But this nomenclature has its greatest negative inference and impact when used by those who have a desperate need to NOT be associated with these “lesser” amateurs.
Real artists could care less about someone painting on velvet or using “magic white”. Amateurs, as an “other defined” contemporary phenomenon are not a threatening lot. They draw and paint and smile. No arrogance there. It is those who take it upon themselves to point out their “amateurism” who most “clearly” assert that these lessers do not fit into “our” self anointed realm of visual arts superiority.
Why is this? Why, as purported artists, are we so upset about being associated with all the amateurs out there? Possibly because they remind us of worker bees - of those who toil, labour, “work” for a living. I would assume that we in the visual arts see them as production without angst or vision bees - those who do for pay what they are told. They work hard 5 days a week in jobs they dislike or maybe even hate - and all this for that one day in the future when they will retire to a life of leisure and maybe, just maybe, paint their way into the sunset, whilst being satisfied to sell their artistic wares at church fairs. . . . So where’s the threat?
It doesn’t seem to lie in their dreams but rather in their everyday identified lives - their work lives - that which they do in order to achieve what they wish to achieve - whatever the cost. In essence, what bothers us (it seems) is that they (amateurs) are associated with us and us with them. And “we” (the royal we) do not like this one bit. They are amateurs. Nothing else. We, on the other hand, are artists (which is more)! They “willingly” work at jobs they hate. And even some of us (gasp) must do so also. . . but we downplay that aspect of our lives by emphasizing to everyone within earshot that we are more. . . That we are actually bona fide artists. Though to eat, pay rent, survive, we work at stuff we hate to do we nonetheless need to be seen as “better than” the otherness of lowly labourers. We are artists. And our need to be seen as such is often crucial to our well being.
This should not be perceived as unexpected in an era which thrives (especially commercially) on self-esteem issues. Add to this the most prolific phrase of the past century in western democracies : “Thank God it’s Friday!” and if it wasn’t for “happy hours”, we’d all be on the streets protesting “woe is me”.
Despising having to work and having to be seen to be a “worker” has been normalized. We’ve been raised to be more than that! (Harrumph!) Democracies have become so comfortable in being democratic, we’ve become oddly demeaned by the very idea of labour, by the very concept of its existence, its demands and (most especially) by the time "wasted" doing it. We’ve even lost interest in the idea of making our workload better, more productive, more efficient, more pride inducing. We fail to see such effort as creative enough. Work is work is work and nothing can make it other than what it is, or so it seems.
In the mid to late 20th century we killed industrial colleges, considering them lesser places of learning, whilst elevating and growing universities like prized rose gardens. This was not so much because more and more students needed to go to university to meet the needs of the contemporary job market as it was to differentiate between a “higher learning” graduate and a lesser college or “trade school” graduate. Trade schools reminded too many of us that we were not what the advertisers were promoting - smart, sassy and technologically academic. Attending university became a priority for those who were so inclined and for those who saw themselves as lesser if they did not.
No one ever says, these days, they are saving money for their grandchildren to become whatever it is “they want” to become. No. They say (in saving for education insurance ads ) : “I’m putting money away for my grandson’s university. . .” We've been sold and we now sell our kids on the idea that if they don't have a university diploma they are lesser, more ordinary; i.e. : nothing special. . . God forbid that today someone would proudly admit to being a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter or the “best PC repairman in the county”! Never mind that many of these professions are usually chosen because the student loves the trade in which they wish to become proficient. . .
In essence, we’ve lost sight of the fact that a university education, in the true sense of the word, is not about jobs and work but rather about learning and expanding one’s mind. It is not about acquiring skill sets but rather “mind” sets. And so. . . Why are they not therefore for everyone at any time in their lives, from young to old age? Isn’t learning from birth to death not the most precious gift to a living being?
That being said. In these purportedly more enlightened times, few of us end up choosing work we would "oh so love to do". Why?
Possibly for 3 reasons :
1) - The"jobs" we may like might not pay enough to keep us in the lifestyle to which (since childhood) we have become accustomed.
2) - The jobs we go to fail to stimulate us or make us feel proud.
3) - And last but not least, we are a consumer society, consuming ourselves to the nth degree of consumption. We need to fill the jobs out there, as dictated by our society, doing whatever in order to successfully navigate within the parameters of this pre-determined and rather static environment. Never mind the anti status quo considerations of creativity.
Work, therefore, has become a negative - a forced upon us ill. . . necessary to feed and house us and fulfill our needs and most especially our manufactured wants. And this we do to the final day we are “pensioned off”. As such, daily work is generically perceived to be an annoyance. It wastes all the time we wish we could spend doing those things we love to do as. . . well. . . “amateurs”. We love sports (watching more than doing), games (playing), drinking and eating (lots) and playing with our ipads, ipods and our ever evolving game boys - aggressing virtual worlds found in our online war games. Not much creativity compensation there. But frustrations do have to be let out, Eh?
Nonetheless, some of us actually do other things such as - oh my God!!! - sculpt and paint!!! And therein lie "those people", those we sneeringly point to as the dreaded “amateurs” - Sunday painters and carvers; free time “artists”; those who are so commonly and irritatingly associated with us - the “real artists”.
But then, what is being an artist?
Being one today, is not as it was in the 14th to the late 18th century - i,e, : more a commissioned labourer than a self-perceived visionary. But with time, much like the word “amateur”, the title “artist” has been re-moulded and “re”formed by us and our contemporary democratic expectations. Once the definition of a master painter to now what is more commonly known as : anyone who says they are.
Today, the title does not so much define professionalism as it does connote rebelliousness, a “pooh-poohing” reaction to the status quo, a freedom of expression bathed in an environment of art for art’s sake. As such, the calling of oneself an artist (often despite giggles to the contrary) has garnered for itself an elevated status of devil may care - of an “Oh my gawd, look what he just did, thought, uttered, created”!
Since the 19th century, painters and sculptors (who forget that Impressionist mentors were learned men and women, well on their way to becoming painter labourers of their time) have introduced the concept of eschewing regulations and authority; defying traditions, rules, laws and anything else a citizenry associates with its own perceptions of "labour" (i.e. : drudgery). At its best, art for art's sake has given us many great painters and sculptors and at its worst an appropriation of and an entitlement to the status of "artist" - as if it had ever been up for grabs.
Being an artist is “now” seen as what one is when one either has the gall to do nothing or the wherewithal to be seen to be an expert in a field of contemporary collective indefinability - for example : "I am an artist because I say I am. My world is separate from, and even more important than, the world of those who know nothing of this specialized environment of mine." And this is possible because, in our times, the status of "artist" is one which can either be deserved or not, formally acquired or not, proven valid or not - or bestowed or absconded with. No matter. As everyone has the freedom (licence?) to call themselves an artist and their creations art, in the end what we often get is neither art nor an artist. In essence, we have simply arrived at another moment in time when, once again, the emperor has no clothes.
Ironically, as a title - a status - the credibility of the word "artist" has been as damaged as the word amateur. Both have, over time, been seriously diminished and/or denigrated. With no recognizable skill sets required or regulation body to monitor such a nondescript profession as artist, the validity of it becomes questionable within the environments from which it stems and professes itself “different”. Concomitantly, with a title no longer associated with the need for excellence in the creation process, the reality and value of it as a status no longer exists - at least as it once did.
But then, as craving the title "artist" seems to be about “being” rather than doing; being something different, being something "more special" - something which says that we do not (like everyone else) hate what we do (and therefore hate what we are). . . maybe that is the enigma solved. The only question left would be : Is it an equal need or is it a "greater-than" need to NOT be seen as an amateur, as an “ordinary” lesser person? Tomorrow's social history and psychology books will tell. :)
Word - Digital Comp - 12" x 36" - 2011 - Ed : 50
Language evolves. As time passes, it naturally, gradually becomes, flows, melds into other dimensions. Words never being static "things", it has always been thus. But in our era, everything constantly reshapes itself at a non-human speed of light. Though time neither moves any more quickly nor slowly today, events and the creation of anything and everything new and improved have become endless and ever increasing - both in quantity and speed. And we have come to accept this new and improved pace as our new "speed" - the digital equivalent of an addiction mayhem - constructed of both a lack of discipline in the defining of who's in charge : us or our toys and a rabid consumerism which rapidly is consuming us.
In such an environment, our ability to identify, to qualify and quantify becomes “drugged” - unable to objectively define either the elements or the parameters of what we are “trying” to say to each other. And this despite our ears being literally glued 12 to 18 hours a day to word sounds which do not communicate anything more than the incessantly repetitive : "ya know" and the no longer listening to you : "ya don't say" and the proverbial who gives a shit, reduced to a dimension of : “whatever”.
And so, how we see words and how we use them have become jumbled in our minds to the point that speed of throwing it out (rather than sharing) is now of the essence (lest we miss the other incoming calls on our “ear plugs”). 140 characters is the new format and “word foreshortening” the structure of what is said, written, transmitted and received. . . or not. . . Whatever.
With that comes a penchant for altering, mutating and bastardizing, at the same speed of light, that which verbally and visually must fit into every new lexicon of mind holes we dig for ourselves. Whether what is being inserted in those holes is a round or square peg seems not to matter. Just shove it in, force it in, no matter the consequences to the perimeters into which we place these now misshaped thoughts and feelings. In essence, we are reaching a point where it is no longer important to mean or understand anything or anyone - as long as we are euphemistically "connected" i.e. : tethered to the umbilical cords which reassure us we are actually being recognized in a world where there is such a desperate need to "be" seen to be something, somebody, "anything".
And so, disfigured and denied their crucial importance in our collective existence, words and their capacity to be shared and clearly understood have inadvertently become targets of revisionism processes which surreptitiously reshape our lives to meet emotional reaction demands rather than physical action imperatives. Re-mastered, the light speed mutation of words (which once gave collective credibility to existence) now plays a major role in how our "telephony" communications swiftly lead us astray - making connections, let alone communication, impossible. And because there is no respect for the meaning of words anymore, eventually nobody knows what anything or anyone “actually” is trying to say. And so. . . Today, words can mean anything we want them to, at any time and in any situation - be damned normal evolution. As long as they serve our individual perceptions, insecurities and ignorance, all is “creatively” well.
A good example of this societal anomaly can be found in discussions on whether art is the same as artwork is the same as art. Where once words accurately defined what one thing was in comparison to a “potentially similar” thing, we now don’t differentiate between the product created and the message or content given life - i.e. : the paint and canvas of artwork versus the enigma and mystery of art. Why? It disturbs our contemporary need to know without knowing, to know without study or exactness, accurateness or factualness. Our perception of words has been Googlized, Twittered and Facebooked. Not having to be accurate (honest or knowledgeable?) serves the contemporary purpose of muddying the waters. Why? Because muddy waters almost always assure us an unquestioned, unassailable “authority” in presentations, communications, discussions and any other form of sharing which might serve to aggrandize the measure of our "real" or virtual lives.
In our "whatever" world, not bothering to be accurate allows for lowest common denominator thinking to dominate and excellence to be deemed snooty and semantically obsessive. With that, the search for excellence can more easily be “democratically” erased - replaced with whatever it is I now say is art and/or artwork - and this based on the enlightened premise of “because I say so”. In essence, we have opened the door to anything being something or nothing and in consequence nothing being something - and with that, we collectively come to a crossroads where it is simpler to shrug our shoulders and accept “opinion” over logic and, when not comprehending what is being said, to simply respond : “whatever!”.
Being precise or speaking in “a tongue” that is understandable to all (rather than serving our own personal needs) becomes nothing of value as it is deemed (along with other knowledge-based information) elitist - too collectively intellectual in nature to respect the needs of the “moi” in me. It impinges upon my freedom (license?) to define life and its contents however I wish to define them - be damned reality. Thus, students, apprentices, learners and wanna-be's more easily become democracy's anointed “artists” and artwork, photo reproductions, machine-made constructs nonchalantly, and with impunity, nothing less than art.
In the end, excellence of action becomes nothing more than effortless kitsch in our quest to democratize everything; thus rendering blandness a quality. And as artwork becomes art the war cries of entitlement are clearly heard : Anoint me! Award me! I have participated! I was there! Don't hurt my feelings by denying me the status I seek. And mostly, do not reject my work as "ordinary" - especially when it is.
And so, the battle to eliminate the meanings of words marches on based on the least that democracy can be while dismissing the richness and uniqueness that democracy once celebrated as heroic and worthy.
And with that. . . it is easier to understand how today change is perceived as progress, charm = authenticity, compensation = satisfaction, demands = rights, homogenization = globalization, insult = honesty, infatuation = love, invasion = liberation, kitsch = creativity, obsession = passion, over-protection = love, license = freedom, perfection = excellence, nude = naked.
With revisionism tantamount to a new and improved “vision” (white-wash?) of history and verbal acumen, is it any surprise that narcissism more easily replaces ego, criticism = critiquing, tolerance = recognition and respect, opinion = fact, victim = hero and. . . last but not least, artwork = Art?
Discouragement Is At An All Time High. "Encouraging" Submission And Fear Kills Creativity - Making Us Invisible.
No More - Graphite - 20" x 24" - 1984 - Private collection
Discouragement is real. It is strong. A subtle controller of individuals, families and the larger community, its quest is to render invisible, to homogenize, to eliminate unique identities - to stop forward movement. Encouragement, on the other hand, caresses, providing a tension respite, affording us time and space to to strengthen resolves. Discouragement strangles. It holds us back - until we are no more.
To be or not to be invisible. . . That is the question every parent must ask themselves - when it comes to not only themselves but more especially to their children. As adults we have become used to - and our economy even seems to thrive upon our being a totally integrated and invisible part of the whole. We are, each one of us, like ants on an ant hill - working, striving, reaching up but never out - always returning to the same core tunnels, doing the same work, seeing the same faces day in and day out and doing the same things as all of the other ants. And that, or so it is said, creates reassurance, safety. . . In an ant colony this may be true. But in human realities, it simply maintains a “colony’s” status quo. And that is not the same thing as safety or security.
In the ant world, being different from your cohorts is not an option. The colony is everything. The survival of the community depends fully on the submission of ants to do their respective jobs. This is not to say that if the usual way is blocked, an individual ant doesn’t have the wherewithal to get a job done in a different manner. No, ants are resourceful in the realization of their communal tasks and responsibilities. But if, in the running of their everyday lives, a few ants choose to stray, i.e. become creative for creativity’s sake, all of the ants could suffer - and some if not all of the ants could die. Where ants are concerned creativity, as a divergence from the homogeneous norm, occurs exclusively to (1) achieve the goals of the particular ant’s designated job which, in turn, (2) protects the colony’s integrity.
Ant creativity has a collective calling whereas human creativity must diverge from an all encompassing communal consideration if it and the “colony” are to survive. The spiritual health of a human individual, within a community, must be maintained if the whole of that community is to remain healthy. And whereas each ant within a colony is intellectually and genetically entrenched in a caste environment (based on a clone-style modus operandi) human communities depend on their individual members to live communally but think uniquely.
Without creativity, without the encouragement of individuals to be creative, human communities will and do suffer from the diminishing capacities of their individual members whose unique perceptions and talents eventually erode through lack of use.
In the human world, as in the ant realm, communities are formed by like-minded individuals. BUT human societies survive, thrive and evolve only when the unique creative spirits of each member are allowed free (not licensed) reign within that collective environment. Healthy communities are never threatened by the creative elements in their midst as it is only through creativity that the evolving societies, as a whole, stay mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy.
On the other hand, "un-encouraged" creativity is a recipe for individual and communal disasters. Creativity diminishes in strength and eventually disappears when there is no room in a society for it to be recognized and respected.
The ability of a community to battle, to fend off threat of a physical emotional or mental nature, is proportional to the relative strengths of its individual members. No society is immune to threat and total destruction (from within or without) when individual egos within its membership are in a weakened state. - 00
In essence, if a community of like-minded individuals banned or failed to encourage creativity, the possibility of that society’s long term survival would be compromised. This is so as the creative potential required for its survival would no longer be available to that community. In such a situation, there would be no one who would have the capability of thinking outside the box or of seeing things differently in order to bring about solutions to new or odd community problems AND/OR a collective’s diminishing strengths.
Creativity, therefore, is a crucial requirement if the world’s communities, states and countries are to survive the onslaught of nature and/or man’s own self-serving or destructive tendencies.
When the worst enemy of a community is itself, creativity is the real victim. And any and all enemies at the gate need do nothing but wait for the community’s increasing vulnerability to show - as time inflicts an ultimate demise. - 00
But, acknowledging and taking on discouragement - i.e. turning it on its ear to reintegrate encouragement, isn’t simply a question of generic change for change’s sake. Encouragement has as much an individual mental, emotional, spiritual and artistic health component as it does a communal health component.
As previously stated, if individuals in a community are less than they can be, the community as a whole suffers. It deteriorates and its soul gradually fades. Therefore eliminating discouragement and re-introducing encouragement must not only be an individual’s project. It must become a collective enterprise whose specific goal is to take back that which is individually ours - that which belongs to our children and their futures - and that which not only enhances but protects from harm our communal way of life.
(exerpt from the 2010 book : Beyond Discouragement - Creativity)
Bernard Poulin. . . I paint, I draw, I write