Winter Sunset / Couché de soleil hivernal - Oil/huile - 8" x 10" - 2009 - Private collection privée
This post is dedicated to a loyal reader who recently admonished me for laughing at a recent other post.
You’re a generous interlocutor, George. So, in response to your righteous comments, I am taking the time to defend the intent of my comment if not the boorish behaviour :
Yes. . . George, I laughed. Sometimes, I laugh in order not to cry. . .
To answer your first question : Yes, during these past 50 years, as others, I have felt the sting of many “criticizers”. But as a youngster I also received encouragement. In the end, I chose to follow the latter and ignore the ignorance, deception, meanness and jealousies of the former. (Though at times as a child I was a victim, as an adult I refuse to be.)
In regards to the Masters mentioned : Matisse, Picasso, Warhol, none broke the rules or created new ones. Neither did the Impressionists (even though many of us adhere to this myth since it pictures "them" being like "us”, i.e. : rebels). Actually, what the Impressionists and subsequent "different" artists did was to express themselves in the unique styles they had adhered themselves to. But, break the rules? No. Seth M. Baker in the Happenchance blog states : that some of us define difference in representation as "breaking all the rules" or "changing the rules of the game". But he asks us to look closer - in order to see that "the basic, structural rules of the game never really change". The conventions change. . . but the rules remain the same. (My apologies to Mr Baker for re-configuring his sentences to meet the needs of this post. I've nonetheless retained the intent of his presentation.)
Masters have always adapted the flexible powers of established rules to their “different way” of saying what they wished to visually say. But whether abstract, figurative or non-representational, masterpieces have never been built on broken, abandoned or sporadically invented “me” rules. Though possibly politically correct in our era of me, myself and I, all these do is confirm that :
having a style of one's own must not be confused with being consistent in the repetition of drawing and painting errors.
Creating one's own rules remains a self-centered exercise. Artwork created to meet the needs of one individual is not “art”. It is rather an uninformed type of art therapy. What the author probably means (& here, I speculate) is that we should feel free to draw, paint, sculpt & overall create based on our own inner workings. I have no trouble with that. BUT, to promote breaking rules which, from the onset, many know little about - to promote such a cavalier manner (as if being a professional has nothing to do with structure) is rather unprofessional & hence : laughable.
What we myth, rather than miss, is that Picasso (& others) knew & followed the rules to a T. Picasso, for example, could break them, if he so wished, because he knew them better than anyone. At 15 he could draw figuratively better than most of us can after 20 years of drawing classes. His subsequent work was worshiped because, despite what we "see" or how we describe "it", there is balance, form, structure, design & composition at a level most of us can only drool over.
Rules are the structure upon which freedom is based. Anarchy doesn’t cut it. When we acquire rules of our “trade” we should even go further - i.e. : assimilate them - take them in to a degree at which they become part of who we are. In so doing, we set ourselves up to be uber-skilled & thus no longer in need to think about their application. And when we no longer have to think about the rules we apply, creativity takes over - seeing with the mind's eye the breadth of application possibilities. We can then bend, adapt & flex them to meet the needs of our personal expressions. How? An integrated structured discipline opens the door to freedom of expression rather than limiting it. This, in turn, reveals (as Dali so aptly inferred) our personal style. He augured that to search for a style for ourselves is futile since only through structured effort & process does “a personal style” emerge - and this, when it damned well pleases. :)
I therefore (in order to not cry at the silliness of our era) laugh at the notion that everything is about “moi” - that I can break rules I know nothing about; that I can say to the world "I am an artist, therefore I am" - and worse : "you should, too!!!” Hogwash!
What we fail to grasp is that there are millions of people out there who draw, paint & sculpt as well, if not hugely better than we do. And all we can hope for is that someone, maybe. . . just maybe will discover the genius in our work (tisk) and we will reach unprecedented stardom. But as with all reality vs reality-TV considerations, this is only a possibility; never an assurance.
And so, buying notions as cure-all potions in our quest to be recognized is futile. And listening to our heart alone is never enough unless all we want to be is a hermit. And so, when discouraged, we should reach out, not in. Emptiness can never fill our needs glass. Someone can always be found who will recognize our worth and motivate us accordingly - but never on illusions. Being sold on such irrelevance as “having to be me” by motivators, whether in the arts or in any other realm, is redundant. Despite all negative feelings motivational speakers focus on to get our attention, we are already “us” - warts & all. We just have to stop looking into our negative mirrors and crying "oh woe is me!".
Being a painter or sculptor, let alone an “artist” has NEVER been easy. Though something worthy to aspire to, there are no guarantees, no matter what anyone intimates. Better to strive to be the best we can be today (all the while hoping for better) then to pretend that just because we say we are artists, it makes us grander already. But then again, that does not mean we are dead or less than. It simply means we have to accept reality as our stepping stone; besting ourselves every next day and working hard - because that is what visual art students, apprentices & artists do forever : They work - & they work hard!
Naturally, not all of us have the middle name “van Gogh, Koons or Michelangelo. But, that being said, we should nevertheless recognize that ALL OF US are creative. We were born so. Survival would not have been possible without this trait. But, then again, to say that this makes us all artists in this era of “I am, therefore I am” is rather illusory. As talented as we are, our fate may simply be that we are Joe (or Josephine) More-Than-Ordinary. BUT. . . even then, the best that we are today is what we can repeatedly count on since today's best is nothing less than the foundation for besting itself tomorrow. And so. . . . We never know. "C'est la vie" and that is what is wondrous about not knowing what the outcome of it ever is.
As for being the “deciders” of when we choose to be “professional”. . . creating artworks in a studio is just step one on a ladder of many rungs. It is only when we step outside and beyond our navels that we come to realize that viewers of our work are actually the ones who determine what our position as a painter, sculptor, etc. will be. Note : This doesn’t determine who we are but what our work is. In essence, being an artist has much less to do with choosing to call ourselves "artist" & much more to do with how and whether our work speaks to others.
As for artists being "different". . . It's a grand notion. . . But we are not (if ever we are even artists). This idea stems from 19th century romanticism which continues to taint 21st century thinking and which has encouraged the recent publication of “The Insanity Hoax” - an excellent book by Dr. Judith Schlesinger. It describes the fallacy of artists being seen to be “different”. At our best, creatives are “reflectors of what see and feel”. We speak to the world about the nuances we notice and express, in the hope that these reflections will speak to others; inform, touch & move them. That’s all we can do in this quest. It isn’t about “us”, about being recognized. It’s about getting our work out there so that “it” becomes recognized. Becoming an artist is determined by the voice of our work, not ours. The status or title of artist, therefore, has more to do with doing than being. It is a consequence of our work speaking out.
Rather than submitting to gurus who urge us to "be" something and to break rules about which we often know so little, we should get inspired by reading more about the lives of the masters and on their focus which, for all intents and purposes, has always been about "doing", making, creating and not being.
As for authenticity, it is what we do “normally” unless we are outright hypocrites. It has nothing to do with our level of self-confidence. Many people who fear life are more authentic and real and worthy of our admiration then those who sit atop thrones of self-confidence. Van Gogh was afraid, yet he functioned, and this, despite his "problems". Can we say he was not authentic? Munch "screamed for help", having lived under the weight of his father’s excessive religious piety and subsequent psychoneurosis. And yet, what could have ended up being a personal therapeutic journey became a universally recognized “scream”, one to which the world could identify and sympathize, if not empathize. With such powerful statements, Munch's work reached out, his need responded to the needs of others thus allowing art to emerge from his artwork. Self-confidence may at times be a positive, but it can also be the progeny of arrogance more than the mother of creativity & “art”.
Granted, to be encouraged is always better than to be discouraged. I certainly wrote about that in my own book : Beyond Discouragement, Creativity. But using words & phrases such as : “The art world is a scary place - it can collapse even the strongest person”, “. . . the fears of those who feel lost without any valuable guidance or direction”, “. . . every artist. . . with a lack of self-confidence, worry and confusion”. . . . . . (phew!). That puts a lot of emphasis on "suggested" problems more than on concrete solutions.
Discouragement is not a foundation upon which we can build strengths as this would be tantamount to promoting self-esteem as a legitimate replacement for self-respect.
What is self esteem? It's how we see ourselves based on what others determine we should be. As such, it is detrimental to mental health. Self-respect, on the other hand, is what we need more of : i.e. : a healthy perception of ourselves as someone who has the potential to be excellent - that is : the best we can be today in order that tomorrow we can best even that.
And so, motivating people to look to self-aggrandizement above and beyond a healthy self-respect perception is too reminiscent of the many “encouragement” or motivational speakers of our time. Selling positivity by promoting wishes, dreams and illusions is detrimental to creativity. The only way to encourage anyone is to reassure them that there is always a tomorrow - that one day when we can always have a shot at besting our yesterdays best.