The following was recently posted on Facebook:
I responded with the following "essay":
Doing this for/to a student - hugging, has been for a long time now perceived as "bad", not professional or correct.... in the teaching or care realms - not kosher, but iffy, "questionable" and even frightening...
As humans, today, this is “where we are at". Disconnected, cold and fearful, we question all closeness behaviour.
It's one of the subliminal reason's why many teachers quit. Their lot is fraught with discouragement, an impossibility to offer what we crave to give: i.e.: encouragement. There is now so little human in the concept of humanity, and less and less tangible connection in classrooms today...
Basically, academic environments are nothing more than mirror reflections of the world beyond their walls - walls which separate us from each other, from those very individuals who deeply need us to care because there isn’t much out there that says they are worth anything. And so, they get angrier and increasingly violent.
Hugs? That normal human reaction to connection since the beginning of time is now perceived to be an embarrassment, and worse... Ironically, we have replaced this euphemistically archaic practice with aggressive "whacks!" called "high fives", watered down symbols of attack called "fist-bumps" and illusions of pretend closeness resembling more "warfare of the hearts and minds" than gifts of sharing. But then, what’s the problem? Pretense at closeness through symbolic gestures of spontaneous pseudo “touching” are better than nothing, aren't they? They certainly take less time - that thing we too often waste in our haste to get somewhere... “wherever that is”...
Yes, a real hug, a "holding close", takes time... A minute? Hell! To a child, after overcoming the shock, a minute would be like winning the lottery - so unreal! That’s how rare hugs of that wondrousness are today. But then, time is always the main factor in contemporary life... “wasting it”, that is - even for a short period, such waste is considered sacrilegious...
In fact, in our era, holding a child close; feeling the tension melt away and the rise of confidence fill the void is almost a lost art. To hold an adolescent in this way has become, for both adults and teens involved, "discomfortable"; a reminiscence of being babied. It’s just not common in our times to be close to those we say we love or care about. We have emojis for that, don't we?
“Real” hugs? Well, their perceived as “odd” - clingy, if not worse.... Strong people don’t hug. Weak ones do... They make us feel “imprisoned”, like vulnerable victims of something.... Hugs imply castration via the most abused word in our era: “safety” which implies that the one receiving requires protection rather than encouragement. We’ve lost track of the fact that such an honest closeness actually refuels and strengthens the resolve of a receiver to once again strive to truly be free and fly. We all need such hugs as we evolve throughout our lives. They remind us of how precious connection is, especially in a world which fears it, denies it and even loathes it.
When was it, that such a gift to children we are entrusted with, that caring beyond simply saying it, became a sin - simply because we now see evil in everything, even goodness?
As parents and teachers, we increasingly see and encounter our kids angry today - really angry. And we don’t get it... We control their thoughts and actions into their 20s and 30s. And we don’t get it. We rage at schools and teachers as if the world’s inequities are their fault rather than praise them for doing the best they can to help "our" children and teens survive the mess we are all in and which they are inheriting... and still, we don’t get it!
The world is suffering greatly from the damages done to our eco-systems and the destructions we do to ourselves through incessant wars and turmoil. Teens, because of it all, feel encased in an antiquated rigidity and formality and pain and anxiety and depression. Why? Our systems define them as lost causes unless they abandon their dreams and no longer submissively sit passive as we “manipulate their lives”. And fearfully, for them, there is no longer anyone who dares hug those pains away without being accused of something else.
For decades now, teachers have been "ordered" to view their wards as “distant” numbers and ourselves as cold conveyors of a tomorrow devoid of hope.
When did the once revered profession of teaching become a passionless passion, now perceived as nothing more than a babysitting service for each stage of the lives of “our” children we promised we would unquestionably love and care for? Since our entry into virtual realities, it has become easier and easier to lose ever more traction in the "real" realties of life where our ego-systems have increasingly begun deteriorating. And despite this devolution in the process of human connection awareness experienced by teachers during 5 to 6 hours of everyday, even on weekends teachers just can’t let go of the pains they encounter - that of the children and teens who cry alone a rage that rises from deep down within them and which increasingly gets aggressively expressed in school.
Why is it, therefore, that they are no longer worth just one minute of our time? All they want from us is a warm feeling of connectivity flowing through their veins, a show of trust and encouragement to give them the strength to once again attempt to tackle, to offset the fears that the world, they are slated to become a part of, imposes upon them. All children and teens, today, feel that they are not worthy to take their place in this world as care givers of tomorrow. They definitely need a hug. And if teachers can't give it to them, who in the hell will?
They're certainly not getting it from anywhere else.
Our 21st century educational system, despite and supported by a technological pretense at modernization, basically remains a 19th century preparatory ground for assembly line work mindsets. The goal is to dumb down and render submissive the creative within us. That's why we fight so intensely to have our individuality recognized in a society that now desperately needs us to be collectively focused...
Questions 1 and 2:
Do I try to sell collectors "my art"?
No. Mainly because I don't sell "art". I sell artworks which may or may not be eligible to hold within them the mystery that is "art".
Do I give them (consumers) enough information that they want to own the piece?
I would feel like a shit if I ever discovered that at any time during the past 50 + years of my career one of my collectors had bought an artwork of mine because I had "led him/her into doing so".
Buyers of my artworks CHOOSE to buy my work. They tell me they want it. I don't manipulate the conversation to get them to "own"' anything! Why should I?
In our times, we are too much like commodity salesmen trying to get rid of old stock. Do I try to sell my work? Other than display it and give the general parameters of title, dimensions and medium, I tend to shut up and stay away from the whole promotion and marketing formats of the day.
Too often, we appear to be more hyped up on being seen to be artists than we are at presenting thought-filled and deep meanderings into the sensual world of our artwork making. Basically, today, we are become more distractions than lures into the visual language world we are engaged in. We often sound more like shills and hucksters.
I don't give out information focused on getting someone to "own a piece". (!!!) Whether buyers fit one or the other of consumer, investor or collector is not the point. I've sketched or painted or sculpted whatever I have and now I display it. I've done my bit. And though I will warmly welcome and speak with a visitor to one of my displays, I generally prefer to offer them free reign as to observation, appreciation (or not) and even interpretation. This is their moment to reach out and be moved (or not) by the work I have created. It's as simple as that. Sometimes they buy. Sometimes they don't. But in the end, they must make that choice and not me (or my pushing them to do so).
Oddly, communication freedom is what the commercial side of the visual arts is about since, at the core, it is a sensual, not a commodity-based exercise.
Artwork, ready to leave a studio to be exhibited, to stand on its own to speak, must be "freed up" to do so, this - despite contemporary notions which deem it necessary in our times to "prepare" audiences for the upcoming revelations of our work............................................. (!!!) Such a notion says 2 things to me:
1- We don’t trust our potential clients to be smart enough to “get” our stuff, and....
2- We don’t trust the quality of our work.
So where lies the real problem?
For all intents and purposes, artworks can legitimately be coddled during the extensive developmental stages within a studio. But once completed, and existing outside the atelier environment, created objects must be weaned - must become independent of our overprotective attentions. Why so? At this stage of the game, the lasting value of an artwork no longer depends on excessive pampering by its creator. Rather, it must gamble on the attentions, or lack thereof, of viewers being open to an artwork’s ability to communicate and the viewer's ability to connect.
Artworks are like children. They must eventually grow up and learn to fly on their own, without parental interference. So should our studio progeny. Despite contemporary practices, If I have to "sell" the virtues of my created spawn, what I actually end up doing is neutering it from the get-go. I am telling the world that I am not sure that my work can stand on its own... And the more intense I sound on the subject the more desperate I appear to be and the weaker my work seems.
Essentially, artworks, have an innate right to exist independently of us in order for the art "within the artwork” to appear and to have its say... (again, oftentimes we forget that art is not necessarily in all or even anything we create. If we are lucky it occasionally does thrill a viewer by its presence.
Where am I going with all of this?
Creating is a 3 fold experiment in processing. The first element involves a creator who generally retires from the fray in order to muse within a studio environment - this to give birth to a concrete representation of a concept, a thought, an observation, a feeling whose forever quest is to eventually be conveyed and shared with others (unless the creation process is a therapeutic one).
The second step in the process of transmitting artwork to an audience involves a right of passage, or the debutante ball aspect of the coming out of an artwork. This is not a new concept, whether this relates to individuals or individual artworks.
In ancient Greece, there were “symposia” - banquets to honour the transition of a boy to manhood. A similar event, called a “convivium”, was held in ancient Rome to recognize a young man’s coming of age. Many other cultures, over time, have had similar happenings, some religious some cultural, which opened the doors to adulthood for the all too ready young.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, debutante balls were common in Europe. Not to be left behind, the West had its own “Promenades” - soon to be known as “proms” - as first highlighted in the Harvard Crimson newspaper in 1879.
All such events are comparable to the final stage of presentation, display and introduction of our artworks to the world. As newly minted adult creations, the first responsibility of these recently “mature” artworks, (as independent “beings”), is to prove themselves worthy of the wider worlds recognition, acceptance and/or rejection of their claim to excellence.
The third and final element in this sharing experience is the very fact that an artwork must be allowed its own space to breathe within a communication environment. From the first moment of its presentation and display before the eyes of the world, an artwork must be free to express itself - and this through an excellence of rendition put forth by the quality of compositional elements “playing nicely together”.
So, is my artwork art?
All in all, and despite our intentions, talents and expertise as creators, the decision that “art” actually resides within a specific creation is the purview of a viewer, not ours. Obviously, artworks are things, buyable, tradable objects. Art is not a thing. it is a mystery which is only seen (felt) through the eyes and heart of a viewer, open to receiving the enigmatic experience of “soul” within an artwork. It is that which elicits awe and "unbelievability" from viewers.
Essentially, every artwork made, manufactured, sketched, painted, sculpted, composed or written has been created with one intent and one intent only in mind of its maker: to give the constructed end product a "life" - its own life. And so, why would anyone considering themselves to be an artist ever subscribe to the need to hawk their wares through opaque artist’s statements and sales pitches that sound and feel more like door to door salesmen spiels?
Is it that our contemporary tactics fit the times?
Yes. A good example of this is that parents today do not shy away from showing up at colleges to give hell to profs who don’t give their 23 year old babies an A+ in whatever. That’s what’s called a bastardization of upbringing. Do we practice this type of gobbledygook reality in the visual arts? Sadly, yes. More often than not the arts (especially the visual arts) reflect the era in which we live. Just read some of the artist statements available on line which describe the "non-sense" we throw out as sophisticated parlance which, in effect, seem to tell our potential collectors that we don't see them as bright enough to understand our worldly-wise work. Is this true? Possibly not. But it sure sounds like we’re going in that direction...
So the answer to the title question is?...
Once an artwork is completed and, by our own admission, ready to stand on its own, we’ve only got 5 simple things to do to show our trust in both our latest all grown up hatchlings and our client base:
1) Take 2 steps back from the work once it is completed,
2) smile proudly,
3) let the work speak for itself,
4) shut the hell up... and,
5) for god's sake, let the viewer discover the art (soul) emanating from the depths of our artwork. If they don't/can't, we'll know soon enough that this particular artwork will at least make a good paint-over canvas for a future kick at the can.
Once an artwork is completed we should take a lesson from greater artists than ourselves. The unwritten rule of thumb is to take 2 steps back and speak no more. IF our artworks are good enough to show, they are good enough to do their own speaking - which is their job, not ours.
I know that in our era we live in over-protectiveness of children - and in so doing we ruin their ability to stand on their own. The same applies to painting, drawing and sculpting. By making, creating, molding and crafting things we give these objects "life". Why, then, do we snuff it out in order to provide our audiences with info that aggrandizes us rather than our work. How is anyone supposed to come upon the "art" that purportedly resides within our work if we constantly grandstand and interfere with their search to be reached out to, touched and moved?
Why render artwork creating academic; so-called logical, it demeans the subjective and the sensuous that should be oozing from our craft?
Are we, in our time, in such need of attention and praise? I would rather people gush over my work than me. Ask 100 people who painted the Mona Lisa and few would be able to tell you. And THAT IS OK!!! It's Mona who counts. Leonardo the painter comes second, if not last. And we are in a field where so do we. If we can't accept that, we will be nothing but mediocre "artists".
At 14 when I started selling artworks, I thought I was the be all and end all... How wrong I was. Nobody cared about me. It is not me they hang on their walls. The art within the artwork is not the money I made.
By the time I was 30 I knew better and, to this day, I don't even call myself an "artist". What arrogance that is! (Let the adoring crowds do that! It's their job... not ours.)
As for artists' statements... They're better left unsaid.
So....... Everyone’s an artist? Interesting conjecture.
I prefer the contention that everyone is born creative, since creativity is a necessary component of human basic survival (and has been since the beginning of time). But, as not all are born into an environment which encourages an equal measure of creative élan, some of us inadvertently end up having less capacity to survive the trials and tribulations of life than others. (But note... If we are one of the lucky ones, that does not make us better. It simply makes us more fortunate.)
In consideration of the foregoing, I assume that, as not all of us are mechanically or mathematically privileged, it goes without saying that not all of us are necessarily and naturally "artistically creative" - at least not to a degree which merits the “traditional” title and status of "artist". Though this title once had stature, its contemporary prestige rating has definitely become a faded pastiche of its original self. So why continue to hold it up to such adulation?
Let me man-splain here...
Today, if I draw, paint, sculpt, (i.e.: make things called artworks), this makes me (in fact, if not in aspiration) a drawer, a painter, a sculptor. It makes me what I “do”, not who I suddenly feel the need to call myself. Why? Because the visual arts, as a contemporary libertarian exercise, is for the most part not professional in nature nor should it therefore be in recognition. For all intents and purposes, in contemporary individualistic societies, the quality of self-expression rarely rises above a generic level of avocation - though in capitalistic collectives, the activities may come with benefits. So... why is anointing myself an “artist” still such a contemporary craving?
Well. The irony of it reveals itself when we once again look back to the days of yore. Being an artist, in the past, meant “being seen to have achieved a level of expertise and excellence beyond the norm”. It meant we were better (at what we did), more than (as in: we gave more to our viewer), and worth it (at least re the attention of viewers and especially buyers.)
Why this contention?
In years prior to the 18th and 19th centuries, visual artists were generally known as once-apprenticed craftsmen, journeymen, expert labourers in a specific field. But once their skill sets had been acquired and their individual unique talents discovered as more than average, the status of an individual worker changed. With their work now sought after, they were crowned with the title “artist”.
Today is another matter. That mesmerizing title and its stature of specialness, of difference born of excellent rendering, still lures us in but for different purposes............we wish it not for the same reasons as in the past but for reasons our times dictate. Wearing a title, even one that has faded into an oblivion of non-sense, still gives us a feeling of having achieved in a time when achievement is hardly recognized. Anointing ourselves with it "appears" to make us different and special and “better” in a time when being like everybody else seems depressing... And so, the irony remains.... the last vestiges of status oddly prevail in a field which has long gone rogue and which now demands its due as entitled creatives who have not abandoned the myth that they were born “more than” artistic.
In essence, in the past 2 centuries, the title of artist and its concomitant ally "art", though having lost most if not all of their luster as credible professional designations, have nonetheless oddly maintained a momentum as designates at a time when excellence has faded even more than our artwork production still purports to have the capacity to affect our souls.
In this respect, since excellence in the visual arts is no longer a requisite but rather dependent on how it is defined and redefined, all that is left, it seems, is the title, status and the ease with which we call what we do a profession. This, in turn, makes the visual arts a non-entity in the grand scheme of things professional, (at least where the collective as a whole is concerned).
The following is a related sidebar (as artwork production is concerned) and in relation to calling ourselves professionals....
I would not want to be treated by someone who says they are an endocrinologist but actually isn't.... Basically, endocrinology is a recognized and respected profession. (It is also against the law to say we are of this profession and call ourselves so if our affirmation is fraudulent and worse we actually practice it.) A law practice is much the same, as is engineering and teaching. These titles are acquired, earned. To keep them as ours demands a level of practice in a field which searches out excellence as its goal. The visual arts, as a populist activity, no longer has accredited parameters. Therefore, as a field, it has no more credibility than to simply be seen to be a "generic self-expression exercise". Why is this true?
Basically, today, “artist” has become a glamour title in an arena of "everyone is an artist and everything we do is art".
In conclusion, therefore:
Wearing a title such as artist should be done with respect to its highest calling, In which case, we creatives have to recognize that we are nothing more than observers and recorders of what is, (in whatever style we prefer to render the message). We are neither god nor guru. And ours is not to preach but to share - even if our only task is to carry the message of the a caged canary in a mine shaft...
if we are honest, this end description must be acknowledged as the mandate of the arts we purport to be attaching ourselves to. Otherwise, like the too often undue wearing of the title artist, and the strutting of the status we invoke, our work would be best referred to as art therapy, its focus: creating for ourselves and its quest: making us feel better...
Is art making a calling? Can we know a person from the artworks they make? Do we make art in order to be seen?
These questions, were recently posted online all in one grouping. Quite interesting and multi-faceted; speaking to a lot of areas - each in need of clarification. But before taking them all in, please allow me to, once again, spell out my position:
Art vs artworks
I do not create “art”. I make artworks. Art, in and of itself, is an enigma, not a creatable thing. Artworks, on the other hand are manufactured, made, created products or commodities. I therefore make things called artworks from which (maybe, sometimes) the enigma of "art" may emerge.
For me or for others...
In my books, there are 2 ways to "create artworks”:
1) the first is therapeutically - i.e.: to make artworks which meet a creator’s own needs and desires. Being a restorative exercise, it is generally called therapeutic artwork making or, in it’s most common misnomer parlance, art therapy.
2) The other creative élan has a more universal visual language connotation. - one which speaks to creativity as a channel, a connection with others. In this context, artwork is a statement made, a conversation, a “something” to "put out there". That’s what we “usually” define art as. And if the product of our mind and heart, (an artwork) is “made” to be exhibited, to be seen - or to, at times, be put up for sale in a gallery or auction, etc., the necessary connection with others is a given.
That being said, when connection is a sought after conclusion to our creative efforts, its goal must be to surpass or at least be said to surpass the basics of physicality (i.e.: the artwork's physical presence, its status as a thing, an object, an artwork). Why? Essentially, for an artwork to rise above its mundane physical appearance, it must be of such a nature that the mystical existence of its soul - the art within it, (if it is there at all), will wish to emerge - to make itself "felt", to be sensually available to a viewer open to receiving it. That is the stuff of artwork creating at its most powerful... It has a message (within it) to share. In essence, the visual language that is artwork making has but one “collective” purpose: to speak (if it can) to reach out and touch and move each and every individual open to the “art” within a wondrously created artwork.
It's not about "me"...
As for my own paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc. It is not about me. I have never felt the need to own, hold dear or hold back my creations for my sole appreciation. Their purpose is to reach out, to connect with others who, in turn, may appreciate, reject or simply observe what has been presented to them. I would hope viewers of my work feel more of a connection with the people, places and things I paint than with me. Focusing on a creator is to redirect one’s attention to a narrator rather than to the more important story being told within an artwork. Why bother creating, if the goal is to be celebrated? We might as well simply stand nude on a pedestal and await the adulation being sought.
Will you know me?
For all intents and purposes, defining someone’s character, personality or traits by associating them with their artwork is a rather tenuous amateur contention akin to pop psychology. Analyzing the psyche or personality of a creator, in our times, is more a judgment call based on populist opinions and beliefs than facts or reality. And, as titillating as our pseudo-psychological meanderings might be, the eventual findings may say more about the person “wondering about” than the person being wondered about.
The passion, the calling...
Lastly, re “the call” to create, versus a choosing to do so.
Once again, we live in a time of everything meeting our wants rather than our needs. We tend to romanticize certain words (such as “calling”). With words being played with today rather than naturally evolving, it does give rise to the consideration that such a thing as a "calling" is a cut above the basic human trait of “wanting to”. In essence, a calling, in our times, has come to mean an almost spiritual or religious fervour regarding one thing or another. It implies that those of us "who are called" are somewhat more special than the average lot of "normal mortals".
Now, if all we mean by this is that "we have a strong urge and ability in a specific area of expertise", then I would consider the word legitimate. More insinuation than that, though, as to its origins or intent and I would begin to feel that a twinge of pomposity, which could easily be associated with other descriptives such as superiority and self-aggrandizement, was at play. .
Luck of the draw...
The only thing which is different in those of us interested in any form of artwork making is that we have not yet had our curiosities and urges to make things taken away from us by a world which fears difference and wonder. In that we should simply consider ourselves lucky not better than. Basically, at best, a calling means “having a purpose” and at worst “having a holy above the fray passion”.... which, in past eras was often referred to as displaying an exuberance.... akin to an erotic seizure...... Maybe we should be careful with what we wish for.
To summarize. I would wager that most of us LOVE what we do and wish to continue doing it for as long as our capacities allow. (That is certainly praiseworthy since such an attitude will surely keep us younger, longer...) But calling our high spirited interest a “calling”, in this iffy era of artwork making, is... to be honest, “a bit” of a stretch.
Me, myself and I...
Being seen is "a thing' these days. We crave it through our selfies despite the fact we seem to know that it is a sign of anxiety and depression to have to constantly convince ourselves we exist. But artwork making is hugely different than that which we do with our phones. The idea is to at least know the ballpark definition of a professional... i.e.: It's someone who knows enough to take 2 steps back when presenting his or her wares to those who are interested in their "product". It's simply being mature enough to "shut up" - to allow a completed artwork to have its own say (if it can) because that is what artworks do... when well rendered... they allow the art from within to emerge and speak.
When the American contemporary artist Chuck Close was asked upon which muses he depended to heighten his creative juices, he answered (and, I paraphrase): “Esoteric musings are for amateurs, the rest of us just get to work.”
Once again, I will not dare answer this question without first explaining the premise upon which my comments are formulated - being as they speak to a topic based on an extremely common presumption that art can be made at all. Basically, I don't believe we drawers, painters, sculptors, dancers, writers etc. create "art". Such an assertion would, at its most arrogant, elevate us (elevate ourselves?) to the pantheon of the gods, to which we humans definitely are not and never will be anointed.
Speaking to the title of this blog, we "creatives" are simply makers of things, physical objects, articles, commodities, which sometimes can be called "artworks" - i.e.: buyable, rentable. sellable, sharable "things" whose main purpose is not necessarily to be beautiful but, hopefully, well created, or, at their very best, beautifully rendered.
(For all intents and purposes, an artwork is the thing we buy from a gallery, agent or auction to hang on our walls or sit atop a pedestal. It's what we show off to those who come over for dinner. Art, on the other hand, is what emerges from that made object once everyone is gone and we are left alone to be deeply touched by the wonders that this art from within bestows upon us.)
The goal of any artwork is to be a worthy vessel - a holder of something enigmatic, a mystery, a mystical, a sensual life source which, in the right circumstances - emerges before a viewer open to receiving it - i.e.: someone ready to be touched, and moved, and mesmerized by what they discover in an artwork. Therein lies the difference between artworks and art. Essentially, artworks are objects, commodities. They have a price. Art, on the other hand, is not a "thing". It is essentially a mystery and, as such, is therefore priceless. It freely belongs to any and all beings open to receiving it - whether they are the owner of the object or not.
That being said, Let's get back to the main question:
I sometimes find it difficult to "see" visual arts as a professional activity in our times. In reality, it is more often than not a concoction of art supply cum arts & crafts shops. (Try and get any professional supplies from a shop these days... It's easier and faster to get what you want online since there aren't enough of us working full time at this game to make it worthwhile for shops to handle our needs.) In effect, most art material stores are now simply arts and craft shops displaying colouring books and sparkly things.
Oddly, the reason for the belittling of the acts of drawing, painting and sculpting, etc. often lies in the illusions "created" around creativity - that is: associating it with a title and status which implies practitioners are different than, or worse... better than others... i.e.: "I am an artist and you're not...", I'm sensitive and you are...uhm.... less so." In this, we who believe there is a higher calling beyond craft and skills, appear to have become our own worst enemies - especially when "others" question whether we "artists" actually "work".... Oh, how angry we get when those "others" see us as nothing more than "pretending to be "be-ers of art". Or is the assumption factually true?
Such is the fate of a self-selected identity system. In these contemporary times, being an artist is not necessarily a position, activity or recognition of excellence. It's simply a title and status chosen by the wearer. Over the past 100 years, it has increasingly become more of a something we simply identify as "if we wish to", rather than something we aspire to practice and achieve through hard work and learning and excellence.
As there are no professional parameters defining the title "artist" today, everyone and anyone can simply choose to call themselves so. And, we do... Therein lies an issue.... Our expectation to be seen to be an artist comes with an unwritten proviso that others should also see us as such. This can be (and often is) problematic since, to be a bona fide practitioner in any duly recognized field, recipients or purchasers of our services must trust that they are getting the "goods" that they expect are worthy of their hard-earned coin.
Usually, professionals whose status is legally defined by law and standards can claim to "be" something "different" - i.e.: duly licensed and recognized by peers who are also duly licensed. But then, most oddly refer to themselves and and are subsequently recognized by what they "do" and not simply by "who they are" because they say so. Engineers, doctors, mechanics, officers of the law, teachers, electricians, and any and all professional labourers are not called so for status - though their recognized expertise awards them a certain amount of earned deference.
Naturally, their titles are not defined by themselves but by institutional accreditation and/or recognition by a professional body and the exercise of their qualified skills within an environment which can both determine the excellence of what they "do" or duly reject their product as universally not up to par. To be noted... we all are hard pressed to find any quality artwork or teaching online or even in some of the schools said to be "art schools". Populist areas of display and promotion are not out there to be the best. Their goal is simply to convince us all that they are - whether that is factually true or not. The premise is, that we can be whatever it is we want to be, because we have been taught that this is a fact.
We all know the story of Margaret Atwood at a party... Being a famous novelist and poet she attracts a lot of attention. But she is not as well known to some as she is to others. At the time of a gathering, a prominent neuro-surgeon asked what she did for a living.. After telling him her story, he beamed from ear to ear as he told her that when he retired he was becoming a writer. Without missing a beat, Atwood responded with equal enthusiasm: "Isn't that fascinating! I've decided that when I retire I am going to do neuro-surgery.".........
The only thing worse than the title artist being stolen by individuals who factually are not, (and possibly never will be what they profess to already), is the theft of the title and status of "teacher".
Once, one of the most, if not the most revered of professions, today it has lost much of its luster. Education in the 21st century is less respected as a valuable asset than it was in past decades and centuries. And so, teacher becomes anyone who can sell themselves as such to a gullible public where millions of sham offerings are promoted alongside a few thousand legitimate services.
Teacher... Now, that title is too often coupled with the title artist, and what we have is a quasi total destruction of the skill set acquisition services to present and future generations. When we add online "services" to the fray, via suped-up websites pretending to be professional, and what we have is a serious downturn in the capacities being sold as valid, in a world which has no idea what skill sets are and what is required for a talent to flourish. It is quasi impossible to decipher which are honest accreditation services and those which are basically valueless, "influencer-based" offerings.
Titles, status and "us"...
Being an "artist" has become "special" not because it still is but rather because it is up for grabs by every Tom, Dick and Harriet. No longer seen to be the title and status of a valid profession, the belittling of it makes us all vulnerable to questioning we don't like. When we show people who we purportedly are rather than focus them onto what we do, that title and status is open to questioning and that makes us take "personally" any comments made as a rejection "of us" rather than a critique of our work. When titles and status become more important than what we do, we are walking into a minefield of a "to be expected subjective analysis" of our person rather than a feel good or feel bad reaction to our work.
Whether we like it or not, the 20th and 21st centuries have thrown a wrench into the mix by incorporating "branding", "star quality" and "influencer status" into our quest for recognition. Even the prestige of the the most respected of professions: "teacher" is being used and abused by anyone and everyone seeking social media and personal status.
Being an artist in our times has become complicatedly foggy as “truth”... By choice, it has become a nebulous whatever title which describes "who we wish to be seen to be" rather than something which illustrates our qualifications or the wondrous work that we do. And there lies the rub.
Today, artist means everything and it means nothing. This conundrum was clarified for me when I long ago asked a child who was drawing “what he considered himself to be based on what he was doing”. He looked at me strangely and simply answered: "I am a boy and I'm drawing..." Children, not tainted by adult impositions, with no affectations whatsoever, are honest. They define themselves not as any more than they are and credibly see their worth in what they do and how well they do it. They don’t require a title or perceived higher calling like "artist". That's our adult need. We can learn a lot from this most mature crowd we call "innocent children"... From birth, they already seem to be aware that it is not who we pretend to "be" but rather what we "do" which honestly defines who we are.
That isn't to say that I refuse the title of artist when it is awarded to me. It's a wonderful compliment, even from someone who pleads they know nothing about "art". But I long ago have abandoned using the title. I like to think that artwork making is a "labour" of love. And so, it is work. And the blessing I get is in that work which offers me more than I could have ever hoped for - viewers mesmerized by a piece I sometimes think is not as good as it could be. Therein lies our status - the work we do being appreciated by others. Without them, we are nobodies.
One last comment:
When I was a child, my talented mechanic father taught me that we earn not only money from our work but respect for the fine craftsmanship and excellence of rendition. He treated labour as a wondrous thing. And hoped I would also. I have never forgotten this. And proudly, I also remember that both of us throughout the years have had oil on our hands. The only difference? His was diesel, mine was alkyd.
Process vs end "result"
As visual art practitioners, we are often asked (or ask ourselves) whether we are successful or not. But then, of what success do we speak?
If success in the visual arts is creating, i.e.: “making”... then, with or without the status of “artist”, most of us can claim to be successful. If, as the marketplace implies, success is in the selling... then most of us are not.
Creative success is in the process, in the making of things, the manufacturing (in the purest sense) of objects whose goal it is to eventually stand on their own. But, ironically, that type of success needs no branding of ourselves, no marketing of how grand "we" are - unless that is the goal: i.e.: to be seen to be an artist rather than to free our work to speak for itself.
In essence, it is only in the marketplace parameter of things (in the arena of buying and selling) that this other success: i.e.: “the financial one, with all of its gizmos”, exists. And despite any personal opinions, the end product of selling becomes not so much the thing made but rather the $, Yen, Euro, Rupee gained - through the "ridding ourselves" of a product.
That being said, I am not implying that achievement in the market arena (i.e.: earning a living), is a "bad thing". I do it daily. I am simply stating that "success" in this realm does not give it a status, or higher calling, as the root essence of creative success. Though selling a product plays a role in feeding one's belly and paying the rent... professional recognition (fame?), achieved at this end of the "success" spectrum, remains ephemeral.
That being said, selling means knowing one's buyer demographic...
Artworks, as end products in the life of a professional visual artist, are “out there” to get bought and sold. So who's out there to buy? The variety of purchasers interested in the visual arts is as “coloured” as the artworks being offered. But basically, they fall into 3 categories. The standard consumer is the first of these. He or she buys artwork in safe colours and safe subject matter and, oftentimes, depicting skillfully copied imagery of anything which evokes nostalgia, romanticism, whimsy, or decor, i.e.: anything which makes a living-room or bedroom colour scheme pop.
Collectors, are those who prefer greater depth and wonder in their artwork acquisitions. Their need may be the purchase of one artwork only, or they may want many more over time. But their main goal is the same: to be "awed" rather than consider everything "awesome".
Finally, there are those whose primary concern is collecting for investment. Investors purchase what is expensive or may be considered to, "one day" be of "value". This breed of buyers is more closely associated with the concept of marketing since its interest is in brand recognition - i.e.: in the artist's name more than in the creativity aspect of an output which may or may not have art residing within it. In this case, the artwork itself is not so much the focus as it is the commodity of it, the bartering chip aspect of it - the financial investment "thing" in a "transaction".
Artwork, purchased in the first and last categories described, more easily fits into marketing concept expectations and $ prognostications. Its existence in this forum has a rather less than esoteric reason for being there. It’s simple: 1) be available for sale, 2) get noticed through promotion and 3) get bought. In essence, at its most essential beingness in our times, artwork is a commodity, an available object like any other product.
Artwork? Art? What’s the difference?
In our times, the word, the moniker, the definition of “art” is often bandied about as being anything that any Tom, Dick or Harriet, calling themselves an artist, creates. From the onset, this supposition is false. Though artwork is a product. "Art" is definitely not. It’s not even a thing. It cannot be bartered, bought or sold. In fact, art belongs to everyone - gratis.
Uhm....... explain please!
For all intents and purposes, art is like a story "living within" a book - the artwork being the book cover and the art being the content. On its own, art mysteriously emerges from artwork to connect with whomever is sensitive enough to “feel” its existence. Essentially, all we have to do, metaphorically, is to open the “book” and visit the “pages”. Art is what speaks to us from within a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a song. It is, in fact, the mystery, the enigma, the wonder we discover in a piece. Its purpose in life is simple - to reach out, touch and move us.
Does art reside in all artworks?
In a visual-art sense, art is born of the capacity of an individual (a creative person) to invent an environment (an artwork) which skillfully, or not, describes a thought, a feeling, an experience. Each brush, pen, pencil or chisel stroke is laid down for the sole purpose of combining with many other similar "actions" to create a composition that "hits the mark". To use the book analogy once more... Basically, a good cover (artwork) is not only created to be “attractive” but it also must hint at “more”. This “more” is experienced when we (the viewer) begin to feel the mystery within, being touched by the story within. But, to answer the question... No. Not every artwork is a successful book cover design or hints at a compelling story within... Art, therefore, does not necessarily reside within all artwork.
So, how do we create "art"?
We don't. We can't. Simple as that.
Artwork creation is about a painter, a sculptor, a dancer, writer, composer, etc. speaking to us, and saying: "I saw this, I experienced this in my particular way of taking-in life, I felt this. AND, I thought that it just might be of interest to you. And so I created this “artwork” which would bring this "to be shared message" to you, dear viewer. What do you think?...”
Artwork creation therefore is simply an expressed wish to be shared, to make a connection with others. And, in that moment of sharing become discovery, just maybe art will be discovered - if it is actually there to be felt (not understood, but felt...). When artwork has the wondrous enigma of art within it, it soon makes its way to the viewer, the appreciator of it.
Since the very beginning of creative expression, this mystery has occurred and continues to happen to this day. It is in those wondrous “things” we call masterpieces that we discover and feel, and are able to immerse ourselves in the warmest embraces of the greatest gift some of us will ever receive: the capacity to be awed.
Much like the Mona Lisa has moved millions since her features were revealed in the early 16th century, most of us still have no idea why she is so fascinating. After 400 years and more, she continues with no hiatus, to elicit still more questions than she hands out pat answers. Wondrously, she speaks to us individually rather than collectively, thus becoming "ours" for awhile. And this, she does freely. She charges no fee to share with us, to tease us, to create questions in our minds about her and ourselves. Such is the make-up of art. Art is the enigma of wonder. But without this mystery in the acts of connection and sharing, it sadly fades... and when that happens, we are the less for it.
All this to say: though the physical property of her (the artwork) belongs to the Louvre and can be bought or sold for multi millions, what she was created for: "the art of her" is this capacity to freely reach out, and this, always as a without reservation gift.
And this is the magic, the wonder of "art" - that aspect of artwork which (when it is actually there) is like the genie in Aladdin's lamp. In that story, we came to understand that though the lamp from which the genie emerges may be just a physical object, it nonetheless has within it the capacity to "attract", to lure us in through its seeming wish to be with us. And when we react to this connection, we become one with the genie that is the "art" within that lamp.
But what of the creator of an artwork? Where do they fit in, where art is concerned?
Most of us don’t know who painted Mona Lisa anymore than whose gnarled hands built a rocking chair mysteriously sitting on the porch of an abandoned farm house. But that doesn’t stop us from wondering about who may have sat in her as we “feel” the breeze which still rocks that chair... At their best, artworks convey such sensuality, not logic. Their purpose is not to get us to say how great the author, the skill or even the finished product is. The reason for artworks is the promise of hopefully there being soul within this thing made - depth into which we can immerse ourselves in order to discover the greatness in the ordinariness of being alive.
At its most eloquent, the making of an artwork is in actual fact the designing of an altar - the creating of a mystical place-object which we hope will house the art we wish to share with viewers.
But... Today's obsession with marketing, selling and acquisition has taken us away from life's "knowing" that to behold something wondrous is more precious to our wellbeing than holding onto, possessing.... or owning something.
If this is so, the fundamentals of universal marketing are not only tainting the worth and value of our very existence, they have come to dictate its norms and those of our personal exercise of the creative gifts we have been given. Not only does marketing speak authoritatively to us, it is, in actual fact, dictatorially determining how we react, or not, to the essentials of our very being and doing. And by doing so, awe before the most wondrous of things becomes the “ubiquitous and meaningless “awesome”. Making us now, more ordinary than the extraordinary that we are
Contemporary marketing has duped us into believing that what we hold in our hands is the zenith prize; that the "possession of things" awards us the ultimate feeling of happiness as dictated by the getting, the acquiring, the accumulation, the "owning" of things as per our collective environments endless quest: to have it all.
Perhaps it's time to opt for joy - that created-from-within feeling which is not dependent upon the accumulation of objects to give us a voice and sharings worthy of awe.
From its very inception, the idea, the expression of “Woke” has been a deeply honest display of awareness - an "awakedness" of only those who know how troubling actions and attitudes can truly be. This is especially true within a collective which has come to be so full of itself it no longer cares about anyone or anything but itself - a time when self-esteem (how we feel about ourselves based on a superficial collective mantra dictates what is acceptable) supersedes an internalized and mature self-respect and joy.
That being said. Though all earnest intentions of great consequence are genuine, their fate is to often fall into the hands of exploiters. Woke is one of these. In the hands of the most arrogant among us, it has come to attain such levels of toxicity that it will not be long before everyone suffers the consequences of our see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil pretenses built around this appropriated woke “purportedly” means.
As stated, there have always been and always will be those who confiscate, who abscond with that which can be disfigured and remolded into a snake-oil concoction, a manipulation, a divisive tool of the masses which is then used as a cudgel against those who do not think as the perpetrator does.
Sadly, for woke to be a weapon of choice it needs not only a conquering evil but also a cadre of submissive fools. Woke, in the hands of these two demographics then easily becomes a fascist mirror reflection of its once earnest self. Appropriated, it is now an ode to superiority gone mad and moralistic bombast of the worst puritan kind. It has become an appropriation made insane by narcissistic individuals and self righteous groups who use shame and canceling and rejection to achieve their means. Even seen to be legitimate governments, corporations, honored associations, and institutions have succumbed to its siren call.
Is this in fact a fear response of being discovered faulty or less than promoted? Is it arrogance seeking to elevate itself above the fray - (lest the crowds discover the truth of their oh-so-superior authoritarian intentions in the abuse of the concept of "Woke"?)
Without the nurturing of control and evil in our times, Woke could not be the unintended moralistic plague that it has become. Even though good things, good intentions at conception, actually seek to wrap us in the warmth of their wisdom and giftedness, evil, always in the wings, is always ready to pounce. And how is that possible? Easy. It is what it is... evil. It appropriates and absconds with a valid precept in order to rot its innards and serve it as truth. And this is done to achieve an ultimate goal: power - to dominate and rule rather than lead and guide.
And if evil seeks to pursue, tempt, subdue and enslave - (and its goals always are), its weapon of choice is often what we think “we own” for legitimate intents and purposes. And so, unquestioning, and even gullible, we trust - considering it normal to feel safe in the havens of our democracies. But often, we become lazy, apathetic and no longer engaged in the protection of those same democracies. And there lies the rub... How easy it is to fall prey to that which seeks to destroy our illusions simply because we are too open to "virtually" anything because we are too comfortable and unconcerned.
But then, as all other incantations-become-evil have done before, Woke, at its worst, will dissipate - and we will once more strive harder to purify ourselves, our societies, our organizations and our institutions.
But this time... is this true? If it is, how can we think that it will easily come to pass before serious damage is realized to have been done to the very structural foundation of our worlds - the very core of our now tainted democratic principles? What of the damage to our schools and the children who attend them, our freedoms and values? What of all the divisiveness, the victimhood obsessions, the identity politics? These will not go away willingly. For the next several decades, we will be left with nothing less than toxic remnants of our own follies. A cult of victimization and memes of superior moralism which will continue to create an ever-slower healing of festering wounds incised by “our” new world order of pointing fingers before we are pointed at, of shaming those "not like us" and of cancel culture neo-puritanism.
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me..............”
Bring on the witches of Salem... Lest we forget? That time of “I am pure and you are not” is once again upon us.
Bernard Poulin. . .