Anxieties - Graphite - 10" x 14" - 1984 - Private Collection
Picasso, I am sure, was filled with love and happiness when he sketched and painted his children. Those depictions communicate both these emotions and his talent for intense yet subtle lines, shapes and form. Yet, his hand did not rely solely on pleasantries to elevate his seeing to its greatest heights. Picasso was a master of all emotions - not just happiness. This, over and above his talent and skills, gave him "legitimacy".
A case in point, he did not create La Guernica, because it made him “happy”. He was livid and needed to express powerfully and graphically the horrors that humans shamelessly inflict upon themselves and their environment. Standing before this artwork makes us realize that the creative giant of this painting was not only angry; he was disgusted.
Good artwork creation is not based on being in a superficially happy place - as contemporary “artists” are wont to believe. Art is not a bowl of fruit or pretty flowers unless those still-lifes, googly eyed baby faces, pretty bird nests, Hollywood star portraits, puppy drawings and squiggly abstracts have something more to say than that they exist as wildly exact reproductions of the photos from which they were copied. Artwork creation at its most sublime is based on speaking a visual language - speaking it clearly and powerfully, gently and horribly, whisperingly and screamingly - and this in regards to the world about us - about the truth, about the facts of who and what we are. It is a shaman’s game where far too many are fixated on becoming idols if not false prophets. Branding, in the realm of the visual arts, must reside in the comments made not the commentator speaking. It’s not a matter of being happy. It’s a matter of seeing and sharing factual truths.
Artwork creation is the physical foundation upon which we seek to present “art” to the world. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t be so hungry to be seen to be “artists” and our work to be seen to be “art”. Creating visual statements is a responsibility at best and, at worst, a toy in the hands of those who ironically have long forgotten what actual “play” really was. Falling in love with the use of cheery reds, moody blues or luscious greens is not enough to make someone an artist. The content has to be given back its legitimate stature if art is ever to speak its mind with any volition or consequence - i.e. : above and beyond the physicality of the artwork. Creating something called artwork wishing itself to be “art” must bring back the voice of “what is” which, sadly has become too virtual to be of any value to the growth and survival of humanity.
In all of this, “happy” is an odd, sad word. Creative excellence is not about how a painter feels when he/she has achieved a bettering of their yesterday's work. It’s about the relief exhaled once a statement of consequence has been made. Pleased or contented, might be less overwhelming than "happy". But they are more realistic responses to our work being let go to stand on their own. When everything has aligned itself in order to achieve a better statement, a more powerful or enigmatic message, a creative person usually accepts to simply be satisfied for a brief time with that moment of success. Visual artists of any consequence are not into "being". They are into doing. And a next thing is always in need of being done, of being said, shared, transmitted and reacted to.
Though a legitimate feeling at any time, happy - especially today - relates too much to the North American Disneyesque concept of fun and easy; to a desperate constant search to be if not an illusory presence in our nervous existences. In essence, as a never ending, as a fulfillment, as a lifelong goal, the contemporary perception of happy has become a rather demonic rejection of our other legitimate emotions - those we humans hold within and which are capable of being expressed and shared - if only political correctness did not censor them with such intense authority.
Artwork creation, first and foremost, is a challenge above and beyond the skill sets required to speak a language well. But visually speaking coherently has become increasingly difficult. First, because we are losing our ability to “connect directly with others” (other than through virtual wizardry) and secondly because our audience is more often than not made up of viewers who, because of the “fun” and “easy” superficiality of image creation and use today, fail to grasp the complexities of the poetic in a visual language - unless it is structured to be "entertainment".
Fun and happy, therefore, are dangerous definers of life. In their quest to be dominant, they are nothing more than deniers of what makes us human, deniers of the times - a 21st century which seems to be rendering up-and-comers more and more depressed, more and more anxious, more and more afraid. As Mr Simon Sinek recently stated : Our younger generations have been dealt a bad hand. In other words we’ve taken from them the ability to not only thrive but survive.
Was that a vengeful act on our part or simply an ignorant or stupid one? Only our consciences will tell - if ever.
So. . . . . . . . . Too serious a reaction to the simple word "happy"? No.
When we belittle expression to a lowest common denominator, we belittle ourselves and we belittle the emotional connections we are trying to make with others. Artwork creation, with the intent of having it be seen to be art, is a serious business. And for that to return to its serious roots, artwork will have to be much more than its canvas and brushes and paint and varnish. And if it is to be a legitimate reflection of the times in which we live, it will have to damned well become a hell of a lot angrier before it can ever become anywhere near legitimately “happy”.
The curmudgeonly defense rests.
Bernard Poulin. . .