the definition of artist
I’m working on this painting, well, not at the moment. Right now I’m drinking a chai tea late and scrolling through Facebook and shaking my head after reading about the artist who’s being sued and threatened with violence for putting out a hilarious painting of a nude that resembles Trump. Like censorship will make America great again! Jeeeez.
Anyway, the other day I posted this in-process photo of my painting and apparently some people thought it was an actual photo, not a shot of a painting. Funny and interesting. There’s this debate among some that realism is boring, that abstract and abstracted works are the “real” art. Although photo realism, when a photo is reproduced inch by inch, as if by a machine, tends to lack soul or some kind of magic, I believe that a painting done in a realist style can have soul, magic, and feeling infused in it.
For years prior to falling in love with still life painting, I painted in an abstract expressionist way, striving to capture and convey energy and emotion, wonder, depth… Imagine my surprise when my professor admired my self-taught technique and suggested that I approach my still life paintings with an abstract expressionist mindset. I loved this idea; I’d been struggling with whether to define myself as an abstract or realist painter and whether my work previously held merit compared to the work done as an art major under the tutelage of a professional.
Why do we have to be either an abstract painter OR a realist painter? Why do we have to have labels at all? The truly great artists that came before us were skilled in a myriad of techniques. Look at Da Vinci, Picasso, and especially Gerhard Richter to illustrate how an artist can be versatile and extremely skilled in multiple techniques. Remember when knowledge and skill was valued, admired, and rewarded, when people would employ an artist to create something most people couldn’t make, something that took years of education, study, and practice to accomplish.
Now almost anyone who slops some paint on a store-bought canvas can call themselves an “artist” and label it “fine art.” As if I could call myself a lawyer or a doctor and practice those professions just because I declared myself as such. The public requires a degree and years of education and experience to practice professions. But when it comes to art they have no expectations and therefore do not value art and the idea that it should be a paid profession. The public’s idea/definition of an artist has changed. When they think artist, they think emotional, a bit crazy, impractical, not someone who can do the job precisely and with skill.
I do believe that emerging artists must recognize themselves as artists, recognize that they possess some inherit predisposition toward making art, and believe that they are artists before they can present themselves to the world as such. But it doesn’t stop there, a true artist continues to learn and work to refine and improve technique, to hone observational skills, to learn about history and art and the people who made it before us and how that affected the world and the definitions of art.
But if yer gonna slop some paint on a store-bought canvas and call it art, that’s not to say it might not be amazing! I still believe in the magic of what can happen on the canvas, what can be created out of inhibition, enthusiasm. I appreciate what this kind of work brings to the world; it’s just plain fun! (Cmon…I’m not that much of an art-snob.)
When you get the call to create, before you have the knowledge, education, confidence, etc. to create the images that are within you, you have to play! And when that play is combined with education, repetitive practice, hard work, failure, success…it all comes together to create, dare I say, a true artist.
The challenge is to create with all that skill and knowledge without losing the fun, the spontaneity–to approach still life painting with the mindset of an abstract expressionist.
I still believe in magic, I do.