Saturday, March 16, 2013

Good or Bad Art?

I recently joined an artist's guild that is centered around the idea of Beauty.  The artist's who started this guild are well respected painters who have taught others to paint during their careers and they have sought to produce artwork of a very high caliber both technically and aesthetically speaking.  They have a belief in the idea they call Abstract Realism.  While I don't wish to go into all the aspects of Abstract Realism, it is worth noting that the authors of this ideal believe that at it's core a work of art must be beautiful in it's conception.

"The struggle to captivate the elusiveness of beauty in all its expressions has yielded some of the most compelling paintings known to man. With the recent return to Realism, there is now a visual point-of-view in which subject matter is a vehicle—not the reason—for painting."

These artists have, for themselves, developed a strong direction of artistic expression.  They are influential representatives of their style of artistic expression and other artists, collectors , galleries and museums respect their point of view.  However theirs is not the only type of artwork being shown in galleries, museums, art centers, nor is it even popular among the majority of people alive today.

Ordinary people are capable of making something creative.  Give anyone a box of colored pencils and a sheet of paper and they will attempt to color something.  So universally popular is the idea of self expression and creativity that craft stores are now a staple in almost every community.  What is not available in a local store can be found easily on the internet.  Books and DVDS on every known kind of crafting are available in bookstores and online.  National, local and regional events are staged regularly to promote the sale of materials and educate the public and newly crowned experts are available to guide you through workshops to help you learn to use the material to create.

There really is no place for the so-called Art Brut artist anymore.  We are in a time when access to materials and qualified instruction make learning to create almost anything possible. To pretend to be unschooled and a genius in creative expression one would have to live without access to a television,  a library or the internet.

At the other end of this spectrum the artists who start studying their craft at an early age and devote themselves to  artist training for life are finding it much harder to compete with the tide of self expression coming from ordinary people who have been given time, materials, instruction and encouragement to find their inner voice and are leaping onto the bandwagon. Making art yourself has become a billion dollar industry.

This is a cultural struggle for expressive dominance.  Over time those who study art dispassionately will decide who won the battle for this age.  A hundred years in the future people will look back at this time of creative clashes and some names will be prominent while countless others will have disappeared entirely.  My 16 year old nephew likes Frank Sinatra and Dizzy Gillespie because he plays a video game where zombies in the desert are fought while Frankie and Dizzy sing and play swing jazz but he has no idea who Bing Crosby is or Danny Kay although he has heard a song by Dean Martin.  my nephew has no idea what jazz is, why it mattered or how it shaped our musical taste.  He just likes the songs and now listens to swing on Pandora on his android phone. I have plastic square drink coasters in my living room with images from Claude Monet like the famous "Waterlilies" painting.  High art has devolved.  Images have the value of the item they are imprinted on.  If I find an image online of some piece of art I like it can be saved to my computer and for a relatively small fee I can have it digitally printed onto canvas or a good quality paper, a mug or a t shirt.  The inks used will remain viable for seventy years.  That's a long wait until the image deteriorates and loses any initial value.

My point is that the idea of artist is going the way of the dinosaur.  Artists aren't special, aren't geniuses, aren't even relevant on a daily basis. Unless you are a very driven individual you will never achieve enough prominence to become famous and fame is the only way to gain an audience for your artwork.  Anything lower will make you a work a day 1099 contractor.  I don't say this to diminish being an artist but bucking a billion dollar crafting market that has mass appeal is daunting.  A beloved 75 year old mainstay artist magazine recently was bought, well eaten alive, by a crafting conglomerate interested only in establishing online shopping malls for crafters.  the conglomerate had no use for the magazine itself apparently and abruptly discontinued it's existence but kept it's advertisers and subscribers and threw them all into the pot for consumption.  Art is another consumable commodity.   Everybody is an artist - it's the new mantra.  I spent the majority of my life working diligently at my art craft wondering when the day would come that I could describe myself as an "artist." Spending hours drawing from life, studying color theory, learning about different mediums and spending thousands of dollars on materials for the painting mediums.  Entering juried shows, winning a few ribbons for my work, joining arts groups, spending money to do all that and still always wondering when I would get the green light. I finally realized there was no one moment that would define me as artist.  Now every person I meet tells me they have developed artist skills after taking a class or buying some paints or colored pencils.  I read magazines filled with stories of women who have found their "inner artist" and are splashing paint or stamping inks or collaging images with great zeal.  I ran a race in life devoted to mastering skills that nobody needs or cares about.  People stopped caring about what makes someone an artist and just started doing whatever felt right to them.   They didn't feel like they had to live up to any standard.

I think that creativity might be something everyone should try to develop.  Maybe the ideas of having a rigorous professional training before you can be considered a true creator aren't valid anymore.  I don't miss having to run the art race anymore.  I feel pretty good about doing what I know how to do even if nobody thinks what I do is very special, or artistic, or even good.  I think I've traded Ashes for Beauty.  I am who I was created to be and my creativity is an aspect of me but not the definition of me.

Why did  I join an art guild if art is just for everybody and self expression trumps artistic aesthetics?  Well it's not an easy answer.  I have the option of doing both is probably the easiest way to explain my decision.  I can walk in their world because I understand what they are offering to the world and to other artists.   Unfortunately for most of the wider groups of people flinging paint in their daily lives they wouldn't be able to cope with the guild's skill set.  I have honed my skills over my life and I may not be as great a painter as the founders of the guild; I'm not a genius like Rembrandt but I am a painter skilled enough to at least follow their principles.

I hope my paintings are done well enough that they survive my lifetime with grace and go on to have value outside of their association with me.  perhaps it is that ability to endure that makes art good.  Time will tell.

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