Communication is the second principle in Ian Roberts' book, Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision. Fundamental to the principle in this chapter is the notion that, today, the artist expresses an idea or feeling when creating a work of art. This notion has been discussed many times on this blog. But, what interests me most in this chapter is Roberts' ideas about the differing schools of thought that govern an artist's form of communication.
The first school of thought is since the artist is communicating a response to something, he or she should make that response intelligible. It should be adjusted if necessary to the audience. This approach is exemplified by Renaissance artists who worked within the patronage system, and other commissioned artwork since that time.
The second school of thought holds that the artist should not alter anything for the market. This idea renders sacred the ideas and feelings of the artist and, in my opinion, has merit even though it often forces artists to get a second job to support themselves or succumb to the "starving artist syndrome." But, Roberts wonders, does this school of thought also produce artists who air too much dirty laundry? Who reveal too much that is personal and has no social relevance? He states that deeply felt, authentic work does connect to something universal and hence touches a lot of people. He urges artists to keep deeply personal stuff private and not air it in public. So, where's the dividing line for Roberts between what should and should not be expressed publicly in a work of art? The unacceptable is ego driven, agitated and afraid. The acceptable is like a revelation.
I have many conflicting thoughts about this viewpoint. First, I believe in our individuality - that which makes us unique, not just in body chemistry, but also in the particular set of life experiences that make us different from one another. On the other hand, because we're all human beings living on the same planet with roughly the same needs (nourishment, shelter, companionship) and roughly the same general experiences (birth, growth, work, eat, sleep, interact, illness, death) we have everything in common! I can't imagine what idea or feeling I could paint that wouldn't connect with many, many people. (I'm referring to the message in my painting rather than the way I paint, which might not have universal appeal). Therefore, it seems that Roberts' restriction for all artists is based upon personal taste, which doesn't jive with how I think. I value freedom of expression and I don't like arbitrary censorship!
Returning to the two schools of thought for a moment, I've been thinking about how I've communicated through my work in 2009. It's been a tough year for all of us economically, and I'm no exception. In addition to my normal expenses, I had to put a new roof on a house and pay for some major repairs on a car. My personal income is solely through art. I just barely managed to make ends meet but I had to engage in both schools of thought. Two poets separately commissioned me to illustrate a number of poems for their books. That would fit into the first school of thought that Roberts outlines. The rest of my activities would fit into the second school of thought: I had a record year in painting sales and also earned money from winning awards in national and international juried competitions. Additionally, I've had a great time teaching painting and giving painting demos (I don't think that falls into one of Roberts' categories). So, the bottom line for this artist is to engage in both schools of thought in order to survive financially.
What are your thoughts?