The Laws of Nature

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Finding Your Work

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking

by Bayles and Orland

We've reached chapter 5, which is about "Finding Your Work." This seems to be a common theme in many of the books that I've reviewed on this blog over the past year, but let's wade in anyway and see what these authors have to say about it.

The chapter begins by describing how our artwork mirrors us: Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes. Indeed, if we are truthful in our artmaking, the our work must mirror us.

Unfortunately, there are many obstacles along our path to "finding our work." Foremost among those obstacles is uncertainty. The process of artmaking is bounded on one end by a concept and the other end by the finished product, and in between lots of uncertainty. We have to figure it out as we go along, and this leads to many of the doubts and fears that we discussed in chapter 2, "Fears About Yourself."

Another obstacle is inhibition. The truth is, most of us are too inhibited to express in our art what we're really thinking or feeling. We hold back in fear of the judgement of others and that's an obstacle to our work. The authors dealt with this in the previous chapter, "Fears About Others."

Despite these obstacles, we do have a starting place for finding our work. Artmaking is done within a historical context and usually reflects the time in which it is made. We express the world as we see and experience it. There's always something we can say that's a unique perspective. Recognizing and responding to that starting point is essential to finding our work.

If, indeed, for any given time only a certain sort of work resonates with life, then that is the work you need to be doing in that moment. If you try to do some other work, you will miss your moment. I like the word "moment." The job of the artist is to capture moments from both the external and internal realms.

However, the authenticity of artmaking today is threatened by the vast amount of information-sharing and technology that enables artists to appropriate images and ideas with which they have no personal knowledge or experience. This renders the work somewhat meaningless, and worse yet, misunderstood. There's a difference between meaning that's embodied and meaning that is referenced. As someone once said, no one should wear a Greek fisherman's hat except a Greek fisherman.

What are your thoughts?


Carolina Moon Arts Studio said...

Hi kathy, i think your perspective of this chapter is right on point and very encouraging for making the case of finding and expressing your own voice. Thank you for another great discussion opener!

hwfarber said...

Inhibition is an obstacle. Sometimes I paint around a subject and keep the screaming drawing for myself.

Stan Kurth said...

If I think too much I'm in trouble, so I paint; I go to work (commit) and sometimes the results are such that it takes a great deal of courage to say, "here is my work, what are YOUR feelings?" I have exposed myself and I'm standing naked in a public forum. Taking risks far outweigh any detriment brought on by naysayers. I try to paint what I feel, not in defense of my possible failure.

Kathy said...

Hi Carolyn - Thanks! I like the way this chapter begins and am looking forward to continuing it next week.

Hi Hallie - me too!

Hi Stan - I've been guilty of over-thinking and agree that it's an obstacle. Your approach is bold and wonderful!

Anonymous said...

A LOT to digest in this post!
I have a lot of uncertainty that is directly related to my skill level. So I'm giving myself a time out on this point while remaining in "school" for now.
I suppose if an artist is having a hard time finding their own authentic voice- they could always draw, paint etc. a series of self portraits. (I'm in the Portraiture portion of my drawing class.)
I'm OK with non Greeks wearing the hats. Who am I to judge their taste in attire? :-)

Casey Klahn said...

Funny-I couldn't figure the hat out, until the last line! Perfect!

To quote a current Country music song, "Sometimes, I feel so doggone out of place!" That's how I feel with my art and the time-line of history. I love the Post-Impressionists, Fauvists and Abstract Expressionsists too much!

I think the flip side of this is to try to commit to one's contemporary age (or, even harder still, the cutting edge) one must almost think too hard. Perhaps it's better just to look hard at the world, and maybe that way the contemporary truth will be told in your art. Interesting.

You also make a great point about borrowing from the present too much. Certainly a minefield. My challenge in the studio today was to not borrow from either my last one painting, or even my last year's paintings. I committed to the present one, instead. painting

Celeste Bergin said...

"no one should wear a Greek fisherman's hat but a Greek fisherman!" I'm going to remember that! (I have the hardest time TRYING to wear big clunky Native American Turquoise...somehow it looks reallllly stupid on me! lol--Also, I know a Caucasian woman who insists on wearing a kufi hat. Does not ring true! HOWEVER, I have seen people wear things from other countries and pull it off. Point being--some of us feel comfortable stumbling along without fisherman hats, turquoise jewelry, & kufi hats--we just do what we do and are what we are...but others are more intent on "style".
(I think we all have "style" whether we understand that or not).

...and you are so right:
"Artmaking is done within a historical context and usually reflects the time in which it is made." I keep wondering (as an oil painter).. a hundred years from now will the world collapse under the weight of the "paintings a day"? lol. There's a whole lot of paintings out there of one apple..two cheeries, one broken egg, etc etc. What will the world think of these zillions of 6x6 paintings? Will the people use them as frisbees or will they honor them? One thing for sure, if you are a painter who paints everyday----you are becoming a better painter everyday. We all owe Duane Keiser a debt for that!

-Don said...

I dunno.

I just like to paint.


-Don said...

But, what I do know is that "Conservation of Energy" is COOL! Wow! I wish I could get in front of these new pieces you are creating. They blow my socks off.

I'd say you've found your work...


Kathy said...

Hi Pam - the learning process, by necessity, requires some imitation in order to learn technique. But, there's always room to put some of ourselves in our work, even then. Keep going!!

Hi Casey - "time" is an interesting thing when it comes to art. Our minds are in the past and present because that's what we know, but we must also be forward-looking to be on the cutting edge. I'll never be a cutting edge artist because I'm still expressing the past with materials and techniques of the past. This is what gives me the greatest satisfaction, and that's OK, too.

Hi Celeste - I'm laughing :-)) Your sense of humor is great, and I can see Earth being further tilted on its axis by all those small paintings piled up in the Western Hemisphere!! But, as you point out, practice is important. Thanks for the grins!

Hi Don - Thanks so much!! Tomorrow's post is about this series.