Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles and Orland
Chapter 4 deals with our fears about others, and the first section of this chapter examines the implications of creating work that is understood by others. In following the path of your heart, the chances are that your work will not be understood by others, the authors write. Does this mean that if our work is understood that we haven't followed the path of our hearts? I doubt it, since artists frequently express the commonalities between us - the human experience.
But, we want to be understood. Months ago we had a discussion on this blog about art as a form of communication. What is the purpose of art if it doesn't communicate to others? Is it a purely self-serving enterprise? Should we even worry about communicating when we're artmaking?
The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say "you're not like us; you're weird; you're crazy. Personally, that doesn't bother me. I've never fit into groups very well and don't expect to in the future. Conformity isn't my bag.
The authors point out that we get instant feedback about our artmaking these days because of the internet. This can influence how we proceed from one work to the next, and that influence might inhibit our individual voice. They cite Andrew Wyeth, who retreated from the public for years to create the Helga series. This gave him the advantage of listening only to his own voice and working through problems until he arrived at successful solutions in solitude. I think there's great wisdom in that approach.
Catering to fears of being misunderstood leaves you dependent upon your audience. In the simplest yet most deadly scenario, ideas are diluted to what you imagine your audience can imagine, leading to work that is condescending, arrogant, or both. Worse yet, you discard your own highest vision in the process.
What are your thoughts?