The Laws of Nature

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Human Voice

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

Image: 1921 photograph by Yasuo Kuniyoshi of seven artists: Peggy Bacon, Alexander Brook, Isabella Howland, Katherine Schmidt Shubert, Betty Spencer, Niles Spencer and Dorothy Varian. Published in: Archives of American Art Journal v. 20, no. 3, p. 8.

We've reached the final chapter, "The Human Voice," which is a summary of this useful book. The authors begin the chapter by explaining the interesting questions that motivated them to write the book in the first place:

Do artists have anything in common with each other?
How do artists become artists?
How do artists learn to work on their work?
How can I make work that will satisfy me?
Why do so many who start, quit?

Although the authors acknowledge that there are no clear-cut concise answers to these questions, I think that each chapter they wrote can be distilled to a single elegant idea. So, here's how I'd answer those questions:

What do we artists have in common? We all engage in artmaking.

How do we become artists? We're born with the ability and we become artists by engaging in artmaking on a consistent basis over time.

How do we learn to work on our work? By sticking with it; through trial and error; through learning lessons; through finding our own voice and using it.

How can we make art that satisfies us? By speaking only in our own voice through our art and turning a deaf ear to those who would distract us from it.

Why do so many quit? Either they weren't really artists to begin with and were forcing themselves down that path for some unknown reason or they are too insecure to believe in their own abilities, insights, and viewpoints.

Those are my answers. What are yours?


Elizabeth Seaver said...

I think many artists quit because so much of art is hard work and frustration, and it's difficult to be prepared for that. Then there is that harsh reality that the world at large often does not put great value on what you do. So, you must find the reward for your pursuits within yourself. What helps is, as you say, having the confidence that what you're doing is important and unique.

There is much to think about and comment on in your analysis, but this occurs right off the top.

Stan Kurth said...

I can't quit, I'm a junkie!

This is a book that every artist at every level should read, again and again and again. It gets right to the truth of why and how we make art and others don't. It's in our blood. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to tie myself off and have another spoonful.

hwfarber said...

Can you really quit being an artist? Remembering Wendy Richmond's book and the creative loop (observe, reflect, articulate)--if you fail to articulate, are you a two-thirds artist? You can quit producing art but I'm not sure you can quit being an artist until you quit breathing.

Anonymous said...

I think many artists have a lot in common aside from making art- how we relate to the world at large, how we see relationships, how we relate to ourselves. I could go on.
I like your answer to making art that satisfies us- very insightful.
I will disagree with you however on your answer to the quit question- I find it too narrow. I can't provide an alternative answer- because I don't know how to define "quit" in this context.

Dan Kent said...

Here are some alternative answers to two of your questions.

How do we become artists? Stan was speaking tongue-in-cheek when he said he is a "junkie", but I agree. Once you give yourself permission to express who you really are and you engage in artmaking, then upon acquiring a certain skill set in art - if you then yearn for it, hunger for it, if a day is not right that there is not some part of it devoted to art, if you must do it as you must breathe and eat, then you are an artist.

Why do so many quit? I quit for decades, and neither of your answers apply to me, although both are good reasons. I think Hallie and Elizabeth also list good reasons for quitting. But, for me, when I graduated high school it was time for "serious" pursuits like career and family. In sum, art was not valued as much in my circle as the pursuit of career, and is marginalized and not taken seriously in many aspects of society. I believe that when I was young I internalized this lack of importance and suppressed my desire to make art.

Art became important to me again when I found other pursuits to be hollow. Then I looked inward and found art waiting.

Kathy said...

Hi Elizabeth - So true!

Hi Stan - it's a good "habit" to have!

Hi Hallie - I think the authors see "quitting" as giving up on the pursuit of creating art.

Hi Pam - it's hard for me to see too many commonalities between artists, but I agree that if we're each really in touch with who we are then at least we have that in common. As for quitting, I'm just reflecting what the authors represented, but it does make sense to me.

Hi Dan - great answers!! I'm so glad you returned to artmaking.

Mary Ann Wakeley said...

I found myself agreeing with your answers. I really believe that artists are born and there is an undercurrent of a necessity to create something on some level; that the urge may start out as a murmur and intensify as years go by or maybe wane (although I hope not). I also think the intensity of urge to create will vary depending on the focus. There is so much overlap in creative expression within the visual arts and between music, writing, painting, acting. What may be difficult for an artist is making a choice and sticking with it especially when the going gets rough for any number of reasons.

I am curious about the book and may pick up a copy.

Kathy said...

Hi Mary Ann - I agree with you that the hardest part (at least for me) is all the choices. Sometimes it's difficult to be single-minded!

Eva said...

I haven't read the last few chapters,(typical of me). However, I've never been sure that I'm really an artist. By that I mean, I think I'm just a problem solver, a 'jack of all trades'. I love to cook, build and fix things. When I was a child, I discovered art was an easy way to get praise and attention so I continued to do it, but I've never been obsessive about it.It was just something I did and it became my occupation.

Kathy said...

Hi Eva - if we map out all of the paths that artists have taken to arrive at being an artist, we'd find them all to be different. There's no single way to get here.