The roses in Central Park by my house are in full bloom now, so I thought I'd share them with you. They're a good reminder that no matter how busy we are, we should take the time to "stop and smell the roses." I've been doing that every day!
Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland
We've reached the next to last chapter in this book, and it looks like we'll be finishing up by the week's end and then move on to something new. Chapter VIII "Conceptual Worlds" is packed with important ideas that require careful consideration, so I'll begin with the first section on "Ideas & Techniques."
This section opens with a zinger: Writer Henry James once proposed three questions your could productively put to an artist's work:
What was the artist trying to achieve?
Did he/she succeed?
Was it worth doing?
As viewers, we can only guess at the answer to the first two questions because only the artist knows what he/she was trying to achieve and if the outcome was successful. However, it's a good learning tool to try and figure it out. Providing an answer to the third question is impossible, in my opinion, because we can't determine "worth." If I apply this question to my own body of work I'd say that every painting I've ever done was worth doing because it helped me grow and laid the foundation for future work.
But, the authors have a bigger point to make: Provocative art challenges not only the viewer, but also its maker. Art that falls short often does so not because the artist failed to meet the challenge, but because there was never a challenge there in the first place. I completely agree with this statement. Before I begin a series of paintings I set up three challenges for myself: 1) develop an original concept for the series, 2) develop an original way to express that concept, and 3) master a new medium or technique while painting the series. As you can see, the challenges I devise are based both on ideas and technique.
Artists who need ongoing reassurance that they're on the right track routinely seek out challenges that offer the clear goals and measurable feedback - which is to say, technical challenges. The underlying problem with this is not that the pursuit of technical excellence is wrong, exactly, but simply that making it the primary goal puts the cart before the horse. We do not long remember those artists who followed the rules more diligently than anyone else. We remember those who made the art from which the "rules" inevitably follow. (p. 95)
How many times have you seen work that's technically perfect - demonstrates virtuosity - but lacks content? It has nothing to say other than the fact that the painter has gained mastery over technique. The work fascinates us for a little while and then becomes boring. Is that all? Did the artist have nothing to say?? Personally, I think that artists who worry more about technique than content are doing themselves a disservice. Why agonize over creating perfect work and suppress your own voice at the same time? It makes no sense to me. The most fascinating aspect of artwork is looking at the world through the artist's mind and eyes: seeing what he/she feels. We want to connect at an emotional level with the artist.
Simply put, art that deals with ideas is more interesting than art that deals with technique.
This is the first principle that I teach in my painting workshops. We can't begin to paint until we have an idea of what to paint. And, the what must be important to the artist.