The View From the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)
Chapter 2: Making Sense of Art
Art theories are good. Art theories are impressive. But hey, wait a minute – it’s the artists who do the work! Most every artist I’ve known is far more comfortable grappling with the difficulty of making art than with the seeming futility of talking about it, writes Orland. I agree! That’s why I challenged myself to start this blog and delve into dozens of books and discussions on art theory – I needed to understand the world of fine art a little better so I could comprehend my role in that world.
Of course, there’s the time-worn adage that art should speak for itself. While that’s important, I think there’s something more. For instance, I could limit my knowledge of my heritage to what I experience with only my living family members. But, there’s so much more to learn from previous generations. That knowledge gives me perspective about who I am. And, that’s what art theory does for me as well, it makes sense of my art by placing it in a larger context.
So, Orland tells us, while we absorb art through our senses, we think about art [or interpret art] in words. Oddly enough, we’ve been sensing and talking about art for millennia and we still can’t find a clear and concise definition for “art!” As Orland observes, The real boundaries of art are defined by the collective range of our minds, not by the collected works in anthologies. So, how will this author help us make sense of art?
This much we do know: long before there were art departments or art critics or art historians or art museums, there was simply art. Period. He goes on to say that it’s more useful to the artist to ask why art should be defined at all. That’s a good point. After all, I won’t stop making what I consider to be art just because someone assigns a definition that doesn’t apply to my work. Nevertheless, there exists a consciousness about art: we sense the meaning of the world unconsciously and capture that meaning through our art – and then we have to wait for our intellect to understand what we already knew.
Artists are always on the hook. The moment we achieve public notice we are asked to explain our motivations and our work within the context and lexicon of the present art scene. Galleries, museums, critics, and special exhibitions all require this of us. For instance, yesterday I was interviewed by an art magazine and had to explain myself and my work. It’s not enough that readers will see pictures of my work, they need my explanations as well.
Orland puts it this way: the moment you achieve even a modicum of success you will be asked to explain your work, and in the course of preparing for that eventuality you may well learn something about your art – and yourself – along the way:
Where, then, does your vision of the world reside?
What part of your art is drawn from history?
What part is prophecy?
What part is grounded in fact?
What part takes wing in fantasy?
These are great questions and I’d rather answer them myself than have others answer them for me.
How about you?
Tomorrow, I’ll finish the other half of this chapter.