The Laws of Nature

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Obligations

The Law of Reciprocal Actions, 2
watercolor on Arches paper
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
Making art is a personal decision; one that is usually based upon the need to create and to feed our cravings for the aesthetic. It's a very human activity. Most people respond to music, literature, visual art and dance and require it daily.

As an artist, I can think of a number of good reasons to make art that have nothing to do with others. There's something inside of me that compels me to do it.

But, does making art come with obligations? I don't have an answer to this question, and maybe there isn't one. For instance, once art is created is the artist obligated to share it with others? Maybe there's no legal obligation, and certainly the artist can do what she wants, but is there a higher purpose to a work of art that requires it to be shared? Does it become more than an artist's possession once it exists?

Furthermore, is an artist obligated to explain what a work means? We're always asked to provide an Artist's Statement for exhibitions, journals, and books. Doesn't the work speak for itself? Is an artist obligated to provide legitimacy to the work in the form of a complex statement that rarely makes sense?

Finally, is an artist obligated to sell work to be called an artist? Is art making relegated to hobby status just because it doesn't sell? Or, if work does sell, does that really make it art and the creator an artist?

In the years that I've been working as a professional artist, I've encountered feelings of obligation but am uncertain if any of them should be legitimized.
What are your thoughts?

8 comments:

Casey Klahn said...

Without answering all at once, I will say that art must be seen to be fully realized, in my opinion. I say this because it is communication.

I'll be pondering the rest of these questions.

Dan Kent said...

For what it is worth here's my take:

1. An artist can create it and then destroy it. It is still art. No strings attached.

2. As for the explanation, I've been thinking a lot about this lately because I have been trying to understand modern contemporary art. Explanations are commonplace and, I believe, necessary for that kind of art at least to some extent. We need a door in. At least I do. I don't think, though, that every nuance need be explained. Leave the viewer free to experience in his or her own way. I created two semi-abstract pieces, and have just made the third in the group. Without explanation, they are decorative, aesthetics, but with explanation folks were moved.

3. I do not want to define art as only that which is sold (See #1), but there is a certain gravitas which can come to the artist that sells. I had a conversation with my son once, for example, in which it was clear that the value he placed on my art is related to the fact that I have never sold my art (without regard to the fact that I have never tried). I can compare and assess and determine that my art is better than some and worse than others, but society? You must sell to be taken seriously and even then it is a question.

Katharine A. Cartwright said...

Hi Casey and Dan -
I appreciate all of your comments, which provoke more thoughts and I need to keep thinking this through. Thanks so much!

Celeste Bergin said...

Well. The first thing that sprang to my mind was how Warhol wouldn't submit to any of this Artist Statement business. He generally acted like a goofball when interviewers asked him questions (rendering the interviewer deadlocked). My favorite version of this was the image of the electric chair. Did the fact that he created that mean that he was for the death penalty? Did it mean he was against it? It's a perfect example (to me) of how art simply exists for the dialog. If the artist over-explains the art will lose something, I think. (On the other hand, I have had some "explanations" from artists that I thought were wonderful and kind of thrilling..but I digress!)
The selling thing is an interesting question. Would Grandma Moses be considered a "hobbyist" had she not been discovered and sold? I am afraid so. Someone has to consider the work valuable and marketable or it be relegated to the dump. Is it still art? Yes, but "valuable" art has more esteem than what is never seen by anyone. It is a lot like the tree falling in the forest (can we hear it) question. If paintings are never shown and never sold....is it still art?

Celeste Bergin said...

p.s. I don't know! haha!

Katharine A. Cartwright said...

Hi Celeste - great examples (Warhol and Grandma Moses)! Your analogy (tree falling it the forest) leads to the old question we debated here a few years ago concerning what is art? Many authors think that art exists in the artist's concept. So, all we have to do is think it - I guess????

hw (hallie) farber said...

I'm in the back row again--reading and enjoying your blog.

Katharine A. Cartwright said...

Hi Hallie - Great to hear from you again!