The Laws of Nature

Monday, May 17, 2010


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?


Mark Sheeky said...

Perhaps it's best to assume you haven't got an audience. Understanding is a tricky one. Sometimes I don't understand my own artwork, then later the realisation will reach me. I certainly aim to be understood and have complete faith that there are enough intelligent people out there to absolutely understand my artwork. It's important that an artwork is comprehensable.

I disgree with the statement that following your heart leads to misunderstanding. I think in many cases the opposite is true, and expressing universal human experiences in a heartfelt way can be understood by the masses as well as being great art. The Beatles did it.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I don't think catering to an audience is a good move--we really can't know what they like. I count on viewers with varying tastes so I just paint whatever idea appeals to me. I've actually heard people say, "Wow, you're like me--you're weird." And I've heard "Why would you paint something like that?" At local exhibits, I'm usually pleasantly surprised by who buys what.

I try to avoid groups and labels.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I understand Joan Miro retreated from outside influences for a couple of years so he could see his own vision. I've often thought of shutting out outside influences for a little while. I have a tendency to want to please.

Carolyn Abrams said...

Hi Kathy, one year i wanted to enter an exhibit and painted something to the theme. i spent weeks on the work and details etc that i thought the judges wanted to see. when i was done i did something along the same theme for fun. it was loose and me. The first one did not get accepted and the next year the second one did!! Proof to me that you have to paint whats in you and not to the audience!

-Don said...

All I can really add is that I paint for myself and hope for the best. I'm only human, so of course I wonder what people will think. But, I don't change anything I'm doing as I create to cater to any whims I might project onto what they may think. That's probably why not many of my pieces have sold... yet...

My favorite part of this post are your words, "...since artists frequently express...the human experience." To me, that's what it's all about - our shared human experience.


Unknown said...

Hi Mark - I agree with you; especially that we must trust that others will "get it." Thanks!

Hi Hallie - my experience is like yours: a varied response by my viewers. At least there's a response, and that's good!

Hi Peggy - I didn't know that about Miro. Thanks!

Hi Caroline - a perfect anecdote! Thank you.

Hi Don - you are prolific in your work and the fact that you consistently follow your own vision is admirable. It's what we all need to do. Don't worry - your work WILL sell!

Casey Klahn said...

The Helga paintings are a classic example. Love that. AW even had to hide from his wife, who served as his usual critic.

Almost the entirety of my current series has not been seen on my blog - maybe now I see good reason for this. I hadn't thought about that internet immediacy factor before. Kind of makes the daily painting meme seem dangerous in some regards, huh?

I can only add that I completely capable of going astray on my own, even without an audience.

Viva la différence!