The Laws of Nature

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Making Sense of Art, Part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 2 continued: Making Sense of Art

Picking up where I left off, Orland acknowledges something most of you have stated in your comments: Many people, if asked why they make art, would disavow even having a choice in the matter. They’ll tell you with complete sincerity that they never asked to become artists – they simply feel compelled to share the truths they’ve discovered (or the truths that found them). That pretty much sums it up!

Once we discover the artist inside us, what do we do about it? The world is skeptical about self-labeled artists but the reality is that we must self-label; we must believe it about ourselves or no one else will.

Orland returns to the central question that plagues us all: What is Art? He draws from his own experience to define its characteristics (I’m paraphrasing):

Art is drawn from life
Art must be inclusive, not exclusive
Art elicits a response from the viewer
Interestingly, Orland believes that the most important parts of artmaking are those which demonstrate the least difference between people and animals. He arrives at this conclusion by explaining that artists rely more on intuition than intellect when artmaking, and that intuition is only a half-step removed from instinct.

And, he thinks that once we’ve identified a group of pieces that we consider “art” we should ask: What traits do all art-like works share in common with one another?”Therein lies the answer to the question about what is art. I believe we covered this topic when we discussed “The Art Instinct” many months ago. But, Orland offers another perspective.
We can’t use form, style, and genre as commonalities because there is such a wide variety. And, if we consider proportion, balance, rhythm, and harmony these terms will also apply to things other than “art.” Orland rightly points out that all these terms describe the product rather than the process. He feels that the most defining characteristic of art is the process itself and the authenticity of the artist’s motivation:

The sincerity of effort

The passion in its pursuit

The care in execution

So, now we’re left with an even bigger problem: If those qualities lie anywhere near the core of artmaking, then wouldn’t anyone qualify as an artist?”Hmmmm…. we must delve deeper. Perhaps the answer is rests with what society deems to be “art.”

OK – so we don’t get a definite answer to the question. I really didn’t expect one. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But, when you think about the necessity for professional artists to actually make a living from their art, then it is important. We can’t sell our product as “art” if it doesn’t meet society’s definition of “art.” Does the label matter? Yes, in the marketplace. Serious collectors, including fine art museums, must find value in the work, monetary as well as historical. So, we artists who are busy selling our work as “fine art” need to be concerned with what lies within the vague boundaries of the area known as “art” – or, starve.

What are your thoughts?


Susan Roux said...

For me, art is the artist's emotions towards a certain subject, poured out on canvas (or whatever support). Its not just passion in the pursuit, but actual passion that can be experienced or felt by the viewer. As a representational painter, its never enough to simply capture the likeness of a subject. It always comes down to the emotion...

Art without emotion is simply color splotches and not art at all.

Linda Roth said...

The general public likes figurative painting over abstraction. That's what sold the most in my twenty some odd years in the art business. They also like art with colors that fit in with their decor. Fine Art appreciation is lacking in the general public that's why museums are all now charging entrance fees, holding fund raisers, offering drawing children and adult programs, and live entertainment--doing anything they can to pull the public in and survive. I paint intuitively always emotionally responding to the subject I chose--emotionally.

Robin said...

I am finding the comparisons between the animal world and the human world very interesting.
I think that many animals are artistic just oblivious to the art they create since they do it out of necessity (instinct).
When we as artists create because we have to, it is called intuition and Ted states this is closely related. We also have the words to describe what is art to us and the emotions to feel the art we view.
I don't necessarily think that the emotions have to be deep societal statements...sometimes the beauty of a moment frozen in time is enough to render someone speechless and everyone's moments/memories are different.

Casey Klahn said...

I agree that the formal parts aren't the basis.
"The sincerity of effort
The passion in its pursuit
The care in execution" - I like these three but they require expansion. Kandinsky goes into the inner meaning vs. the outer meaning.

Also, once you fit or identify a style, it is yesterday's event. Kandinsky thinks that artists who will be relevant are either in the van of culture, or they are participating at some level in advancing art.

I like that topic of self labeling - very important and interesting.

Wouldn't anyone qualify as an artist? What is the difference between a body that is living, and one that has only a moment ago passed unto death? There is a spirit in art, and it is indescribable and maybe not plainly visual, but the sum of all the visuals in a painting.

Unknown said...

Hi Susan - Indeed! The emotional connection between the artist and viewer is essential. Thanks for adding this important ingredient!

Hi L.W. - So true!! During the creation process I must constantly shift my thoughts from what I know people want to see in my work to what I want to see in my work. Thanks!

Hi Robin - I'm still chewing on the animal/human notion. Are we the only species with an aesthetic sensibility? And what defines the aesthetic? Is it a particular cognitive function closely tied to sentience? Do other animals enjoy the beauty of a sunset or a flower? I don't know. However, there's no doubt in my mind that the creation of art is a deliberate thing. Thanks for your thoughts!

Hi Casey - Kandinsky had some forward-thinking ideas and a useful philosophy. His perspective resonates with mine. You provide us with a great analogy by comparing the living and the dead: spirit! Thank you.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Well, I love this whole chapter. I've always felt that when viewers like our art (and sometimes buy) it's because we've tuned into something that's recognizable to many--a center or a core, maybe a cosmic place--and we've done it through instinct or intuition.

-Don said...

Wow, this stuff is deep... and good. Thanks for making us all think. Now I think I'll play devil's advocate...

I disagree that intuition is only a half-step removed from instinct. My perception of intuition is that it is a cognitive response whereas instinct is an inherent impulse. For intuition to work, there must be a reasoning or understanding in order to apply that which is intuited. For instinct to work, you just react without thought or understanding.

The male bowerbird creates some of the most beautiful and elaborate lairs you'll ever see to woo a female. There is a sincerity in his effort, a passion in his pursuit and a care in his execution. His instinct to create a cool lair does not promise him rewards on the other end. His survival isn't dependent on the female's interpretation of his work, but his lineage is.

What separates me from Mr. Bowerbird is the fact that even though we both have to create, his 'composition' is based entirely on instinct. There is no rational thought that he can convey which would take his process or product to an intuitive level. He does not have a hole in his psyche that he needs to fill. He doesn't look for deeper truths. He's just looking to get laid. (Oops, I guess that could actually define a few artists I know. Anyhoooo....)

So, I agree with you, Kathy. We need to delve deeper. I agree with Casey, there is a spirit in art. I agree with Susan, it comes down to emotion. I agree with Robin about the beauty of the moment. I guess I just have trouble agreeing with Mr Orland. Surprised?


Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - that's a great way to put it! Thanks.

Hi Don - you took the words right out of my mouth! Well stated!! I didn't express this viewpoint in my blog because I didn't want to influence anyone. Therefore, I'm glad you expressed it for me. Right on, bro!

Casey Klahn said...

What interests me, though, is the place of individuality in animals. Why does one coyote in the den hunt aggressively, and his siblings mooch off of him? Because he has an individual personality, and while he's at it, he has the capacity to mess with humans no end. The Indians called him, "the joker."

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, Wow, what an enlightening discussion. I feel not quite up to the task of matching the depth in conversation; so many good points! I'm feeling a little like the person who says, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like"...

I do know there are a few pieces that have moved me deeply...but so does the lonely space in the great Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

I think the closer we feel to a definition of "art", the harder it is to clarify...I'll stay tuned!

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - that's an interesting observation. Each species is made up of individuals (unless they're clones of one another, like sea anemones, etc). And the resulting individuals who are the product of sexual reproduction have a few unique characteristics unless they're identical twins. Ain't nature grand?!

Hi Peggy - I mostly feel the same way, but I'm trying to look at the issues through the eyes of others (authors and bloggers). There's so much to consider that it can become mind-boggling!