The Laws of Nature

Monday, January 3, 2011


The history of art includes notable artists who defied established social norms in order to freely express themselves. They were willing to live in poverty for awhile or even permanently and found their place in the world of fine art by unconventional means. For instance, Jean Michel-Basquiat (photo) and Al Diaz began as graffiti artists on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. At that time, their artistic vision was more important to them than social approval or money.

Most of the rest of us are less radical. While we want unrestricted creativity, we also need to support ourselves in a manner that keeps us from living on the streets as beggars. So, we artists find ourselves in an ironic situation where we want to be free of social constraints but we also need society’s approval and support. We like to think that the opinions of others and the marketplace don’t affect our creative expressions, but they do. Isn't it ironic?

I’ve had to find a middle ground – a place where I can express my thoughts and also make them acceptable enough to find patronage. Does this make me hypocritical? No, because I openly admit it and I do like and believe in the art I'm making. But, what would I create if financial and social constraints were completely absent? I suppose the answer to that is all the art that's stacked up in my attic that no gallery or patron would touch. Maybe future generations will find value in it and maybe it will see the light of day.

How about you?


RH Carpenter said...

Having just read a feature about William Moore on Nick Simmon's blog, I find this question very appropriate - how to maintain our own vision (if we have one) of what we want to create and yet still not shock or frighten or disturb others too much (a little bit is okay, I think). I was never thrilled with Basquiat's work but maybe it was just too far outside my own little box for me to appreciate (I never cared for Warhol's cans, either).

Casey Klahn said...

I'd like to read that feature at Simmon's blog!

"The problem with the future is it's always moving," a line from The Moderns (movie).

Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, welcome back from the holidays! I have to admit that I don't have to create to sell, but I enjoy selling my art. I can create anything I want, but I don't seem to be that exotic in what I want to create. Unlike some artists who make strong personal statements about controversial issues, that is not me.

All my life I have been an optimist attracted to beauty and the positive side of life, so I'm rather mundane in what I like to create. My art always expresses my personal reaction to life experiences.

On the other hand, I do occasionally leave my comfort zone and when I show that art, people will say that's not the way you usually paint. I've been surprised to sell a few pieces that are not "Mary."

I believe that most artists don't create art in a vacuum. We are social beings. Whether or not we must make a living with our art, we like approval and acceptance. So the struggle is to make a statement in a way that appeals to others, either through shock or beauty. Your series are a good example of making statements in a beautiful way.

We can also allow ourselves to stack the personal pieces in the attic for future generations to display in museums and explain from their distant perspective. Thus, I believe we can produce both socially acceptable and socially challenging art.

Anonymous said...

I loved Mary's comment!
I have nothing to add.

Linda Roth said...

I have a day job that is definitely art related but not to the fine arts.
My fine art is for fun, relaxation, a change, me. I like the arrangement.
Am I a full fledged artist--or just a part-timer?

Mark Sheeky said...

Interesting points here.

Why do you think the work in your attic is not touched? Do you think it lacks value, or do others? Is it ugly or unfashionable?

I used to write computer games and used to think the old unpopular ones were great, but I was wrong, they were awful. That's why they're in my attic. I made them on my own for years, which shows that artists don't need support or approval from anyone. It depends why the art is made. For me, in those years ago, it was simply an obsession that didn't involve anyone but me and the machine.

Of course things are different now. On this like many others I agree and think you have got it right. It's all about finding that middle ground, and engaging and empathising and commenting on different aspects of humanity, but each in our unique way.

Karen Martin Sampson said...

Good post. I have struggled with this notion of art for me vs. art to make money my whole life. I was a commercial illustrator for many years, painting my own stuff on the side. Sales have been uneven over the years but I have managed to find a small following:-)I don't ever expect to get rich but that's ok...eating, has always been important, of course, but I have accepted various types of jobs to support that habit that had nothing to do with being an artist. Now I am 65 and finally have a small (like teeny) pension but my husband and I are getting by nicely and I can spend my days in the studio painting whatever I want to now!

M said...

This is a topic I think about quite a bit. I find it interesting that when I created less complex work (as defined by me) I sold more work. As I began to have a personal vision for my work, I've sold less. I can accept that because I will still eat! One of the thing that bothers me about not selling as much is that the work piles up and I'm wondering what to do with it. Part of the problem is that I am not seeking a wider audience. I also decided I didn't want to spend the last third of my life wearing myself out marketing my art (chuckling to myself as I start a new business in interior decorating!!) My work is piling up and I'm trying to find balance in my life. I can't wait to see where the scales adjust.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I would love to see what's in your attic.

Carolyn Abrams said...

Hi Kathy, great reading your blog posts again. I missed them!
I honestly think i would still paint whatever it is that i would create for that moment in time. Does that make sense. Just to be in the present, make art in the present and enjoy it i think is enough for me. The plus is if anyone else would like it as well.

Unknown said...

HiRhonda - I'll have to read Nick's blog. Thanks!

Hi Casey - good quotation. Thanks!

Hi Mary - I can identify with your statements and they apply to many of us, for sure! My inner conflict stems from conforming too much when I'd rather let my hair down and howl at the moon. The older I get the more I ask myself why I'm so restrained :-)

Hi Pam - I agree!

Hi LW - only you can answer that question :-)

Hi Mark - well said! Thank you.

Hi Karen - I'm glad to know that you've found that comfortable place. It's so important, especially given that life is short and we must find peace and happiness where we can.

Hi Margaret - you and I are on the same page. I'm always thinking about this last third of my life and how I want it to be. Perhaps that's why I've spent so much time marketing my work ... I want the piles to disappear! Best of luck with your new business, although I know you don't need luck. You're very savvy.

Hi Hallie - since I've been cleaning out my attic for the big move, I've taken a good look at the art that's stored there. Some of it is surprisingly pleasing to me while the rest probably should be burned!

Dan Kent said...

OK Kathy, I am now dying to see something from your attic! How is it different - what does it contain?!

I don't know the future, but at this point in time (as a toddler in painting) I am infatuated with painting people. I don't know if this will always be the case. This subject has been done so much that I know I am affected by what I've seen in other paintings. Will I ever be able to acquire a vision all my own with such a well-worn subject? The subject will be "accepted" - whether the art will be remains to be seen.

I am, as you know, using most of the hours in my life in a non-creative job. This often leaves me too exhausted to do any meaningful art. My interest in art was long ago discarded in favor of this "credible profession" and I have paid the price, as later in life (but hopefully not too late) I have found art again.

Btw, I love yesterday's post! Wish I'd read it sooner.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan - one day I'll post the stuff in my attic (once I get the courage!). You sell yourself short. I love your work and the meaning behind it. Although you don't have as much time to spend on it as you like, you sure do a great job! Keep going ...

Unknown said...

Hi Caroline - I think you've got your fingers on the pulse of what it should mean to be an artist! Painting for the love and joy of it is the most important thing. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I do find the artist's dilemma ironic, fascinating and a little frustrating. I think I could have more sales if I would paint certain subjects that are recognized as generally sale-able. But, the few times I have chased the sale based on someone's recommendation and insight on what's "hot", my sales did not increase. So, I continue doing my best at my work. I believe my time will come. If it doesn't, I'm happy knowing I enjoyed the journey.

-Don said...

Kathy, I'd like to be a bat hanging in your attic.

I'm sorry that I have nothing profound to add to this wonderful discussion today. Every thought I have is dripping with irony - which, come to think of it, is also one of my favorite creative devices. Hmm... maybe that's why the pile of bills is equal to the pile of paintings in my studio... Now, there's some irony.


P.S. My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek...

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - you're very wise to follow your own path and not chase market taste! I, for one, love what you create.

Hi Don - in fact, I did once have a bat in that attic. One time, he showed up with a friend! I know you're good with irony ... fire away!