"Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear." - Cheri Huber, Zen teacher
I feel a little like ducking and covering now when I look at the changes occurring - not just with the housing meltdown, or the stock market, but in the pulling back and reassessing of the social attitudes that have prevailed over the past quarter century. What will be different? How will I function? Is there still an audience for my art?
These are fear-based questions, of course. Sneaky things that disguise themselves in the cloak of realistic concerns. And while I, as an artist, should pay attention to the intellectual importance of these unknowns, I can't allow the emotional uncertainty to get too strong of a foothold.
So what do I do?
Many of the discussions we've had through this blog have had, at their core, unanswered questions about the meaning or purpose of art.
What is art? I remember the first time I read "Has Modernism Failed" by Suzi Gablick; I felt her indictment of Modern Art as a slave at the service of it's corporate masters was taking away my opportunity to succeed. I also remember asking one of my art professors about another book I owned, "What is Art? The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand." I remember the look on that professor's face. Again, I was courting heresy and consigned the dangerous book to the back of the shelf.
I even painted "The Argument Between Aesthetics and Philosophy," to prove my Modernist mettle. Sure, heavily influenced by Philip Guston, but as I recall, that was part of the assignment.
My point is this: I can't form my own personal philosophy of what art is unless I read about what others say - even if it goes against what I believe to be true. And what I have discovered is that nothing is completely accurate or inaccurate.
For example, I agree with Ayn Rand's concept that art is a fundamental spiritual need in humans and that one purpose of art for (wo)man is to fulfill "a more profound need: confirmation of his view of existence - a confirmation, not in the sense of resolving cognitive doubts, but in a sense of permitting him to contemplate his abstractions outside his own mind, in the form of existential concretes." (p. 50)
However, I also see her concept that for the artist, art creation is a way of translating metaphysical abstracts into concrete imagery to be the core value beneath Modernism and Post-Modernism.
And both of these positions I found reinforced by the writings of Annie Dillard. And debunked by Tolstoy. With a new twist from Kandinsky.
So it goes. This is maturing, perhaps, trying to find an answer that resonates with my own "sense of life", as Rand would put it.
So while I watch what is occurring in the external world, putting one foot ahead of the other in pursuit of my art career, I am also doing the important internal work. Because I realize that, for me to have the necessary conviction to succeed, I must clearly establish my core beliefs -- beliefs that will sustain me and point me in the right direction over the coming years.
Here are some of the areas I am concentrating on:
- I am pushing myself to higher levels of craft and technical skill. I believe that future trends in consumer preferences will be for art that transcends mimicry and displays not only conceptual ideas but visual "beauty" no matter what the subject matter. Looking back -- at what Milton Resnick stated about painting being about "what paint can do", and further, to the recognized Masters of the past, Vermeer, Titian, seeking knowledge about how emotion and "sense of life" were communicated. Then looking forward, because I believe art grows from the past, reacts to the present, and helps to illuminate the future.
- I am looking for and clarifying my own philosophy about what art is and how it influences my work. I am reading Rand, and re-reading Gablik, then Kandinsky, because I have the books. But I will also be searching for other points of view. I believe there's a "hierarchy of needs" for the artist, building one upon the other: securing the space and tools to do your work, discovering your voice, developing the skill set necessary to effectively communicate, and clarifying the philosophy that underlies the purpose of what you do.
Why do I think this is important?
Because, while there are books available to help you work through the blockages and fears related to the creation of art, I've not found one that specifically addressed the idea of artists developing their own personal philosophy of what art is. Not only the purpose of art making in their own practice, but understanding the various philosophies of the "Art World" and the "Non-Art World". How many times have I felt blocked because I was torn between competing motives? And I'm not talking about the first or second level down in my thinking: wanting to communicate an experience of something, or creating purely decorative pieces with no significant message. I realized that I had vague senses of what were my "core beliefs," and that I needed to pull them into the light of day to be examined, articulated, and placed where I can easily access them during periods of doubt.
Perhaps you discovered this insight years ago. We're all walking along similar paths and I hope those in front of me will contribute to the discussion. Those behind can reach forward with insights, too. We are all learning and supporting one another as artists have always done. Coming together in their cafe societies, ateliers, and now here in cyberspace.
Who would have thought this possible?