One of the most notorious creative blocks in a serious artist’s life is the fear of doing bad work. If we made a close examination of the commonly accepted, contemporary opinions of “good” work, we would see that the concept of “good” has no real meaning outside the simplistic market ideology that drives it. The great contribution of modernism to art has been to emphasize the importance of personal creative seriousness in the artist’s practice, out of which then comes new insights into individual and social values and their subsequent transformations.
Every artist eventually reaches a limit to their technical and inspirational capacity. The problem then becomes how to break through to the next level. Taking classes; going back to basics; exploring every subject matter of their own lives (especially the fearful and shameful ones); hanging out with other artists and talking out the work–are all classic ways to try to solve the dilemma. It turns out that simple hard work is most often the best stick for beating back the adversity of staleness.
At a local venue some years ago, Manuel Neri remarked that eventually, for the serious artist, “good” and “bad” come to have no meaning, and the only important artistic value is simply to go to the studio every day and do the work. Chuck Close likewise commented, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Eventually, constant practice, absolute honesty, and unending patience are those qualifications of the artist most conducive to producing interesting and relevant art.
originally posted 07/31/11
Many artists try to freeze a moment of life into a photograph, presuming to make it the model for a leisurely recollection, in paint, later. What too often happens is that the photo becomes a slave driver instead of a muse, and the subsequent painting is a flat, lifeless copy of an inferior derivative to the lost moment. These artists have forgotten to include feeling, memory, dream, and mystery in the standard elements of composition because interpretation — not documentation — is the essence of the artistic vision.
Art is a record of how the artist feels about what she’s seeing, and the reality of that is a complicated mix of sensation and expressive media. “What is reality?” makes an intriguing metaphysical dilemma which we all have to figure out for ourselves One way to confront the enigma is for the artist to go back to the subject again and again, examining it in every variation of shape, color, and value. Maybe the physical world isn’t real after all, but it’s invariably the beginning of the investigation, and art means taking risks with perception at all levels as it presents itself at the moment of its experience.
If the need to use a photograph is because the subject is unobtainable, the artist may be overlooking all that which makes up her real life and so, of course, her true art. A photo is an extraordinarily fallible document which can be only one of the starting points of a compositional strategy. The practices of drawing and painting must be taken back from a mechanistic dependence on photography in order for them to come alive again and become proper artistic statements about real life.
originally posted 08/01/1