Saturday, September 3, 2011

Several Thoughts on the Nature of Being an Artist...


I haven't really utilized my blog in a very long time, partially due to a fear of committing my words to any sort of posterity, and equally a fear that like many people I may delve into the frightening depths of exhibitionism that currently plague so many of us. But these are fears that I must learn to quell, because unfortunately an artist and their work and the ideas that inform and shape their work are usually so integrally entwined that they cannot be unraveled from one another. As an artist I want to exhibit my work, but I cannot escape the feeling that I am really exhibiting myself.

My work is not personal in any conventional sense, I do not paint self portraits, I do not make work that illustrates or incorporates my life in any way (or so I'd like to believe). And yet, I feel sometimes like I am nailing up flanks cut away from my side when I exhibit my work. My work is generally abstract, at least the work that I distinguish as being "art" (I often make other work that straddles the lines of art + other, or is strictly an exercise for me of my skills as an "artisan"). Abstraction is a touchy term, and generally I would prefer the outmoded term of "non-objective", but then no one would know what the hell I was talking about. My most personal work is also at the same time my least personal work.

I hesitate to be to autobiographical, however it is hard to avoid because it seems to me that some elements of my personal history may illuminate my art in some way. I have devoted my entire life to art, and I made the choice so early in life to do so that sometimes it seems like destiny (a concept that I do not particularly subscribe to). The thought of pursuing anything else has become ridiculous, and in some sense would negate everything that my life has ever meant. I started taking art classes as early as I was able, and took as many as I could through college. My focus shifted many times over the years; at one point in adolescence I wanted to be a fashion designer, later and for a long period of time I wanted to be a comic book artist/writer. Then at some point in high school I became focused like a laser on the idea of being a Fine Artist (a term that I would be hard pressed to define today, but understood with absolute certainty at the time).

Everything else (aside from women and a few other constants) fell by the wayside, and I voraciously studied and practiced from all sides my true love. Over the years I've gained a near encyclopedic working knowledge of traditional and somewhat less than traditional art making materials and tools. I have become what I can only label an "amateur art historian" by constantly reading art historical and theoretical texts, art magazines and journals, and biographies and monographs on and about individual artists.

The exact details of what I've done, used, or read are for other occasions but suffice it to say my artistic credentials are long and established. And that has been somewhat problematic to my artistic practice over the years. There have been great shifts and crises in what I think the goal of art should be over the years. Making art has become a great and unsolvable conundrum, and every piece of art that I produce feels less like a finished commodity, than a record of internal struggle that is finished only by some sort of default.


There was a time in my life when I was much younger that I was seeing a therapist. One day the focus fell upon my art, and I told him that I never felt completely satisfied with my work. He made the point that if I ever did feel completely satisfied, there probably wouldn't be much of a reason to continue. Years and years of life and art have come between that moment and this, and that "advice" sure helped me through some frustrating moments. However, I'm not sure how much that statement applies now. I now feel that it is good to take some pride and feel some sense of accomplishment in every work that is created or else there really wouldn't be much of a reason to continue.


In what I can only describe as a surly moment earlier this evening my significant other stated that my " ego threatened to devour Columbus." Or something like that; I honestly wasn't paying that close of attention to be able to quote her exactly. But she's wrong. My ego actually wants to devour the world. I can admit it.

I feel that ego is an absolute necessity for an artist. It is integral to being an artist to have a bullet proof shatterproof teflon ego to survive. It might have been different in the past, but I doubt it.

The dichotomy is that an artist also has to disconnect themselves from their work.

Student artists often feel like any criticism of their work that falls on the indifferent to completely negative end of the scale is a stab in the chest that makes the face flush and the fight or flight instinct come to full effect.

People often make light of American Idol rejects who go on about how great they are and how stupid the judges are for passing on them, but in all honesty that is the attitude that a serious artist needs to adopt. I have seen many artists with very little talent and at best mediocre skill gain some level of success based on their relentless self promotion and ability to shrug off negative criticism. On the flip side I've seen many artists with a great amount of talent and ability so wrapped up in self doubt over any little criticism that they almost never seek attention for their work.


I have had an interest for quite some time in answering the question of what art is, but I'm slowly understanding that I can only define what art means to me. Art is an old concept, and a culturally specific concept, and a universal concept, and well I could keep going, but it is probably best to refrain at the moment.

I know that some people use their blogs for relentless self promotion, but I have no need to promote myself. To clarify: I do not deny that I need to promote my art, and that my art is inextricably connected to me as a personage... but that is not what I intend to use this blog for.

In general, I would prefer to present my ideas about art as completely refined essays... but I am starting to see this blog as a format to expose more of a rough draft, a place to post the infancy of concepts for later clarification. An experiment of sorts... we'll see how it goes.