Thinking Out Loud
Years ago, after I'd gotten my photography certificate I was splitting my time between trying to get portrait and pet portrait jobs (not what I wanted to do at all), and trying to produce National Geographic worthy nature photographs even though I was nowhere near having the equipment to do so. But I had this preconceived idea that's what photography was - that there were these narrow windows into which to work in photography. Fashion, wedding, portrait, nature, journalistic, etc. I didn't know about fine art photography, or pushing the envelope into creative expression. I was young and naive.
My ideas around painting were the same. I could paint landscapes, animals, people, flowers, etc. I painted things just because they existed, not because I had something I wanted to say. However, my naiveness also had these ideas that 'real' artists just painted things out of their head. They could draw all these things (people, places, animals) without having to look at a reference. I couldn't draw worth a darn without a reference, so there's no way I would ever be successful as an artist. So I quit.
When I finally couldn't resist the urge to paint and started again, I came back to it realizing all those past assumptions were false. Artists do use references. But I fell into the same mistake of painting just to paint and not giving much thought to personal expression or the conversation I wanted the painting to have.
Lately I've been doing a lot of questioning on why I'm painting what I'm painting. Part of it revolves around improving my skills and getting a good foundation in how to paint. Part of it is convenience, because that's what was there for me to paint or because it reflects my interests (nature, wildlife, birds, the land). Part of it is painting for the market, because it will sell. But this past year has really seen me questioning the why behind it all. Do the stories I want to tell really revolve around a pretty mountain landscape?
In a society where art seems to have a shrinking market and little interest from upcoming generations......what is the purpose of art? Why am I creating a product which most people don't want or care about, other than a fleeting "oh that's pretty" come across their screen? I don't know if I have a definitive answer to any of it. Going back to the basics, I believe art has 6 main purposes:
1. To generate conversation.
2. To aid in worship and ritual.
3. To document for future generations.
4. To sway opinions, highlighting political or social causes.
5. As a form of self expression.
6. To elicit an emotional response.
The two main points that interest me are 1. and 6. To generate conversation and to elicit an emotional response.
In my life drawing class, one of the fellow students introduced herself by saying "I am just an illustrator", as if the act of illustration is not really art. It is true the majority of revered or "serious art" is not whimsical, playful, or joyful. You'll probably never see a Dr. Seuss illustration side by side with the Mona Lisa. Why is this? Isn't art to entertain for fun just as worthwhile as introspective thought of a more melancholy tone?
Is art that creates sombre emotions more worthy than paintings which brings a feeling of joy or happiness? Are the paintings created to entertain children through the pages of storybooks a lower form of art than that which hangs above the fireplace?
I have done paintings on purpose to create a sense of loneliness or an awareness of our own fleeting mortality. I have had a couple of difficult years and one thing that is becoming more difficult to hold onto, for myself and a lot of other people, is joy and innocence. Yet, those are not subjects I've really tried to depict much through my work. Why? It's what I, and the majority of people need right now isn't it? Do we need to be reminded of the doom and gloom blasted from media outlets? Or do we need to escape into the merriment and innocence of our childhood?
Is "Kings Who Have No Crowns" (above) more fine art than the illustration "The Welcoming Committee" (below)? Doesn't the illustration of the sad little mouse running away from home with the happy canary there to greet him, elicit as much of an emotional response, or more, than the painting?
Leave a Reply.
Roberta Murray, ASA