Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Art Discipline or the Rise of the Phoenix -part one

A long time ago, 2001 I think it was, Mrs Elsa Clarke, one of my lecturers for design studio told us on our very first day of class  that an artist was always hungry; an artist was never satisfied with learning this or achieving that but was always looking beyond to the next level; always seeking to challenge himself. Always seeking to grow.

Those words stayed with me and I have to admit they became my mantra and opening segue when talking to my new class of students every year. Yes I make sure and say that she told it to us and yes when she first said it she told us who told  her but I don't remember that part and anyway that's not what's important. The words stayed with me because I  realised just how profound and accurate they were when I made the decision to become a professional artist.

People who purchase or view  art sometimes live in this bubble which informs them -rather erroneously - that making art is 'easy' and artists sit around all day. They don't need to research or think or plan or anything because  paintings just fall from the sky like manna from heaven.What they do is 'easy'; making art is an easy job. This is then passed on to the wee ones who come in expecting to just sit back and allow artistic success to  fall on them.  Maybe that's our fault. We are good at what we do so we make it look effortless.

Well in this blog post, my mission will be to dispel  all those myths. I can do it in one statement:

ART IS DOWNRIGHT HARD!


I'll spare some time to explain and I'll even do a follow-up with an artist who has experienced some measure of success and who is in a position to share thoughts on the subject.

It takes discipline to make art. I put that word in bold because it is so easily discounted. It takes long hours of research, planning and re-planning (did I just make up a word?) Now don't get me wrong I'm not trying to spoil the romance for those of you who are just coming into this noble profession but rather enhance it. There are some times when you'll pick up the brush and a painting will almost literally fall on your canvas  and you treasure those moments because you can get a really great feeling especially if it's a good painting but that's the exception and not the rule. The rule is research. The rule is make sure and observe all the elements of art: line, shape, colour, value, texture, space and the principles of harmony, balance, rhythm, contrast, emphasis, unity. Not to mention composition and perspective and a solid drawing if that's what you do and good knowledge of your tools and how to manipulate them to enhance your work. The rule is start over if you are not achieving the goals or if it just plain sucks. The rule is make the complex compositions appear simple; uncomplicated.

Artists worth their salt study constantly; reading good art books and attending workshops. They put in long hours at their easel and develop thick coats to ward off attacks by errant art critics, both knowledgeable and otherwise. They are ever changing, ever growing.

In addition to the long painting hours artists do their own marketing and must also deal with the let down that comes from rejections and harsh critiques and continue producing and going back for more. Today's artist is a creatively genius,  computer savvy marketing exec.  (Please note that the art still comes first)

[caption id="attachment_1183" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Anthony Gonzalez, Student (Trinidad & Tobago)The Creative War: Rise of the Phoenix; 17x14; markers and paint on paper"]Anthony Gonzalez, Student (Trinidad & Tobago)The Creative War: Rise of the Phoenix; 17x14; markers and paint on paper[/caption]

I can illustrate a true artist in this sense (Hopefully you will get the idea from my poetic imagery) As she paints her masterpiece, she divests part of herself unto the canvas. With sweat pouring down her brow she wages war against faulty composition and makes sure her colours are playing nicely with each other. If she's a plein aire painter, she must also wage war against the elements as she feverishly tries to get everything down before the light changes and if she's an abstract artist she must chase the ghosts and phantoms and dreams that drive her to create while still observing the artistic elements and principles. Finally she sees the 'end' in sight and at the final stroke of the brush, she hesitantly signs her name, still wondering if she is truly finished ( She may pass by it tomorrow and see something that needs 'fixing' and pick up the brush again).

That painting marks the end of that part of herself that she has given to that piece of art; that piece of history. Tomorrow she will rise again, like the mythical phoenix, reborn, renewed; a new idea to conceive, and a new landscape to forge; a new 'ghost' to conquer.

It takes discipline and determination to become an artist. Sweat, tears and a hard skin.  Talent is important and necessary but it must also be coupled with hard work. The saying "Hard work reaps rewards" is just as important for making art. And that's the romance.