Sunday, February 7, 2010

What it is to be an Artist

I guest-posted this on my buddy Justin's blog and decided to share it here too.
Hope ya'll like it! And don't forget to visit Justin's blog, Random Ramblings! He has a bunch of new content up literally every day!


I am an artist. I draw, I paint, I love to create. Hell, I'm currently challenging myself to sketch something (and hopefully post it) for every day of the year, the progress of which you can see on my own blog.

As an artist, I constantly hear the phrase, "Wow, I could never draw like that!" and "I tried to draw, but I just got so discouraged!" Though they may seem like testimonies to my skill, all I can really do is shake my head and give a small thanks. It's hard to see my creations as works of genius, difficult to separate them from the time and toil spent. I am so very often discouraged by the unsatisfactory quality of my own art that frankly, I'm surprised I didn't quit a long time ago.

Based on a slew of reflective art and design articles I've been reading, as well as the testimonies of some of my design professors and lessons in art history, I've slowly come to accept a rather stark theory:

Artists are never happy.

If you choose to be an artist, you must accept the fact that you will never be satisfied with your work. Yes, you'll have flashes of brilliance and produce great works, but there will always be that nagging feeling that you could have done better. And next time, you will do better, then you'll wish you'd have done that better. It's an cycle without end, which makes a serious passion for art something not for the faint of heart. And yet as artists we keep putting out our works, showing it off to the world because perhaps on some level we are proud, if nothing else but for the hard work we've spent on it. Writing is rewriting, drafting is redrafting and painting is repainting over and over.

Despite the need to constantly improve upon a work of art in order to keep making it "better," artists do have to stop at some point. There is such thing as over-working a piece, and I've done this a couple times. It's more horrible a feeling than having a work never reach its potential, because it means I've missed the point. Artists need to stick together in order to validate each other's works and prevent such over-working. This is why we need critique: it's not praise, and it lets us know when to stop.

Let's skip over to a small art history lesson on Michelangelo.

Michelangelo's Pietà

Michelangelo is the epitome of the "tortured artist." He frequently expressed dislike of his paintings and sculptures, even though he is arguably the best artist of his time. He lamented over the labour and scorned the finished product. He never let anybody see his initial sketches and drafts, definitely not a big "process" guy so much as a "finished product" guy.

Anyway, Michelangelo was thought by his peers to possess a special spirit of God. His innate artistic talent was said to have come straight from God, and that for all of Michelangelo's life he would strive to match the beauty and divinity that so inspired him—but obviously he cannot, as he was but a mortal man and not actually God. This was a very interesting understanding of him, and it's easy to sympathize in a way, whether or not you buy into the whole spirituality bit.

It's what makes an artist an artist. The inherent determination and drive to not give up and to keep going no matter how much it hurts or sucks. If you truly stop doing something, then you were not meant to do it anyway. This goes for more than just art, or perhaps this marks everything as art. Once you find something you're willing to put up with through your suckiest moments as well as your most glorious, that's when you know you've found something worthwhile. And honestly, I think it's worth trying to find that thing or things. I think passion is definitely worth it.

Once we inject passion and drive into what we do, what we do becomes art, and we become its artists.

1 comment:

Gyllilian said...

I remember reading about psychological disorders and stress induced mental illness in Hollywood during the writer's strike. The Psychologist on NPR was saying that the basic phenomenon that occurs is that writers, artists, generally face the anxiety that their work is never good enough. This is good and bad of course. On the one hand it provides them with the motivation to improve. On the other hand it causes a great deal of stress, which at times may not even be necessary since their work is already great. Thus they are the tortured artist, their own worst enemy.

I'm reminded of a Dr. Cox quote when talking about how he "hates his body." /watch?v=o_HAXan1wSQ

In his approach, once you're satisfied, it's over, you've lost the fight to improve. I think my thought process regarding this kind of thing is more mixed, but I do think that the creator is biased when it comes to judging their own work.

I would agree that determination is definitely an aspect that a "good" or perhaps a successful artist must have. Since it is often the case that artists, singers, writers, must often fail before they ever succeed. It is necessary for them to have the will to continue despite their failures and move on so that they can write that great song, paint the iconic image, or write a classic novel.

Persistence equals success.