Thursday, April 30, 2009



ArtQuest will be a series of essays, thoughts and insights I have developed over the many years that I have been both an art teacher and a practicing artist.  It will not deal at all with the subject matter of most classes, which focus upon learning skill and techniques, but rather I will try and present what I feel are key elements in developing a concept of seeing yourself as an artist, and overcoming some of the barriers we erect to thwart ourselves.

Art is not a spectator sport, but a highly participatory drama!

I feel art is always subjective, whether we are talking about art as a verb (the doing of art) or as a noun (the labeling and recognition of art either to sell, collect or merely appreciate).  Our need to express our inner ideas, hopes, dreams, fears, perversions, hatreds, anxieties, loves and a myriad of other strongly held internal passions is what motivates us try and give these ephemeral concepts a physical and exterior form. 

No artist ever sat down to do the hard, creative work of baring his or her soul because the world needed another painting of a barn, another photograph of a waterfall, another ceramic teacup or another story of unrequited love and abandonment.  Those things are subject matter, but they are not art.

I believe that the issues are the same in all areas of art, but it is the skills that differ.  Because skills are easy to teach, almost all art classes concentrate upon skill building.  Skills can be quantified, so it is easy to teach a set of techniques, and then have the student illustrate, through either active demonstration or passive quiz and tests, their mastery (or lack there-of).  The road to becoming an artist is not predicated upon learning to center your clay on a potters wheel, understanding the relationship between “f stop” and aperture in photography, appreciating the difference between camel hair and sable “brights” in water-color or subject/verb agreement in writing.  Those who aspire to art in areas other than visual or writing are certainly free to list your own techniques here.  These are good skills to know and may help us develop a proficiency and understanding, but they will no more make you an artist than having a good dictionary will make you a writer.  Too many people have signed up for an art class because they desperately felt that they really had something to say and they wanted to learn how to express themselves.  Unfortunately, all they ended up with was a pair of beaded wire earrings or a clay ashtray.  K-Mart will sell you those pretty inexpensively

Producing art is a subjective program of honoring and listening to your inner voices.  It is a multi-step process, and it is not easily quantified.  It requires that you first acknowledge that there is something that you have inside of your head, heart, genitalia, soul, or stomach (location doesn’t matter) that wants to be heard.  The second step is giving yourself permission to listen to that need and to honor it, no matter how weird or perverse it may seem.  The third step may well be the hardest, because it involves giving yourself permission to let part of your inner voice out and giving it physical form (instead of keeping it ephemeral and invisible inside of you) and allow it to be heard.  The fourth, if you choose to take it, is to allow others to see what you have revealed.  I will talk more about these steps and how you might implement them later.  Please notice; there is nothing about skill building, technique or even talent in these four steps.  They are handy, they make your life easier, and they certainly can effect whether something is “good art” or “bad art”, but they have nothing at all to do whether you are an artist or whether what you are producing is really art.

The last thing I would like to mention in this introduction is truthfulness.  If art is the result of listening to, honoring, and giving physical form to your passions, demons and dreams, it needs to be inherently truthful.  Not always nice, not always informed, and certainly not always politically correct, but it is the kind of candid, uncensored, straight-from-the-heart truth that little kids practice.  Indeed, the model of being like the young child is certainly one the artist should seriously consider. 

I f you develop the bravery to honor what your soul has to say, don't lie in its name.

These are some of the issues I would like to cover as time goes by – I would certainly appreciate any feedback people may have.  Please feel free to post comments or e-mail me directly.  I’ll publish a new post in a few days.





JuneMoonToon said...

This is so what we need to hear. You hit straight to the heart.
Thanks for the insight, and thank you for your comment on my blog. If I'm going to share what I have written, I know I need to pay more attention to what I think and write. But maybe the sophistication I felt was lacking may not be what I need to look for.

artquest1 said...

I'm glad you found this helpful. There is certainly nothing wrong with "sophistication" in any art form, but if it is something you want to strive for, by all means do so. just be aware, it is not ART, any more than good spelling, the ability to conjugate a verb or nice penmanship makes one a great writer. Any skill can be improved upon (with a bit of work and practice) but without the willingness to risk and the bravery to put yourself out there, skill is nothing more than technical facility.
Good luck, Bob

JuneMoonToon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ScarLeTTe said...

to quote Bob, "It requires that you first acknowledge that there is something that you have inside of your head, heart, genitalia, soul, or stomach (location doesn’t matter) that wants to be heard." - * - * - /
my head, my mind, my brain - i call her Ruby... really, my genitalia needs to be heard - i am perplexed. and i havent read any farther down or up since reading the aforementioned... i'll Be back!

artquest1 said...

HI ScarLeTTe,
Well, I'm glad at least part of you found something to react too. I invite you to read on, as there might be more nourishment in store.

Wonderingsoul said...

Just so you know Bob, your comment got me... right in the throat... I expected a...
'yeah, what you write is all very well and good BUT...'
... and winced when I got to the part... but like a wave that doesn't break, the criticism never came. Perhaps then, that's how your words somehow got into my throat...
I was puzzled (VERY) by your compliments. I love language and as an English teacher, I suppose I should be reasonably articulate, but as to an artist..? I can never ever, EVER express the pain of feeling like a failure in almost all my attempts to express my inner self. I write for the same reasons that we go into the bathroom when we wake up... I'd love to be 'an artist' as a great as your comment implies but goodness knows you either need to read little more critically or you haven't ever experienced brilliant writing!
I've read your intro and I intend to keep reading.
I used to write as a child and teen but since depression, haven't really been able to get much down. (My blog being a relatively recent exception).
I'd LOVE to write fiction but feel that I lack the imagination to do so.
I will keep reading. Thank you for your comment. It probably wouldn't be possible to express just how surprised and disbelieving and flattered and cynical and unaccountably moved I am by it.


artquest1 said...

Hi WS!
After teaching the arts for a very long time, I’ve discovered that one of the real impediments most people face in their quest to “becoming an artist” is the simple proclamation “I’m an artist”. Many of us have no problems stating “I’m a good parent, a good driver, a good spouse” etc. even though those statements are usually quite subjective, and if you are wrong, you may well be causing harm, distress or even damage to others. Never the less, just as the kids up at Lake Woebegone are all above average, we are not troubled.
I have discovered that, in spite of ability, competence, and skill (all of which, by the way, are quantifiable) very few people have the stones to proclaim, “I am an artist/writer/singer etc. The interesting point to observe is that even if you are a total whack-job mad woman, proclaiming yourself an artist hurts no one!
My premise, which I discuss in my ArtQuest Blog, is that the fear of so stating is not based upon any real exterior value, but is an internal roadblock. It is one we erect to insure that we cannot be successful in something that is important to us. At the risk of sounding like a junior psychologist, (which I promise I will not bring up again) it is similar to someone who rejects all outward comments concerning body image and health.
I’d very much enjoy continuing our new dialogue, and I feel that I have some suggestions that may help you to become more open to what I am suggesting, some steps you can take to find your way, and the very real possibility that we can jointly share in the discovery of a new artist. The worst that can happen is that you are right; you’re just a hack who should stick to bloging, and that I ought to read something deeper than USA Today.
If you are interested, why not drop me a line (e-mail is an easier format to have a back and forth discussion – my address is in my blog). Let me know if I have piqued your interest.
Best wishes, Bob