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.