Virtually everyone believes that art should be impressive, good, groundbreaking. However, as time marches on I can’t help but feel that may be the wrong focus. Art should be expressive, and expression is not always good or impressive. Nor does it always have meaning. I am sure I’m not saying anything totally unique here, but that is almost the point I’m making about art.
From the very beginning of time, man (and this includes woman) has struggled to identify with the surrounding universe. Tangled in webs of contradictory experience, the senses can easily revolt and produce nothing creative, or lend themselves to mediocrity in order to blend in. Both are a form of self defense, and both have some degree of validity.
This is why, if you are a visual artist, musician, author, whatever, I urge you to consider the merits of both successful and unsuccessful approaches to your chosen vehicle of expression. What is your intent? Do you need one, and why? Maybe you shouldn’t overthink what you do, and it might even go totally against the point of pure expression, but you probably will eventually reach that point where life begins to be too big, and any form of art seems too narrow. If you occasionally consider some basic philosophical aspects of what you’re doing, you’ll probably be better off.
That being said, there are weaknesses to trying to understand one’s art, and art in general. The few art shows I’ve attended often seem to be lectures of some kind, where the artist is essentially put on the spot and expected to rationalize what they do. In some cases that may be okay, but I think often it’s better left as a personal matter that an artist can choose to relate to an audience, rather than have it be something that’s expected or mandated of them. Explaining something can cheapen it.
I’ll use myself as an example: My own art makes extensive use of faces, and particularly tends to emphasize eyes and teeth. I can’t even explain why these are such common elements thematically, and this frustration may be part of why I stopped making visual art for years. I just didn’t understand why I naturally rejected drawing, painting and conceptualizing anything but human faces. I started to feel like a one trick pony. It didn’t help that I already felt alienated from the artistic community, but I also felt alienated from my own work, and my own self.
How did I get out of that feeling? I never totally did, and perhaps never totally will. However, I have begun to stop caring about whether my art is particularly good, unique, interesting or fresh. I don’t even care if it has a good story to tell within its confines. Images can only convey so much after all. On top of that, the value of any image is constantly in flux. One day I’ll see something and be moved by it, other times I might see the same image, or a very similar one, and just shrug.
I’ve also learned to not be so emotionally attached to whatever I’m making. If I don’t feel frustrated in the process and just draw or paint, it will obviously have a more therapeutic effect. At the end of the day, that may be what most good art is about. Maybe I can’t make the world a better place overall, and maybe I’ll always have problems in my own life, but when I’m in the moment of artistic creation I have the illusion that nothing can touch me, that I can have fun making something and basically just wing it. It’s the equivalent of a child’s finger painting. If I were to analyze that seriously I could say “That’s pathetic.” But, from the standpoint of the child and the parent, that art is precious. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The art is the moment, not in extrapolating some grand meaning out of it.
Frank Zappa said “Art is making something out of nothing, and selling it.” There’s a bit of truth to that, and sometimes what we don’t know can help us.