Sunday, November 14, 2010

To become a better artist?

I began this years teaching by asking my students what their goals were. A common response was "I want to become a better artist". Hmmmm. So, I have been given the arduous task of asking them to define what "better" means to them. Do they mean technically better? Drawing more accurately, seeing more accurately, finding color notes better? What do they believe getting better will achieve? More sales? Respect from other artists? Personal joy? All of the above? Unfortunately, the sad truth is, the better we become as artists, the more critical we become and the more it takes to wow us, so "better" is a goal that keeps on moving further and further away. I used to be able to go to an art show and come away inspired, now I often come away disappointed. It is hard to find anything of merit other than technical prowess and more of the same. The more of a connoisseur we become in anything, the harder it is to find things that satisfy our sophisticated palette. Think of wine and cheese. The same is true in art. The more I know about painting, the more I want to see artists find new ways of solving old problems. As a painting teacher, I feel I am not teaching them a craft that is to be proliferated redundantly, I want them to create work that comes from their individuality. Individuality often means non-conforming so it doesn't always translate into popularity as the majority of people will admire and praise the familiar.

One of my favorite authors on this subject is Peter London. In one of his books he cautions that anyone can be taught how to paint like Monet, stroke for stroke, but although the external result may look the same, the internal process is totally different. It is like jumping to the end of the story and only reading the last page. Every choice Monet made in refining his technique came from personal discovery. He didn't begin as an impressionist painter he evolved and discovered a new way of seeing that was uniquely his own. A way that was vehemently rejected by traditional art norms of the day.

So for me, becoming a "better" artist, is to become an artist that continues to search and remain open to the discoveries that are revealed along the way. "Better" doesn't guarantee "satisfied", to continue to grow, we must never be stalled by anyone's satisfaction, even our own!