Words of wisdom about creativity and persistence from some of the world's greatest artists.
If no one is watching you perform or admiring your sculpture or displaying your painting or even reading your literary work do not despair. You are not being ignored. Your art is noticed by God since it is God that gave you the compulsion to create. By taking action to create you are honoring God and the gift you have been blessed with. That is enough for now. Tomorrow is another day.
In ancient times artists produced work for the good of their tribe or village community. Art was a gift not a commercial tansaction. Whether art had a magical or ceremonial function or simply to honor the heritage of the community it was given and accepted freely. This function of the artist continued in similar form for centuries. As commerce grew and a few wealthy community leaders arose they could give patonage to a few artists. Of course as monarchies and city states developed so too did patronage. However things changed rapidly as the rise of the merchant class accelerated in the latter half of the last millenium. Add industrialisation to the mix from 1800 and we can recognise a complete change towards modern lifestyles. A paradigm shift as the economists would call it.
More artists could take up the calling to create, but this increased competition and art as a gift was no longer viable. Artists had to live and compete for a living just like members of other trades and professions. However artists still wanted to create unique work. Different work that spoke for them. A message or concept that the artist needed to communicate. How could such risky work ensure an income? After all the world had gone in the direction of mechanisation to meet demand for products. Cookie cutter art anyone?
Artists have a few choices. Work for the man and retire then take up art. Do art on the side while working at a regular job to pay the rent. Both of these options are compromises and will get in the way of creativity. Third option - do art fulltime and risk it all. This may work for a few, but there will usually be some sort of financial cushion to pave the way. Paul Gauguin, for example, relied on his former earnings as a stock broker. The odds will always be against the artist. Wait for a state grant? Better get comfortable! It will be a long wait.
There is another option however. To sell out.
Selling out has been villified as a betrayal of artist's principles. This idea is perhaps carried over from the sixties and seventies when counter-culture demanded that artists reject collar and ties and all that regimented mainstream thinking. Artists working in corporations were simply regarded as suits. There was no art in such an environment. Time marches on and so too does the demands of the economy. Can artists compromise and still produce unique art?
The starving artists in tie-dyed T-shirts is a thing of the past. It seems that artists have moved into business and embrace selling out. There is precedent for this and it may surprise you to note that a leading exponent of selling out was Jim Henson of Sesame Street and Muppets fame. In her book Make Art Make Money: Lessons From Jim Henson on Fueling your Creative Career Elizabeth Hyde Stevens illustrates how Jim Henson realised that money had to be obtained to make more great art. To produce Sesame Street required cash. Freedom to make art means not having to fret about paying the bills. So Henson was encouraged to license Sesame Street toys. A move he hated to do, but with fantastic financial rewards that could be reinvested in his art.
Henson realised that selling out with a plan and purpose was in fact giving him freedom to create unique art on his own terms. How does this translate for artists trying to make ends meet? What products can you produce that can be replicated for volume in order to raise funds for something unique? Perhaps prints, licensing, DVD's, books, downloads, lessons, demonstrations, freelancing and many other avenues opening up in the connected economy. All of these opportunities are part of the artist's way to fuel unique art.
It is the artist's unique art that is the modern gift. No it is not given for free, but it is still created and shared in an age of commodatisation. That is the gift. Without unique work our community is lost in sameness. If it means selling out to do so then so be it.
When we believe what we see, we allow the magic to happen
Is seeing believing? Maybe in some cases. In art however, when you believe what you see then you allow the magic to happen.
We know the phrase " too see like an artist" and we know that it applies to the technical things like seeing the shapes and values in a scene. It is much more than technique though. What is often overlooked is that the artist must see what will create the magic for the viewer.
The illusionist relies on sleight of hand to fool the audience. We believe and call it magic. The unexplained takes on a mystery of its own and it enthralls us. Yes we know it is a trick, but we accept the bargain because of what we get in return. A moment of joy, wonder and escape. Is this not what we also get from art that moves us?
How does the artist make us believe? Take for example the above painting by Turner. A scene filled with light, wonder and mystery. In reality it is a train charging across a bridge at the height on England's industrial revolution. Spewing smoke and shrieking noise in a grimy industrial setting. We would usually hasten away from this awful reality. But the artist has seen something else.
Using his mastery of the medium Turner has created a painting that makes us stare at it in wonder. We try to fathom what is going on and look for other details. Our minds seek out images as we peer into the golden mist and smoke. What is bearing down upon us? Our mind says it is a train, but our imaginations see a fiery maw charging towards us. Magic.
The painting hooks us in. Why? Deep down we are part of a shared experience. At once repelled and also drawn in. There is more than our first impression of an everyday. There is something beautiful too. Would we see this without the magic of believing in the artist's work?
What would life be without these illusions that we accept so readily? Unacceptably dull and appallingly real. We all want the illusion. To escape and see beyond the material. To believe for a moment.
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It must be true that most passionate artists love to study other artists they admire. Whether it is for their sublime work, curiosity or to learn new things. We love to immerse ourselves in the world of art and books are one way to do this. Sometimes it may be procrastination that keeps my nose in an art book when I should be painting, but who cares. Reading about art is a great way to spend some quiet time to reflect and be inspired. These days with the magic of e-books I can get access to publications that are not available in my local bookstore. Within seconds! What a great time for book lovers!
Over the years I have accumulated a collection of books whether in print or digital. Some gather dust while others are dog-eared and paint splattered from regular use. Books are an essential part of an artist's studio so find a nook where you can put up shelves or a bookcase, get a comfy chair and read about art now and then. Of course this must be followed by work at the easel while fired with inspiration!
I have put a list together of my all time favorite art books. Perhaps you have some of these and a few that you may like to try. I am always on the lookout for new books too so please share your favorite books by leaving a reply below.
Click the image for more info about the book.
There are of course many other books that cover every aspect of art. Read and be inspired to create your own art. It is a beautiful way to live. As these books also remind me - life must be enjoyed. Let us not take it all too seriously. Time is short.
What art books do you love?
PS: Check out this video where I show you three special books by my favorite contemporary painter.
NEW: 2 DVD SET