Monday, 8 December 2008

Great Art

What makes something a great work of Art? ('Art' meaning all things creative - music, painting, poetry, craftwork, etc )

It’s a question that has been on my mind a lot recently. I started my life as an art and English (American and British) literature student. I’ve learnt all about stanzas and iambic pentameter, layout and perspective. I’ve learnt a lot of theories and concepts, but that was a long time ago and most of them have flown out my head over the years. On the whole I’m rather glad they have, because in my opinion that means they’ve left space for what really matters - truth. To me what makes an artwork great is truth or, to be more specific, how much the artist has managed to express their own truth.

To explain that I need to explain why I dropped out of art college. I was in a life drawing class one day and we had just all been out for a break. Life Drawing was a full three hours and the models would need a chance to stretch and move and us students would all charge off to get a cup of coffee, or a cigarette. On this particular day we returned all chatting and I went and sat down at the wrong desk. In fact several of us sat down at the wrong place and I realised, when I tried to find my real place, that I couldn’t tell one drawing from another – they all looked the same. It shocked me because I could still remember how in the first few months every student had been different. We’d each had our own unique style, our own way of expressing how we saw the world – our truth. Now, after only a few extra months, we all were carbon copies of our lecturer’s style – he’d moulded us all into himself. It was a good professional art style, but it was his, not ours. Looking at my drawing I realised I wasn’t ‘me’ anymore… and it bugged me. Maybe I hadn’t been the best artist in the class, but at least I’d been myself. Now I wasn’t even that anymore.

A few weeks later the final year students held an exhibition and I went to take a look. The work was slick, professional, perfect… and utterly sterile. I had no doubt they’d all get jobs and do well, but I knew not one of them would ever be famous, because they all looked the same. If you’d taken the name tags off the exhibits you’d have never known who was who. There were no errors or flaws, but no individuality or inventiveness either. Perfect work, but no soul… a short time after that I left.

Another experience that proved the same point for me happened around the same time. The students were in the hall, preparing for a show. We were in there putting up boards and moving chairs when one student noticed there was a grand piano on the stage. She was an art-music student and tutored piano and guitar in her spare time. She climbed up onto the stage to try the piano out and played a perfect flawless piece of classical music. Another student (a friend of mine) said, “Hey, I know that piece!” and clambered up to have a go herself. She wasn’t as accomplished, she messed up several notes, but she played with such emotion (Italian girl – they can’t do anything without emotion) that the entire hall full of workers, lecturers and students, stopped… and listened. It didn’t matter to them that her rendition wasn’t as accomplished, it only mattered that her version was the one that touched their hearts.

Since that day I’ve always understood what I look for in art and music, but only recently it’s occurred to me that I feel the same about poetry/writing. It’s all back to that word ‘truth’ – or to be more exact in the artist being true to themselves. If I can’t feel the artist in the artwork I’m not impressed. If you can’t be yourself in your own creations… then what’s the point? Creativity isn’t about ‘getting it right’ according to whatever standards the world might set, it’s about expressing your true self – your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Whether its cooking, painting or writing - if you create honestly and shared yourself truthfully, then in my opinion you have created a great work of art. ;-)

10 comments:

  1. Michelle, I know what you're talking about. It pretty much is the same with blogging. If my blog was the same as yours, what would be the point of me coming here and vice-versa. And I especially agree with you on the poetry issue.

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  2. Thanks Cliff and what you said about blogging is so true. I hadn't thought of that.

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  3. You brought out something that is so truthful yet we often fail to see. I do agree with you. Art without emotion and passion is not art at all.

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  4. You know something? You've just answered a question that's been lingering in my mind for a while now. And you answered it grandly. My soul is satisfied now and I'm smiling widely, thanks to YOU he he he...

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  5. Hi Michelle - You have hit the nail right on the head once again!

    I recall reading when I was teaching myself either tarot or astrology (can't remember which, maybe both) that the student should learn all they can, then throw away all books and wing it.
    Fly by the seats of their pants, fall flat if necessary, but apply what they've learned in their own unique way. :-)

    PS - love the spiderweb photo below - that is art by nature!

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  6. Hi Michelle - You have hit the nail right on the head once again!

    I recall reading when I was teaching myself either tarot or astrology (can't remember which, maybe both) that the student should learn all they can, then throw away all books and wing it.
    Fly by the seats of their pants, fall flat if necessary, but apply what they've learned in their own unique way. :-)

    PS - love the spiderweb photo below - that is art by nature!

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  7. I can't help but think that it's okay that you were all producing the same style of "art" that day and that so many students came out of the class as little clones of their prof and producing the same, generic work. Everyone has to start somewhere, after all. Those early pieces of generic work make me think of little ones on bikes with training wheels. Doing well, not great, but getting by.

    I think the true artist is the one who can move past her education. We all need some framework--some blueprint for our work. We need some rules and some foundation on which to work from. Once that is established, the artist can then spread her wings and fly knowing fully that her wings will hold her. Or... she can just keep producing the same old generic stuff. An artist will either emerge, or she won't.

    It's a shame the art teacher(s) weren't teaching the students how to move beyond the basics. A good teacher inspires and helps her students grow--sounds like teachers at that school had a narrow view of what it meant to be a good art student and what it meant to be a successful art teacher.

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  8. Genie

    That lecturer was a total a$$ and he'd have been an a$$ regardless of what he did or taught. There were better teachers there - he was the worst in every way. I think part of the problem was that he was an unsuccesful artist himself - a real case of those who can do and those who can't teach! ;-)

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  9. Twilight

    Good advice and timely as I'm in the middle of an argument with a friend who tends to feel books/studies are the beginning and end instead of just the foundation to be built upon.

    Amel
    Glad to hear it helped you. :-)

    Ting
    Very well said - Art without passion is pretty pointless.

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  10. Michelle this was wonderfully written and I wholeheartedly agree. To me art is a celebration of the individual and how that person sees the world. It is an expression of creativity by someone who feels the need to communicate something about himself or his world. Very excellent post. :D

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