This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Some artists feel threatened when someone offers an opinion about their work. Some artists even disregard suggestions made by instructors because of the fear of losing their individuality. Some artists argue that any outside influence to an unfinished work, even the comment “it looks good”, alters the psyche of the artist resulting in a work not entirely the artist’s own.
While I understand the argument, I offer another viewpoint to consider. Take it for what it is – an opinion. Only you can know if what I suggest will benefit your work. I just ask one thing: don’t discount it without giving it some serious thought. Ponder on it a bit. Try to understand the larger picture that I am trying to get at. I believe that it is possible to stay true to yourself and your instincts even in the face of outside influences. But before we talk about that, let’s look at who you are.
Recognize Past Influences – How They Have Shaped You
The reality is that everything you have attained with your art (and in life) up to this point has been because you have been influenced in a variety of ways by innumerable of things. Everything from your infancy up to the present has made an influence on the person you are today. You are the sum total of all of your experiences. It is what you do with all that influence that counts.
Your personality, your passions, your sensitivities, your cravings, your ingenuity, your instincts etc. all manifest themselves in the unique way they do because of who you are. These things that give uniqueness to your art are the result of who you have become because of every influence in your life.
Before you created art, did you ever see art? Have you ever read about art? Did you have art assignments and crafts in grade school? Did any book or person teach you anything about art? What about your chosen medium? What made you chose that medium? How did you know where to even start? What about your subject matter? All these and more were influences. Does that mean the resulting art you now create is not your own unique creation? Of course not. They are as unique as you are. But recognize how you got here.
Everything you create, how you create it, and even the medium you use are all the result of past influences. Recognize them and be grateful for having been blessed to receive them. For they have shaped you and your art.
You are still being influenced by every experience of every day. Some of those influences seem detached from your art – but they’re not. They continue to shape you, which in turn shape your art. Other influences are the pesky ones we all complain about – an un-welcomed critique by a stranger or an instructor’s comments which seem contrary to your vision.
So what do you do with those pesky influences? Are the suggestions valid? Do you consider them or do you ignore them? Do they in some real way alter the psyche and thus the final outcome of the artwork? Or is there only a perceived alteration? Were you free to make choices pertaining to your work despite the comments? Or was your ability to choose your response taken away? Think about it for a moment.
Using Influences to Your Benefit
As I mentioned above, it is what you do with the influences or comments that counts. Wise artists recognize comments by others as an opinion, not an attack nor a rule. Be wise enough and humble enough to give consideration to the advice given. But also be wise enough and resolute enough to know whether your work and your vision will benefit or not. Discard it if it will deviate from your vision. Accept it if it will more succinctly express your vision. Or store the information for future consideration on a future work of art – as a tool in a toolbox.
Collect the Tools
The best instructors would encourage you to follow your own way, but they give you the tools necessary to get there. Poor instructors try to get you to go their way. Learn the tools – the fundamentals – and figure out how to apply them to work with your instincts and voice.
Learning to master your medium is a lifelong pursuit. Learning how to express your vision is a lifelong pursuit. Welcome learning what others can teach. Don’t think that there is no room for more knowledge. As soon as you quit growing, you begin to atrophy.
But use increased knowledge for what it is – another tool to place in your tool box. Some of the tools may be a good fit, others not so much. Sometimes it takes years before you figure out when to use a certain tool. Other times a tool seems to open you up to an entirely new realm of possibilities. Sometimes you feel clumsy and awkward, but over time you realize their value and learn how to use them. Not every tool will be used in every work of art. Some you may only use once in a lifetime, but won’t you be glad you had ‘em! More tools give you more options, not less. Collect them.
You Have Control – Keep It
Every comment or opinion ever given regarding your art has some value, whether from a master artist or an unlearned observer. Again, it is what you do with the comments that matters. You are in control of your artwork. You make choices in its creation. Once you give away your agency in what goes into your art, it no longer becomes your art.
But to discard or even destroy an unfinished work because of someone’s comment seems foolhardy. To me, that drastic reaction demonstrates the inability to make your own decision in the face of outside influences. Learn to maintain control over your art despite the comments. Be wise, not temperamental. And you never know, but that comment may be the seed which, in a few years’ time, proves to be the most influential to your work. Don’t be so excitable that you discard it without due consideration. But be resolute enough not to follow influences which lead away from your vision.
An insight is a tool. If you chose not to use it now, put it in your toolbox. At a later time, look the tool over and determine whether it is worth keeping.