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.
Let's draw an analogy between your art and an ancient story (from about 3000+ years ago).
According to the story, a man was told by God to build a boat (no, not Noah – someone else). The man followed the instructions of God perfectly. The boat or ship was functional, watertight, and lightweight.
But the man realized that there were a couple of problems. He went to God and said, "There are no openings to provide fresh air."
God then told him to cut a couple openings. When they suffered for air, they were to unstop the holes. But if water entered, they would stop up the holes again. This the man did.
He then went to God again with the second problem. There was no light in the ship. "Do you want us to travel in darkness?" he asked his God.
To which his God answered, "What do you want me to do? You cannot have fire, nor can you have windows."
The man gave it some thought. He then gathered a number of white, translucent stones. He went to God and asked him to touch the rocks. "If you do," he said, "they will lighten our ship."
He did touch the stones with his finger and they were illuminated.
Before we draw some lessons from the story, let's talk a bit about your art.
Somewhere along the way you had to learn your craft. You are probably still learning. But some of you are just beginning your journey. I write as if addressing you who are new to your art, but the lesson is for us all.
What kind of instruction do you seek? Do you learn from an instructor, from books, from dvds etc.? Perhaps a combination of all those things? If you do have an instructor, does he or she teach you the fundamentals or simply put a brush in your hand and tell you to express yourself? Does learning the fundamentals hinder expression? Do you try to build a ship without any blueprints?
Could the man in the story have figured out how to build a ship on his own? Perhaps. But it would have taken much, much longer. Much trial and error. Would the end result have been as good? Who knows.
But the question for you and your art is this: do you waste years trying to learn your craft on your own because you do not have any blueprints - because you don't learn the fundamentals first?
For arguments sake, let's say you do learn the fundamentals. At first you may follow the fundamentals perfectly – just as the man followed instructions to build the ship. Just as the ship was functional – it could float – so would your work be a creation that functions as art.
But, just as the ship, your art would lack "air". It would be stale and stuffy. The art would lack life. It would lack spirit. As you are learning, you would go to your instructor and ask for guidance. You could also find answers in books and dvds, but guidance comes easier from a good teacher.
If you follow the instructor's advice, you will improve your skills and gain more knowledge. Your confidence in your abilities will grow.
But, your work will still lack "light". The light is your inspiration, your voice. It is your own solution. It is your own expression.
You may not realize what your work needs. A wise instructor will encourage you to seek your own inspiration. He or she will not give you the answers, for the answers can only come from you. These are the things that must come from within. The good instructor will not abandon you, but would be there to validate your solutions, your inspiration, your light.
Thus, you will have grown and progressed, just as the ship builder, to have confidence in yourself. You have all the tools you need to create your art. But beyond the blueprints, you now know how to give it life and light. You will have learned how to problem solve. This is what leads to originality in your artwork. This is what leads to freedom of expression.
Creating great art is best achieved when there is a firm foundation AND when there is inspiration. Great art is achieved when you know how and why the fundamentals are what they are, but when you also know how to problem solve – when you know how to deviate or modify or explore in order to express your own vision.
It baffles me that so many artists wish to take a shortcut and freely express themselves without learning anything of the fundamentals first. They cite artists who abandon the fundamentals and create light-filled works of art. But, they forget that most truly great innovators in the arts built upon the foundation of the fundamentals. They knew how to create life- and light-filled works because they first knew how to build a ship.
But to those who wish to take a shortcut and bypass the process of learning, you risk wasting the most exquisite light to illuminate a leaky ship.
What kind of ship builder are you?
PS Seek a good instructor. One who will first teach you the fundamentals, but will then teach you how to find your own inspiration and expression. A good instructor shows you how to find your own answers.