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I read many artists’ blog entries that suggest ways an artist can get ahead and be recognized by trying to break away from the pack. Be different. Be daring. Stand out from the crowd. I find that these statements might just be at the root of the trouble with art in general today. Artists hope that what we currently paint IS daring and different. After all, we don’t see OUR work in the work of others. Or do we? It takes years of painting and living life to find your true voice. And some may never find a voice no matter what they do.
I don’t believe there is a genre that has not been painted to death; landscapes for instance. If you are honest and separate your ego from the process, you’d find nothing new or different is being painted in landscapes today. I know you certainly can disagree. This may sound negative and unsupportive of landscape painters; but think about it, everyone is trying to paint what sells and, in so doing, is virtually painting the same scenes.
Some use the traditional approach, some tonalism; some impressionism or whatever. But if you were to set these paintings next to one another, my guess is you wouldn’t see much difference. Sure they would show some individuality of some sort, some color differences or angle or point of view in composition. Some will be quite good. But overall, it would be a sea of empty landscapes of redundant scenes of trees, rivers, lakes and mountains at various times of the day. Now this isn’t to say that one cannot paint a startling landscape. I’m sure it can be done because it has been done in the past.
Current landscape painters travel to some remote spot or mountaintop or maybe some street scene or locale and record what he or she sees, some with more or less skill than another. What is the purpose? If shear beauty is the motive, we’ve seen it and probably done better by someone else. In some cases, we’ve traveled to some of these spots ourselves and have seen it first hand. And let’s not forget about photography. Most of us have photos of these spots.
So why paint another landscape if not to render something new about it or interpret it through our individual bias and say something different than what we’ve seen before; something with a fresh point of view? If you are going to take the time and trouble, why not go all the way and say something different? Paint it in a way no one has ever seen before. Call on your talent and expertise and paint a magnificent scene like no other ever painted. Impossible you say? Maybe not! To do this you would have to use parts of your brain you haven’t used. Pull from the depths of your being something never seen in your previous works. You might surprise yourself and paint a work completely new. Try it.
The other genre that currently shows no sign of originality is still life. I know flowers and teapots and grapes and bowls lend themselves to still life, but can anyone be creative enough to use something other than these sophomoric, banal items? Everything lying before us is a potential still life. Can’t we take a risk and paint these things without regard to the perceived beauty inherent in the object? After all, anything that isn’t moving can be a still life.
The other genre is portrait painting. I haven’t seen a great portrait painting except for John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase. Portraits seem stiff, unnatural, the sitter out of place, uneasy - generally in a costume they pulled out for the painter to paint but would hardly ever wear on the street.
What I like to see is personality not just a pretty image. There are some artists doing some fine portraits today, but overall the same portrait is being painted again and again. This subject may be harder to find nuance. Personality is a very elusive thing to paint and difficult to elicit from a sitter much less capture on canvas. Add to the mix the artist has to please the sitter, we can’t always paint what we see or think.
Can’t we re-think the whole genre? Find a new way to say an old thing. Isn’t this our true goal as artists? Artists need to stand up and not paint the same ole’ same ole’ paintings. We need to stop copying what works and push the envelope. Our purpose is to create art first and sell second. And if we were to create something wonderful, it would move beyond the same old artwork being produced again and again.
Artists are pigeonholed by the “market” and as such produce mediocre work that only rises to that market level. It doesn’t move art up, out and over the top to new heights. Every work we create- or should I say show, should be better than the last. When an artist finds his/her niche, that artist is as good as done. The work will be the same over and over. The curse to any artist is success. Success is a dead knell to a true artist.
If anyone reads this and wants to debate it so be it. We are awash in mediocrity and we all need to raise the bar and the customers will follow us as opposed to us pandering to a market. This market is starved for something new and different and better than what we offer. We have to challenge ourselves and raise the level of the market. After all, the market is taking what we give it. If we give it better, innovative art, it will demand better innovative art.
Think about it the next time you start to paint. Think about your work making a statement. Be profound. Be daring. Stand out in this way.
Editor's Note: You can view Rick's original post here.