This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn also writes a weekly blog on Artist Daily. Her alter ego, Middle Aged Plague, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. Recently, Carolyn has collected 30 of these essays each into two e-books, Life Is A Gift (Ordinary Life Is Beautiful) and The Jane Austen Driving School. She is presently working on a grammar book for ordinary people who don’t jump with joy discussing dangling participial phrases and the difference between subordinate and insubordinate clauses.
Several years ago, I embarked upon a personal journey in which I questioned every single thing I had ever been told or taught about God. Without miring you in spirituality, I did some serious reading, thinking, and observing, in the process training myself to draw upon my own intelligence, background, ability to analyze, and experience.
Along the way, I discovered that the questioning had just begun, spilling out into every aspect of my life. Whereas before, my default had been to accept much of what I was told or picked up through reading, listening, or watching really bad Bruce Willis movies, I now found myself stopping and asking: "Who is saying this? What is his or her reason behind saying it? By what authority is he or she speaking? Is this necessarily true, and if so, how sweeping or universal is this truth?"
While I realize that this makes me sound like an extraordinarily difficult person to talk to at a cocktail party (do you go to these? I honestly don't think I've ever been to a real, proper, actual cocktail party), you probably wouldn't mind me, because I do more listening than I do talking. The more information that I draw in, the more resources that I have available to think, analyze, interpret, question, and learn.
And the more confidence I have to reach conclusions and stand by them.
This ability comes in handy in all aspects of life, not the least of which is running an art business, and being married to the man who produces the artwork that we sell and license.
As you may have noticed, art is a pretty open-ended subject, with the question, "What is Art?" having no real answer, but plenty of people shouting out opinions. Some of these people, when they shout loud enough, have the resources and influence to make an impact upon the art world, affecting the general public's impression of art, influencing how civic and government entities fund and promote art, even -- and maybe especially -- subtly directing the minds and actions of artists themselves.
While artists pride themselves upon being unique, quirky, out of step, marching-not-only-to-a-different-drummer-but-to-a-different-instrument type of people (and they are, most wonderfully, they are), how many stop to ask,
"What is good art, really? And what makes it good?" (Incidentally, this is not a question that should be limited to artists; it would be revolutionary if people in general asked this question, and trusted enough in themselves to work toward an answer.)
There are all sorts of answers to these two questions, ranging from, "All art is good," to, "Good art, by gum, looks just like the real thing, a photograph, but in paint," and like all significant questions, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
This does not stop people from speaking out, however, which is a good thing, because it promotes thought and dialogue. The bad thing happens when others are expected, pressured, and influenced to accept specific answers.
Plein Aire painting: is it, or is it not, the "best" way to paint, the only way to truly capture the essence of light? Or is it simply one of many ways to paint, and some people do it really well and love it, and others prefer their nice, cozy, warm studio?
How about painting from photographs or off of a computer screen: is this cheating? Or is this using technology in a creative, dynamic, exciting way? And that being said, maybe some people do it really well and love it, and others prefer putting on a jacket, grabbing their paints and easel, and spending the afternoon on the beach.
And some people like to do both. And others neither. And still others a fusion of methods.
The point is, there is no one, fail-proof, this-is-IT method to produce fine art, but until we are comfortable with realizing this and until we spend serious time thinking about what works and why and how this fits into the way we do things, we will find ourselves unduly influenced by the opinions and methods of others.
Maybe those others know more than we do, and for that reason, we listen to what they say. Fair enough. But it's the goal of every good student to achieve mastery, and that means that he seeks to equal, or exceed, the knowledge of his teacher.
Next Week -- Being Difficult