Continuing our Artist Roundtable Series we bring the focus on Artist Expression, what it says about the artist, how it is limited by our current society and by the nature of expression itself. There are so many ways for artists to express themselves, whether through style, content or media. Often more important than the question of what are you, as an artist, trying to say? is the question: What does your art say about you?
The understanding of an artistic writer’s thoughts is dependent on the reader because words can express things other than the writer’s intention. As a visual artist, what are some of the ways this kind of limitation comes about? Can these limitations be transcended? How do you feel about your work not being interpreted the way you intended it to? >What are the differences between trying to express an abstraction through words versus something physical, such as paint, pigment, and clay? What can be achieved from working with these natural resources that cannot be achieved when working with words? What are some things that get left out and cannot be achieved? What is your definition of art? What is your definition of something aesthetic, and how do each of these definitions influence your answers to the previous questions?
I remember a talk long ago that stated there are 3 versions of every piece of art. The thing you think you’ve made. The thing that’s made. And the thing the viewer sees. And those 3 things don’t always line up. Even universal themes can be misinterpreted based on so many factors. While white may mean life in your culture, it could mean death in another. If you show someone suffering in your painting to convey anger, the viewer may have mental issues and find suffering to be enjoyable. So, in some ways, it’s kind of pointless to spend too much time worrying about making sure your message is 100% universally understood by everybody. Then again, going too far the other way can be bad as well, trying to produce work that has no meaning at all. In my work, I do try and convey a message, which can be as simple as a mood or base emotion, and I’m happy when people get it, and when someone finds something different in there that I didn’t mean, I accept their interpretation and move on. So I do try and put meaning in there, but I don’t get bent out of shape if someone doesn’t get it. I think this problem is pretty universal in all art forms. If I write in a more abstract poetic fashion or I paint a looser more abstract painting, both will probably be more likely misinterpreted than a painting that is very detailed or a highly descriptive paragraph.
The age old question of what is art is one of those questions that I think has no real answer. So the answer I like giving is that art is a context. Anything can be art if it’s looked at within the context of art. So if you have a classical painting in a museum, that’s art. If you have a toilet you have installed and presented in an art gallery in a similar fashion to the classical painting, that’s art too. That being said, there is art I like and art I don’t. I accept that the toilet can be art, but it’s not the kind of art that speaks to me as a person. I like art that has an idea component and a craft/technical component. So the toilet, while it may have a good idea behind it, I don’t feel shows much in the way of the technical excellence of the artist (unless they’ve modified the toilet in some interesting way).
Something is Aesthetically beautiful/interesting when it provides our senses with a strong positive reaction.
With any medium, be it writing or illustration, I find the best work has the most to say between the lines, so to speak. It’s what gets left out that I find speaks loudest to me. What you write or draw should, in my mind, be about pointing the viewer or reader to the thing that is worth saying or showing, and therefore can never be directly touched upon. Often I find what might have been excellent artworks weighed down by the artist not holding enough back.
For me, the beauty and challenge of a powerful visual lies is how much of a story it can tell in a single frame, as opposed to a novel, which can have 300 pages to do so. To create as much of a narrative as possible, in a single frame, means drawing on suggestion and opening possibilities within the mind of the viewer and, in many ways, giving them room to engage with your work intuitively. In this case there’s always going to be a variety of interpretations. I’m encouraged by the idea of people drawing things out of a piece of mine that I never intended nor saw in the making of it. That’s what makes a work alive for me. The more people respond to a work of mine the less I feel like I own it and the better that makes me feel.
I think art is something that is focused on guiding us to an internal experience of ourselves; an opportunity to explore a wider scope of who we are as people.
Aesthetic is one of those words I can use in conversation but could never explain to someone who is learning english, and I like to keep it that way.
You can’t ever replicate (in art, for instance) an experience of your self. You could write about or paint about love a gazillion times, but the words or the paint can never in themselves generate the sensation. There’s first hand and nothing else. Art will always be limited in this sense and the trick is how you arrange the limitations to guide someone to their own private experience.