Hello again dear friends and fine internet folk all around. It's time for your weekly dose of pseudo-scientific, mildly researched, rant heavy, opinion filled reading. The perfect medicine for the weary mind grapes after a long week at work. Two weeks ago I made a post about why we art, talking about setting realistic goals and how to achieve them. Or at least, sort of. At the very least it hammered on about this blog's main theme, 'know yourself'. Last week I continued on that a bit talking about trust and why it's important to trust yourself and your own capabilities. This week I'll talk about what happens when you fuse these two together and arrive at the inevitable question; what do I want to paint? Thereby also asking how do I want to paint it. These questions are very important because they are at the heart of the artistic message you want to convey.
As per usual, before we can get to the ever mind blowing conclusion (hint: It's probably related to getting to know yourself), we need to understand yet even more things. One of them involves a very brief look at art history. I know, this sounds an awful lot like learning something, but it's worth it. I promise!
A brief history lesson
The year is 1839 and photography is born. It's not called photography just yet, people only know the daguerreotype. The principle of photography is a fairly old one with the invention of the camera obscura being first recorded in China in 470 BCE but it remained unpractical for a very long time. It didn't take long for this new form of practical photography to take off and become a public hit. It was introduced as an art form, similar to painting, during the 1850 and 1855 world fair, much to the dissatisfaction of realist painters of that age. I mean, how would you feel if you suddenly became obsolete?
During that same time another revolution was happening within the art world. Slowly the influence of the church over the content of art started to fade. This was largely due to merchants gaining wealth which they wanted to display through commissioned artwork. It gave rise to a new form of artwork which finds it's roots in German poetry but is best known for it's dramatic landscape paintings, called Romanticism.
This movement is one of the most important ones because it focuses on the motto; 'The artist as the hero'. It becomes less about what the painting is about and more about what the artist wants to say. This early movement towards less realistic depictions is very important and would fuel artists to do works such as one of my personal favorites:
Photography was just the push in the back that painting needed to move away from the shackles of reality once and for all. All of a sudden the perfection of reality had been made irrelevant through the medium of paint and photography had been crowned the new ruler of that domain. Painters now had to look inwards to see what was important. The church wasn't telling them what to do anymore and many rich patrons didn't have a clue what they wanted either. It all came down to the artist. The beginning of modern art and the modern way of looking at art started right here.
After this process had been started there was no going back. Realism wouldn't be in the spotlight in a 'meaningful way' - note; mainstream artistically relevant, ever again. This isn't to say there weren't successful or influential realism painters after this but the core idea of showing the world for what it really looks like was dead. There was simply no need anymore. Artists began to define more and more what art meant to them and people started to relate not only with the work the artists made but also with the artists themselves. They started to idolize and ignore them based on personal beliefs and the capability of artists to show those beliefs. Big questions arose such as; what is art? and when is something art? A medium which for centuries had defined itself almost overnight lost it's definition. Still today we have a hard time putting a clear definition on it and it seems that it's only becoming more difficult. What's important to understand is that this is not about the question what art is but the importance of the question: what does art mean to you. Most of you reading this, myself included, are production artists. We make our work for a specific client or product. We are not fine artists. Yet, even we cannot escape one of the tendrils extended by the fine art world. We too have to wonder how we want to depict the world around us, whichever world that may be.
Breaking the unity
Now this is where things get a bit personal. I did a talk at IFCC and Industry Workshops this year where I talk about the filter bias. A way of looking at artwork online through a filter. These filters can sometimes allow us to falsely assume there are certain trends happening however there seems to be a very clear sense of unity.
Here is the extremely short version.
If you don't have information on the why a image was created both in it's purpose and execution you might misinterpret it. When you then create a image inspired on it you effectively make a copy with even less information in it. If someone then does the same to your work the same thing happens. Over time more and more information is lost. If we state that art is a purposeful expression of our view of the world we can quickly see that we need information in order to make an image and we need to communicate the information clearly. Looking back at the artist statement of the 19th century we also know that it's not only about the artwork itself anymore but also what the artist wants to say. This is, if you want to border on the realm of fine art. That 'next level' of being taken seriously. If it's not fine art, therefor being production art, it needs to serve a very specific function.
This is where we run into a serious dilemma. Most of the work we see isn't either of the two. It simply exists - and there is nothing wrong with that. At least, sort of.
The problem with this is that trends arise and artistic merit is only measured by it's success to adhere to the trend. I.e - this is the best dragon sci-fi crossover I've seen. Rather than: This is a good painting.
I suspect a very big reason of everything looking the same is because we don't really know what to say, let alone how. We are so used to being spoon fed everything that we need to find cool it's becoming harder and harder for us to identify unique, niche parts of our brain that we enjoy. A new game comes out? Weeks of fan art for that game. Is that wrong? No, not in particular. But this is trend based way of working rather than a personal artistic voice. It's short term versus sustainable. At some point you might not remember what your real passion is. That one thing that might fuel your artistic career for the rest of your life.
Replace I'm bored with; 'I don't know what to paint' and see if it's a familiar feeling. I know that for me it is.
Finding your voice
This is very difficult. In a survey people were asked if they wanted to be in a room by themselves for 15 minutes with nothing to do, or do a task they didn't very much enjoyed. Guess what people picked most.
We don't like to be alone with our thoughts yet as artists this is our most powerful tool. Our own voice. The voice that, just maybe, wants you to paint things a bit differently than what we've seen before. Trusting in yourself that your voice has merit has been the key to success for many artists in the past. Those who were ridiculed have gone into legend and the ones adhering to the status quo have been all but forgotten. You can paint something that you like which is a trend, you can paint the fan art of the game you love but that doesn't mean you can't give it your own spin. Your take on something. It doesn't have to be like all the others in order to be recognized and it doesn't have to be realistic either.
This has been a pet peeve, or rather massive annoyance, for me for a very long time. A almost puritan approach where everything has to be hand painted and real, otherwise it isn't 'real' or 'good'. If it's digital it can't be art! If you used photo's it can't be good! Whoever tells you that is ignorant. And boy am I struggling not to use every single swear word I know right now.
This ridiculous idea hasn't been true for at least 150 years and that isn't about to change. Anyone who has had some serious education in art will tell you the same. This isn't about the viewer misinterpreting their preference for 'artistic facts'. You just do you. If that's hand painted realism, fantastic - that's your voice. There is no rule book here. No set of rules which you need to stick to. You wan't to use photo's? Go for it. Want to use only shades of pink? Baller, go for it. Your passion is painting highly erotic rocks? I'm down. This is me telling you that you can do whatever you want with nobody being in their right to tell you it's somehow wrong or not valid.
Individualism is what's important. Not your ability to paint.
What you want to say is important. Not how you say it.
It's about your questions and your answers.
It's about you showing us those questions and answers.
It's about us relating to your struggles, discoveries, wonders. Your vision.
It's about your journey through life and showing it to us.
It's about you trusting in yourself, looking inwards for artistic fulfillment, not outwards by chasing likes.
It's about the biggest question of them all:
Who are you and how do you see the world?
Now go make some crazy shit.
And, because this post might've been a little on the heavy side, here is me during a game of DnD making a fool out of myself, enjoy.