The classic work of art is a form of life with its own bizarre consciousness. In the performing arts – theater, dance, music – this consciousness is not reducible to the minds of the performers onstage. The participants are parts of a spiritual organism that includes and transcends them. In our modern materialist mindset we naturally attribute the impression that a work speaks in its own voice to the intention of the author, who used it as a vehicle for her own ideas. But… works of art express much that their authors never intended to say: they exceed the limited views of those who bring them into being.
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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The first picture I took of a black man was easy.
That’s the way it sometimes goes for me: I start on a new series of pictures and right away, in some kind of perverse bait-and-switch, I get a good one. This freak of a good picture inevitably inspires a cocky confidence, making me think this new project will be a stroll in the park. But, then, after sometimes two or three more good ones, the next dozen are duds, and that cavalier stroll becomes an uphill slog. It isn’t long before I have to take a breather, having reached the first significant plateau of doubt and lightweight despair. The voice of that despair suggests seducingly to me that I should give up, that I’m a phony, that I’ve made all the good pictures I’m ever going to, and I have nothing more worth saying.
That voice is easy to believe, and, as photographer and essayist (and my early mentor) Ted Orland has noted, it leaves me with only two choices: I can resume the slog and take more pictures, thereby risking further failure and despair, or I can guarantee failure and despair by not making more pictures. It’s essentially a decision between uncertainty and certainty and, curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.
Sally Mann in Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs
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A: As artists each of us has at least two important responsibilities: to express things we are feeling for which there are no adequate words and to communicate to a select few people, who become our audience. By virtue of his or her own uniqueness, every human being has something to say. But self-expression by itself is not enough. As I often say, at it’s core art is communication. Without this element there is no art. When artists fail to communicate, perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently so are unsuccessful in the attempt, or they may be being self-indulgent and not trying. Admittedly there is that rare and most welcome occurrence when an artistic statement – such as a personal epiphany – happens for oneself alone.
Most importantly, always listen to what your heart tells you. It knows and speaks the truth and becomes easier to trust as you mature. If you get caught up in the art world, step back and take some time to regain your bearings, to get reacquainted with the voice within you that knows the truth. Paint from there. Do not ever let a dealer or anyone else dictate what or how you should paint.
With perhaps the singular exception of artist-run cooperative galleries, be very suspicious of anyone who asks for money to put your work in an exhibition. These people are making money from desperate and confused artists, not from appreciative art collectors. With payment already in hand there is no financial incentive whatsoever for these people to sell your paintings and they won’t.
Always work in a beautiful and special place of your own making. It doesn’t need to be very large, unless you require a large space in which to create, but it needs to be yours. I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” here. A studio is your haven, a place to experiment, learn, study, and grow. A studio should be a place you can’t wait to enter and once you are there and engaged, are reluctant to leave.
Be prepared to work harder than you ever have, unrelentingly developing your special innate gifts, whether you are in the mood to do so or not. Most of all remember to do it for love, because you love your medium and it’s endless possibilities, because you love working in your studio, and because you feel most joyously alive when you are creating.
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I remember as a teenager having a group of friends at school and another group whom I spent the weekends with. I functioned fine until on occasions when I was with friends from both groups at the same time. Then it became really difficult, because I was used to acting very differently with the two groups. With one I was the leader, very vocal and outspoken about my opinions. With the other group I wanted desperately to belong and so I adapted to fit in, which meant not really being myself.
The lack of authenticity is painful. It applies to all levels of life. If our voice as a painter is inauthentic, we’re in trouble. In the end there is nothing so compelling as to be yourself. This is why being an artist can be so exhilarating. If you want to uncover your truth, you have a daily technique to come to terms with your limitations and to overcome them. You have an opportunity to look at the limiting stories you have written in your head and heart and rewrite them with boldness and vision. The quality of your attention influences how you see things.
What you put your attention on grows stronger in your life. Life, if you look around you, whether inside or in nature, is one bubbling mass of creativity. Recognize we have no shortage of it. If you focus your attention on what you now decide is fundamental , that quality will grow in your life. Not what our parents or teachers or friends or media or anybody says or said. What we now put our attention on will grow in our life. If you want to paint and put your focus there you will unleash a torrent of energy and enthusiasm.
Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision
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A: Maybe, but that’s something for the viewer to judge. I never specify exactly what my work is about for a couple of reasons: my thinking about the meaning of my work constantly evolves, plus I wouldn’t want to cut off other people’s interpretations. Everything is equally valid. I heard Annie Leibovitz interviewed some time ago on the radio. She said that after 40 years as a photographer, everything just gets richer. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets richer. I’ve been a painter for 27 years, a photographer for 11, and I agree completely. Creating this work is an endlessly fascinating intellectual journey. I realize that I am only one voice in a vast art world, but I hope that through the ongoing series of questions and answers on my blog, I am conveying some sense of how artists work and think.
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