Geoffrey Gorman, artist and partner in our Art Career Mentor Program, made a very provocative statement during one of our sessions. He said that “curiosity is the most important trait an artist can have.”
Arguably, he was referring to the making of art where an artist lubricates all parts of the process by staying open and curious about materials, about subject matter, and the message.
But I think there’s another dimension where curiosity will separate out the short pants from the long pants (now why isn’t there…
a feminine equivalent to that analogy?… but let’s not get sidetracked—or would that be side-saddled?).
Over the years I’ve noticed a recurring pattern where artists seldom have a conscious, intentional relationship to their art.
It’s more like the relationship is taken for granted, because, after all, the act of making art itself is already a relationship. And it’s usually a relationship that engages you in ways that are pleasurable and satisfying, neither of which seems to excite our brains or psyches to dig any deeper.
Then along comes another person who, quite naturally, asks “So, what is your work all about anyway?”
This is usually not a pleasurable or satisfying question because, most often, the only response that comes out is vague or banal or downright trite with shopworn words like beauty and inspired and colorful and light, etc.
There can also be an underlying irritation that goes something like (silently to self) Why can’t so and so just look at my work (and be satisfied as I am)?
Because satisfaction is not a relationship
Satisfaction is a response to a relationship.
The person who asks you this question is also at a loss for hidden questions lingering underneath this obvious one, which is a lot like the way we all ease into a conversation with each other – with small talk about the weather, or the fabulous lunch we just had.
Small talk, contrary to commonly held views, is only shallow when it exceeds its original intention (which is to ease us into deeper waters with each other), or when it becomes the whole conversation.
Likewise, when someone asks you what your work is about, that’s the easing into deeper waters about your relationship to your art, which is another way of asking about your relationship to creativity, which is another way of asking for help with their own creativity (or perceived lack of).
A conversation about creativity is not a conversation about beauty
Of course, beauty may be a driving force for you as an artist, and that’s legit.
What’s not okay is to be lazy about digging deeper into what beauty is for you so what you talk about has real impact—as much of an impact as your art.
Because, what you say or don’t say about your relationship to your work affects your work.
And, yes, I understand that even though you spend hours every single day immersed in the language of words, somehow bringing conscious attention to your own word-language seems fraught with problems, resistance, and downright denial of language as your medium of expression.
I talk about why this happens to artists in my book, Writing The Artist Statement: Revealing the True Spirit of Your Work, and essentially it boils down to a long-held prejudice that was instilled in us by years of elementary, junior-high, and high school regiments of when, where, and how we were allowed to say what to whom. And the consequences of being shamed, rebuked, and dismissed if we didn’t comply.
Fast forward to adulthood, and now words are wrenched from the pit of how we have been separated from one of our most natural forms of expression, and one where we don’t have trouble until we are asked to write or speak intentionally.
Here’s what I recommend
Like anything else you want to master, choosing the words that most truly reflect your relationship to your art takes practice, the bravery to ask others for feedback, and more practice.
1. Focus on your relationship to your art instead of explaining your art. When you try to explain your art you are stepping into the critic’s shoes, and they will invariably pinch your toes.
Invite people into your world of art making, which is what they really want. Why do you do what you do? How do you do it? Why do you use those materials and not something else? Describe what you experience as you are creating. Describe the idea that drives you to make the next mark, shape the next hunk of clay, fire the next tile.
2. You are talking to your self about your art all the time. It’s what I call wallpaper talk. You don’t pay any attention to it. It’s just there.
If you start carrying around a notebook, in the studio, in the car, by your bed… and simply jot down EVERY THOUGHT about your work that comes into your head, yes, even the dull, the boring, or the outrageous and unrepeatable. This puts your brain on alert that this self-talk is no longer wallpaper and it will reward you with unbelievable gems down the road.
3. If there are words that keep coming up in your wallpaper conversations, like “beauty,” “inspire,” “color,” “light,” etc. Try this writing exercise to dig past the cliches and into the gold:
Write this question: “What do I mean by beauty?” Then answer it. And if another common phrase jumps up, do it again: “What do I mean by light?” Then answer that. Eventually, you’ll come to a place that transcends your own expectations.
Note: Do this when you will absolutely not be interrupted. And light a candle while you Q&A with yourself.
btw – Geoffrey and I ran a fabulous 10-week course called “The Art Career Mentor Program” where we pulled together a complete course on putting your art career on the map. Then we turned the live course into a Home Study Course, so you can set your own pace.
As artist, Lydia Grey put it:
This program jumped me out of a marketing and creative rut…
The Art Career Master Vision Plan, in sessions two and three, helped me re-vision what I want to do, looking at what my current business practices are, where they fall short, and what I can add that is consistent with my vision.
This program helped me take an honest look at where I am, what I’m doing now, and jumped me out of a marketing and creative rut to take more control of my path.
Written by Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D.
Posted under Inspiration, Expand Creativity, Insight
Tags: art, visual artist, artist, visual art, visual artists, fine art, sculptor, beauty, being an artist, painting, color, light, artist statement, creativity, resistance, writing about art, writing the artist statement, Geoffrey Gorman, wallpaper talk, art materials, language, writing, conversation about creativity, small talk, questions about art, satisfaction, relationship to art
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