And as surprising as it was to me, an insignificant percentage defined success as producing great art. For the majority, it was an income number coming from their art – anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000 a year.
Maybe it’s because great art is associated with historical figures, museum retrospectives, and millions being thrown down on the auction block. Maybe great feels like shoes too big to fill.
Or it comes tagged with the age-old response that great is in the eye of the beholder, i.e., too subjective to pin down.
Or for women artists the persistent patriarchal overlay on great means it’s an exercise in futility, while for men great becomes a challenge that might best them even as they are doing their best.
What would change if great was not only definable, but also…achievable?
Daniel Grant, an arts writer and presenter at the smARTist Telesummit in 2011, once wrote, “I define an artist’s importance by three criteria. How much he or she captures the soul of a moment, how much he or she influences subsequent generations of painters and how much he or she expresses an individual style.”
This begs the question can you be an important artist and not produce great art? For certainly great art is produced all the time without the artist being considered “important” in terms of Grant’s three criteria.
Even if you do not have a burning desire to produce great art, I know in your heart that you want your art to wow people, to cause a response significant enough that someone wants it no matter what.
And this only happens when, in the eyes of the beholder in that moment, your art is great.
I don’t remember the exact moment I realized that great art was easily identifiable. I know it was in a coaching session with one of my artist when I heard myself calmly and confidently define great art as if it was the single most obvious thing in the world.
Since then, I’ve looked carefully to see how well my definition stands up.
What I love the most about this definition is that it puts you in control. You do not have to “guess” what the soul of the moment is or how you will be perceived by the future, you simply have to fulfill one of three requirements.
If you fulfill all three, and you learn how to run a business and marketing campaign, the world will be your oyster.
Before Great You Need The Foundation
This part has been repeated so much I’m sure you can say it in your sleep. And even though it screams common sense, you’d be surprised at how many artists neglect these basics:
1. Skillful competence with your materials
2. Skillful competence with your execution of mark making, sculpting or crafting
3. A signature, artistic fingerprint that is repeatedly recognizable as yours
4. Producing enough to meet the demand
With this foundation in the studio, and a similar foundation in the office, you can build a sustainable career without producing great art.
But if you yearn for more, try this.
In Great Art Complexity Rules, Even When It’s Simple
For most of my life, I’ve been told that one attribute of greatness is the ability to take something complex and make it simple, especially when dealing with intellectual concepts.
The result is that the complexity seems to disappear in the elegant light of a simple distillation. And we forget the layered, multi-faceted richness that gave birth to the satisfaction of what we can now understand.
I remember watching a movie of Picasso that started with him drawing a simple line on a piece of glass. It took less than two seconds, and yet that one line echoed like a giant bell with the layers and complexity of years of art making.
If you want to make great art, then work with one or more levels of complexity:
1. Complexity of technique
2. Complexity of subject matter
3. Complexity of message
When you have complexity, you hold the viewer longer. When you layer in technique and subject matter and message, you invite them inside their own brains and challenge them to expand.
And of course this works bests when you have challenged yourself to expand.
Now it’s your turn: Tell me about an artist you think is great, and if complexity plays a role, explain that to me.
Written by Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D.
Posted under Inspiration, The Place of Art
Tags: art, visual artist, artist, visual art, visual artists, fine art, beauty, being an artist, creativity, creative flow, great art, Siren, Ego, authentic self, self expression, spiritual self, psyches, self reflection, bed of roses, pleasure, ego fire, Siren's call, challenge
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