It’s interesting and a little mind blowing when you consider all the definitions and opinions of what constitutes good art. It’s also no exaggeration to say you won’t find one official standard or majority opinion. Elvis on black velvet is art to one person while “Water Lillies” by Claude Monet another. Ok, bad example, maybe there is a majority opinion on that one, but hopefully you get my point. Good art means different things to different people. An artist will likewise grapple with the concept of what makes their own work more artistic. What should an artist strive for to become a more creatively artistic artist?
WARNING: what I’m about to express now is opinion. Furthermore its MY opinion and will not be shared by all. GASP! I know right. But you think about it and decide for yourself.
In my opinion, there is an over emphasis in many artistic circles on expression alone or being your true artistic self with little care for technical skills, methods or disciplines at all. In other words, the less creative aspects or what I call the “craft” of art. There, I said it. No, I’m not against artistic expression, quite the contrary. I want to see an artist’s expressive work honed, maximized, and optimized if you will. Art IS by definition, self expression. It’s a visual manifestation of what comes out of you, your desires, experiences and passions. Here’s my point. Disciplined forms of art such as realism and representational art can be executed in a very immature and uninformed way. Take music for example. I may wish I could play a lovely Chopin piece all day long and may even imagine how that piece could be played with emotionally moving crescendos and delicate pianissimos, but all the imagined expression in the world will not help me execute that piece any better.
The Abstract Question
Visual art expression tends to validate and free itself in ways that other forms of artistic expression like music can’t get away with, abstract, non-representational art for example. It’s so subjective that the mere presentation of anything considered abstract defies anyone to prove its not high art. I get it. I’m not really here to talk about what is considered good art. That said, I’m far more likely to respect an abstract, expressionistic or impressionistic form of art from an artist I know has mastered their “craft” than I am someone who has simply played around with color a little and flung some paint on a canvas but has little experiential knowledge of skills like drawing from life, color theory, materials, techniques, methods, composition, rhythm, value, contrast, form, proportion, etc., etc. To borrow from my music analogy again, these are the scales and arpeggios of visual art (in other words, rudimentary building blocks). The Craft.
Craft Before Creativity
I define “craft” as a set of repeatable, definable skills that can be learned and mastered. A guitar luthier learns a craft, for example. When he/she has mastered that craft, they will be able to produce a quality, hand-built guitar from scratch. There are no such things as abstract guitars, so I know that art can be different. Understandable, but still consider, Picasso was an excellent realistic, and representational artist before he was a cubist. Likewise, contemporary watercolorist Jean Haines does impressionistic, expressionistic pieces that are often reductions of highly realistic pre-studies. Do you think those representational or traditional rendering skills inform and improve their abstract work at all? You bet your sweet art critic they do!
Final, FINAL Point. I promise.
Most leisure-time, amateur artists will not exhibit in galleries or shows. But even if they do, they will mostly paint and draw for enjoyment. BINGO! Honing the craft of art, those definable skills I hinted at before, will improve that enjoyment immensely, not to mention come to bear in positive ways on any form of expression you want to pursue. It’s a proven formula. Expression is enhanced by creativity, which is enhanced by experiences and skills. Put another way, you can be more creatively expressive, realistic, abstract or other wise and enjoy that expression more when you broaden your skillset and experiential repertoire (See what I did there? Yet another music reference.) I probably spend 80% of my art time honing my craft, only about 20% in exploring creative ideas of expression. This may be a higher percentage for me since I predominately teach those skills, but I see many artists that reverse this percentage and in my opinion try to run before they can walk. I can honestly say that my ability to think and execute expressively and creatively, not to mention the enjoyment of my art, increases with every increased level of skill I attain in the craft that makes up my art. I think it will for you too.