Recently my focus has centered around some big changes in my personal life. Namely moving to Germany and starting grad school. Subsequently, in the last weeks, I have not had very much time to be in my studio or to be very active on social media (though the former is more of a disappointment than the latter). In this time, I have grown less and less attached to sharing my work online, and have given my ideas time and space to ferment a bit longer and a bit more slowly before working through them. When I have had the chance to sit around and flip through the comments and messages I get online, some of the things I have read have shown me the great capacity of human connection. Some have left me nothing but speechless. When people feel called to share their thoughts about my work with me, oftentimes it’s a nice ice-cream cone of a thought; it’s sweet and it melts in 5 minutes. Other times I’m left confused and saddened by the amount of hate and disgust that people manage to find in something which has been nothing short of transformational for me in my creative process of a life throughout my brief time on this planet. I used to think just it was only non-artists who failed to understand this dynamic of creative necessity that comes from people like me (and probably you too if you’re still reading this). But it has become more and more apparent that many other artists have not reached a point of understanding this concept.
Being someone who enjoys expressions of all mediums, I thought it would be a good idea to work through some of these ideas for people who may find themselves open to these ideas. I don’t regard my perspectives as absolute or definite, I invite you, my dear reader, to engage with yours as well. There are few things that amaze me more than the capacity for human connection through shared experiences like philosophy and art or arguments of varying perspectives. But an art practice or creative expression is not in vain if you fail to find a shred of truth or connection from within it. If you are unable to find something that brings you peace or happiness or appreciation for the human condition when you look at someone’s artwork (which you don’t have to love in order to appreciate), I want to try and help you. Because you are denying yourself access to some of the most beautiful aspects of humanity and of life itself. You grossly limit the infinite number of pathways to truth and understanding beyond the veil of what western society has dictated are appropriate confines of human consciousness. A topic that continually resurfaces, at least for artists, is whether or not the art was created for a purpose of their own, or for an audience. Or, maybe, for both. Maybe neither. I want to explore these potential drivers of expression in an attempt to highlight some of the ideas that are mistaken for intent when they are in fact fabrications of the viewer, and should be recognized as such. Not for the sake of proving anyone is right or wrong, but because this also correlates to many parallels in interpersonal relations between us as humans.
First, let’s look at artwork created solely for the artist. An individual learns how to express themselves- be it through music or writing prose, drawing, dancing, acting… This individual expresses more and more and eventually comes to a point where this act of expression becomes very valuable to their life. It offers them a place of solace to sort through the different types of interactions they experience, a chance to explore the limitations of their ego and to grow beyond it, to investigate their questions and expectations about life and their successes or failures as a living creature on a giant rock hurdling through space. Of course, this individual does not live in a vacuum, and is obviously influenced by other expressions, particularly of its’ own species and of previous time periods as well as more contemporary ones. But an important element of this type of expression is that thinking about the motive of expression and its’ given effect on another individual is not a large focus of the individual’s work. This differs drastically from the other drivers of expression in that the process is, let’s call it a closed system. The work is done in private; the purpose is to explore themes within a closed system. The process and resulting piece are both determined by the artist and the artist alone. Work produced by artists of this category are often, to a high degree, biographical (but do not necessarily need to be).
Enter, individual 2. This individual expresses matters which either are largely sourced from external origins or are created to express matters of their author but with a significant influence from others. Learned acts of expression play an active role throughout the avenues this individual pursues in order to accurately represent the information he or she is interested in conveying. This is an active system; meaning that it is not only the artist who dictates the direction of the artwork, but can and often does include the opinions and ideas of others as well. This might be accomplished through the message itself changing course to reflect the external influencers or it might be through the creative process itself reflecting elements that have been affected by external sources. The artwork produced by individuals of this category can include performance works or political works, for example. It is logical to assume that there is a significant amount of energy spent by this individual to evoke a particular feeling or idea from their viewers through their works. This may be achieved either through a deliberate attempt to demonstrate beauty, or lack thereof, depending on their intended message.
As with most things, the degree to which an artist pursues one or the other type of expressions described here frequently varies with oscillations that are not necessarily static throughout any given period of time. They might even change within the process of completing one particular piece. There are no rules by which an artist must abide in their journey of expression. I do, personally, believe it is a good idea to perhaps know which part of this spectrum you wish to operate; if for no other reason than to perfect your ability to convey your message, should you have one. I do also, personally believe, that it is a good idea to have a message that your artwork attempts to carry. That is not to say that there is no purpose for artwork or design that simply looks nice. It just, well, holds less meaning and value to others if there is not something with which to connect on a deeper level.
If, in your own quest to pursue art in whatever way you see fit, you find that there are elements of someone’s work which you feel friction or an inability to connect with or enjoy to some degree; I invite you to recognize the wonder of the opportunity you have provided for yourself; to explore a side of yourself that has been extracted as a result of this artwork…