On Finding A Style

Part of making art is in knowing what does NOT interest you. We live in a world that is shouting a dizzying array of artistic styles over the internet. It can be difficult to quiet the outside noise long enough to hear your own voice telling you what you want to make as an artist. 

In the Aristides Atelier, as is typical with classical atelier art training, my four years in the program were so packed with learning the necessary technical skills of classical drawing and painting that it left little room for idiosyncratic creative expression. Representational art is a long learning curve and notoriously difficult, and during one’s formal training, there’s simply no time to develop a unique artistic voice… that’s what the years after graduation are for. In the five years since my atelier graduation, I’ve developed my own artistic voice by learning to listen to myself, something that can be a challenge for a people-pleasing woman, accustomed to putting other’s needs in front of her own. Fortunately, this is an occasion where age has given me somewhat of an advantage. I began my formal art training as an older student, so already had a well-developed sense of self and considerable life experience to express in art-making (the younger students, of course, had the advantage of stamina!)

I’ve always valued fresh ideas and enjoy challenging my own thinking. My undergrad degree was in Philosophy, and I fantasized about a career as a philosophy professor (but wound up going to law school instead). I love books and am a complete nerd about stuff that interests me. 

You’d think this would mean I’d love to make edgy, concept-driven contemporary art, the stuff that is all about ideas rather than traditional notions of beauty. 

Nope. 

If it doesn’t somehow involve drawing, I’m not interested in doing it. The thing about drawing is, I need to do it. There’s an itch that can only be scratched by mark making. The energy runs down your arm, out your hand and fingers onto the page. I’m incomplete without doing it. 

Two other things also inform my work: my love of beauty, and my love of connection with other people. 

About “beauty:” Sure, tastes vary, and there’s something for everybody, but the kind of art I make is grounded in western classical notions of beauty. My brother, an accomplished multi-media artist with an MFA from Carnegie Mellon, often reminds me that not all art has to be “beautiful.” He’s right, of course.

However, as critic and philosopher Roger Scruton has observed, ideas can be interesting and amusing, but if a work of art is nothing more than an idea, then anybody can be an artist, and there is no longer any need for skill, taste, or creativity. [Those who are interested in this topic, see Roger Scruton, On Beauty https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/why-beauty-matters/]

Unfortunately, conceptual art and cynicism are what’s in style at the moment.

But I’m not willing to sacrifice my notions of beauty for the sake of concept. I want to make art that evokes in the viewer a quiet sense of bliss, wonder and awe. To me, that’s beautiful. I’ve learned that not everybody is going to like my art, and this is the way it’s supposed to be. The criterion I apply is, do I love what I’ve made? Does it fully express what I’m trying to communicate at the moment? Is it my very best product I’m currently capable of? If so, I release it into the world knowing that if I love it, someone else out there will love it too. That’s enough for me and for every artist.

And then there’s the need for connection with other human beings. 

Ultimately, the most valuable benefit I get from my art career is the vital connection it creates between me and other people. I make art because of a compulsive need to create, but it’s also my bridge of connection with other human beings. It’s my outstretched arm and the touching of my fingertips with my collectors. Yes, I’d probably make art even if nobody were available to see it. But the connection it gives me to the rest of you is what makes my life meaningful. 

This is summed up by a Kurt Vonnegut quote I keep posted on my refrigerator: 

“Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.’”