Art vs Craft: The role inspiration plays in my art

Detail from "Fields at Chateau Villandry" © Sarah Marie Lacy, 2012

Detail from "Fields at Chateau Villandry" © Sarah Marie Lacy, 2012

I bumped into a new collector at the grocery store yesterday morning, and after joking that she was shocked to see me not chained to the easel, she asked me a really great question.

She asked if, since I was painting so much and with such an imminent deadline, did the painting stop being a pleasure? Did it start to become work, something that I just had to get through? (I’m paraphrasing.)

I said that no, it didn’t, but I’ve been pondering the question ever since because what intrigues me is the why behind the no. And it’s a qualified “no” – for me, painting is always work, and always hard, and always challenging. But it’s because I take it so seriously, and because in my own sadistic way, the challenge is the fun.

There’s also something about the life of a painting that, for me, walks the fine line between art and craft.

I consider myself an artist, but also a craftsperson, in the very traditional sense of the word. I am passionate about the craft of my art, just as much as I am about the inspiration.

The inspiration comes sometimes as a flash, other times as a quiet knowing, and is absolutely vital to the creation of my art.

It also takes up about 1% of the creative process. The rest is up to craft.

It’s all well and good to have the idea, but the execution of that idea is just as important (to me). And that’s where so much of the juicy goodness resides; it’s where the challenge is.

I aim to create well-crafted art. When I make something, I am concerned about the inspiration, but I am also concerned about thoughtfully and intelligently creating a high-quality product.

No matter how fast I’m painting, or how many pieces I create in a day, nothing is ever “churned out.”

There is a production line, of sorts. Working in oils, I build each piece up in 2-3 layers, with each layer needing to be dry enough to be able to put the next layer on. I can start multiple pieces in a day, working out the composition and then an underpainting. But then I need to leave those pieces for 48 hours before I can put the next layers on. So the next day, I start a new batch of paintings.

The pieces rotate, allowing me to be constantly working on something new.

But I think about every brushstroke, every colour choice, every compositional decision. The same way a carpenter doesn’t just throw screws into a chair all willy nilly, I don’t throw paint on a canvas any which way.

Yet, like a carpenter placing the screws in the chair, it’s not inspiration or “Art” that leads them to make that choice. It’s thoughtful consideration, and craftsmanship that allows them to build a chair that doesn’t fall over.

My paintings are the same way. After the initial inspiration, I settle into the craftsmanship of my art, which often looks a lot like hard work.

But it is deeply satisfying, rich and challenging hard work. And even though I’m doing it 10-12 hours a day right now, it never becomes drudgery, which is what I think a lot of people associate “work” with and really what my collector was wondering:

Does it ever become drudgery?

No. Never.

 

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  1. says

    what an incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking response to my rather flip question — I don’t make a habit of accosting folk in the grocery store to ask probing questions–tho your response is so lovely that I just might start! You paraphrased the question much more elegantly than it was asked, and that’s exactly what I was wondering–thank you. I guess I was thinking of things I love and how they can become drudgery under pressure (reading–but when I read for a teaching deadline, it becomes slightly panicky and unpleasant–even if I love the novel). But reading isn’t creating; it’s absorbing–and teaching a novel is sort of like being a parasite. So, maybe it’s different when you’re actually creating, working to execute your own inspiration–I think i get a little of that with my amateur iphoneography stuff, which is the closest I get to creation, to art. Hmmmmmmm — now I shall be musing:)