I got a message from a total stranger on Facebook earlier today. She’d seen me comment on someone else’s status and decided to look at my art. As an artist herself, she decided to message me and inform me that I needed to get away from representational art. The point she seemed to be trying to make was that I wasn’t expressing myself well enough. Something about the audience and that art isn’t a craft. Basically, her opinions on what she thought art was, and how those opinions applied to my art.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten this. People (and not just artists, but everyone from crafters to photographers) seem to be concerned that I’m not “truly expressing myself” with realist art, that I need to break free, go abstract, leave behind the structure and really just go for it.
Other artists tell me to change my subject matter – paint birds they say. There’s money in birds. Really? Go paint them yourself then.
Every time I get this, I get really annoyed. There is a certain lack of respect that these comments convey that irritates me. Some seem to be convinced that I couldn’t possibly be happy with my art and that there is a problem that they’re helping me fix.
Others are just oblivious that this my creative expression and just because something is right for you, doesn’t mean it’s right for me.
And just to clarify something once and for all…
I love painting realism. I find realism expresses perfectly exactly what I’m trying to say. I am not copying a scene, I am painting my interpretation of it. It just so happens that my interpretation happens to involve objects that are believable. I like that. I like the challenge of it. I have to stretch myself, learn to see clearer, observe more.
I enjoy the parameters that realism imposes on my art. How can I use it to convey emotion, my reality, my vision? I like to create another world that is just as believable as the one we live in. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of worlds within worlds. That’s what I do when I paint – create, literally, the world I want to see, the world I want to preserve.
When I am moved deeply by a scene in some way, whether it’s a landscape, or painting figures, I want to recreate that scene the way I felt it. It’s still that scene, it’s just seen through my eyes. I love trying to make it believable. I get all giggly and excited about it. That’s just the way I like to make my art.
This does not mean I think abstract art is somehow less than realism. Abstract is just as awesome an art form as realism. All art is awesome in my opinion. But if you were a leather crafter and I said to you, “You know what you should be? A metalsmith. You’re just not expressing yourself fully with leather” – that would be rude. That would be inappropriate and uncalled for. Your leather, or your metal or your photography is your form of expression. It makes you happy. Realism makes me happy. I feel like I’m expressing myself exactly the way I want to.
Most artists get this I think. Earlier on, I voiced my frustration on Twitter and got a boatload of commiseration. Sadly, this seems to be quite a frequent occurrence in the art world.
I hold no resentment towards the people who tell me my art should be different. I understand that you think you’re helping. Maybe you would be unhappy making the art that I make. Maybe my dedication to realism would drive you nuts, make you feel confined and restricted. That’s fine. You should probably not do it then.
But next time you find yourself about to tell another artist how they should really be making their art, stop for a moment. Ask yourself, does this artist seem unhappy with their chosen mode of expression? Have they said they don’t love their art form as much anymore? Have they told you they want to explore new directions?
If yes, go right ahead. Tell them your ideas. Share your opinions with them (gently).*
But if they’re happy with the way they make their art, if they’re doing what they love and it brings them joy, then take a deep breath and leave it.
Maybe you’re right. Maybe they would be happier if they changed how they made their art. But maybe you’re wrong too. And either way, they’re not ready to hear it right now, so all you’ll do is make yourself look like a disrespectful ass and ruin their day. No fun for either of you.
Art is an incredibly personal form of self expression. Artists should know that better than anyone. It can be hard enough being in a society that under-appreciates artists as it is. Let’s not make it worse for each other.
Be respectful, be kind.
*One caveat to all of this – if the artist whose work you’re looking at it is a complete stranger, and you know nothing about them outside of their name and a few pieces, just don’t. You don’t know them, you don’t know what makes them happy, you don’t know their story, nothing. Anything that you say is going to come across as inappropriate and rude, no matter how kindly you meant it. Please leave your ego at the door for a second – you don’t know them and you don’t know what’s right for them. Respect them enough to let them make their own choices.
What are your thoughts?
Have you ever had this happen to you? How did you handle it? Share ’em in the comments!