Art is a funny thing. We want to believe that it is one of the most visceral, personal and authentic of endeavors. Images of Van Gogh attacking a canvas with brushes loaded with paint come to mind. De Kooning constructing with slashes and stabs of dripping paint his version of the female form, not caring if the results shocked or revolted his viewers. There will always be those artists who seem immune to the criticism and censure of the public, and other artists. However, we do know from Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo that he was troubled by his lack of sales, by acceptance from his peers, and often tormented by his feelings of inadequacy. But he, like so many other artists, continued to follow his heart and do what he believed in.
These are the examples that inspire and give courage to the rest of us who struggle with finding our true voice. But this age of computers, sound bites and commercialization of everything from food to dating has made it increasingly difficult to silence the roar of electronics and find a quiet place for that voice to emerge and be heard. We are bombarded with ads for art and art galleries. It is difficult to keep up with the newest artistic stars; Julian Schnabel has found fame directing film; the stable of young graduates who are courted by the big New York galleries changes in a blink of an eye, and what is new is old is new and, before we know it, old again. Within this environment, artists are continually striving to do work that will stand out, that will catch the attention of those “in the know,” and hopefully, this work will be not too terribly far from the original goals these same artists had in the beginning.
Van Gogh obviously was sensitive to the acceptance factor of his work, but at the same time, he lived the life of a recluse and was supported by his brother. It seems that even though he did want to be acknowledged, he made no attempt to alter his approach to painting. He could only paint that which he felt passionately, and in the manner he felt passionately. His attitude was probably not one of “why am I not good enough,” but “what’s wrong with them”?! So there is a huge difference between a Van Gogh and the modern artist who needs and wants to paint, but is confused by the tumultuous and ever changing art world, the critiques and consumers.
Human beings have always, and no doubt always will, be influenced by other human beings. We seem to crave acceptance, to be on the winning team. Artists have historically had the label of non-conformist and rebel, but I think we are no different than a kid on the playground. We want to fit in, we want to be chosen for the team, we want to be in the popular group! Thus the struggle and the dilemma; how to be true to one’s inner artistic voice, and still find acceptance and a market for that art? Maybe I am wrong—maybe there are many artists out there who are able to shrug off the pressures of critics, of jurors, and of the current trends and just do their thing. I hope this is the case, and I applaud them. But I have certainly been victim to these things, and only now am I working my way towards a freer place.
I am currently working on a series of paintings that many would consider illustrative, but rather than be ashamed, I take great delight in this label. I have finally come to realize that in finding ones voice, one has to discard notions of what an artist SHOULD BE, and replace them with what one individual MUST BE. Every person’s vision is unique, and only in that unique vision can each person tell a new story. With age comes chutzpah, or the “thumb- your- nose” attitude that artists like Van Gogh and Picasso had all along. Would I like to have had this when I was just starting out? OF COURSE! But I will wear this particular badge proudly, like an old army veteran, and paint subjects that please and intrigue me while no doubt causing others to shake their heads or mutter under their breaths. Who knew breaking the new rules could bring such pleasure?! But more importantly, who knew it would feel like coming home?