So… “What’s It To You?!”
“Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.” – Vincent Van Gogh
A few weeks ago, I had a dear, fellow artist friend ask me what I would do in a certain scenario she encountered. A viewer of her work commented to her that he or she just “couldn’t get it.” I asked what this viewer meant by “getting it.” My friend continued that this viewer of her work couldn’t understand what the meaning was to—or behind—her art and imagery.
My gut reaction blurted from my face; “SO??!”
But I could tell this frustrated my friend. She wanted a better answer than my flippant gut reaction.
I relayed how I felt around six years ago about my work. I had a large body of work entitled “Flourishing Affiliations,” which depicted mostly bright-colored florals. Overall, viewers seemed to enjoy them. I have actually sold that entire body of work, with only the few my family has kept. The florals were pretty (not one of my favorite words), but I felt like I hadn’t accomplished my duty as an artist. My soul wasn’t satisfied. Perhaps overall, viewers appreciated the florals, but I wanted to give them imagery to sink their teeth into. I wanted more. I just didn’t want to leave the viewer saying “Oh, that’s PRETTY.”
I started a new series called “Casual Confrontations.” The colors were vibrant, but the subject matter was dark and sometimes foreboding and even off-putting. Since I have started that series, I haven’t turned back. No more pretty flowers for me. I’m now in the middle of creating another series entitled “Painstakingly Polysemic,” which is undoubtedly darker yet.
I had finally given myself permission to do the work that I wanted to achieve. I wanted to create MY work. If no one in the world liked it, it didn’t matter. I did it for ME, and for no one else. And in so doing, it was more therapeutic, more fulfilling artwork.
This became my recommendation to my friend. Keep doing what you’re doing. Do it for you. Do what you love. Ignore the masses.
Many times viewers of my work ask me “What were you thinking when you created this piece?” Rarely, and I mean RARELY, do I divulge why I created the piece, but instead, my question back to the viewer is usually, “What does it say to you?” or “What do you get from this piece?” Because ultimately, it’s not as important to why an artist creates a piece of work, but instead, what does that viewer take away from the experience. Emotions of happiness, sadness, craze, anger, unease, excitement, curiosity, elation, pain, or even leaving with just the question in his or her head of down-right curiosity is what I hope the viewer remembers.
I create work for me. Hopefully the viewer appreciates—even if they do not care for the piece (that’s another topic for later)—the work.