Maybe a little different, but this is a topic I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for, oh, about 8 years.
For those of you who don’t know, I studied a mish-mash of Graphic Design/ Illustration/ Fine Art etc etc since I was about 14 years old. I’m not studying now, nor do I intend to focus on art if I study in future.
Before I moved to Tbilisi (so just over a year ago now) I did one year of Illustration and Visual Communication at university in London. Don’t get me wrong, but it was kind of easy for me as I already understood what to say to get marks from my Foundation Diploma the year before.
The important thing isn’t what I studied when or how I did, but more how this has impacted me mentally. At the risk of sounding like some kind of melodramatic ‘art-type’, studying art made it very difficult for me to actually create art.
All I did during my childhood was draw, paint and try my best to recreate Cinderella as true-to-life as possible without tracing. I drew so much that my middle finger on my right hand has a lump on it thanks to how I hold my pencils. It was my thing and I loved it. I’d spend hours hunched over my pictures, engulfed in another world that I could never truly distance myself from once my picture was done.
As I was expected to narrow-down my lesson choices at school, I chose Art and Graphics to go alongside more academic subjects like English Literature and French. I continued to narrow-down until college where I was faced with the choice of Fine Art or Graphic Design. I chose Graphic Design in the end as I was eager to learn more skills and to be able to practically use art in my future career.
I don’t regret this decision but it did highlight something I’ve been conflicted about since. For me, Fine Art was more experimental, traditional and conceptual than Graphic Design. Graphics was much more advertising-focused with touches on what you could call the more scientific side of art that include scary things like graphs and dimensions.
I enjoyed Graphics but could never fully let go of the traditional approach – much to my tutors’ dismay. That being said, I was perfectly able to explain myself so they could hardly fail me.
Of course I jumped at the chance to finally combine both methods through Illustration. This went okay although I soon discovered at university level how inner conflict had evolved. This was the year where I realised I’d passed some kind of hypnogogic barrier where the concept overtook the physical result of my artwork. I’d spent my whole life creating for the sake of it, to make something pretty, to meditate and to develop my skills.
Now I’d reached a stage where this was almost irrelevant as the students who had photo-realistic pencil skills were disregarded compared to my sheet of stream-of-consciousness writing I did for one art project. Good for me considering grades but I was left quite confused and disappointed. We have photography available if we want to create an exact image of something, which is why the translation between thoughts and feelings to paper is valued so highly now. It’s why everyone loves the Impressionists.
It was enough to make me quit my studies and reassess my objectives. I moved to Tbilisi and slowly-but-surely the urge to paint for the sake of painting started coming back. I’m still slightly intimidated by my art materials from fear of having to justify (atleast to myself) why I’m drawing this and what does it mean and who will use it and, most importantly, what is it good for? Is it all just a waste of time? What’s the meaning of life? … And so on and so forth.
This finally brings me to my point, Bob. A recent conversation with a friend of mine from Brazil who has recently moved to France and is indulging in all kinds of classic art debauchery has inspired me to finally note these thoughts down in some kind of William Morris-esque rant.
My friend discovered Bob Ross, my childhood hero, whose episodes have recently been made available online. We discussed how therapeutic it is just to watch him, let alone to create for yourself. Although, unlike my childhood self, I now watch Bob with a sense of sadness as I can imagine the attitudes towards him from certain circles. Even from myself if I let myself focus on this ‘high’ art attitude that’s been pushed and emphasised so strongly.
Another thing I experienced whilst studying in London was working as a PA for a gallery curator. This was by far the most enlightening experience for me, and again further deterred me from creating art as I’d finally been exposed to the kind of industry that surrounds it. Long story short, you need money and connections. The ‘struggling artist’ is no more.
With this exposure on top of the rather snobby attitudes of my university tutors when discussing ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, I felt pretty disenchanted. ‘High’ art being very high-quality, polished and conceptually stimulating and ‘low’ art being something quite unimpressive both mentally and physically… But, says who?
A tutor once mocked middle-aged, middle class white women who sit at home on a Sunday and paint flowers all day. I understand why, he wanted us to think deeply about what we were creating and why and to distance ourselves from (supposedly) other areas of society who do ‘arts and crafts’ for a hobby.
Since then, ‘arts and crafts’ has been used in a derogatory way, causing images of pipe cleaners and glitter to flash through my mind. I’ll resist from ranting appreciation towards the Arts & Crafts movement today and instead focus on asking the question of what makes one approach better than the other?
If these women who paint flowers on a Sunday feel meditative, thoughtful, reflective and peaceful after painting, then who is anyone to dismiss them for not having a concept? Did Van Gogh have a concept when he painted the Sunflowers which almost moved me to tears when I saw them in person?
As someone who has dabbled in ‘creating’ since she could hold a pen, I can most definitely say that, while you may gain depth socially, historically or whatever conceptually (I love conceptually arousing art as much as the next person), you risk losing the meditative, engaging, stimulating, self-loving energy as you try to create something for everyone else to utilise (maybe not even to enjoy) before considering your own needs first.
The truly ‘artistic’ aspect of creating anything is the state it puts you in while you create, above all else. I’ve met several people who live like art, everything they do is thoughtful, deep and beautiful and they can’t draw Cinderella to save their lives. I think it was Osho who said “Let your life be a painting, let your life be a poem.”
I’ll definitely come back to this topic later, I just wanted to spew some incoherent ideas. If you have any thoughts on this then I’d love to hear them and we can discuss art over a virtual bottle of red.