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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Art Myths

The mystical myths and magic of art.
There is something magical or mystical about art which causes people, many of them artists themselves, to form preconceived notions about art and artists and that which goes into making art. For lack of a better term, let's call them "myths" (despite it being highly overused).Some of these myths are frankly amusing in their naiveté. Some are nothing less than just plain stupid. Others reflect a lack of understanding regarding the creative process (from the mind over to matter), while others have been fostered by artists themselves to impress those paying big bucks to buy their work. On the flip side, still other myths are imposed upon art and artist by the non-art world as a defense of their own lack of creativity and skills. And finally, there are those for which I can think of no good reason for their existence and persistence.
An Abstract Expressionist who could draw, and draw well...
when he felt the need.
I'm going to resist the urge to number these misconceptions in that doing so would suggest a hierarchy of prevalence or importance which really can't be defended. For instance, I'm going to start with the myth that drawing and painting are inextricably linked. That's like saying you must be a good speller to be a good writer. I've probably been as guilty as anyone in perpetuating this falsehood, having taught both skills much of my life. Yet I've had dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of students prove me wrong. The difficulty with this myth is that, there was once a time when it was undoubtedly true. However, the 20th-century development of Modern Art explicitly denounced and defied that notion, converting a truism to an art myth. Although most of the non-representational painters such as Picasso (above), who populate the annuls of Modern art, were academically trained and most assuredly could draw realistically (some of them extremely well, in fact) they chose not to, freeing forever the link between the two most notable art skills.
That Einstein...he was such a fun guy.
Just about anything can be called art. Whoa! While beauty may be in the eye (more accurately, in the mind) of the beholder (the same being true of ugliness), that is definitely not the case with art. Art may be highly subjective, but it is not without definite, objective lim-itations. Art need not be skilled in execution, it need not be pretty, it need not conform to prevailing social tastes, nor must it fit neatly into a single content or media category. But it must say some-thing. It must communicate a message to viewers (not all view-ers, however). And it must be creative. That is the one element that most often separates that which is and isn't art. I know, that one item would seem to eliminate much of the art created in the "nothing new under the sun" environment of today. Of course the definition of creativity comes into play here, but if a lack of originality categorically eliminates a lot of today's art, then so be it; we probably have too much art being made today anyway.

Colleges teach both nude photography and figure
drawing, why not combine the two?

Technological aids and mechanical, electrical, or optical devices have no place in producing art. Bullspit! That one comes straight from academia and has proven to be one of the most difficult myths to stamp out. That's like saying all writers should be dipping their quill pens in india ink. Name me one professional writer today who still writes in longhand (even with a ballpoint pen). If there is such a strange bird, they probably don't write very much nor very well. Thank God for word processors, spellcheckers, grammar checkers, and the "delete" key. Yet colleges and university art departments almost never teach their art students the proper use of digital cameras, projectors, or photo editing software (not in art classes, at least). Yet they dote on learning to draw still-lifes and the human figure. Can you imagine the hell that would break lose if a student came to a figure drawing class, camera in hand, and started taking pictures of the nude model?! Or if that student hooked up a digital projector to a laptop in order to transfer his image onto a canvas before starting to paint? Why should an art students be forced to endure hours upon hours in developing acute eye-hand coordination to produce drawings when there is readily available technology enabling them to do it quicker and (with a little training) better right at their fingertips? The answer is academic jobs and money.
In some ways, projection drawing requires as much
skill as traditional drawing...just different skills.
Art requires skill. NO! Art requires intelligence. It requires patience, persistence, and self-confidence, but skills can be purchased. The other traits cannot. Art starts inside the artist's head but from there it may take a long and winding road before it becomes an entity in and of itself. Traditionally that road has led through the artist's own hands, but not any more. Postmodern artists, such as Jeff Koons (below), conceive their work, designs its details, and supervises its forming, but he need not even so much as touch the finished product other than to perhaps sign his name to it. Admittedly, the dissolution of such a myth requires a whole new mindset as to what an artist is and does.
Jeff Koons at work in his studio where he often
supervises up to 120 production assistants.
Those who can, do, those who can't, teach. I positively HATE this myth. It may have some credence in other fields (doubtful) but certainly not in art. I have never met or known an art instructor who didn't also pursue a career as an independent artist during his or her free time. I have, however, known dozens and dozens of professional artists, exceptional ones at that, who could no more teach someone their skills than they could paint a portrait of God (not withstanding Michelangelo). My own years as a working artist and art instructor are proof of the fallacy of the equation involving producing art and teaching it. In fact, I've produced many more paintings than I ever have artists, even though I consider the latter to be a much more important vocation.

Copyright, Jim Lane
I Was Here, 2015, Jim Lane.
So much for that myth.
And finally, on the amusing side, there are still people who think all artists must endure economic deprivation--the starving artist syndrome. Let me dispel that myth with a single question. Have you ever gone to an art show opening, or even an "art in the park" show, and seen a skinny artist? Probably not. My guess is, even the least successful artist in the crowd is something on the order of twenty-five pounds overweight! Check out one of my recent self-portraits, I Was Here (above). I would love to be only twenty-five pounds overweight. So much for that myth.


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