ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her new column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.
Ever since a formerly confident painter friend of mine returned from visiting last month’s Miami art fairs, I’ve noticed a change in our conversations. Now they go something like this:
Artist: “I’m not bold enough to use red like so-and-so does. Did you see his painting in the ABC Gallery booth? Now so-and-so really knows how to work with a strong color like red.
PB: “I don’t know. Your red always looks good to me. Since when did you wonder if you were using red right?”
A: “Since that damn Art Basel. And so many people were using everyday objects in really interesting ways: wires, pencil parts, cut up paper, feathers–Now, every time I look at the new path I’m taking in my work, I keep seeing those images and I become paralyzed. I can’t stay on track anymore–or I want to steal their ideas.”
I began to think about how difficult it is for artists to capture the hint of a new creative direction as it first emerges and before it quickly recedes in their thoughts. Even if the idea manages to stick around and not slip away, the outcome, a blend of the artist’s instinct, work and luck, remains unpredictable until it’s fully realized. The artist’s momentum could be lost anywhere along the way.
If an enormous amount of stimulating art is introduced (i.e. Art Basel) into this delicate process of self-exploration, can it make the artist lose connection to his/her slowly developing thread of personal invention? Can the artist’s original, but not yet fully cooked ideas, get diluted or replaced because of too much exposure to the work of other artists?
I’ve always thought that seeing as much art as possible was a good thing for artists—keeps the eye fresh, feeds the soul, encourages reactions and self-questioning. But my friend’s shutdown or copycat responses, in the face of the Miami art avalanche, gives me pause.
If other “voices” are louder than your own developing one, can you get drowned out? Can you even hear yourself in the chorus?
I think it comes down to a question of personality and timing. Last year, this same friend took to the Miami fairs like paparazzi at the Oscars –but back then, she was firmly and productively entrenched in her work. Her confidence didn’t sway because her direction was already set and established. As a result, she had a great time and enjoyed the work of other artists.
But today, my friend is at a turning point. She’s experimenting with new ideas. Her work is changing and going in an unfamiliar direction. Her curiosity about what she’ll come up with spurs her on, but she’s not yet ready to show her art publicly. She needs to keep working until it feels right and something recognizably her own evolves. In this malleable state, with her work in private transition, it turns out to have been the wrong time for her to go to an Artzilla fair.
The creative process is exhilarating and fragile. It’s hard to come up with an original direction and then stick to it until the results meet with the artist’s satisfaction. While those ideas are developing, each artist must determine what nurtures or destroys this process. It’s a personal decision and, as for my friend, can sometimes seem counterintuitive (an artist avoiding art??)
Conversely, for others, being surrounded by the work of many artists might provide just the perfect clarifying counterpoint, one that helps an artist recognize how to leave the defining thumbprint on his/her work.
Whatever path artists choose to stay connected to their evolving ideas during the creative process, it’s clear that it can be challenging to stay on course. Marcel Duchamp once described his particular approach to this struggle:
“I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
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