Friday, September 10, 2010

I'd rather have something to say and poor skills with which to say it than lots of skill but nothing to say.

A friend and I were trying to figure out why an exhibition we saw together recently at a gallery we both like had drawings that we both felt had little skill and no meaning. They were really uninteresting. Even reading the artists' statements did not help to give the work any meaning. It was slightly messy, barely bothering, low quality work. It was odd that it was where it was. (We never did figure it out.)

It made me remember some thoughts I have had when thinking about quality in relation to art and I decided to write them down:

Some people are very good at making things look nice or real or accurate or beautiful - they are, for example good drawers.
Some people have great ideas, intelligence, messages to get across, open-minds, or new ways of looking at things - they have insight and ideas.
Some people have both - good technical skills plus a reason to make work, something to say. If they also have their own unique flair then you have a really good artist.

Lots of people can draw things that look nice. But if they are not interesting, compelling, brain (or eye or soul...) activating, they are boring. I can only look at a drawing of a perfect flower or nude or bowl of apples for so long. (Perhaps in the past those things used to mean something, tell a story of religion, fable, allegory, or talk about the beauty of life and its abundant riches or the glory of nature. But most artists now do not do a nude, or still life for any particular reason and so it ends up not meaning anything to the viewer and is boring after a minute or two. I always go back to the intention of the artist. The act or process of making art can be reason enough to keep the viewer interested if the act is somehow authentic.)

The world loves it when you have both skills and ideas as you may be a genius.
But if they have to chose just one, most of the time they will accept ideas over draughtsmanship. So some concept driven art in exhibitions is not skillful looking, because of lack of skill. BUT you also have people who feel like if it is too pretty then you miss the idea for the eye candy. (Like some professors feel that dressing too trendily makes it appear that they are not serious of mind.) Or the naive look may be part of the concept, masquerading as a teenager, for instance. But I think the clever artists know that if your idea is wrapped in skill or beauty then it is more easily understood cos people will look longer.

But then you have the people who are trying to access their childlike essence or their primitive soul or their subconscious and come out with weird stuff that looks simplistic but symbolises big ideas. And that can be enough to keep us looking.

I'd rather have something to say and poor skills to say it with than lots of skill but nothing to say. Over the years, I'm glad to say, my work has gotten better, on both sides.

p.s. For some reason this makes me think of the Auden quote:
"If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me."

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