Whatever it means, I'm pretty sure it doesn't happen overnight
Lately I’ve been hearing quite a bit about this or that artist having the potential to “grow”. What does that even mean, anyway? That said, it made me wonder whether I’ve grown as an artist myself.
Take the case of this one artist, who I don’t know personally. (Forgive me if you’ve heard this one.) I was speaking to a certain gallery manager (who was also an artist) not too long ago, and this manager was telling me about how this particular artist seemed to be fixated on a certain insect.
From my first ever show
The artist had to paint this insect all the time and include it in all the paintings submitted to the gallery. The artist has been painting this insect for years, and for reasons I couldn’t quite grasp, it was driving the gallery manager nuts.
While I wanted to understand where the gallery manager was coming from, part of me couldn’t help siding with the artist. “I mean,” said I. “What if (the insect) was really this artist’s thing.” I mean, like Audubon’s thing was birds. My thing is monsters (not just horseys, although you know I’ve always had a thing for them).
“Yes,” the gallery manager said. “But this artist has been painting this exact same insect for yeeears.” “Well,” said I. “I’ve been painting the same junk (i.e. monsters) for years.” The gallery manager tsk’ed and said “Nooo, I mean the EXACT same insect.”
“I mean look,” the manager said, ducking into the nearby storage room and pulling out another canvas by the same artist. There, sure enough, was the same insect “copy-pasted” onto it. “Ohh,” I said. “Okay…” I still didn’t know what was wrong with that. I mean maybe it was like a signature or something, i.e. “If you see this insect, you know it’s by _.” But I didn’t say anything.
“So I tried to tell this artist to like, stop doing that.” I could hardly believe my ears. This was another artist (although I guess the artist was in gallery manager mode and was a past master at compartmentalisation) telling a fellow artist what and how to paint.
“You didn’t quite, say it that way, did you?” I ventured to ask. “I mean~” “Or at least change it up a little!” the gallery manager said. “It remains to be seen whether the artist will obey.” That made me raise my eyebrows. “Because you see,” continued the gallery manager. “This artist still has room to grow.”
So… an artist doesn’t grow ~ if the artist does the same thing over and over for a gazillion years?
Put that way, I kinda get it?
From my last show
To continue my narrative of sorts: I don’t remember now whether it was a continuation of the discussion we’d been having about the insect-loving artist’s work, but we’d moved on to discussing the gallery manager’s own work.
That gallery manager had started out making non-rep (“abstract” or paintings that don’t look like anything), but had recently started to make representational ones (paintings that look like something, lol).
“I feel like my work has regressed,” sighed the gallery manager. “I wouldn’t put it like that,” I said. “Evolved would be the word I’d use.” The gallery manager seemed, placated, I guess (not relieved or pleased). People change so it makes sense for their work to change, too.
“Your work has evolved,” the gallery manager said. (This manager had been familiar with my work for six, seven years.) “Thanks,” I said. “Even though I’ve been painting the same old junk for years,” I added in my head. “Your work is gonna grow,” said the manager. “But this artist…” the manager said, nodding toward the work of the insect-lover, then shrugging. “We’ll see.”
You may be interested to know that that insect-loving artist, last I heard, was going to be offered a contract with that same gallery, by that same gallery manager. In a more recent conversation in passing, the manager told me again that that artist was going to grow. Again ~ what does that mean, exactly?
From my last batch of potatoes
It’s really made me think for a bit, and ask myself whether I’d grown in the 17, 18 odd years I’ve been practising. Well, I don’t know if I have, but I sure as heck hope so.
I guess, to be a little more specific ~ I hope I’ve gotten better (i.e. “grown”) in terms of technique.
Look, I know I’ve got a looong way to go. I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to be at figure drawing (drawing humans), and I suck chickenballz at things like depth and perspective. Heck, my own mother says my work is flat. Do I have to be good at depth and perspective? If I’m not, I’m not any good? Says who? All that ~ another rabbit hole, I suppose. But is technique what growth is all about?
If it is, I’d like to think I’ve gotten a liiiittle bit better, but objectively yes I do own I have “a lot of room to grow”.
But if you recall that conversation I had with that gallery manager, apparently growth has something to do with the exploration of themes or subject matter ~ thematic or conceptual growth. I guess, from what I understood, it’s “okay” to paint the same old junk year in, year out, as long as you “explore” or “experiment” with that junk ~ to “change it up a little”, as the manager said.
I guess the manager felt I had done that with my own work, and I’d like to think I have, too, although really ~ I am just painting the same old monsters over and over. You see, I’m hoping to “get better” at it.
By “better” I guess I mean, I’m hoping to make them “more believable” or plausible ~ more “realistic” I guess. I want you to feel like you’re looking at a “real person”, like this monster “really exists” and you could relate to or really get to know this monster as a person (not as a species).
(Of course that’s not what I’m going for with the blobs and potatoes ~ with those, I’ve been trying to “explore” different compositions and mix in a wee bit of storytelling.)
So that’s technical and thematic. But there’s something else. I think I might have another “story” of sorts to explain what I mean.
"Formula Horseys" I've been drawing since I was about 12 (I did these just a few years ago)
I used to have an art company with my best friend-slash-business partner where we used to teach kids art. The bestie was far more qualified than I will ever be for teaching art ~ she’d had a lot more training and experience ~ and I remember her telling me something about ~ well, there was a technical-slash-correct-slash-proper term for it.
But the way I understood it was that it was kind of like a “formula” ~ for drawing, if you will. The bestie said some kids had a “formula” for stuff that they followed, for example, in the way they drew faces, people. The “V” birds, the “M” mountains, the “cloud trees”.
I don’t remember her saying exactly as in verbatim that this was a “bad” thing, but I think I understood that this wasn’t exactly a “good” thing, either. That is, “good” in terms of creativity, because then you never wanted to deviate from this formula because you wanted to “ensure the success” of your work.
Plus it was more efficient ~ you could whip up a good-looking drawing of a girl, let’s say, because you knew “the steps of the dance” by heart. And if you followed it step by step ~ voila! Great drawing of a girl ~ and sureball praise from the teacher and your mom and with any luck you got a star and your drawing up on the wall (or at least, the refrigerator door).
But since you were so stuck on getting that star and stuff ~ you would be loathe to experiment and deviate from that formula. Then you ended up drawing the same old girl (or princess or whatever it was) over and over and over again ~ even until you grew up. I have this even vaguer memory of the bestie saying that that formula was why adults still drew the same way even after, they grew up.
That I understand. And perhaps, it was that that the gallery manager was referring to. That maybe that insect-loving artist was following a formula. Okay, I guess I get that.
In that sense, you could say my blobs and potatoes are a formula, too (more like the potatoes). Although in my defence, I have been looking for ways to “grow my potatoes”, lol.
Formulas do exist in art, as far as I know. Take that one “for painting trees”, for instance.
I don’t know if I’m just saying this because I’ve sort of got one for potatoes or even horseys ~ but see, it’s because I’m aware I’ve developed a formula that I deliberately or consciously deviate from it. Because “I don’t want to become stupid”.
Put another way, I didn’t want to be “a potato factory” or a “blob factory” or a “horse factory”. You know what I mean? (Incidentally, in the unlikely case you’ve read a fair number of my posts on the jillablog, I don’t mean that in the same way I’ve used the term “painting factory”. This, I’ve used to refer to the way I’ve had to complete the pieces I need for a show or some deadline.)
I’m not saying formulae are bad, per se, but I do see how they might become a trap in that they could discourage you or make you complacent in that you don’t want to try new things anymore. Like, I guess it’s okay to have a formula as long as you change it up sometimes? Or ~ I hope you get what I mean.
Suddenly the term “one-hit wonder” comes to mind. But it’s not exactly that, either. Although…
High School Crush
From my archives ~ the landscape's dated ca1992 and the little thingies on top are dated 1993
I had this huge crush on this pop star growing up ~ heck I still sign my paintings with his name (as well as my own) LOOOL. I remember, back in the day there was a magazine article that said something like “taken positively, all his songs are great ~ but taken negatively, all his songs sound the same”.
Well I’m happy to say this pop star “has grown a lot” since then. I think in the beginning he was given a formula to follow and he probably didn’t have a choice in the matter. But he ended up making lots of different kinds of music and he still has a flourishing career to this day ~ because he didn’t follow a formula. Also, I think it was because he stayed true to himself.
The reason I still sign my paintings with that pop star’s name is to remind myself (lest I give myself wholly undeserved airs) that I’m still the same idiot kid I was when I had a crush on that guy. It’s to remind myself that I need to work hard to improve (to grow) upon my work from that time.
Well, I was 12 when I started crushing on that pop star. I’m 48 now. Have my paintings and drawings improved since then? I can only hope so x I’d like to think so. Even a little, liiittle bit.
I am still drawing and painting unicorns and mermaids and fairies and junk. That’s what makes me happy. I need to be true to myself. But I did realise early on that I was already developing a formula, and I knew a formula could only take me so far.
Well, that’s why I took all those classes and went to art school. Did that make me any smarter or better or “grow” any further? I… hope? I mean, I’m still painting and drawing these monsters. Does that mean my growth is stunted?
I don’t know. I suppose I need to ask someone who knows. Or to ask anyone, really, as long as it isn’t me. All I know is, I need to keep trying. And in trying, I need to follow my own inner voice x that whole “be true to myself” thing.
And if there are any formulas that are going to be followed around here, they’re going to be my own and no one else’s ~ no one to impose them on me. Not a gallery manager or owner or anyone.
Natural is Best
It's only natural to draw and paint what you love, and to want to excel in this
For what my humble opinion is worth, I think artistic growth has got to feel right x come naturally. I don’t suppose you can force growth any more than you can force a flower to grow ~ although I guess there are fertilisers and stuff, but ultimately, you need to let the growing process unfold naturally.
Organic growth is probably the best growth or best way to grow, anyway ~ even if it’s not the fastest.
I’m suddenly reminded of something from my “day job” ~ about how organic growth is dead on social media, like if you want growth on social media it’s pretty much “pay to play”. Boost-boost, ad-ad, that kind of thing. But I think the same principle applies there, too. Like I don’t reckon you should be buying likes or using pods to comment on posts.
I'm still figuring stuff out
Anyhow, so, I’ve written all this and I’m still not like, a hundred per cent sure of what it means to “grow as an artist”, but these are the thoughts I have on this at the moment. All I know (or the rest of all I know, lol) is that this year, I’m hoping to, well ~ well I’m always hoping to grow, for sure. And I’m going to keep on trying to grow, whatever that means.
But I think I need to take a break from all the fertiliser I’ve been drowning myself in in an effort to, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve been fast-tracking my growth or anything but it does feel as though I have been driving myself at a breakneck pace to just keep my practice going. And whenever I tried to take a break, I can’t seem to take a break-take a break, really.
All this “trying to grow” is a recipe for burnout ~ and perhaps, my process of trying to grow is, in itself, a formula ~ or has become one for me, at any rate. And I need to change it up, or I’ll stop growing. And you know what they say ~ the minute you stop growing, you die.
As much as I’d like to do just that (which I acknowledge is not up to me, but to God), there are one or two things I’m hoping to be able to do, first.
One of those things is to grow ~ as an artist, I mean, not just older and fatter, haha.
I’d like to end my ramblings on this subject with this clip from David Bowie ~ where he says (that if I want to grow as an artist, I need to) “go a little further into the water”. Formulas are safe x the so-called “comfort zone”. And you know what they say about comfort zones.
* Interested in any of the pieces in this post?
Drop me a line to let me know
and I'll let you know if it's still available,
or how soon I can make something similar just for you.