What Really Matters in Art

Art is definitely subjective. We all know that. While I rave over Egon Schiele, many of you dislike his works. I love Jackson Pollock, but I don’t get Mark Rothko at all. I’m starting to feel that I’ve found a home for myself in tonalismand yet despite pledging fidelity to the art of George Inness, my eyes are already straying toward works by Jules Dupre. Oh, how fickle one’s heart can be, even in matters of a love for art.

Recently the idea of picking favorite artists has come up a number of times, and truly I could never put together a short list. Any list of my favorites would be several pages long. Most of my favorites would probably be tonalists and impressionists, and most would hail from the Barbizon School or the Hudson River School, but still there would be many others from different times and places.

But does it matter, really? While it’s valuable to study art history and become acquainted with different artists, different movements, and different styles, what really matters in art isn’t which works we know, which artists have most influenced us, or how much we’ve learned about any particular movement in art.

What matters is that art should please us. Art should move us — in different ways — and we should keep this fundamental truth in mind not merely when we’re looking at someone else’s art, but most especially when we’re creating our own.

It’s important for us to understand that creating art is a very personal experience. We must draw and paint for ourselves, not for anyone else. Sure, I love it when I have paintings in a show and a judge comes along and hangs ribbons on them. That’s a great feeling. But that’s not what truly matters in art.

What matters is the satisfaction we gain, the sense of personal accomplishment that comes from creating something with pencil and paper, or ink, or oil paints. For some artists, it may come, too, from digital art. There are many different forms of expression. Visual art isn’t limited to drawings and paintings. There are textile and needlecraft arts, installation art, interactive art exhibits. There are gardens filled with sculptures. Pottery is an art, as is glass–blowing. We have our different preferences about what we like to see and about what we like to do.

Barn Scan

I like to draw, and I love to paint. Both are new skills for this old woman, and I’m pleased to have come as far as I have in the last few years. Of course I want to learn more; of course I want to improve both my drawing and my painting abilities. But here’s what really matters — not perfection, not absolute accuracy, not painstaking attention to detail — simply doing. It is the act of creation itself, however flawed it may be, that truly matters in art.

You may or may not like a drawing or painting I post. That’s all right. If you want to point out the weaknesses in my art, please do. It’s always good to know what areas most need improvement. Yet in the larger scheme of things, that’s not always so important. What’s important in our art is that we continue to pursue it with passion because we love what we’re doing.

I enjoyed drawing the “old barn” I’ve shown here. I spent a couple pleasant mornings with my sketchbook, first putting down the basic shapes of the building, later adding shading here and there. I could do more to it, I suppose, and maybe it would be a “better” drawing if I did. But does it really matter? If I’m happy with my drawing, if I feel a sense of genuine accomplishment, if I’m pleased with the progress I’m making… well, folks, that’s what really matters, isn’t it? I think so. You may or may not agree; we’re each entitled to our opinions about art and life and what foods we like and the music we listen to. In the end, though, what we must listen to most of all is our own voice, our own heart, our own thoughts about who we are.

Plain and simple, it comes down to this… just as Rick Nelson sang in Garden Party:

“…it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, you can’t please everyone
So you got to please yourself”

When I draw with graphite or paint with oils, it’s not for the eyes of some judge who may be asked to view the work as part of a show. It’s not even for the praise that might come from family or friends. And even though I love blogging and appreciate each of my two thousand plus followers, in truth, I’m not drawing and painting for you.

I’m doing it for myself.

I share my art here not for the art itself, but because of the experience of creating it. I hope both my successes and my failures, my dreams and my doubts, can be inspirational to others. It comes down to that very simple truth — what really matters in art is that we do what we love and love what we do.

24 Comments

  1. The creative impulse is locked up in every human being – the ‘art work’ is the impulse realised – manifest if you like. That for me is the satisfaction to get it from ‘within’ – to ‘without’.
    Every artist if honest looks for the affirmation of others – but may have to live without it. Still the impulse to create wins the day – accolades or no accolades. Keep on – keeping on. Have a good day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts n art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And thank you, in return, for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I do believe that there’s a creative spirit within each of us. Some doubt that, however. I hope to inspire those individuals to explore their creativity and develop it. Others know their creative abilities, and I hope to celebrate that joy with them and encourage them to explore and develop their creativity in new ways. Of course, when we’re honest with ourselves, we do seek affirmation from others. It’s a bit like the proverbial “icing on the cake” of our creativity. Yet even an un-iced cake can taste delicious, and in the end, we have to create for ourselves first of all.

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  2. I’m in total agreement, Judith. And you’ve hit the nail on the head here: ”Of course, when we’re honest with ourselves, we do seek affirmation from others. It’s a bit like the proverbial “icing on the cake” of our creativity. Yet even an un-iced cake can taste delicious, and in the end, we have to create for ourselves first of all.” Yes, this is exactly how I feel. If we don’t create for ourselves, we lose that special channel we feel flowing in us, where whatever the muse may be, connects to us and moves us through the artwork. i never used to talk like this, i viewed any art simply as a craft, which it is, but there is more going on, so much more! A lovely post :>)

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    1. Thanks so much. This has been an interesting aspect of my personal relationship with art. I began “learning to draw” with no pretensions of ever becoming even remotely successful at it, and I found immense pleasure as I began to see that I really could learn to draw. That excitement led me to share with my family and friends — and yes, I guess I was looking for some acknowledgement of my progress, some reassurance that my art was acceptable, sort of a verification of my new belief that it was, indeed, possible to learn to draw. As I’ve moved on to learn more and develop skills in different areas, and as I’ve become a “legitimate artist” — meaning that I’m a member of art clubs, I’ve won awards in art shows, I’m treated as “an artist” by others in the community — I think I was veering toward creating for others, wanting to paint in a way that might please those judges, wanting, maybe even needing, more affirmation. Working alone in my studio throughout this pandemic is changing my point of view, I think. I’m getting back more to simply appreciating the creative process itself, seeing all I do as part of a learning experience more than as an attempt to create art that others might like. It’s a good feeling.

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      1. I think we move from one zone to the other, doing it for our own pleasure, then wanting to share that pleasure when we show out work. In the second zone, needing or wanting some affirmation comes in, and that is very natural, part of our nature. But when artists begin to make art deliberately to fit a market, just like writers may write to fit a certain genre, then something is kind of killed off in the creative spirit and drive. An integrity is lost. That’s my take on it anyway after many years, so I’m careful that doesn’t happen to me. A very thoughtful and incisive post, Judith

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  3. 👏 I agree wholeheartedly… art is fundamentally personal and, while there are things that I make and tailor for other people, the things that I create to satisfy my own curiosity are the things that I learn most from and that give me the most satisfaction, whether they are “successful” or not. Of course, it makes me happy when other people take pleasure or inspiration from the things I share. And with that, I want to say how much I enjoy reading your thoughts on art and creating, there is always something that sparks a moment of reflection or simply prompts me to go back to basics…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. Yes, far more than simply “sharing my art”, I hope to share the experience of art, talk about the different emotions art has led me to feel, the creative discoveries I’m making, and what “being an artist” has come to mean for me. I’m glad you enjoy the blog. 🙂

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  4. You make some interesting, and totally valid, points. However (don’t you just love “howevers”?), there is a danger in any aspect of life that we could confuse “personal expression” with “compromising creativity”. i.e. To use music as an example, it would be easy to settle for creating simple pieces simply because we have trouble with more complex pieces. We could justify it by using your argument for personal taste.
    The moral is to always be conscious of the human desire for short cuts/quick fixes/instant gratification and recognize when we are truly expressing our individuality … and when we are just staying within our comfort zone. Keep going! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe so… but I’m not certain (don’t you just love “but’s…’) that all humans have a desire for short cuts and quick fixes. Much depends upon the culture in which we’re raised. Again, if we’re doing what we love and loving what we’re doing, we’ll find satisfaction in it — whether or not it measures up to anyone else’s expectations. Even if we’re “settling” as you call it, what’s wrong with that if it brings us happiness? Life isn’t all about being the best. It’s about finding what makes us who we are and living life fully — and no one can determine what that means except for us. If you choose to see danger in an aspect of life, you can choose to live accordingly. That decision is yours, of course. We each choose for ourselves, and for some individuals staying within a “comfort zone” may be precisely what they need to do. If that’s where they find happiness, more power to them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My perspective has always been to “stretch” my comfort zone and try everything that I have any interest in. The rationale is very simple. The aging process dictates that at some point in time, our abilities are going to be impacted negatively. I have known people who never pushed their limits (stayed in their comfort zone) and regretted it later when the choices were no longer available. There is only one acceptable solution, and that is the one that works for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! What works for you, works for you. What works for someone else, works for them. It’s unfortunate when people look back with regret. Living each moment fully and doing what we love makes every moment worth living and leaves little room for regret. That’s what works for me.

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  6. Thanks for this post Judith, I enjoyed reading it. I was interested to follow the links. I must admit, I do not “get” Jackson Pollock, but surprisingly (for me) I found Mark Rothko easier to like (I’m not going to say appreciate, because I think that implies a deeper understanding). I’m not an artist, I don’t draw, or create art. I’m not even sure why I’m doing this. I am just interested. Thank you.

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    1. This is what makes art so fascinating and so much fun. Personal tastes differ from one individual to the next, so there’s a wide range of “art” that can be created, appreciated, and enjoyed. Artists can feel free to create whatever they love — for me it’s mostly landscapes in oil — and, to me, that’s important. The fact that there’s room for all of us in this wide world of art makes me very happy. Thank you for visiting the blog. I hope you’ll visit often. And thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! I remember reading once that “It’s not a competition”. That’s true. Even if we do put our work in exhibits or shows, that’s not really what it’s all about. It’s about doing what we love and sharing it with others. That’s what really matters.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I see nature as a reflection of my life. Every plant blooms, its as if the desire to create something that will exist beyond itself is a compelling force. Yet, even the humble dandelion blooms among the cracks in the pavement, not everyone appreciates its flowers, but a child takes delight in blowing their delicate seeds. So it is the same for art making, the desire to create something beyond our physical selves, our blossom of the soul. Yet, once out there its appreciating remains with the observer – do they see the art as weeds or delicate blooms? In the end it either resonates within in or it doesn’t. But like dandelions we should still bloom among the most arid landscapes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know this is rather off on a tangent, but I heard weeds described as “Flowers that are simply growing where they are not wanted.”

      Art must be seen by a receptive observer to be appreciated, just as music must be heard by a receptive listener. It also takes an open and inquiring mind because many creators change their style, which may open the door to new appreciators, but could give problems for others who are less malleable in their perceptions of the art form.

      It is interesting that while we remember (and admire) various cultures for their art, whether it be painting, architecture, pottery etc. etc., art in its broadest sense is one area of our education system which is not given much significance. In fact we are educating our children into a world of conformity. There will (thankfully) be a few who break away from tradition, and it is ironic that it will be those who are likely to be rembered many generations hence!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your comment reminds me of the adage to “Bloom where you are planted.” That’s good, but sometimes it’s more exciting and more daring and more adventurous to grow in unexpected places, places where we weren’t “planted” by design, but where we took root through dogged persistence.

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    2. Beautifully said. And like the dandelions, we, too, can share “seeds” of art and inspiration with others. 🙂 I love dandelions, BTW. I love all wild-flowers and weeds. They are part of our earth. They are meant to be here.

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