Pretty as a Picture?


Is art simply a ‘pretty picture’?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is it that attracts me personally to a piece of artwork and subsequently, are those same likes present in my own work?

It didn’t take long for me to realise that quite a lot of what I find appealing in other’s work is not always present in my own…that was a bit of a shocker to be honest!

Let me dig a little deeper and try to open this up further….

The question was put to me recently…’what specifically do you like in the art you want to own?’

Hmmm… I’d never really considered that question before and I was totally thrown; not only by the question but the fact that I wasn’t sure of the answer. It got me to start finding out; noticing what specifically I liked about a painting or chair; sculpture; textile; basically, I was looking everywhere.

Some of what I identified was of no surprise, for example the colour green (which is something of a joke within my circle of friends because I always choose the green option!) There were other more subtle nuanced qualities I was attracted to…obviously, I knew I loved texture; it exists strongly in virtually every piece of my artwork. This was something more…a deeper understanding.

I identified that aged, worn and weather-beaten texture was what I was most fond of. The old door with peeling paint; the abandoned fishing boat with the eroded hull and ironwork; tumbled pitted stones found on a beach; partial images, emerging from beneath the surface. I realise that all sounds very romantic and fanciful and I’m not intending it to be, I’m trying to articulate what deep…deeper emotional response is being triggered for me when I view these objects.

Certainly, the imperfect surface texture was appealing to me. Then the colour had an impact but much less than I had envisaged. What the item was had very little importance to be honest!

I then went through a period of almost losing my sanity as I was noticing everything in my surroundings… every dent or scratch on a passing car; the rusted clasp on a farmer’s gate post; barbed wire; worn leather. So much information my brain could hardly keep up and I’m sure there was a drop in the number of friends asking for lifts in my car!

And so, this heightened period of discovery continued. As I wondered through my home, noticing choices of décor and accessories. On into my art studio, eyes flicking over several pieces of my artwork. Some in progress, others finished; I realised that each of them silently spoke of an internal struggle. I was hit with an almost physical sensation of tension. Recalling vague labouring periods of trying to produce what I was aiming for. Of course, I realise now, the search and struggle were mainly created by my lack of clarity in what made me feel good; rather than what I had assumed was a lack of skill and ability.

Each piece had texture, yes but some had inferior texture or an imprecise, unfocused texture to what I really love and am driven by. Other pieces of work had areas that appeared to be fighting against adjacent areas…but why? A few pieces of work were abandoned, discarded; their faces turned to the wall so as not to remind me of my failure.

I now realise that it wasn’t for a lack of skill or effort that these artworks were rejected or bothersome, it was becoming clearer to me that I had been missing clarity on who I am and what my art is.

Initially terrified that everything I’d ever produced must be an awful disjointed mess, then I noticed that within each piece, regardless of how successful I’d deemed it, held within them areas that spoke to me. It may have been a brush stroke or a piece of fabric I’d used in a way or to express an idea. There was not a single piece that did not hold something to notice and hold onto.

I began to recognise just how important it was highlighting these special, beautiful marks or aspects; how they needed to be truly seen and appreciated and that it required them to be free from clutter.

What I am describing as clutter are those areas that occupy the space around the part you want to highlight. This may be achieved by using high contrast in texture or colour, for example. However, it is achieved, the important point is to realise, to recognise that something needs to be adjusted.

I started to learn a valuable lesson (or three), there can be too much of a good thing. Regardless of how much I adore texture and green; their individual qualities and beauty would risk becoming mundane; lost; common even…in an endless sea of green and texture.

Everything has its opposite and everything has its close relations. Knowing what each of these are can massively enhance the ability to ‘place’ items in such a way as to show off the best of both.

And so, it was that this seemingly mild-mannered question was actually a fundamental part of knowing who we are and how to create our own art that reflects our own individual, unique and complex character. It starts to explain why nothing seems to work if you try to mimic or reproduce another artists work. More importantly, it prevents your own style from emerging.

So, when or if you admire someone’s artwork and wish to own it…ask yourself to find what it is that speaks so loudly to you. When or if you admire someone’s artwork and decide to try and reproduce it…pause and realise it will never either look right or feel right. It will always be substandard…are you ok with that!? I know I wouldn’t be.

Instead, start seeking the answers to what it is precisely that appeals and with that knowledge, you will either feel a deeper understanding of the artwork you chose to own or will know and understand what it is that you’re going to try and create in your own artwork….

So, is art simply a ‘pretty picture’?

I guess not!

I shall be continuing along my unique path of discovering the authenticity of my own work and if my art feels like part of me, then I’ll know I’m finding my true voice. And like all complex things, it will evolve and wander and visit differing places. Authentic art doesn’t stagnate, why? Because as people we grow and change and hence so ought our artwork.

I wonder what is about that particular piece of my artwork that you’re drawn to, that speaks to you? Do you know? Have you asked?


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