It’s hard to believe, but it was ten years ago that I began writing this weekly blog. My first post way back then was a reprint of a speech I gave to a group of teachers and educators associated with the prestigious St. Mark’s School in Dallas. My purpose was to address artists and the topic of art in general…but painting in particular. From an artist’s point of view I also hoped to bring encouraging words to those wishing to develop their creativity.
Following is my speech. (Click images to enlarge)
“It’s a privilege to be invited to speak to you this afternoon. As I look out over this audience I see highly educated, well-dressed, sophisticated people and I feel like I’m out of my element. Artists, after all, are perceived to be moody, unconventional, eccentric, weird, unpredictable, irresponsible, undependable, undisciplined, drugged, either a loner or a communer, illogical, disorganized, a leftist, and probably poor, but not really concerned about it. If you see anyone like this, I advise you to turn the other way and run as fast as you can.”
“You know, these perceptions saved me a traffic ticket one evening. Those were the days when I had a studio in the Turtle Creek area. One night after a long, hard day at the “office”, I was in a hurry to get home and see my wife and just zipping along in my little car when I noticed those awful red lights in my rear view mirror. The police officer, I could see, already had his pad out before he got to my car. ‘Do you realize how fast you were going?’, he asked, as he began filling out that unwanted ticket. ‘No Sir’, I said, ‘I had my mind on other things and wasn’t aware of my speed. I’m hurrying home to see my wife’. At that, for some reason, he asked what I did for a living. ‘I’m an artist’, I said. At that he threw up his arms and exclaimed, ‘Oh, that explains it! My brother-in-law is an artist and you’re all eccentric’. Then, he put the pad back in his pocket and bid me a good day as I slowly continued on my way…grateful to be an artist.”
“These perceptions that others have of us artists have contributed to an atmosphere in which just about anything is called ART. So we wonder, what makes something art and what qualifies one to be called an artist?
“I’ve compiled a list of the art movements that have occurred within just the last 100 years or so, and I don’t even know what some of these are and I’m sure I have not listed all of them – but here goes…Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Naturalism, Neo-Impressionism, Minimalism, Futurism, Primitivism, Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract-Expressionism, Dadaism, Mannerism, Romanticism, Conceptualism, Symbolism, Regionalism, Modernism, Post-Modernism and Neo-Classicism. Are all these “ISMS” art…just because they’re new and different and some critic declares them so?”
“Is it original? That’s the primary concern of many art critics and art show jurors. That means, is it different (cutting edge). Is it unique? That usually, but not always, involves ‘being different, just to be different’. Sometimes it means pushing back against the spiritual beliefs of our culture (usually Christianity)…resulting in works that are vulgar, obscene, crude, blasphemous, brash, offensive, demeaning, immoral, loud, abusive, shocking, and embarrassing, created by the untalented…all for ‘recognition’. The art critic and museum director appears and tells the ‘ignorant masses’ that this NEW ART is good, chic, modern, original and revolutionary…and if you’re ‘with it’, you will embrace it.”
“That reminds me of one of my favorite art stories. An art collector entered a big-name New York art gallery and was immediately blown away when his eyes fell upon a massive, totally white canvas with a small black dot right in the center. Standing in awe before the canvas for sometime, the collector’s amazement was interrupted when the gallery owner mentioned that this artist was their biggest seller. ‘Oh, the painting is unbelievable, it’s so strong, thought provoking and passionate’, said the collector. ‘I must have it. How much is it? ‘Three-hundred thousand’, said the gallery director. ‘Send it to my home immediately’, said the collector. ‘I just couldn’t bear the thought of being without it. I can’t wait to put it up so I can just sit in front of it and soak it all in, and if the artist ever does something similar, I want to be the first to know’. Well, the big-time gallery owner let it be known that these kind of paintings take a lot of time, thought, and life experience. The artist can’t just whip them out. Well, about 18 months later a new painting arrived at the gallery and the collector was called. The new painting was again massive…a totally white canvas with two small black dots right in the center. This time however, the collector just didn’t experience that same burst of excitement as he did with the first painting. ‘What do you think?’, the gallery owner excitedly asked. ‘Oh, it’s OK’, said the collector, ‘but I just don’t care for it as much as the one I already own. This one’s just too busy.'”
“The artist who can’t draw, might say his work is not about drawing, because that’s outmoded; instead, it’s about self-expression, the concept, the color, the texture or shapes. Most important is the process of painting, just being creative – the result is really not that important…and that too is called ART.”
“I like what Johann Sebastian Bach said: ‘All music should be to the glory of God and refreshment to the soul’.
“Let’s do a couple of definitions here and tie this all together. These are working definitions that are subject to change over time. ART is the production or expression of what is BEAUTIFUL, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. The skillful and imaginative creation of objects that interpret human experience and produce an aesthetic response. BEAUTY is the quality of an object that excites admiring pleasure in sense or thought. It’s a quality of high order that delights the eye, the intellect or moral sense…a perfection of form, and color with pleasing proportion and symmetry. The ARTIST therefore, is a person who creates BEAUTIFUL things that are more than ordinary, that are of high quality, that delight the eye, the intellect, and the moral sense of man. The works are of excellent form, color, proportion and symmetry and display great skill and imagination.”
“From these definitions, these are the things I see as important qualities of a true artist: Self-discipline, thorough education, hard, consistent labor to refine and perfect one’s skill, perseverance, knowledge of what is beautiful and why, love of the truth, appreciation and application of the art that has come before us, awareness of our surroundings and man’s place in it, a desire, even a need, to express oneself through the arts…and having something to say.
“Also, intrinsically built into art itself are emotional, technical, and intellectual beauty. There is no bad ART, bad creations maybe, but not ART. I think being an artist is something we can grow into. We’re all born creative. That’s one facet of the divine in us that makes us uniquely human rather than animal. The giftedness seems to be entwined with a desire and will to develop and refine our creativity. With the giftedness comes RESPONSIBILITY to God, who gave us the gift, and to our fellow man who we are to love.
“Expressing ourselves through art is at the heart of what we do. It is our visual communication, and in many ways it’s similar to oral communication. As in all communication, a language, a vocabulary and an audience are necessary. Therefore, it also follows that the more extensive our vocabulary and knowledge of the language, the more expressive and creative we can be in communicating what we want to say. What is called modern art, in many ways, is limited in its communication and its audience. The communication is limited because of a limited vocabulary and knowledge of the language – and in this insufficiency the ‘modern’ artist is still encouraged by the art critic. The viewers appreciation of the work is limited because they don’t understand it.
“So, if you’re interested in painting or in expressing your creative inclinations in other ways – what should you do? The following are some recommendations.
“1) Identify your natural inclinations toward creativity and your specific expressions. 2) Have the will to study, to look, to try, to fail and TO KEEP GOING day after day, day in, day out. 3) Search out those that are doing what you would like to do and study under them. 4) Within your creative area try lots of approaches, techniques and media. 5) Become involved in organizations that concentrate on your area of interest. 6) Find stimulating friendships.
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John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE.