It happens every time I sit down to make a new piece of art. I have a choice. What sort of an artist am I going to be? Usually, this situation finds me browsing through a series of photographs I have taken here and there as I look for the right piece of inspiration. Perhaps I really want to sketch a person. Perhaps I am looking for just the right flower. Sometimes, if I'm being honest, I'm looking for something that isn't too difficult to recreate. I have to think about the medium I'm using and whether or not I have the technical ability to make what I can picture in my mind. Some things are stunning, but really ought to remain art in photo form. Other things are beautiful but wouldn't make sense as a painting. In these cases I often modify the image in my interpretation. Many potential subjects are not quite yet in my skill range. For example, one might wonder why I don't draw my beloved cat. Aside from the fact that I do intend to marry one day, I never do depictions of cats justice. Basically, I just don't draw fur all that well. Of course that is a skill I intend to learn, and eventually showcase.
I have been working off of a theme lately, my 2017 Christmas series. It's been an adventure and a challenge, and I would be lying if I said I hadn't already learned a lot. In the process of trying to find subjects to paint and draw, I have looked through a lot of imagery. I had to decide if I was going to do the cliche snow-covered house on a mountain side, if I was going to delve into Native American themes, if I was going to stick with New Mexican images, if I was to paint only nature. On and on it goes. I began with a random image, a snow covered bridge over a frozen lake. I then discovered that I had personal images that were more special than this. I found photos of old leaves and flowers that I had captured around my own yard and neighborhood. From there I discovered that these dead items actually fascinated me far more than the snowy lake had. I began to decide that this year's Christmas Series would focus more on the up close items. I loved the character of that dead leaf or flower that was so shriveled and brown, yet retained so much beauty, particularly crested with snow.
My next round of decision-making as I begin a piece involves medium. Initially, I thought that I would make mostly acrylic pieces as they are less expensive to produce and I could sell them at better prices. But then I remembered that I hate acrylics and they aren't too fond of me either. They dry too fast for my favorite techniques and the colors I have just don't glow like my oils. It is better for me to choose a medium I love even if it requires more time and investment. I know I can do a better job with it and there are notably fewer incidents of dramatic grunts and thrown brushes. This means that as my series progresses, you likely won't see another acrylic.
Here is what I have decided so far- do what I CAN do. Do something that fascinates me. Do what is worth doing. Of course, a different artist would look at the same images and go an entirely different direction, for we are none of us the same. That is ok. In fact, that is good.
Once I set up my supplies, I sit there staring at something blank. It is pure, raw potential. That paper, that canvas could become almost anything. I could recreate an image, I could draw from pure imagination. I could tell a story of violence and destruction or I could paint a cartoon butterfly. I hold a lot of power over a blank canvas and I can create anything. With the power to create, the question I must confront it this: what kind of an artist am I going to be? This is a philosophical question, far more than it is a technical query. Yes, if I want to be a realist, I can learn a style. I can sketch or labor over my work. I can work solely in pastels. I can do anything. In the same way that I could learn and parrot a poem from a language I do not know, I could practice and parrot a technical style. But after I do that- what am I going to CREATE? The marks are in my hand and the brush moves in obedience to the commands I give it. The ethical ramifications of what I do in the studio do not fall on my brush or my style. They are on me.
I believe that the things we create are always made slightly in our own image. A reader knows that nothing is more revealing about an author's life than the characters they make and the philosophies those characters espouse. Creation is the coded journal of the creator. From the creation an observer can see the depths of who the creator is. Man is made in the image of God and when God was finished creating us, He said that we were good. As a reflection of God, it is so apparent that the one who made us must also have a great deal of Good- perhaps even be the embodiment of it. In a lesser, fuzzier way, the things that artists create are a reflection of them.
I've never been attracted to the destructive. I despise forms of communication which are designed for no other purpose but to shock and introduce discomfort. Give me most of the current best selling, Oprah Book Club novels, and I'd probably just turn them into a Pinterest craft project. Those who are familiar with Modern Art, probably more specifically Post-modern Art, will acknowledge that there is some truly disturbing "art" out there. How is collecting your fingernail clippings, your tampons, and your haircuts from the past 2 years artistic? How is that a master piece worthy of an upper degree? Why should I be forced to applaud that when I go to the gallery? What are you trying to SAY with an installation like that? Are you saying that life goes on and we leave behind a lot of wasted material? I'm sorry, but is that supposed to be profound? (yes, this was an actual Master's Degree project I saw)
I think sometimes we go into the realm of art and we see bizarre, disturbing, or potentially even evil things and we feel this guilty tug, as though to dislike something is to dislike art herself. If it's bizarre it's deep and if it's ugly it's good. After all, the badly-written blurb under the installation said so. The result of this silent pressure is that everyone walks past horrific things and applauds those who do them because we somehow admire that they said something "difficult", or they "started a conversation", or we just don't want to look like we don't get it. Come on! Can we please take off the mask? Spades are spades and some art is really bad. I don't mean bad technically. I don't mean bad in execution. I mean bad philosophically.
I once walked into a gallery for an hour of peace and inspiration. On the whole I love galleries. They are these magical places where the spaces are orderly and clean. The lights are positioned just right, and you never know what sort of brilliant creation might be around the next corner. It is the infinite thrill of eternity. The created have created. Let's see what they can do! But this time, as I went around that thrilling corner, my heart did in fact leap- then my stomach dropped. Mounted before me under glittering lights was a giant painting, gaping wide a message neither peaceful or inspiring. There it was- female genitalia. From ceiling to floor, it was designed to be seen from space. I started. I blushed, I actually covered my eyes. But then I peeked, and the peek grew to a stare. My mouth dropped wide and I realized that this image was far more that an anatomical rendition. It was- diseased. I'm not even sure what all was wrong with it, but it was awful. I moved past the giant disturbing image once I recovered my senses and continued through the rest of the gallery. upon exiting the main room, I discovered that the entry way presented me with 4 more similar images. There were crazy colors and mental additions that I am far too embarrassed to describe. Let's not even talk about their titles! These paintings were large and they obviously took quite a lot of time and effort to create. In fact, I could tell that the painter had some real skill. But... why this? I next realized that the artist was standing there, greeting patrons of the gallery. She was fabulously dressed and in a terrific mood. Art lovers had crawled out of the wood work to praise her for this achievement and there was no shortage of accolades. She was describing to the adoring public how these images were empowering to women and that they helped to break down negative female stereotypes or some such nonsense. People lapped it up with a spoon. But here's the deal. Was she speaking for all women? No! I was horrified by the things that I saw. Was she somehow helping to empower me? No again. I wanted to slap her and I didn't have the power to act on that. Did she manage to make female kind somehow look better as a result of her creative depiction of certain aspects of us? No. She created a very intimidating and frightening image, something so terrible that its only imaginable utility might be for a campaign on the terrors of STD's.
I felt dishonored. I felt exploited. I felt as though someone had taken something very sacred, destroyed it, and forced it upon the eyes of an unsuspecting public. Well that's exactly what had happened. Can you charge someone for sexually harassing you with art? Not in today's climate. No. We are required to accept and approve of whatever people make regardless of whether or not there is any virtue in it. I feel like there is this pressure on me, especially as a woman, to support my fellow ladies and help them achieve their feminist goals, regardless of the means they use to say something. I am 100% for equality and opportunities. I would love for the world to better utilize the potential of women, to stop abuse, and to work in harmony. I am 100% against depraved pornographic images.
This woman had talent and she had a medium and she had a choice. She chose to make something dishonoring. You see, what we say and do matters, and how we say and do it matters just as much. We can't be striving for some ideological end with no regard for the means. The means must always justify themselves. How we do something matters!
I have no idea who might be reading this and I don't want to be misunderstood. I would never advocate a world where people have their freedom of speech taken away or where women are relegated to becoming servile and weak. I would never dare to stand in the way of justice or anything else that is good. Nevertheless, I must be honest. Not all things hold goodness, and that includes art. I know and serve a wonderful God. He is my creator, Lord, and King. He calls me His own and because of the blood of Jesus I am an heir to His Kingdom. I know authority and I know empowerment and I know a great deal about dignity.
When I sit down to create, I have a choice. What am I going to say in my art?
Am I going to make creations in my image only? Am I going to paint things that reflect nothing more than my sinful nature and depraved flesh? Am I going to denigrate all the wonderful things that God has made so that I can make a cheap statement destined to fail the test of time? Am I going to shock the world because I need the attention or I enjoy making people suffer? Am I going to seer the collective consciences of my society so that sin no longer appears as evil?
Will I make something that honors a great and marvelous God? Will I choose virtue? Am I going to depict the world in a way that is consistent with reality, that is consistent with my belief that God sees and cares and knows? Am I going to show a world where broken things are redeemed, where there is beauty in ashes, where dead things come to life? Am I going to tell the story of grace and salvation and allow the world to derive hope from my work? I desperately hope so.
With the power to create we have a choice. What will it be?