In a recent conversation with a fellow artist, I lamented the fact that I couldn’t paint like artist X or artist Y. I think most of us have these feelings of jealousy mixed with aspiration towards certain artists whose work we admire. But then my friend said something that I found quite profound: You are not that artist.
Of course this is true, on a literal level. But it is also true on a spiritual level. I am of the belief that meaningful art can only come from a place that is personal.
Aren’t all paintings you make personal, as they all come from you? Sort of. But the kind of personal I am talking about are the moments where you dig deep, let intuition have its say, and get past the protective layers that cause you to paint in ways that are familiar, expected. Where you get past the thoughts and words in your head. These moments elicit the paintings that sometimes don’t even make sense to you until later (if ever).
But they can be recognized because they somehow feel familiar, even if you can’t put it into words. They feel like you, or a part of you that has always been there but that you may have lost sight of.
Like many of mine, this wasn’t painted in a straightforward way. As the painting progressed, it took on a look I didn’t like and I felt there was something more to be uncovered if I could push through. I pushed and pulled and scraped and fought until I felt a strong directive to stop. I looked at the painting but didn’t recognize it and had no idea if it was “good” or “bad” – but I did know that it was me. And that matters.
Whether they look familiar to you is another matter. They may not look like anything that has come before, but they’re worth accepting, even if you keep them private.
Some of you who paint from a more straightforward place may be cringing right now, and that’s OK. But what I am trying to get at – what I am always trying to get at – is what it really means to make paintings that are personal. To me, that’s what matters most.
I’m sure I have no clear answer or formula, other than to try to create without attachment or expectations. Learning foundation skills is also an important part of making art that even steps lightly into representation. But beyond that, it’s tricky. What I do may not work for you, and vice versa. Teachers can show us how to draw or how to make an interesting value study, but who can show you what it means to be fully yourself?