Inventing Art in the Midwest

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.

— Georgia O’Keeffe

GlacierAbstractThis is a new painting of a an abstract glacier. It may or may not be done, I haven’t decided yet. I’ll think about this for a day or two and see how I feel about it, but the decision comes from my own intuition, not from any art rules.

Georgia O’Keeffe is an artist I really admire because she did art her way and she did what she wanted. She didn’t copy other artists; she invented her own style. Too many artists these days are too derivative of others, not because they don’t have any of their own ideas, but because they don’t understand that art is supposed to be liberating. Art can’t be liberating if you are following rules and doing what others tell you to do. Some artists think doing art means making a pretty picture, and to do that, you have to study what the pretty picture artists do and then do what they did. So many people spend so much money learning to paint like other people. It’s much less expensive to learn to paint like yourself. You just do it.

Artists should pave their own way and do their own thing, be inventors. If you need to follow rules, make up your own rules.

Last year at a local art meeting I heard a demonstrating artist say that we should just throw out the rules. Internally I said “yes!” Externally, an artist in the audience laughed and said, “As long as you know what the rules are, you can break them.”

No, that’s not why we should break rules. We should break rules because they stifle our creativity.

What rules? Who wrote them? Why do artists ever feel like there are any rules at all in making art? Rules shouldn’t even exist. But I understand why artists are such a fan of art “rules”. They think it is the road to making money with their art, and for some artists, that is the goal.

Georgia O’Keeffe also said, “To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” That’s so true, because there is so much advice coming at artists, all the time. Much of it bad.

Also, as a female artist I’m a rebel because I try hard not to follow any sort of (real or imagined) rules, especially those invented by other artists, usually male artists.

As a female artist, I feel it’s my duty to do things my own way with my artwork and pave the road for artistic expression on my own. Inventors cannot be copiers. I may learn some techniques, but my art has to be completely my own or it’s not my art. This is where my artwork is going, into less and less realism and more and more expressionism. Expressionism and abstraction are forms of art truly from within myself, and not portrayals of this world largely built by other people (men). In a way bucking the rules in my art is a feminist statement.

I painted as a young person freely and often from my imagination, and then I went to college to major in art. That is when the trouble began. My instructors, nearly all men, told me all about the rules in art. I was told I was doing several things “wrong”. This eventually crushed my creativity and artistic spirit to the point where I later (in year 3) changed my major and even stopped making art very much. I even had to struggle to want to do it for a while. This is what happens to an artist who hears they are breaking “necessary” rules and “doing things wrong”. It’s even worse for women, I think, who need an artistic outlet more than men because they live in this man’s world, where nearly all the rules were invented by men and acceptable behavior is limited and defined by others. Art is where women can be free.

I would never now recommend that any young person go to a college to major in art. Go to an art school maybe, but even that contain something that destroys a person’s personal process or crushes their creativity. Personally, I feel that techniques can be learned, but art comes from within a person. If you have it, you have it, and adding rules and regulations to what has naturally evolved is probably a bad idea. Let the creative person be and see what develops; don’t tell them they should or should not do what is preferred by a minority. And let’s face it, art instructors only represent a small minority. So do art collectors. So do art buyers. What that boils down to is the knowledge that you have to make art as you, the artist, wishes to make it, because all the opinions you’ll get on the subject can only be from a small minority of people.

If I had it to do over again, I probably would have majored in business in college and skipped hearing all the rules about art. “Studying” art in college did not help me, it hurt my own artistic process and made me learn how others made art, which didn’t look like my art, and didn’t have the same purpose as my art. Think about how counter-intuitive that is for an artist.

So eventually, I got over it, and started to get back to my internal artistic roots. Now I paint as I feel I have to, and as I feel I want to. If some people don’t like it, well so be it. There are now about 7 billion people on this planet, so I figure the odds are that many of them, if not a billion, maybe a million, will like my art work very much. I’ll settle for a thousand.

For me art is all about autonomy. It’s about making my own decisions, which is one reason I don’t enjoy art critiques. Why should anyone else have a say about my art at all? It’s my art, not theirs. I think there is a psychological reason that other people would want to tell another artist the pros or cons of their work, and it probably relates to some kind of failing in their own lives, something they wish they could change but don’t. Instead, they would rather tell someone how to make their art differently. I also realize that my own need for creating art independent of other people’s opinions is probably my own deep-seated need for independence in a world that does not reward female or artistic independence.

It’s also a reality that some people and organizations want to keep artists dependent on a whole series of different ways of doling out money to them so that they “stay in line”. This is even more true for female artists than male artists, who are expected to be more independent — and often are. From my observations, these things are true.

It’s a depressing system sorely in need of a revolution. Graffiti artists seem to have this figured out. Artists in big cities also enjoy more freedom with their art. It seems to be artists in small cities and towns that suffer the most from “be-like-that-artist-itus”, and women are the most susceptible to feeling like their art “needs improvement”. Look at the main attendees at art workshops and see if that isn’t true. Where are the men artists? They are either teaching the workshop, or they are off doing their art as they want to, and they don’t really care if someone doesn’t like how they do things.