Understanding an artist’s intent is often helpful when interpreting their artwork. One’s intentions in her artwork can have a profound influence on whether others view the work as successful or not. Today I’ll be raising some questions about whether or not your artwork appears successful to other people and how to create successful works of art that stand up to critic’s scrutiny!
I often hear students poke fun at famous works of abstract art. It’s not uncommon to hear comments such as: “I can do that.” Or “It looks like my little brother painted that”. I could easily compile a long list of negative comments that uninformed viewers make when not fully understanding a work of art.
The real truth in “I can do that” is this: the overwhelming majority of the time I would bet money that that person making the outlandish claim could not, especially not in any historically or culturally significant way. The fact is most famous and successful works of art are created by skillful hands and well-trained minds. Regardless of an artwork’s outward appearance it usually takes many years of development to arrive at such a result.
When you see an artwork hanging in a museum that appears to be quickly painted it is typically the artist’s intent. There are many reasons for the outward appearance of a work of art but the best artists have their well-thought-out reasons for creating the artwork. Perhaps they are trying to convey an emotion, or bring the viewer to a freer, more child-like state of mind. Whatever the reason, quality artwork is built upon a solid foundation of knowledge and purpose. Not to say that accidents and discoveries do not happen. They do, but the bigger picture depicts a clear intention towards the desired results at the hands of a well-informed artist.
Loose vs. Messy
There’s a big difference between a messy work of art created by unskilled hands and a loose work of art made by an accomplished artist. We can easily compare the art-making process to the art of cooking. There is a difference between some halfwit throwing a cheap pickle onto a paper plate as contrasted with a master chef garnishing her masterpiece with a sprig of parsley. Only a fool would argue they are one of the same. Artwork that is loosely painted or loosely drawn has been created as such on purpose. Not every work of art has to be a tight rendering. Remember: There’s a huge difference between a painting in which the artist skillfully and intentionally throws and drips paints versus a person who accidentally spills paint.
Challenging Artistic Conventions
Often some of the more interesting forms of artwork that uninformed eyes have a difficult time respecting are artworks that simply challenge artistic conventions. Every so often an artist assembles an understanding of art making from a macro-level and attempts to deconstruct and reinterpret the status quo. These artists understand the historical significance of picture making and engage in a dialog that attempts to change the course of picture making. One of the most notable examples of this phenomenon was Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s earliest analytical cubist paintings.
At that time (early 20th century), Picasso and Braque fully understood the historical conventions for creating a “realistic” painting and sought to reinterpret the world around them in a new and refreshing way. They did this by attacking one’s notion of space and how 1000+ years of artists attempted to create the illusion of space within European art. What is realism anyway? A painting is not the real thing but merely a fixed view of a given subject from a single point in time. Picasso and Braque understood this and their work was a revolutionary response to this concept. Their artwork was neither ill-informed nor some attempt to circumvent hard work. It was fully intended as such and changed the course of history in the process!
The next time you sit down to make artwork try to be aware of your intentions and whether or not they are carrying through in your finished artwork. The greatest artwork is fully controlled by the artist in both technique and concept. Here are some things to think about the next time you decide to create a drawing or painting:
- Are your straight lines and edges supposed to look perfectly straight or are they supposed to look hand-drawn?
- Are the variations in your paint colors intentional or a clumsy experiment in color theory?
- Is your artwork a quick impression or does it look like a halfhearted attempt to create a highly detailed work of art in which you did not stay committed to the task?
- Does your simple, abstract works functional on a deeper, conceptual level or are you just copying the outward appearance of some artwork your saw hanging in a museum somewhere?
- Are your drawn elements purposely ignoring expected artistic conventions or are they simply drawn incorrectly?
- Does you techniques and materials reflect the mood of your artwork?
Artwork created by uninformed minds and unskilled hands rarely stand the test of time. Before you attempt to take shortcuts in your art-making process take a deeper look at the significance of your artistic body of work and your overall intentions as an artist. While there is no real right or wrong in a work of art, the perceived artistic intention is really what determines whether or not a viewer deems the artwork as successful, innovative, and honest, versus being an unsuccessful, phony, sham.
These types of posts are more abstract in thought and sometimes harder for me to write. I mostly write about more concrete examples such as drawing and painting techniques. Hopefully I’ve provided a small amount of food for thought and created a smidge of artistic value for you today. Please leave a comment below.