A crossroads...what a nice, simple concept. You’re on a journey along a road and get to a place where you need to choose whether you this way or that way, black or white, yes or no. It’s such a convenient analogy and at times to be sure it’s appropriate. Art is a journey and sometimes you do reach a crossroads that is a clear choice, so often though we are not travelling as on a road but are adrift on the open sea, we have a course but are influenced by forces beyond our control and can end up drifting off in an unexpected and unwelcome direction.
It’s so easy to drift into bad habits, I’ve recently caught myself taking my art for granted, I’ve been pushing myself hard to produce work for my coming exhibition and have found I’ve developed a ‘that’ll do, next!’ attitude to my paintings. Where the hell did that come from?...and how will ‘that do’ exactly? Will it do because it’s saleable? because it’s up to a certain standard that I’ve come to expect my art to adhere to? Sounds a lot like a feeling of complacency to me, something an artist has no business experiencing.
Just this morning I read a post on t’internet from a gallery owner about being spammed by aspiring artists who tell him that their art will be just the thing for his gallery, he went on to say, quite rightly of course, that a gallery cannot simply display anything that any artist thinks is worthy , the business doesn’t work like that and on the whole aspiring artists need a bit of business acumen. There is of course a large element of truth in that, if you want a gallery to display your work then you’ll need to conform to the gallery’s standards, they know their market after all. If you want your art to sell then you need to produce work that appeals enough to buyers that they buy it. I can’t help though to feel a bit uncomfortable about this though, of course we have to compromise ourselves to some extent. If we accept a commission we are probably working with a subject that is not one we would have chosen, sometimes it’s necessary to ‘brute force’ such work to get it done.
This is one of those areas where there is no definite choice but a subtle shift in direction. We don’t decide to never paint what we want and how we want to but to cynically turn out work that conforms to a sensible model that is appropriate, saleable, complements the galleries wall decor etc, where we decide that inspiration, wonder, experimentation all get thrown out in favour of grinding out pretty pictures. What happens is that it’s easy to get lazy, to slowly slide into a way of painting that ‘ticks the boxes’ without even realising it’s happening until one day you look at the work you’re doing and say ‘what the hell’s all this stuff?’.
What’s to be done though to prevent this slide into conformity, even into mediocrity? You have to pay your way. How far are we prepared to let ourselves slip, to slowly compromise our work to gain a modicum of critical & financial success as an artist? Once we’ve developed enough skill to consistently turn out crowd pleasing work then it’s very tempting to do so at the expense of what you could become if you stuck to your guns, didn’t give an inch and painted what and how you were inspired to paint.
At some level we all know that that’s how you become great, not by knowing which arses to kiss and pickling cows and such but by being absolutely honest and 100% dedicated to our vision, our ideas in art.