Lying abed this morning I got to thinking about what the definition of ‘artist’, it being a Saturday morning you could assume I was pondering about piss-artists but actually I was (of course) thinking about visual art. Not so much the literal definition of ‘artist’ but how Artists define themselves.
There’s this bloke I’ve known for a while, a highly acclaimed professional portrait artist. He paints not just portraits but a wide range of subjects mainly in oils in a down to earth, accurate fashion, not ostentatious photo-realism but straight and very skilful portrayal none the less. What’s interesting is that he does not call himself an ‘artist’, he called himself a painter. I’ve never discussed this with him at any length but the impression I get is that he has a deal of scorn for the ephemeral, high-brow art scene (you know the kind of thing I mean).
This outlook is understandable, there’s me (hypothetically I might add), applying all my talent, my years of experience and practice to produce with much toil a beautiful painting....and there’s some snot nosed kid out of art school piling up some bean tins or splattering some emulsion paint on the floor and having the art world falling over themselves to heap acclaim on him/her for this rubbish. The pompous guff that’s spoken about such ‘art’, its great meaning, importance and so on.
I find it interesting that the even the term ‘artist’ can become tainted in the minds of some artists, painters, whatever one wants to call oneself. I find myself in two minds about this, On the one hand I, like many artists, despair over the insanity of the art world where ‘artists’ with no apparent skill, vision or talent can present banal, meaningless daubs and installations and with the right arty bullshit thrown in these works are somehow meaningful or even acclaimed as masterpieces. Who wants to associate themselves with these charlatans ‘artists’ in any way?
On the other hand I curl my lip at slavish reproductions of photographs in paint, no matter how skilful or how exquisitely executed, at any work that is portrayal of an artist’s skill rather than of the subject (look what I can do sort of thing), these pretty pictures without soul, without passion or meaning...pah! Art is more than this.
So what are we as artists? How do we see ourselves in this world? Visionary, conservative, revolutionary, traditional....? Clearly I can only speak for myself on this issue. For me the subject of a painting has to get something more across to me than its appearance, something that I can then attempt to portray in the painting. I can paint a subject without this element but it is much harder and the results (in my opinion) are lesser because of it. This is what makes painting work for me, in that I suspect I’m an artist.