Pearls from artists* # 11October 24, 2012
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Virtually all artists spend some of their time (and some artists spend all of their time) producing work that no one else much cares about. It just seems to come with the territory. But for some reason – self defense, perhaps – artists find it tempting to romanticize this lack of response, often by (heroically) picturing themselves peering deeply into the underlying nature of things long before anyone else has eyes to follow.
Romantic, but wrong. The sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly ever reflects a gulf in vision.In fact there’s generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by over-painting the still wet canvas. The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about – and lots of it!
The rest is largely a matter of perseverance. Of course once you’re famous, collectors and academics will circle back in droves to claim credit for spotting evidence of genius in every early piece. But until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well being. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours – and this is something to be genuinely thankful for. Yet however much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem.
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
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