Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
Some aspects of teaching kids art are quite obvious and straight-forward: the correct way to hold a linoleum cutter; using gel medium when painting a thick impasto; or mixing a hue with its complement to dull the color slightly. These are the kind of facts and techniques students must acquire to ensure proficiency within a given media. This kind of information is essentially the first order of knowledge in the hierarchy of aesthetic understanding, and it answers the artistic query of how to create. (How do I sculpt this form? How do I draw a face? How do I clean a brush?) Typically, the necessary skills are demonstrated by the teacher and then replicated first hand by the students. However, the especially inquisitive students will, without asking permission, deviate from the teacher__™s example. By experimenting and exploring they seek to find the limits of the material and uncover its hidden secrets. I watch these creative minds carefully as there is a high probability that they will have much to teach me.
The second question that students must face at the onset of each new artistic adventure is ___what to create?___ (What should I make? What should it look like? What colors should I use?) This question is of a higher order as it requires students to assimilate their understanding of the assigned media with the visual components of their idea. Students must develop the concept of their design and then devise a plan with which to create it, taking into account the strengths and limitations of the materials to be used. Very often the level of effort put into formulating a clear and concise answer to this ___what___ question directly correlates to the success of the final image. As a result of this, I encourage students to not take this portion of the creative process lightly; they can__™t simply go with the first thing that falls out of their head and lands on the paper. An idea must be carefully engaged and thoroughly examined if it is to ultimately find a means of convincing expression.
Last on the scale of aesthetic understanding is a question that seems to elude many students, ___why create?___ (Why am I painting this? Why do I want to address this subject? Why am I using this particular image?) It appears that students either don__™t stop to fully consider this query, or they simply maintain a superficial response that the activity was merely required. This is an unfortunate oversight for it seems that more often than not, a confident answer to this question of why is what separates a nice picture from a great work of art. For example, you can find nice pictures at Walmart, your dentist__™s office, or Thomas Kinkade__™s homepage. Nice pictures are undeniably lovely and little else. They are like the assembly instructions for your entertainment center attempting to describe a sunset. (Insert Yellow Sun [A] half way behind Horizon Line [E] thus creating Palm Tree Silhouette [D]. See Fig. 1-3)
Great works of art, however, force you to pause in wonder. It might punch you in the gut or gently caress your heart, but either way, great art makes its presence known. The potency of a great work of art can illicit unintentional guttural vocalizations in the viewer. These utterances are raw emotion responding to the tangible soul that has been imbued into the artwork. This is what great art does; it connects with its audience. It is this relationship between viewer and artwork that is the fundamental concept behind why artists create. It is a fascinating interaction when carefully and deliberately arranged inanimate materials entice a complete stranger into an intimate and emotional dialogue.
Part of the reason great artists are able to develop such a rapport between the audience and their work is the fact that they have clear sense of why they are creating. When an artist has honestly reflected on why they are creating it provides their work with an undeniable feeling of purpose. It is as if the art itself develops a sense of confidence in proudly proclaiming its message to any and all onlookers. This is what I want my students to consider in their own work. Before beginning a two week oil painting, for example, stop and reflect a bit on why you are about to do what it is you are about to do. What do you hope to accomplish with this effort? What do you want people to think? Why? Granted I don__™t always accomplish this in a 50 minute class period, but it doesn__™t stop me from continuing to put the question out there.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of exploring the notion of why one creates is the fact that there is no shortage of correct answers. There are as many reasons to create as there are people creating. Honesty and self-awareness are essential ingredients in determining the real reason why one creates because what works for one artist will not necessarily work for another.
I was reminded of this recently when we had a guest artist come speak to our students. He boldly exclaimed to the students that if they were only interested in the end result of making pictures then they were ___in it___ for the wrong reasons. This was, I thought, an unfortunate statement to make in front of a room full of budding artists, many of whom still don__™t have a clear sense of why they want to create. I worried that this cool, young artist had unknowingly began to install objective boundaries of ___right___ and ___wrong___ around the concept of why people make art. I was concerned that students would hear this comment and suddenly feel guilty for still simply enjoying the act of making pictures.
Because at the end of the day I really don__™t care whether my students are making nice pictures or great works of art. The world honestly needs both. I__™m more interested in attempting to instill in them the simple joy of creation. And I do it with the sincere hope that it is something that would continue to serve them in some capacity for the remainder of their lives. For within the act of creation we not only generate opportunities to express something about ourselves to the world, we are also afforded the chance to learn something personally about our own selves. And to my mind, that is one of the most significant reasons of why to create.