‘The Best of Times…to Make Art’ by Bob Doucette
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
I despair that we live in such divisive times. People on the internet will take you to task for everything from your political beliefs to your sexual orientation. I’ve never felt so truly hated or loved just for being human. Whether or not your art is good enough or original enough, it is fair game for anyone to comment on in social media. There is so much polarity in the world today. I’m not going to go into politics on this platform because this is about art but as a part of the human culture we have a responsibility to balance that ugliness with beauty.
I know some artists want to teach, or preach, or even shock their audiences, but that simply won’t work if at some basic level there isn’t something pretty, something beguiling the eye and dazzling our senses. Think of the violence of the paintings of Michael Hussar, would you spend any time with his disturbing subject matter if it wasn’t for his sumptuous palette and lush brush strokes. He is a master craftsmen. Even the scary monsters of Chet Zar and Chris Mars go a very long way to please us rather than scare us. These artists use their skills to seduce us. Above all else, the visual arts are a tactile, sensual art form. Artists have the ability to help elevate joy or alleviate pain or just make us laugh and forget our troubles for a few minutes.
Artists are such complicated, sensitive folks. We all have our deep issues and emotional baggage, but at our core, we simply want to make beautiful things and to share them with the world and be loved. It has a healing effect for the artists and the viewer. I discovered art as a child as a place of solace. I was an awkward child, completely uncoordinated and uninterested in sports. I was often bullied and I felt unloved but ART felt like home to me.
“Art is a spiritual immaterial respite from the hardships of life.” – Fernando Botero
As a boy I sat for hours watching my dad draw. He taught me my love for drawing and for all things artistic. He used to draw comic characters like Snoopy on my lunch bags in the morning before school, Mickey Mouse was painted on my pillow case with liquid embroidery and he always made sure the house was filled with plenty of art supplies. In the summer he brought home large pieces of chalk, used for marking boxcars at the railroad where he worked, so we could draw on the pavement. Our front yard was gravel so we usually sat on the edge of the road to draw but mainly we liked to watch dad perform his magic. He made a few brisk swipes of his chalk on the hardtop and miraculously it would turn into a horse, a dog or a beautiful woman.
As my siblings and I huddled around, we barraged him with questions: “What is it going to be?”, “Where are the hands?”, or “Does she have feet?” He would invariably get annoyed and respond, “I’m not finished yet!” Criticism is one of the hardest things for an artist to take but one of the easiest things for others to give.
“I’m working now, leave me alone!” and “Its not finished yet!” are just two of the greatest defenses for the work-in-progress. But is art ever finished? Not until I say so. That’s right, it is the artist’s prerogative to say when he or she has finished any piece of work. I know artists who will continually repaint a piece until it is sold or destroyed. I have been known to rework paintings that I don’t like or even paint over them. Historians will have a field day with infrared lights over my pieces when I’m gone.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Artists must insulate themselves from criticism and surround themselves with positive, like-minded individuals. When a piece is at the tender first stages of development, you do not want to put yourself in harms way. Treat it with care. An idea is an ephemeral thing and needs to be nurtured and encouraged to grow. Many good ideas have been killed by a critic’s ill-timed advice. Obviously this can’t be controlled in a ‘job’ situation, but at home it is the artists domain.
People always want to be part of a good idea. You always find when a movie is a big hit and makes lots of money there is always a sequel with twice as many producers and all of them giving criticism along the way that ends up destroying the film. The critics often want to be part of something, because making stuff is cool and if they can’t add to the project creatively at least they can put it down.
It is a valued lesson I learned from others, to wait until you are ready for a real critique before you plunder ahead and show your work. In this way too, we should not rush to share every little doodle on social media, because you are opening yourself up for attack. You may be just looking for a quick affirmative to goad you on and end up with nothing but hurt feelings and a ruptured dream. Al Hirschfield, the brilliant caricaturist, only listened to his wife when it came to criticisms. She often gave him insightful advice. It takes a strong partner to understand the life of an artist. We are often too busy to go out and we have ditched many parties with last minute cancellations. I have trained my husband when I am looking for a simple affirmative and when I’m looking for a real critique, and he has learned handsomely to respect those rules, after all he is an artist too and I give him the same respect.
Work-in-progress goes beyond just an individual piece; it is a state of being for all real artists. People often wish to find the one style that will make him or her famous, but beware, I have heard horror stories from illustrators who developed strong styles at a young age and then felt stuck in that style because that is all the art directors wanted. It is like painting the same thing over and over for eternity, just imagine how boring that is for the artist and the collectors. The learning and growing process should never stop for an artist. A real artist will make discoveries until the day he dies. Art is a form of communication and we should never stop trying to perfect our eloquence.
“What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.” – David Hockney
ART is needed now more than ever to heal our culture, so we need to do our best to support and promote our art and others. Only art has the transformative power to help us transcend our mere mortal status and take us to the heavens. Don’t forget we’re in this together. When it comes to criticism; be a good friend to other artists, they need the support and it costs nothing to click a few likes once an a while.