Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fun Dog

One night a student of mine was given a painting of a dog that she was expected to use as a style basis for a painting of another dog. The original painting was at best a colorful, lively, child-like rendition and at worse an immature, uneducated gesture. Several people liked it. Several people made no comment. I thought it colorful, but definitely not worth emulating. It said dog. It said fun. It said fun dog, but it did nothing else.

A neighbor of mine said that her five-year old was taking an art fundamentals class and now calling himself an artist and so is she. Does that mean if her son took a first aid class—never mind whether five year olds can take first aid classes—and started calling himself a doctor that she too would say, yes, he is a doctor?

Is any picture painted by anyone art? Is the painting of the dog art simply because someone took a stick with color on the end and put it on cloth? Is anyone an artist because they say they are? Is any insight, training or education even needed? Virtually everyone on the planet now calls themselves artists: street performers, pop singers, beauticians. There are entire museums devoted to visionary artists, people who spend days making entire cities out of toothpicks, along with pictures made by the criminally insane.

So where does that leave those who spend their entire lives dedicated to learning, educating, and practicing the art of painting? Who, like the classical realists of today followed a different path from the Dadaists and instead think, like the Greeks, that an artist should represent the purest forms of an ideal of truth and beauty, upon which the mind can reflect and thus be elevated. Not something anyone easily comes by, something that takes an enormous amount of doing.

I think it depends on how you want to look at the act of creating. I think those of us to like to think of themselves as an Artist with a big "A" sometimes look down on those who we think are only artists with a little "a". Instead, I think we need to recognize that all adults and children who call themselves artists (big and little "a"s) have discovered, on some level, that the act of creating is something very basic and fundamental to who we are as people. That the mere fact that virtually everyone calls themselves an artist is really akin to them discovering their humanity—that this act is very human and can be found in young children and in people with disabilities. As an artist I spend my life looking at the world and seeking inspiration beyond myself. For me, by my simple act of painting nature I am not only imitating creation in a literal sense, but also imitating the Creator in a more profound sense. So when a little child discovers this joy of creating or someone sees their love of their dog in a colorful rendition, both have gotten beyond themselves and closer to enlightenment. And who are we to judge.