This was an editorial that I wrote for publication on ArtsHub Australia as part of my art curatorship internship. It outlines some of the issues I encountered whilst attempting to develop a unique and consistent body of work. I hope that it is of benefit to others who are also confused about their direction and personal mode of expression as an artist.
What Makes a Good Painting... Great?
As an artist and student of both art history and curatorship I have often been preoccupied with what makes a good painting… great. Is it a matter of style, technical competency, concept or an emotive quality? A combination perhaps… and how do we as artists go about developing this in our own work? Of late, however, with successive contact with commercial galleries and the enterprise of exhibiting and selling art, I have become intrigued not by what constitutes great art but rather what constitutes a great artist.
For the vast majority of artists it is getting harder and harder to make a living out of art and be critically successful. The most frequently published business advice for artists is to firstly, understand what people want so that you can provide it and to secondly, find a gap in the market so that you can fill it. In most business cases this is sound advice but the art market is more sophisticated, subtle and expectant. To view art as pure commodity is limiting, nothing of critical substance, let alone great can develop from this kind of approach, but more importantly it is unsupported by the market. To suggest that highly individualised work is doomed to fail because it may not have mass appeal is completely false. Damien Hirst is a case in point. Moreover, it is interesting that in the twenty first century movements are less relevant as artists do not band together in support but actively engage in self promotion. In today’s art market it is all about branding the individual.
The most critical step in developing yourself as an artist is to set yourself apart from the field both visually and conceptually. The ability to succinctly clarify what type of artist you are and what you want to achieve with your work is vital. This is often easier said than done, particularly if you’ve just graduated from art school where you’re expected to diversify your knowledge and style. Students often receive so much input into their artistic development that they become paralysed and lose track of their true motivation for creative work. My own experience saw me installing large scale, wall mounted, geometric constructs completely at odds with my desire to be a figurative painter. Whilst I graduated with the desired results I was miserable with my work.
By the time I attempted to reclaim my artistic identity, I found myself completely at a loss as to who I was as an artist and what type of work I wanted to produce. Studying contemporary and historical art was a key factor for me, not only in identifying attributes of artists and styles that I appreciated technically and responded to emotively but also ideas that stimulated me intellectually. This enabled me to collate a list of my strengths as an artist, the key attributes that I wanted my work to embody and also the way in which I wanted my audience to respond which assisted with the more difficult task of identifying concepts or messages that I wanted to convey. Ironically, the geometric patterning that I so loathed in art school now forms an integral part of my work; a reminder that looking back can assist in developing your future work and that even bad experiences can be credited. Whilst developing your personal style can be a difficult and lengthy journey, the most important point to remember is that you must be brutally honest with yourself and your audience.