Paint with authenticity – be true to yourself
This post is not about how to paint, but the importance of being true to yourself and painting with authenticity.
After attending art school in Bath, and then pursuing a multitude of jobs all far removed from anything creative, I picked up a book on Georgio Morandi. It was the trigger – I felt an irresistible urge to paint again.
Suddenly I was on fire. Every single fibre of my being was engaged with art – buying materials, going to galleries, painting and drawing, devouring books, talking art, and ultimately enrolling to do a degree in Fine Art.
I was completely and utterly hooked, but shortly to have this enthusiasm tempered.
Creative visual expression versus theory
My lecturers were obsessed with conceptual art. There was such an emphasis on meaning, where all ‘important’ art came from the head, and any art done while looking at something in real life was simply a ‘study’.
We were taught that a study was not art. There had to be a reason behind your work, ‘what does it say, what does it mean, why’, were the constant questions. Theory was all important – you had to be able to articulate.
I love the quote from The Painted Word where Tom Wolfe describes how modern art has devolved from creative visual expression into an analysis of theories: “Art made its final flight, climbed higher and higher in an ever-decreasing tighter-turning spiral until… it disappeared up its own fundamental aperture… and came out the other side as Art Theory…”
This preoccupation with meaning in contemporary art saw Still Life, Portrait, Figure and Landscape studies relegated to the category of Bad Artist – especially if they were painted. Painting was dead.
Painting a Still Life
The very first thing I did after completing my honors was a still life painting – so I was a very Bad Artist. It took me ages to get my head round this. I think I was disillusioned by my idea of what art and painting should be, by my idea of what was “Important Art.”
Important Art was what was showing in the big Galleries, and in terms of painting, this was very large, abstract or semi-abstract conceptual works of art.
The problem I struggle with is probably endemic to abstract painting in general: how do you make marks, distribute colour or lines across a surface in a way that is not arbitrary? Where is the meaning here?
I have no inclination to paint this way
It is all interesting to me intellectually, and I like to look and talk about it with my contemporaries. But whilst admiring many artists for their skill, I have never felt any inclination to paint this way.
I tried to be motivated and disciplined to do this kind of art but just ended up putting myself under enormous pressure, and feeling worse about what I was doing.
It has been said that the supreme misfortune is when theory outstrips performance – I knew I would feel better if I could stop thinking about art and start painting.
The ‘stuff’ of paint
I didn’t know what to paint at that stage, but I was clear that what I wanted to do involved process, the ‘stuff’ of paint, and observation rather than thought.
There is a great quote from Picasso that says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” So I began simply by painting my everyday surroundings, and through this, a total absorption in Still Life painting began.
There is an implicit pressure for an artist to be state-of-the-art, ground-breaking
What I am painting now is authentic, it is less irrational because it is not weighed down by theoretical baggage. By not painting what others want or expect, I am able to focus on work that I am personally invested in.
There is an implicit pressure for an artist to be state-of-the-art, ground-breaking – my innovation is to go against the prevailing postmodern ideology. I think one of the most radical things you can paint in 2014 is a Still Life!
I have sought and finally found a silent clarity beyond babble about meaning. When you are not being true to yourself, you stop being creative. When you are authentic you begin to make paintings that people want to collect.
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