What Makes an Artist?

Last week, as I reluctantly drove to my artist’s reception at Oak Hills church, I heard the news about one of the highest selling artworks at auction–a painting that sold for $110 MILLION DOLLARS. Unbelievably, the artist was only 21 years old when he painted it, and he died when he was 27 from a heroin overdose. As the newscaster described it, I was pretty sure that I would NOT like this piece of art. Primary colors, and a skull. Yuck. How does an artist become so famous? Is it just on the whim of another person, who likes the painting? Did the artist promote the daylights out of himself? Was he really talented? How does it happen?

At the reception, I enjoyed talking to my friend Teresa. I discussed how much I DON’T enjoy promoting myself. I did not want to “bother” anyone by asking them to come to the reception. Teresa said she had read a book that said most artists have to spend 50% of their time on promotion! (By the way, in the end, I very much enjoyed the artist’s reception. Not a lot of people came, but it was so fun to interact with people and hear what their reactions were to my quilts.)

When I got home I looked up the artist and the painting. Sure enough, I don’t like it. However, I do like the layers that are in it, and the complexity of it. And it was very interesting to read about the artist’s history–he was encouraged artistically from a very young age. He was always heavily involved in “the art scene.” It seems like his talent was noticed and appreciated from a very young age.

In general, I am more attracted to textile art. But even there, I don’t like all textile art. Here is a quilt that won $100,000 in Australia. I don’t like it either.

I know that I am attracted to certain colors and color combinations that I consider pretty. I appreciate handwork. I like circles and spirals. I like geometric compositions. There are lots of things I do like 🙂

I want to make it clear that just because I don’t like something, I am not denying its artistry. I am just musing over WHAT MAKES AN ARTIST? Its not always classical training, although that seems to help. I don’t think its always promotion, although for sure that helps. One thing that seems consistent for “successful” artists is that they are passionate about what they do, and they spend a great deal of their time working on their art.

In the end, I don’t think it will work to try to make art that you think is “artistic.” You have to make work that you yourself love, and that makes you happy. Why would you try to do otherwise?

P.S. Here are a few of the textile artists whose work I love:

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