Even though this is an article about being an artist, and about some of the paradoxes surrounding being (or not being) a “serious” artist, I’m going to have to start by talking about myself for quite a while. If you aren’t interested in this, then feel free to skip to the later parts of the article.
As regular readers of this site will probably know, I’ve been making a short series of 1980s movie poster/ VHS cover-style paintings that will probably be posted here sometime in early September.
After I finished this series with a painting of some robot pirates attacking a spaceship, I had a moment of artistic self-doubt. My thoughts went something along the lines of “My latest painting is silly! It’s childish! Dammit, I’m an artist! I need to make Serious Art!!!”
I’d originally planned to paint a still life or a landscape but, in the end, I ended up making a minimalist painting… of a painting. Seriously. Despite the fact that this was probably a bit pretentious, it helped me to feel more like a “serious” artist again.
This seems to be a bit of a cyclical process for me. I’ll make slightly “serious” art for a while, until I feel like it’s dreary or uninspiring, then I’ll move on to making something a bit cooler for a while until I start to worry that it’s too “silly”. Then I go back to making slightly more “serious” art again….
The thing is that I’ve never really had this issue with comics or fiction. Yes, I sometimes lament the days when I used to tell “serious” stories in those mediums but, these days, I pretty much just make comics and (very rarely) write stories related to the comedy genre and I’ve kind of accepted this.
However, art seems to be about the one medium which I can still make “serious” things in. Even though a piece of art can certainly tell a story, it isn’t primarily a storytelling medium in the way that comics and fiction are.
This is probably why I still feel the need to be a “serious” artist, because it’s easier to do. I don’t have to carefully construct realistic characters or come up with a detailed and depressing storyline – I can just make a single dramatic image.
It also helps that many of the more good-looking “serious” types of art are often the easiest types of art to make if you have experience.
Once you’ve had a bit of practice, making a vaguely “realistic” still life painting is one of the easiest things in the world. You’re literally just copying real life. Yes, this takes practice and it’s a skill that has to be learnt. But, once you’ve got this skill, you can make astonishingly realistic paintings fairly easily.
Likewise, landscapes are surprisingly easy to make too. If you’re painting or drawing from your imagination, then landscapes are still easy for the simple reason that you don’t have to paint or draw people (and, yes, people can be somewhat challenging to draw or paint well).
If you’ve got a photo that you have permission to use (and you know how to copy from sight), then you can just copy it. It can take a bit of time, but it requires very little imagination and you’ll end up with a fairly realistic-looking piece of art afterwards.
Likewise, making studies of famous historic paintings can be a great way to produce “serious” art relatively quickly and easily. You’ll probably have to simplify things a bit (especially if you’re working in a different medium to the one the original painter used), but it’s basically just copying. And it looks great. It looks “serious”.
Nude paintings and traditional portraits (from life) are about the only types of “serious” art that I’ve found are genuinely difficult to do well.
Ironically, making “silly” art can often be a lot more challenging than making “serious” art.
After all, you’ve got to actually think of an imaginatively whimsical idea for each painting. You have to tell stories and/or jokes with images alone. You also often have to draw things that don’t actually exist in real life. You’ll also often have to think even more carefully about things like composition and colour choices.
And, yet, “serious” art (eg: landscapes, still life paintings, studies of old paintings etc…) is the kind of art that you can show off proudly when you call yourself an “artist”.
So, to the well-practiced artist – “serious” art is also often one of the laziest types of art you can make. What an amusing paradox.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂