“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the colored canvas reveals himself.” ~Oscar Wilde~ The Picture of Dorian Gray
It may seem like an obvious thing, but many artists and painters are so wrapped up with their ideas, craftsmanship and their process that they don’t realize the impact of their work.
As Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters reminds me of the idea that we are what we eat, Buddhist Philosophy teaches that we are what we think. With that in mind, take a look at your work with a fresh set of eyes. What do you see? Each and everything that was created by you was done with a certain personal, frame of mind. Unlike other crafts such as carpentry, jewelry making, watch making, etc., visual art makes us transparent. With each painting or sculpture we create, it becomes easier for the viewer to understand our secret language. There comes a point when the artist does not need to explain anything to an invested collector or an enthusiast because they have come to know the painter intimately.
The demons that we fight, the dreams that we dream, the anger, anxieties and anguish that we feel, the pleasures we encounter, all experiences (good & bad) we’ve had, the beliefs that we hold sacred, all put us out there for the world to see and make us transparent and vulnerable. Think about Frida Kahlo, Edvard Munch, Artemisia Gentileschi, Edward Hopper, Van Gogh, and Egon Schiele.
Some painters I know have wondered why they are misunderstood or why people don’t like their art. The question we should be asking ourselves is, do I like my art? Does it represent me accurately? Is my art engaging, entertaining or educating to the viewer, or reflective of what I feel, of my state of mind or my perspective? It takes a lot of courage to put oneself out there, warts and all. Not everyone is comfortable doing it and rightfully so–it can make us appear eccentric. However, those of us who are comfortable in their own skin and are not afraid to bare their soul, they do get noticed and earn the viewer’s empathy as well as respect.
“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” ~Pablo Picasso~
People will judge you by what you create. If it is only the mastery of craftsmanship you are after then prepare to be taken at face value. I see many gifted artists spending long, hard hours perfecting a craft that ends up looking like high resolution photography. There is no question as to how difficult it is to attain that kind of perfection, however, collectors and art enthusiasts want more than just perfect craftsmanship. They want a story that they can relate to. Ask yourself, “am I creating this for an ego boost and self satisfaction, or is there something in it for the viewer? How is it contributing to society other than “wow, it looks just like a photograph”?
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man”. ~Hamlet~
So I leave you with this question: Does your painting or artwork reflect who you are?