I am asked about how to be a better artist probably more than any other subject, and beyond practicing the mechanics of drawing, it's all in the mind, so here's what I've been thinking.
or what I love is better than what you love
|copyright DC Comics|
I'm betting that like me, quite a few artists out there picked up a pencil when they were growing up because they wanted to create a world to escape to. And the art that helped to inspire us to do so- whether it was cartoons, comics, grandma's storybooks, or dad's Heavy Metal magazine you weren't supposed to look at- became sacred. I don't want the places I escape to trampled by trespassers' criticism. My whole existence has been built up on the shoulders of other people's work, and if that work were ever diminished, what would that say about me? The need to protect or even glorify something at the expense of all other things just speaks to our fragility and constant quest for validation as people and artists. We pick things apart, present evidence of its inferiority/superiority (I've even seen such evidence described as "irrefutable proof"), argue endlessly on websites and occasionally in-person, write long treatises (like this one), all in an attempt to prove, once and for all, the unprovable. None of it matters, and none of this art zealotry does an ounce of good in improving our craft or making us better artists. It actually inhibits our growth.
BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS
or those who can't, sometimes pretend to teach
Some of the art prophets out there "spreading the gospel" cite their own desire to improve other artists, as if they are doing some great service in telling you the stuff you like sucks. Sadly, some of the greatest art snobbery comes from institutions such as museums, associations, and schools, where the collections and curriculum seem designed to limit students' exposure to a narrow range of acceptable styles and techniques, all under the guise of expanding horizons. Disparaging another artist's influences doesn't elevate anyone's art, and a genuinely experienced and skilled artist or educator would know that.
|Just another lazy, inferior manga artist|
THAT GUY WITH THE MEGAPHONE MUST KNOW WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT
|"Well, I'm convinced. Kill the monster!"|
"THAT'S A 6."
"NO IT'S NOT, IT'S AN UPSIDE DOWN 9!"
When reading the art-assault on the blog I visited, I found I didn't even entirely disagree with some of the author's observations, but I completely objected to the conclusion the author came to based on those observations. We were looking at the exact same evidence but coming to completely different verdicts. Sometimes, one person loves a style for the very same reason that another loathes it. Very often, there is a fundamental difference in how the art is understood by the two parties: I look at what is there and admire the lack of extraneous information, you look at what isn't there and bemoan the missing elements. Technically, we're both right.
as in the constructive kind
|"Sure, but how 'bout some Black Sabbath, loser?"|
THE ONLY HEAD-TO-HEAD THAT MATTERS: YOU VS. YOU
My goal as an artist is to put to paper as much of what I see in my head and feel in my heart as my technique will allow, which annoyingly, usually isn't very much. What I see in my mind's eye seems to require a lot of work, and the creative waters don't always flow easily from my mind to the point of my pencil. That's why I am constantly striving to improve my technique, but I need a really strong current of ideas to get my hand moving across the paper. If I listened to the critics, or more accurately, the referees, I'd be building dams to stop the flow of some kinds of art, but the only way the river deepens is to let the little tributaries of influence flow into it freely.
Here's a true story. I grew up in small town Pennsylvania, thinking I knew something about the world even though I'd only seen it on TV. I was a classic hick-town ignoramus, openly mocking the weirdos I'd heard about eating some kind of bizarre health crap called tofu. I had no idea what it was, and never imagined I would ever have to find out, as only foo foo people from Los Angeles would eat it. It never occurred to me that literally hundreds of millions of people around the globe ate it daily. I had completely avoided the substance until my mid-twenties, when I met a young woman from Japan. On our very first date, she decided it would be nice to cook us lunch. I'm sure I said I would eat anything, as she was a very pretty girl and I was full of shit. She decided on a Chinese dish called "mapo-doufu". It wasn't until she sat the heaping pile of steaming tofu in front of me that I figured out what was going on. I broke into a sweat. "huh…uh..th-that looks…delicious…". The dish was 90% tofu. How the hell could I eat around it? What the hell was it? As she sat across from me smiling, I knew there was only one way to handle it- down the hatch!
I never stopped eating it. I didn't really understand it at the time, but that first shaky bite of tofu was the first step into a whole new world of food and culture. I eat and enjoy tofu in one form or another almost daily with that same pretty girl, now my wife of nearly 13 years. Oh, and we've been living in Los Angeles for the last 6 of those years.
If I continue with more posts in this series, I'll get into some of the more common art showdowns I've come across, my own basic measure of "good" art, constructive criticism and thinking critically about one's art, why keeping an open mind doesn't mean having to like everything, learning from something even when you don't like it, and finally art technique, improving your skills, and finding your voice.
Please let me know in the comments if you like this sort of thing and actually want to read more of it. If not, I'll shut up and stick to posting a picture every now and again.
Thanks for reading, and whatever else you celebrate this holiday season, celebrate the art you love!