• Matt D

The ADD Artist: Commitment Issues & Diving Deep

My Battle to Find An Idea and Stick With It Long Enough To Actually Say Something:


About 6 months ago, I decided to embark on a new adventure in art. The goal was to change course as an artist and create work that appealed to people outside my friend and family circles. I wanted my paintings to hang in a gallery. After some 30 years as an art teacher (mostly digital media at the high school level), it was time to stop exploring countless possibilities in media and subject matter, something encouraged within a teacher's workflow, and buckle down for a concentrated deep dive into my observations of the world. Retirement from life as an educator meant that creative energies needed to move away from the hundreds of students whose work I constantly analyzed and curated, and instead focus on that most difficult of subjects; Me.

I've always had a problem with the 'I, me, mine' culture that is perpetuated by modern day commercialization. The selfishness runs counter to most of what I think is means to be a contributor to a larger cause, namely society itself. But turning the spotlight away from students and shining it back on myself meant that there was no choice but to investigate the 'self'. Creativity, if it were to be truly authentic, needed to become 'by' and 'for' me. Underneath it all there is a fear that people won't like the art and therefore won't like me. According to most accounts of what it means to be an artist, my work needed to explore my responses to my perceptions to my world. Good art needs to be, selfishly or not, all about me. I'm still grappling with this realization. It shouldn't be about me. Do I not like me?

It is this discomfort with myself which has led to a lack of focus and commitment in my work. Technique and craftsmanship are skills which I have in my possession. What is lacking is a strong opinion about most things. I humbly acknowledge that 'ultimate truth' is beyond my grasp, so how am I supposed to convince viewers that my work is indeed valuable, that it says something important? Beneath my observations lies a belief that my opinion doesn't really matter. My art would not impact the world as we know it because it lacks the truth and emotional charge vital for art to be noticed and successful.


Cases in point

Below are a few of the directions that retired life and my art intuition are directing expressive energies. I am creatively wandering and hoping something sticks long enough for a deeper dive while creating work that looks good enough for others to want to go along for the ride. Jack of all trades and master of none.

•Newlin Gulch: A Photography Project of Some Kind: A natural area right behind my house that is destined for development. I've spent the last month venturing out on photo shoots attempting to record the sculpting of this landscape to better suite the needs and desires of modern humans. The prospect bothers me because I've always felt more connected to nature and her rhythms than those created by people. But I'm a hypocrite because of my participation in this destructive system of (supposed) progress.

The benefit of these photo shoots, so far, has been my increased awareness of the surrounding environment. At its core, that's what I think the photographic medium is designed to achieve. Flight patterns of the nearby airport, schedules of dirt hauling trucks, sunrises and sunsets, and weather forecasts are all in play as I plan this project.

Here's the problem: I don't know what the project is. The plan was and still is, to go experience the space and let it direct me towards a culminating creative communication for others to consume and contemplate. We'll see........

•Mixed Media: Paper Pulp & Paint: I've been encouraging my students to explore a variety of media since the early 90s. The problem here and now lies in my no longer teaching students. Now, I'm the student and teacher and often confused. I think that, after completing 25 abstract painted pieces with a direction not immediately revealing itself, I gave up on it and reverted to a comfort zone search of trying a new medium. I've become addicted to the exploration of materials and that results in a lack of depth in what I express as a visual communicator. It's attention deficit on a personally epic scale. The results are persistent feelings of inadequacy, failure, and long stretches of wasted time.

But is it really wasted time? I have to keep reminding myself that finding one's voice is a long and arduous endeavor. It's a process of elimination. Efficiency is a mode reserved for the designer, not the artist. Patience, Matt!

•Abstraction and Pure Expression: Playing in paint is fun. I love the endless possibilities of manipulating texture, blending, lines, shapes, and space that painting provides. But what do my non-objective painted compositions say about me and my view on life? I have things to say, but is it understood by the viewer? Do my paintings provide enough visual impact to pause for a longer look?

The appeal of visual art forms is its permanence. Words are here and gone in the ether of time. Art statements are here forever, at least if they're good enough to deserve a second look. And therein lies the question: How do I create a new visual language that is understood by enough people who see the message and value what it looks like and says? Non-objective painting is, after all, more difficult than most people think. Unlike realism, there is no clear target by which to measure the level of success. Modern abstraction lives by its own set of rules, and for a rules-follower like me, this is a problem.

On top of creating comprehendible work, the artist must consider the audience for which they are painting. For me, that is the big leap of faith into the unknown. I'm shifting the target of my art from immediate friends and family, to unknown entities more experienced and expert in the field of art. Striving for the approval of a more educated crowd is on its face a scary goal. Risks abound in this path. First, there is gaining the approval of a more sophisticated target audience. Artists of all types are vying for the approval of collectors, critics, galleries, and museums. It's a competitive game. Another risk involves time, and the wasting of it. The art market is anything but clearly defined. It is entirely possible, even likely, that the 30 or so paintings completed in the last 6 months lead to.....nothing worthy of acceptance much less profitability. For now, it's all about the process of exploration. Game on!

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