Deconstructing the Myth of the Artist

Our culture has this Romantic idea of the artist as a solitary creative genius.  As someone who is suddenly struck with an idea, disappears into her studio, and then miraculously emerges days later with a masterpiece.  As the writer on staff with the most experience in creating art, I thought it appropriate to use my first blog post as an opportunity to deconstruct the Romantic myth of the artist, and shed light on the reality of the artistic process.

The notion is that all artists are incredibly creative and that they must possess inherent skills that make them Talented.  This Talent with a capital T separates them from non-artists, who cannot possibly hope to make art because they are bad at it since they do not have this mysterious Talent.  Real Artists, with a capital A, have an endless flow of creative juice and the Talent to make their visions a dazzling reality.

Do I think this view is correct?  No.  Do I think this is a realistic or healthy view of what an artist should be?  No.  However, I am not going to dispute the idea that some people are more artistically inclined than others.  It is clear that the da Vincis and Michelangelos of the world do exist.  But they did not get to be the artists they were without a considerable amount of work.

Speaking from my own experience, there is a lot of labor that goes into making art.  There is actually a lot of trial and error that shares similarities to the scientific method.  Artists, like scientists, have a question or theme they want to answer with their work.  Next, they both come up with a way to explore their question, and then execute their plan, making adjustments along the way as necessary.  At the end of their processes, scientists and artists both assess the success or failure of their experiments, and then either go back to the drawing board to keep exploring their question or move on.

While not the perfect analogy, I do believe the parallels between the scientific and artistic processes emphasize the intellectual effort and investigatory nature of creating art.  Far more often than not, artists are not suddenly struck with an idea for a fully resolved artwork that then only becomes a matter of completing.  Artists begin down an avenue of artistic exploration because they find something about it puzzling, intriguing, unresolved, or otherwise worth exploring and expanding upon their previous knowledge of the subject.

Indeed, in my own practice I have found the works that I completely mapped out before even starting to be a bit un-noteworthy, even if they were well-executed in the technical aspects of painting and representation.  There was something lacking to keep viewers engaged in the piece.  This past year with my Studio Art thesis, I found that the paintings that I treated as experiments, took risks with, and did not have a set plan I rigidly followed to be much more intriguing in the end.  The difference was that rather than being just a technical exercise, the process of painting was a mental and intellectual challenge.

Thinking of the creative process as more than a just a practice of artistic Talent, not only frees artist from the stereotype of the lone genius, but also invites others to create art themselves.  It gives artists the freedom to find their own process, subjects, and methods without the burden of living up to an unrealistic ideal.  When artists themselves do not have to fulfill the myth the creative genius, the artistic process becomes a means of investigation.  The artistic process can then be available for anyone to employ as another means of gaining knowledge and understanding about the world and oneself.  So artists and non-artists alike, feel free to experiment, explore, and grow beyond your comfort zone in your creative thinking and abilities!

My artist’s laboratory, with works in progress.

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