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Friday, July 6, 2012

Serve Your Art

There's an episode of The Cosby Show in which one of the daughters, I think Vanessa, has brought home a guy to dinner and sprung their plans for marriage on the family at dinner. Cos gives this brilliant analogy of a cook preparing an amazing dinner and plating it on the underside of a garbage can lid. For some reason, that analogy has stuck with me.

Also rattling around my head is the idea that one's art is distinct from one's self. The artist is not his art, the artist DOES his art, creating artifacts. In the best moments of painting, I feel like my art is flowing through me as a vessel. I just watch. You know, that zen-like-type moment when you're in harmony with the universe. I'm just the storyteller.

Both of these inform the phrase "serve your art". Different definitions of "serve". Both vital, to me, for the artist to keep in mind.

1) Presentation of one's art is pretty dang important to the success of the communication between artifact and audience. In and of themselves, a frame or a promotional flyer or a CD label or a website aren't important for their own sakes. They serve to serve. The concierge, the ambience, the tablecloth, the plate, the garnish all create the context and focus attention on the actual value in a restaurant, the food. When those are somehow out of sync, the moment is broken and what might be a masterful meal gets fed to the dogs behind the joint.

While this is probably obvious to state, it's difficult to do. Well, I should say it's been difficult for me to do, anyway. It goes beyond the concerted marketing effort. It requires a psychological understanding of one's art and the way its artifacts connect with others. I've been pretty good at understanding my relationship with my art, so there's that. But allowing the artifacts of that art to reach out into the world is hard. I probably get in its way and don't even really know it. Letting the artifact speak for itself is the challenge while at the same time providing that context for the world to consume it.

This isn't to say the presentation should disappear, but, as an errant brush stroke can break the illusion of the portrait, that context, that packaging can help or hinder the delivery of your art's message. Serve your art. Serve it well.

2) The best artists allow their art to happen, I think. So as the art is presented, it is also performed. Here it is the artist who becomes part of the context for the act of the art. I don't mean the artist serves their art as a master, but if the artist wants the artifacts of their art to be serveable, presentable, the act of the art itself must be served. By this I mean to point out the importance of understanding your relationship with your art, how the art acts through you. And how to best facilitate that process.

This might be less obvious to state, as well as difficult to do. Art is often taught as a process to be controlled, not communicated. Students are encouraged to bring out what they have to say, not to let out what they see. For a long time, I've struggled with my feeling that I'm a glorified copier because when I was little I WAS taught how to allow myself to see and communicate that, but later I ran into the more common thinking that an artist must HAVE a vision, something inside. Artists end up getting in the way of the art as well as the artifacts, in this sense.

Fortunate is the artist whose art has happened upon them, a vision from the universe that is expressed through the artist, if allowed. I was lucky that my art found me adequately taught to use tools and at a point in life without imposed boundaries. Rediscovering it years later as a so-called niche allows me to retain its initial form and idea with a well-defined concept for me to serve. Serve your art. Serve it well.

Hopefully I've served this play on words well, providing some glimmer of an internal idea you might have been trying to bring out and understand for yourself. I know I'm still trying to understand it, myself.

If you have any response, please don't hesitate to leave it here publicly or to privately tell me at



creating art on the artifacts of creativity

1 comment:

Lisa Call said...

Point #1 - yes! This is definitely important. And on every level from how we package it when we deliver it to collectors, to how it is served up on the internet, everywhere. I view this as one of my big challenges as it is a lot harder than it sounds to serve the art well.

Point #2 - I'm not sure I completely understand what you are saying but I don't think I'm on the same wave length. My art is very close tied to my experiences and my belief that these experiences are universal. That we all have a innate desire to connect yet we put up all sorts of fences and barriers to keep people at a distant. So my is very personal. But I do agree that it shouldn't be "controlled" - but instead it just happens. I don't go to my studio to tell a story - I instead make what I want to make and the story unfolds on it's own and I discover it along the way.

thanks for the thoughtful post Daniel.