Art is Art
I’m not usually into explaining my art. I think the beauty of art is that there isn’t always an easy explanation.
Some of my favorite songs, for example, remind me of specific memories in my life or even make me think of certain colors. I know the artist who wrote those songs couldn’t have possibly known exactly how I would feel or what I would think about when listening to their music.
In the same way, why would I try to give you a specific meaning for each of my paintings and rob you of the chance to feel something on your own?
I don’t even think it’s possible for the artist themselves to know 100% what a work means, because I believe inspiration comes from a place beyond us.
All that being said, this particular work was about communicating some very specific messages. I think everyone took away SOME kind of message, judging by the passionate comments left on the original post.
When people saw me writing ‘ART IS ART’ over the top of one of my most popular landscapes, the reactions ranged from curiosity, to support, to confusion, to betrayal and outrage.
To be honest, I welcome all those reactions; the whole point was to spark emotion. I promise this was not a cheap stunt for likes (in fact a lot of people unfollowed me and that’s okay!), but rather a deliberate artistic statement designed to help people think a little differently about art.
So while I don’t usually like to talk about the meaning behind my works, I think in this specific case, that discussion could be helpful to artists and art enjoyers out there, so let’s talk about it! What does “ART IS ART” mean?
ART IS FREEDOM
To me, art is about freedom more than anything else. When you were a child, you probably had your first experience with art by rolling shapes out of clay, coloring with crayons, or just scribbling with markers.
You threw yourself into it with excitement and passion and didn’t stop to worry how good it was, or what other people might have to say about it, or whether it qualified as “Art”. You just celebrated the act of creation.
The crazy part is that most of my friends and family wouldn’t call themselves artists now, but almost everyone I know loved making art as a kid. I’ve thought about this fact a lot over the years and it led me to a realization: we are all artists, but we just let fear get in the way.
Freedom cannot exist in the presence of too much fear. You were freest before you learned that there was a possibility that people might judge you, and that judgment made you afraid. In your fear, some of you then forgot how to be free and childlike when you create.
I’m not just making that up. I get DMs from people every single week saying things like, “I’m not as good as you but…” or, “I don’t think I’m good enough…” or, “I’m afraid to share…”, or “I stopped painting because I didn’t have any good ideas…” and those messages break my heart.
Anyone can get good at painting with enough practice, but you have to get out of your own way first! So many people are destroying their own art journey before it even begins just because they are filled with self-doubt, and THAT is why I get upset when I read those messages. I know the joy that art could bring them if they’d just stick with it.
So why don’t they stick with it? I think those example comments all have one thing in common: Deep down, people are afraid that their art will not measure up to someone else’s standard of what art is supposed to be. This stops some people dead in their tracks and they give up art altogether.
This fear can also take another form that I see frequently. Some people keep creating, but in their fear of judgment, they stick to a narrow path.
For example, if I wanted to have a nice, easy career and make more money, I would paint nothing but landscapes. Acrylic landscape paintings are what put me on the map, and continue to get me the most ‘likes’. While I enjoy painting them, anything gets boring after enough repetition.
I started feeling like my landscape paintings were just becoming an automatic routine. I could do an acrylic seascape or sunset or galaxy in my sleep and there was no more challenge. In short, I’d become a landscape factory.
The popularity of those paintings grew, but I was creating them from an empty place. That’s because I’d forgotten for a second that art also is about the freedom to experiment.
Let’s go back to the importance of a childlike mind to making art. I remember being a kid in Russia and making things out of old car parts and Play-Doh. I was always trying to find new ways to do things. When I was satisfied that I could mold Play-Doh, I then moved on to using the heat pipes in our house to heat it up and give it a softer texture and add a new dimension (don’t try this at home 😅).
The point is, I think the drive to experiment comes naturally to kids and is at the heart of creation. When you stop experimenting, you stop growing creatively.
All my favorite artists were experimenters and never stopped challenging themselves. I think that is where the best art comes from. The catch to experimentation, however, is that people may judge you.
When I first started doing abstract work instead of landscapes, I got a lot of upset comments and even plenty of unfollows.
It would have been easy to retreat back to what was popular and give the people what they wanted. But I deeply believe that as artists, our highest calling is not popularity or money, but staying true to what lights our creative passion.
By ignoring my passion and doing what’s safe and commercial, not only would I be creatively unfulfilled, but I would be missing a chance to be an example to my audience. That example is that it’s important to take creative chances.
Even though I’m just a regular guy who loves to paint, I know that some of you look to me for teaching and inspiration, and I take that responsibility seriously. Therefore I would feel like a fake if I was preaching creative freedom and belief in yourself, but taking the easy way out for money and likes.
The irony is that even though I got lots of criticism at first, in the long run my abstract works actually became very popular. Some people still don’t love them, and that’s okay! We all have different tastes.
Even if nobody had liked my abstract work, however, I would’ve kept making it as long as it stoked my creative fire.
To bring it all back home, what I’m saying is that art should be just as free as it was in your childhood. That means freedom from the fear of judgment, freedom to experiment, and freedom most of all to express absolutely whatever you’re feeling.
I feel the exact same passion to create as I did ten years ago when I had barely any of the skills I have right now. That’s because it’s not about the skills; it’s about basking in the joy that true creative freedom gives you.
It’s about giving yourself permission to make art playful and enjoyable, not rigorous and rules-based like an academic exam.
That’s just one thing I meant by “ART IS ART”: art can be as complex as a detailed acrylic landscape painting that takes hours, or as simple as scrawling a manifesto in ten seconds with a marker to make a point.
Both of those are acts of expression and both are art; and skill has nothing to do with them qualifying as art. I wish every beginning artist out there could understand the importance of this and that their art is indeed Art, regardless of how “good” they think it is.
You can be kind to yourself without judgment and just celebrate the absolute joy of creation!
I really, truly feel in my heart that writing over my painting was an addition to the meaning and feeling of the work, not a subtraction.
The original painting had to be complex for the point to resonate. If it were just a quick doodle that I wrote over, nobody would care or stop to think about it.
In case you can’t tell by how much I’ve written here, I’m passionate about my message of self-belief and artistic freedom and I have so much more to say about it, including responding to some of my favorite comments about it (both positive and critical!).
This has been part one of two, so come back next week to read the rest!
Until next time, stay childlike and playful in your creation, and don’t let fear get in the way of your artistic freedom!