How about a little rant?

I’ve been an artist for basically my entire life. Over the years I’ve studied and learned different mediums, techniques, etc. I’ve read about artists, genres, and movements. I’ve been to countless museums and galleries. The arts, visual and otherwise, have always been a huge part of my life. I’ve absorbed so much of what I’ve seen, and it would be crazy to deny that I’ve been influenced by a lot of it.

In school I was forced to try mediums I didn’t like and to learn about artists I didn’t find interesting, all with the intended purpose of making me a better and more well-rounded artist. My learning didn’t stop when I finished school. In the years since then I’ve learned about countless artists and techniques that I never knew existed. Not to mention many new products and technologies that weren’t around even a decade ago.

When you add all of this up, it sounds like diversity would be an accepted part of being an artist. There’s so much out there, so of course you’re going to dabble in as much as you can. But for some reason, that’s the exact opposite. The art world wants you to find one distinct style and stick with it, and never vary your work more than one or two degrees to the left or the right. This has always infuriated me, and probably always will.

An acquaintance from the gas station where I used to work is an art consultant. When I showed her my website, she commented that my work was too all-over-the-place and that I should eliminate a few galleries and styles from my page. Last week I went to a gallery downtown and spoke briefly with the owner. He told me that the epic neoclassical paintings of gods and warriors in the main gallery were done by the same artist who painted the pretty bowls of fruit in the auxiliary gallery. The artist uses a pseudonym for the fruit paintings, because “if he used his real name, neither of them would sell.” A quick flip through any contemporary art magazine or a quick browsing of Deviantart will reveal that most artists these days just keep reworking the same images and styles over and over again until every piece by them starts to look almost identical. Having your entire body of work blur into one singular style is the name of the game.

But why is this so? If I’m influenced by and appreciate different styles and mediums, why am I wrong for wanting to work in those styles and mediums? If I have different ideas and emotions, why should I be expected to express them all in the same format? And when did it become this way? Contemporary voices in the art world seem to forget that there is an overlap between Picasso’s cubist works and collages and his “blue” period. Richter painted photorealistic candles and skulls at the same time he was throwing paint on canvases and painting squares of color. Artists have always experimented and developed, and their progressions weren’t always linear. But for some reason, these days we’ve decided you have to fit into a little box.

That’s really what it’s all about – marketing. If you stay within one style, you’re easier to market. If people can more easily understand and digest your work, there’s a better chance they’ll be drawn to it. We’re afraid of what we don’t understand. But if we can categorize something, we have power over it. This is the antithesis to what art is really about. Art is freedom. Art is expression. Art is power. It has power over us, not the other way around. As for me, I’ll continue to let art exert its power over me. I’ll continue to follow my muse wherever it may lead. I feel that when we’ve collectively recovered from this contemporary era of art where marketing is more important than talent, expression, and beauty, it will be whether or not you stayed true to yourself and to art itself that separates the great from the mediocre.