Saturday, July 3, 2010

finding a place

another subject that my name is asher lev explores is the idea of the artist's calling, and to what extent ability, tradition and culture influence that calling. now, the term "calling" can be confusing so i would like to suggest that you view as referring to one's vocation, or task, or even responsibility. of course, for one's calling to be fulfilled requires that one be actively pursuing that calling. the phrase "millions of people can draw" occurs repeatedly in the book, and this is significant in regards to the calling of the artist. it suggests that being an artist is about more than simply technical ability or skill. it's not just about rendering. it's about communicating something through images (or words or the body or the voice or an instrument) that is more than that technical ability. or the ability to copy a photograph. the fact is that millions of people can draw. that doesn't make them artists.

in any case, the artist needs to move beyond that base ability. not only do they need to develop their skills further, adding to their 'toolbox', they also need to discover the story they are meant to tell. whether that story (or content or subject) is about the world or people or "the human condition" or about art and its elements (read: abstraction) is up to the artist. that said, i like the idea voiced by jacob kahn and anna schaeffer that "art is whether or not there is a scream in you wanting to get out in a special way...or a laugh" (p. 203). there is something needs saying. how will you say it? how will you say it if you lack the tools and knowledge to do so?

the idea of finding your place requires that you know who you are as a person and as an artist. there is an inherent distrust of careerist, strategizing artists - artists whose work is intended to cash in on the latest market trends rather than pursuing their own content or subject. kahn challenges asher to choose who he is on his own terms, and not to make decisions in order to ingratiate himself with others (and, it is suggested, to become successful as an artist). who one is as an artist finds its foundation in who you are as a person. it is crucial for you to have integrity as a person, or you will have no integrity as an artist. this is an important point. there is also an indictment of the whole notion of the artist's persona as a marketing tool, the cultivation of an attitude or look in order to be accepted as an artist. if one's acceptance as an artist is dependent on those things, how can one truly know how good their art is? the true artist wants their work to be judged on the merits of their work, not their public performance. believe me, i've been there:

this sense of identity is tied to a larger sense of the value of tradition, both cultural and artistic. this can be a tremendous tension for the artist, and requires them to make choices as they pursue their work. where are you from? where are you going? it is important to know who you are, and we discover much of this in the context of our community (and communities). we are shaped by our family relationships, we are shaped by the impact of our nationality and its cultural expressions, we are shaped by the weight of that history as it filters down through the generations. as we grow and change, we make decisions about what we will or won't embrace, and these too shape us and how we make our way in the world. to think that none of this impacts the art we make is an act of denial that weakens us as artists, and thins us out as people. that cultural tradition provides us a place to work from, to live from, to move from. we ignore our [cultural] traditions at our own peril.