What do you think it takes to be an artist? More precisely. do you think of an artist as someone who has mastered a set of artistic techniques and skills?
At one time I would have answered ‘yes’ to that second question and, since I was very aware that there was a whole bunch of skills that I hadn’t learnt, I didn’t count myself as an artist. To me a true artist was someone who knew all the ‘how-to’s, the techniques , the right and the wrong ways of doing things. I didn’t have a formal art education so I was very aware that, in my ignorance of techniques, I just fumbled my way along, hoping for the best. If one of my paintings seemed to have succeeded, it was probably just a ‘happy accident’.
More recently I’ve come to think of specific techniques and artistic skills in a very different, less central light. I now see the acquisition of technical skills as sometimes helpful, sometimes desirable, but certainly not always essential to creating worthwhile art.
I think the internet has had a lot to do with my change of mind. You don’t have to look far to see wonderful work by artists who have never had a formal art lesson in their lives. On the other hand, possessing the skills and technical knowledge are no guarantee of 'success', however you may define it. There’s a whole lot more to painting than following the rules.
In fact, I question whether ‘rules’ can be applied to art at all. Is there actually a right and wrong way to create something – I doubt it! If your art ‘connects’ with others, then it has succeeded, even if it’s just one single person who makes the connection.
But nevertheless I do think that possessing the skills and knowing the techniques can be helpful and sometimes desirable. That’s because I look at them as useful tools that sometimes enable us to communicate, through our art, what’s in our hearts and minds in a more effective way.
And the internet again plays a part. There have always been plenty of art books around to tell us how to do this, that and the other in our paintings. ‘How to paint children’, ‘How to paint in watercolours’ and so on. But the internet has taken this one step further with an abundances of video demonstrations, especially on YouTube! Some of these may provide us with an answer to something ‘technical’ that was holding us back. Others may give us the impetus to try a new medium. All of these things help us to expand and develop as artists.
But for me they are like the stabilisers on a child’s bicycle; essential in the beginning while we’re ‘getting the knack’ but not something we should come to depend on or follow slavishly. Their role is to help us to spread our wings and fly, not to keep us earthbound, however much we may want to cling to that ‘safety’!
I haven’t yet reached the stage of dripping household paint onto a canvas and then riding a bicycle over it, as it is claimed that Jackson Pollock* did - but who knows, I’m keeping an open mind!
How about you? Do your 'skills and techniques' - or lack of! - play a positive or negative role in creating your artwork?
*Apparently that's a myth.