Monday, September 01, 2014

The Artist and the Critic

Illustration: Gaston de Latenay. Landscape.

From the larger society down to single relationships, many support the creative arts. However, many don't and the negative is often the louder and listened to more frequently than the positive. Doesn't make them right though. The constant barrage from the negative crowd that deem anyone taking a creative path as open for sneering derision for being bold enough to take that path, are not right purely because they sometimes shout the loudest and the furthest.

The negative naysayer has always been with us, possibly will be for some time to come, but they are mistaken in their belief that the creative arts are of no importance to the human condition. They are indeed vital and a necessary tool for our growth as a species. The positive projection of the creative arts is one of the lynch pins in the expansion of our consciousness across the following decades. It is therefore important that the expansion of artists across the planet is systematically encouraged. There isn't any point in seeing the arts as a fundamental building block in human development if there are no practitioners to back it up.

Which of course leads us directly to the critic, and more specifically, general and specific criticism of the creative arts. At times, it might well seem as if the world of criticism is a deep and dark force with the sole remit of destroying any form of creativity, certainly how it may seem if you've ever been on the receiving end. However, criticism in its own right is a constructive act, constructive being the key word. Constructive criticism is an art in its own right. It is the correct form that criticism is meant to take, the balancing of good and bad points about a specific piece of work or artist, criticism that tries to project the positive, making the world in turn a better and more harmonious place in which to live.

Illustration: F. L. B. Griggs. A pastoral.

Unfortunately, and particularly with the spread of the internet, a platform has been given to whole armies of self-proclaimed and often misguided critics who have, for some reason, the idea that to be a critic means that you have to be both negative and abusive. To say that something is 'crap' is a pointless act, a vacuous statement. What does it mean? How can you back up such a purposely closed and blinkered statement? It is the act of the juvenile, of the adolescent soul looking for attention.

The point of real criticism is to balance both good and bad aspects seen in a piece of creative work. To both praise the good elements and point out where weakness could be improved. It may well smart the fragile ego of the artist at times, but most artists are usually aware that improvements can always be made, otherwise, why are they on their specific journey in the first place? 

It takes a lot of guts to place something so personal and so entwined with your own character, your own view of life, your own essence, into the public arena. It really doesn't need a self-styled internet critic to savage and sneer. If they wound deeply enough they may well feel as if they have done a worthwhile job and hope to be admired and applauded by their own audience for taking down anyone who dares step out into the light. However, they can also deeply wound and unseat any fragile confidence that an artist might have, particular the younger artists who are just starting out. If there is something, we don't need and that is new potential creative artists falling along the wayside. We don't need less creative people around. We need more, many more.

Illustration: Otto Fischer. A study.

Some critics would tell you that their job is to sort out the good from the bad, to protect us from the terrible and the untalented. Since when? Many creative people in the past have gone through enormous trials and tribulations with consistent lack of support from critics and public alike, but nevertheless made a valuable and viable contribution in the end. So who can really be arrogant enough to believe that they can tell a winner from a loser? In art, there is no such thing. All people in their own right are naturally creative, and if some decide to take an artistic path then they should be supported and applauded for taking that very path. Critics should be seen as helpers along the path, not jokers with one foot out to trip an artist, whilst having an eye firmly rooted on their own audience's appreciation.

One last point I would make about at least some of the self-aggrandising critics out there as well as those closer to home, family, friends, neighbours, most have never been involved in the business in which they have decided to criticise, either through their own inadequacies or fears. It's worth bearing in mind the next time someone decides to tell you that you are wasting your time and that you have no talent. Just recognise what a sad and lonely place they must really have to inhabit in order to feel the need to put someone down in order to bolster themselves, and then just carry on on your own creative path, regardless.

Further reading links:

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Vital Connection with Nature

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panel.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the creative arts and nature are significantly linked, some would say inextricably. We are of course a part of nature, always have been and always will be. It courses through our veins on a practical level, runs through the nerves of our mind on a conscious and unconscious level, as well as running through our spirit as age-old memory, yearning and as a comfort. We are nature and nature is us. Walk through any wooded vale, cross any dusted plain, travel along any seashore and notice the calming effect that the natural environment has on all but the most desperate urbanite.

So why then would you be forgiven for thinking, when you look at the media projection of our contemporary world, which in many ways is a projection of the collective mind of modern day humanity, that our default setting, as far as our natural environment is concerned, is that which we find in our cities and towns, the urban? When we try to project what the environment is like in specific nations and regions around the planet, the experience of that plot of land, the first default setting is to see that land from the perspective of the city. It might be very interesting to see what life is like in New York, London, or Cape Town, what exhibitions can be seen, what food can be bought, what floodlit sites can be viewed, but what is it like to walk along the natural shoreline, woods, scrubland, meadows outside those cities? There is life outside the borders of the city and it can be just as complex and sophisticated as the urban, even more so, it is just a complexity that involves more than the human species.

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panel.

To be fair, for the first time in our species history, the majority of us now live in towns and cities rather than in the rural and natural environment. Therefore, our culture reflects that fact. However, the fact still remains that just under half of us still live in small communities set into the natural environment. The fact also remains that all of our major cities still sit, no matter how much to their chagrin, in the midst of the natural environment and are governed by the natural ebb and flow of that world, vitally dependent upon and moved by that environment.

The city has been around for a relatively small amount of human history, but it has begun to take precedence over the many other community lifestyles we have invented over the generations, particularly within the last few lifetimes. The danger now lies in the increasing insularity our cities have taken upon themselves to promote. It often seems to those who live outside the boundaries of intensive urbanity, that all of the meaningful connections with the natural world, those that have given us strength and succour for all of our existence as a species, are being casually displaced, seen as no longer necessary. The self-belief that the urban environment along with the urban lifestyle is now independent of the natural life of the planet seems to be overpowering. 

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panel.

This is delusional of course, but it is such a powerful delusion. When much of what you see around you is human-based, whether it be the city itself, or the life lived in that city, there seems little room for anything else. When what is projected by the media, in whatever form, tells the story through endless scenarios, of human-based stories, then life outside of those scenarios seems strained, imaginative, unreal. Yes, there is a rural, natural life out there somewhere, with trees and animals, dust and water, but it all seems so far away and not particularly relevant to the everyday life of urban humanity.

But we lose our connection with this increasingly fuzzy and distant world at our peril. If we lose our age-old relationship with the planet and lose the history of that connection, then we lose our soul, lose our connection with being and we lose our purpose of being. If we fail to understand that we are part, not apart from the natural world, then we cease to be human and we live a half-life, one dominated by self-imposed isolation and regret.

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panels.

So where can the creative arts fit into this planet-wide problem? The often intimate relationship that artists of many kinds share with aspects of the natural world, is often as fundamental and emotionally deep as that shared by our early ancestors, those who had never contemplated or imagined any form of enclosed community, let alone a city life. The relationship that many artists have with nature seems to come naturally, and has certainly been long-standing, ever since there has been human creativity; there has been a connection with the natural world. 

Even though many artists live within city boundaries, many are still attracted to and influenced by the natural world not as concept, but as aspirational connection. Many an artist has been aware, and many still are, that life without a relationship with the planet as a whole, whether that be human, plant, animal, sky, or earth, is no relationship at all, and by definition no real life at all. As the naturalist and environmental campaigner John Muir says:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

To my mind that means that you cannot unpick humanity from the greater community that is the planet, and from there the universe as a whole. Try separating ourselves from the universe by containing ourselves in our own self-perpetuating, but ultimately impoverished world and we unravel the complexity built up by the planet. Turn our backs on the planet with our own human made distractions, and we condemn both ourselves and the rest of the planet to the increasingly severe problems that are unfolding on a yearly basis.

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panels.

Only by emphasising the unbounded richness and rewards that are the result of our age-old connection with all on the planet, whether plant, animal, water, sky, or land, can we understand what it is to be truly human. That that connection should be emphasised consistently through the vehicle of the creative arts, should be seen as inevitable and necessary. The human artist should be celebratory of the beautiful complexity of life that constantly runs around them and through them. The artist has to play such a vital part in the healing process between our by now dysfunctional species and the rest of the planet. It is something many are called to, although few thanks are given. Fortunately, the artist usually gets to see the much larger picture and for that we have to be truly grateful.

Further reading links:

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Genuine Article - Following Your True Path

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. 'Medezin', 1897.

I think a lot of people today are looking for the genuine article in many forms of life including the creative arts. Perhaps for the first time in our human history we have today an extremely articulate world population, one that is fully aware of when and how they are being fed with formulas and pretences, understand when something is untrue, lacking in integrity. Although we can hope that the world of 'me' is slowly passing into the world of 'we', it has been a long time coming and may well take a long time to pass, but things are changing faster than we believed possible and although the media is still dominated by stories of greed and self-interest, it is an industry that is finding the shifting parameters of human perspective difficult to keep up with.

Today, in our pre-packaged, market-tested, no-risks world, there is a yearning for the individual, a need to connect with a personality, someone that promotes their unique perspective, that sees the world beyond what has been created for them to consume. The creative artist, in whatever field, that can connect with the world with integrity, rather than a marketing spin, that can have a genuine vision, rather than a common formula, that sees the need to help and inform others before self, is the creative artist that is needed for this twenty first century. This will indeed be a century of turmoil and distress, but it will also be a century that sees the rapid growth and expansion of the human spirit.

Illustration: Ivan Bilibin. 'Go I know not whither and fetch I know not what'.

Our expanding consciousness has the potential to transform who we are and who we are seen to be by others across both this century and into the next. The creative arts have a big role to play in that transformation, whether amateur or professional, whether working in art, design, or craft, working with materials as diverse as textiles, wood, metal, stone, or tools such as pen, brush, computer, or even the human body itself. All are vital and all can be numbered as vital, but only if integrity is part of that vision.

That is why it is important to understand and follow your true path and more importantly still to have faith in that path, no matter what others might say to the contrary. As already stated, we are fast travelling from a 'me' culture to a 'we' culture, from a culture that is competitive to one that is collaborative, from one that is confrontational to one that is understanding, from one that is oppositional to one that is supportive, from the singular to the holistic. The values treasured by the we culture are also ones, that on the whole, are valued by the creative world. 

Illustration: Percy J. Smith. Opening pages of Charles Lamb's 'The Child Angel'.

To be fair, there is an element of the ego-driven in the creative arts world, there always has been, the ideal of celebrity first, artist second is one that parts of the media tend to latch on to as the norm in the art world. However, I have rarely met with that myself. Many of the people I have met in the creative arts world through the guise of The Textile Blog, have been genuine, supportive, understanding, appreciative of others and certainly supportive of those wanting to enter the creative arts world. This lastly is one of the most important elements and vital for the future health of both the industry and humanity.

If more people can be encouraged to enter the creative arena, in whatever guise, and more importantly still, be able to make a living through their creative art work, then the values and unique perspectives of this creative artistic world can become the mainstream of society, rather than that of the minority. The positive holistic approach that many artists have towards humanity and to the world at large, is one that needs to be both encouraged and expanded, and rapidly so. We need to be able to transform the broken divisive system we have and shift the emphasis of the future away from 'the way it's always been' to 'the way it could and should be'. 

Further reading links: