Par. It might be okay in golf, but par sucks in the art world. Artists don’t create art to be average or acceptable or tolerable. We want to bring a vision to the viewer that is unforgettable and impressive and lasting. Par simply won’t do.
If you make the rounds at all in the art world, be it art shows, galleries or museums, you assess pieces according to the standards filed away in your noodle. Hopefully, most of what you see is way above par. Hope, however, is not always buoyed by reality.
I sometimes feel as if there is an ever-growing heap of sub-standard pieces in the art world’s dumpster. Lack of polish and lack of self-imposed quality control is the biggest producer of junk that should never see a gallery wall. And yes, I make my fair share of contributions to the dumpster.
One very real reason for stumbling on the path to artistic excellence is our fallen world. Simply put: We are flawed from the git-go, and so is everything we make. We can in no way create anything as has The Creator.
Another reason is our acceptance of our below-par condition. We prefer to wallow in it. We rely too heavily on the work of fellow fallen artists for inspiration, are sometimes left uninspired, and then follow suit by producing our own uninspiring art. Sadly put: We have taught ourselves to aspire to par. Or less.
|“Fighting Temeraire,” by J.M.W. Turner. 1839. |
(National Gallery, London)
Readers aspire to the romantic pages of a Jane Austin novel, not daring to imagine life’s circumstances being more deliciously romantic or exquisitely heartbreaking. They are. We limit ourselves to the experience and imagination of one writer. Likewise, art lovers laud a Turner sky, accept his vision as wonderful, and overlook the reality of The Lord’s creation. We approve Turner’s canvas, but cannot fathom the fact that there has been sunrise and sunset simultaneously and continuously since The Lord first put in place a light to govern the day. And each sunrise and sunset is far more glorious than any facsimile – even by Turner.
We can aspire to greater design and tightly hold to excellence, but instead we applaud a minimalist sculpture with few features save a poorly-welded joint. We heap praise on representational works that can’t possibly hold a candle to their physical counterparts. We hand out awards endlessly. Everyone gets a gold star in this messed up, fallen world.
But I didn’t start this essay to be such a downer. On the contrary, we CAN certainly do a bit better. Someone needs to tell me and my fellow artists to aim a little higher, even if that someone is me. Every writer who has guts will hand their final draft and a red pen to an honest person for serious critiquing, and every artist who is worth anything will take time to step back from a piece, put it in front of a mirror and look for flaws. Being an artist isn’t so much creating a mark as it is correcting the same. One need only look at radiographs of paintings or inspect preparatory drawings to see where the masters made corrections in the pursuit of perfection – well, as-close-as-we’re-gonna-get perfection.
Facing the reality of a flawed piece is not for the easily intimidated. It takes thick skin. One of my greatest lessons happened when an art professor told the class to destroy drawings we had been laboring over for two days. It didn’t matter if our feelings were hurt. We were working hard at being average, and average wouldn’t do. It still won’t.
It’s simple ballistics, really. If you aim at the middle of the target with no adjustment for distance, you will hit low. That’s because there’s this thing called gravitational pull. There are all kinds of things that act as gravitational pull for artists, the strongest of which is sloppy acceptance of the norm. Artists needn’t give in to that pull. Aiming for the equivalent of artistic par will only result in missing the target entirely.
Instead, recalibrate your artistic sights for that next piece and ignore what others have done. Then come out with both barrels blazing. I promise I will do the same.