Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing the need all of us have to "prove" ourselves as artists. In the beginning, it means proving ourselves capable students to the softly gloved, but firm, and often very dominant force of classroom art teachers. It evolves into proving ourselves to friends and family. Then, if we've been modestly successful up to this point, we move on to trying to do the same for college art instructors, many of which have long since taken off any soft gloves. They're not paid to be gentle but to be honest, perhaps even BRUTALLY so. And for that we either hate them or worship their memories the rest of our lives. Even after we enter college our aim as artists still, to a great degree, revolves around familiar "teacher pleasing" art where form is far more important than function. How we say it is more important than WHAT we say. Then shortly before or shortly after we leave college we come face to face with the final analysis. It's sort of a final exam to end all final exams. We find ourselves needing to prove ourselves TO ourselves. And that's the biggest obstacle.
One thing artists are sometimes unprepared for as they begin this ultimate and seemingly endless task, is that once they try converting thoughts, dreams, causes, feelings, whatever, to canvas, they quickly come to realize they're NOT the skilled artists they thought they were. We are taught skills in converting objects to images and images to other images, combining images, adapting images, organizing and presenting images, etc. My artist friend was lamenting the fact that having learned all these traditional art skills in a number of different media, she had come to the realization she didn't know what to DO with them. She had learned public speaking, so to speak, only to discover she'd neglected to write a speech.
I reminded her that, fortunately in her case, she had a number of causes, beliefs, and feelings which she felt very strongly about. And it is from THESE that she should start in deciding what she wanted to say in her art. For most of us, words are much easier to conjure up than images, and much, much easier to put down on paper (or a computer screen), even if it takes the proverbial thousand of them to equal a picture. But converting THOUGHTS to images is the highest skill an artist can master, also one of the loneliest, most humbling, most frightening, and by far the most difficult. And it's not just getting them down on paper or canvas. They must visually SPEAK the words and thoughts you wish to impart in order to prove themselves. We have the luxury of a few words used as a title of the work, and on occasion, the opportunity to EXPOUND orally about our work, all of which is fine. But it's the work itself that must communicate; and do so with the LEAST possible latitude for misunderstanding in order to be successful. And if the painter finds he or she CAN'T do this, then there's always landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits.