Off and on, for more than a decade, I have been trying to understand what makes something artistic. Participation in the UWA Open Art Challenge started to give me the right clues, so for the past several months, I’ve been meaning to write an article on it and never quite being able to express what I want to say. My original drafts were all about trying to express what I didn’t understand, but in my previous draft I actually answered my own questions, making it rather pointless to publish an article asking others for help. Now that I can express what that is, the article needed a complete rewrite, and here it is ...
My Journey to Find the Art ...
I can understand now why I couldn’t get it before. Coming from a software background, one applies formulas and patterns to analyze and understand the nature of things. But understanding what made something artistic using this approach never really gave me an explanation because it was hit and miss as to how successful my attempts were. Surely I wasn’t that dense, but in a way, now that the light has come on, I was that dense.
My exploration of art started when I began taking photography courses, and continued when I joined a camera club. Right there, that’s most of my issue. The club I belonged to produced images with a very narrow scope; primarily pretty pixels. The critiquing emphasis was all about application of visual patterns and rules like leading lines, rule of thirds, selective depth of field, to produce nice silhouettes and well lit subjects. These strategies were all about getting the photographer to capture a pleasant result given any kind of scene they might encounter. Lately, it’s been about the intelligent application of digital filters or techniques to produce a visually interesting effect on top of an already visually interesting photograph.
A pleasing result doesn’t necessarily mean it’s artistic too. So imagine trying to understand what makes something artistic while being exposed to a seemingly never-ending blur of artistic and non-artistic images. That’s why I didn’t get it.
The UWA Open Art Challenge has opened my eyes and my mind to things that are artistic. Now I have access to talk to people who are creating and judging art. I see now why budding artists, including myself, get the wrong idea about their abilities when the artwork that they poured their life and soul into doesn’t get recognized. Part of the issue is just the limited number of prizes that can be given out, but even so, there are some pretty imaginative entries in the challenge that seem to get overlooked. It’s not an issue of the ability of the artist or the quality of the work; it’s more about how the work inspires another.
An artistic result depends on how well the artist uses the tools they have access to in an original way with creativity and imagination to express a vision. For me, success comes from receiving feedback from others. When I hear how others are affected or inspired by my work, it’s the significance of the reaction that tells me how successful it was. In some cases, this is nothing more than being jazzed. But others have described a kind of euphoric feeling from it, while in others, it can create inspiration. Other kinds of works that jazz me inspire me to create hybrids. I can only assume that other artists are similarly inspired.
One of my artworks, “Shattered”, received some high praise long before the March 2011 UWA competition closed. Whether it wins a prize or not is almost unimportant compared to the comments made by some who are well placed within the artistic community within Second Life; “It spoke to me”, “Never seen anything like it”, and “It’s your best work, so far”. So when strangers tell you these things, I know the artwork inspired them in some way, and I am so honoured by that.
|Three different views of "Shattered"|
Those are the messages that Shattered said to me, but what it says to you is more important. Does it inspire you to be more aware? To be more creative? To be more imaginative? To be more caring? To be more emotional? To talk to your friends about it? To write about it? Or something else? If the artwork caused you to think or do something different simply because of the presence of the artwork, then I think it is safe to say that the artwork is successful. I know that just because one person “gets it” it doesn’t mean all people will get it. I don’t think art isn’t a popularity contest. All I need is for another person to be inspired by it, to know that it is a success for me.
I think the very wild and expressive pieces are an attempt by artists to capture the imagination of the viewer. In the past, this kind of artwork often caused me to scratch my head especially when it gets recognized; as I stare at it later, wondering, what did I miss? But for the judge, it could be nothing more than seeing so much artwork that this one piece stood out uniquely. Like seeing an average pink vase in a room filled with high quality black ones. It could simply be the juxtaposition of it that was enough of a unique flavour for the judge to take notice. I have come to realize that if a judge was inspired by an artwork that I panned, it doesn’t mean that the judge is wrong and I’m right. It simply means that things that inspire them aren’t the things that inspire me.
I have fallen into the trap that causes me to think that the result of a single competition is a valid measure of the merit of the work I produce. But I have come to see that in competitions with subjective material, a different set of judges produce different results. I know of images that have won national and international photography competitions that get panned in our club, or vice versa, winning images in our club that get near perfect marks don’t even raise an eyebrow elsewhere. People like what they like.
I now realize that art isn’t a formula, a style, an approach or a set of tools, the way I would apply the formulas and patterns of my regular life to it. It’s about creating an emotional response; good or bad feelings, euphoria and inspiration in others. It’s impossible to predict how somebody will react to something and it being recognized in a competition isn’t the reason why I create the art to begin with. For me, it is a personal need and desire to be original, creative and imaginative in a physical or virtual way to express my visions. If it inspires you, then I’m honoured because it means a lot to me that somebody in the software industry can become an artist too.
- Ginger Alsop