Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?

 I'm reading a synopsis of the letters written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo as he goes through his career as a painter. At times they are simply heartbreaking. It chronicles the beginning years as he struggled to master form and techniques. things I too have struggled with for a few years now, through the years that we regard today as triumphs. They were not regarded as such when he died in 1890. While I don't consider myself a Van Gogh, I do wonder about my own art.

Chinese Dreamscape, Stage 2
As I go further through the development of his art, I am again struck by how he was ignored, his vision of the world trivialized. While he knew the greatest artists of his day, artists that clearly were not recognized yet as great, it makes you wonder, what is art? Who decides what is great or relevant or shall we say who DECIDES what is great "art?"

Several current artists and I have had a discussion on this and usually I lose.
My argument is that all art is relevant but that doesn't mean that it is great. The attempt of art is to express in the mind of the artist what he sees or feels. What simply is.

Most art is derivative, based on something that has been done before but then, like Grandma Moses, does that mean it is not important? Try to buy a Grandma Moses painting today. You won't believe the cost. Yet, she is an American primitive, possibly one of the finest in the 20th century. Or, at least one of the richest when she died at 106.

My CHINESE LANDSCAPE is an image given to me by a close Chinese friend that has both many wonderful and terrifying memories for him...thoughts I didn't know when I received it. Studying the photo I was struck by the dreamscape of the scene. It was something that I wanted to do, no NEEDED to do. It marked in many ways an attempt to change directions, to create an ephemeral scene that I had never created before.

As I started this project he encouraged me but then when it reached the point shown here, he told me the nightmares this very scene caused. He was thrown from the bridge by the Revolutionary Guards because of his imprisoned father, a Communist General. A local fisherman saved him at the age of 4. I almost cried when he told me this. Yet, he encourages me to complete this scene.

So again I ask, what is art? Why does the image that moves you so, the very insistent and demanding image that means so much to you fall flat on others? What is the secret ingredient that causes others to embrace you as a "great" artist yet at the same time dismisses others as irrelevant? Where does the inner compulsion to create come from? Does any and everything we create qualify as art? There are many feelings, opinions about this. As I struggle with this scene, one of the most demanding I have ever done, I am again brought to this eternal question. What is art, Who creates it? Why do we create it? What does it mean? Is it relevant?

I have suffered lately from this this very dilemma. Why does it resonate with me and not with others? Should I care? Does anyone care? None of my paintings has sold. It is almost like being shunned while the craft items, birdhouses mostly, sell!

In case you haven't realized it, being an artist is both heaven and hell.


  1. Alan, I believe this is where the whole concept of the 'starving artist' comes in! I don't sell my paintings but rather give them away. It's not that I think less of my Fine Art than I do of my crafts....I just find more satisfaction in the 'gifting'. I believe that people generally like to view FA but when it comes to making a purchase, they're afraid of what to do with it (and the larger price tag). I think your painting is beautiful! I feel as you do that ALL art is relevant. After all, it's our emotions (feelings) that we're putting on canvas for all to view....almost like opening ourselves up for everyone to look at.
    Whether it is Heaven or Hell, we'll keep doing it! My best to you!

  2. What a story your friend, and now your work, holds.
    Interesting questions, and I agree that art is relevant (as much as I understand the term) if one person feels it is; but that 'greatness' is a construct of the market and so needs wider, and 'proper' approval.
    For a long time I was selling 10 name signs for every painting, although the balance has shifted in the last few months. Who knows what wind dictates these things.