Making our art meaningful
“Art without meaning is just decoration”
I’m not sure where I first heard that quote, but it popped to mind when Izzy and I were recording our latest podcast (to be released on Thursday 9th September) where we discussed whether our art needs to be meaningful or can it just be beautiful or pretty to look at… decorative in fact. Both of us have taken both approaches to our art in the past and interestingly we have both found it is the decorative stuff that usually sells… but maybe that’s a whole other discussion on why we actually make art in the first place!
My personal view is that my art doesn’t need to have a deep meaning or be driven by a deeper desire to express emotions or feelings etc for it to be valid if it is original and comes from my own inner desire to create something. Perhaps what I am saying is that it doesn’t need to have a ‘deep’ meaning or a backstory. But in many ways all art has a meaning of some description or another. Perhaps a better word than meaning would be purpose. For example, The Impressionists’ purpose was to capture the fleeting nature of light, the purpose of Medieval art was to educate those who were unable to read etc.. For me, if my art can bring pleasure and fun into both into my life and that of the viewer then it has served its purpose. That is its meaning.
There will always be artists who need to express deeper feelings or emotions through their art, maybe to explore in depth how an issue makes them feel or to delve into a topic in greater depth or to maybe to make a political statement and of course that is fine. I just don’t believe that it is any more valid than the piece of work that makes us smile because we love the colour.
Unfortunately, I have experienced a situation where my application to join a renowned textile group was turned down with the comment that my art lacked ‘depth’ and ‘variety’. The lack of variety I was willing to take, as I had only brought along a very small amount of current work rather than a large selection of older work, feeling it was what was relevant at the time… got that wrong! Yet the lack of depth hit me hard… really hard. In fact, I can identify this as the time when my interest in making Textile art waned and came to a stop because I couldn’t really see the point. The fact that the work I was making at the time was about autism and communication, suggested that either I wasn’t very good at getting across my meaning or maybe it was just irrelevant. What I do know is, that these resulting little dolls made a lot of people smile and half of them ended up in other people’s homes, so I was getting something right!
Maybe it was just this particular experience or the personal little chip it has left on my shoulder but it did make me feel that there was a hierarchy at play. Somehow I was left feeling that some people (and by no means all) looked down on mere mortals like me who were making art that lacked depth.. art that wasn't serious! As if their art was 'better'. It left me feeling very vulnerable and it has taken a long time and the discovery of joy in painting to make me realise that this isn't true. I have finally found my confidence again and I'm okay making art that is fun and light hearted.
An interesting conversation that touches on this idea of meaning in art is the interview with Seth Godin on Art Juice. Seth questions whether the world needs more ‘paintings’ and says that the challenge is to be artists not painters. He says it far more eloquently than me that if our art comes from within ourselves, from a place that means something to us then it will connect and mean something to others. And I truly believe that is all the meaning it needs. In Seth’s words, the path forward is about curiosity, generosity and connections.
You can listen to the interview here: Seth Godin on ArtJuice
So, my conclusion is… make the art that makes you happy, that comes from a place of curiosity, share that art with the world and hopefully it will make other people happy too. Both Izzy and I decided that having FUN is what it’s all about. This is what my latest fun pieces look like, and they come from a place of wanting create joy, so maybe that is their meaning. I'm enjoying putting together different colour combinations, playing with the juxtaposition of shapes and finally adding some stitch because I like the emphasis it gives.
Remember... just have fun!