Art & Self Awareness

June 29, 2016

...you are not a great engineer because you once assembled an Ikea bed; you are not a computer genius because you managed to upgrade Windows on your own; and you don't have a great mathematical mind, just because you happen to have a vague understanding of what the fuck "pi" is!

 

Know that if you are very good at crochet & needlework and all kinds of crafts; if you love flower arrangements or can cook one hell of a soufflé; if you once took Art lessons and have bought quite a lot of Art materials, including an easel; if you are pretty nifty with the hot glue gun and know all about decoupage and how to cut flowers from kitchen napkins nicely and stick them onto things calling them "your" creations; if you can make your own jewellery by passing beads through a string; if a teacher has said a thousand years ago, that a picture you drew was nice; if you once went to an Art gallery or if you own an Art gallery; if you love wearing black baggy clothes with big chunky jewellery and someone has once asked you "are you are artist? because you look like one!"; if you don’t create original work; if you don't live by your Art; if you went to Art school but have given up on it, and are now working in a bank (not just because you could have given up on it, but also because you can actually work in a bank!), then you may be a great cook, craft person, appreciator of art, possibly a good a banker, you may even have artistic inclinations, but you are NOT really an Artist and you have no right to claim you are.

 

For the same reason that you may whistle a tune from "The Marriage of Figaro", but this doesn’t not mean you are an opera singer; you may sing along with Whitney Huston  the "I will always love you" song while you are taking a shower, but trust me, it does not mean you are now a singer, any more than you are a great fashion designer because someone had once complimented your blouse / skirt colour coordination skills, or because you once sewn a button that fell off from a shirt. Similarly, you are not a great actor because you had a role in your high school play or because you can lie very well... You are not a biker-chick because you once posed next to a motorcycle, or have a cute Twity tattoo on you angle. And you are not actually a star because you pose like one in all those Facebook selfies. Like you are not a doctor because you took a couple of first aid classes. And you are not an athlete because you go to the gym every week. You are not a great dancer because you love dancing at weddings or  because you took ballet when you were a kid. (It takes a little more than that). And you are not a graphic designer just because you mess around with fonts on your computer or put photos into frames. Like you are not a great engineer because you once assembled an Ikea bed; you are not a computer genius because you managed to upgrade Windows on your own; and you don't have a great mathematical mind, just because you happen to have a vague understanding of what the fuck "pi’ is!

 

And by the way, you are not a writer because you have always kept a diary or because you have written a lot of affirmations in notebooks when you were going through your Self-Help phase, or because you went through a divorce or an illness or some other painful experience and feel like venting. Wanting to vent, to find release and comfort in writing down your experience is very healing, but not at all what makes you a writer. On the contrary, what it does, is the ability to create new stories, new worlds in your head that are not nessesarily directly related to your own personal life, and to have the language, the secret code as it were, that will make them identifiable by others. Likewise, you are not a writer because you write briefs all day at work and it doesn't stink like other aspects of your working day, or because you wrote one hell of a text to your ex, one night when you were a little tipsy that it made him call you, or simply because you keep saying things like: "one day I will give it all up in order to write" (Trust me if you were meant to write, you would do nothing but that. It is not a matter of finding the "right" time to do it, or even a matter of a conscious decision or even choice... You just HAVE to do it and you just go ahead and do it.)

 

And lastly, if you find creating anything to be a pleasant and relaxing experience, you are most definitely NOT an Artist. Cause if it is pleasant and relaxing, you are not doing it right...

In short, have some self-awareness for godsake!

And bare in mind this too:

 

Real artists (painters, writers, musicians, occasionally movie makers) are the people who have the kind of  mind that allows - forces - them to imagine, conjure up, create entire worlds and who also have the skills to make them accessible to other people. To transform the personal into the cosmic. And there are no off days when you stop being an artist, like there is no “off” button, or real vacations or weekends, when you are not constantly “recording”, gathering material if not creating.

 

Real artists do have to deal with all kinds of crap on a daily basis however, including lack of respect AND feelings of jealousy by practically every one they meet; lack of a steady income, on top of the kind of long (mostly unpaid) hours that would bring to their knees any other professional; a constant feeling of insecurity about their future, especially if they are sticking to their guns and do not take the common, and easy way out, by becoming Art teachers. They should at least be allowed to get annoyed with non artists claiming to be that... They have earned the right!

 

So here are a few things to never say to an artist if you are a descent human being:

-Hey I'm an artist too! I just started taking lessons! How about that?

-Hey, I could have been an artist too. My teacher said I could really draw when I was in elementary school.

Hey, I am an artist too. I do decoupage!

-Hey, I could have been an artist too, if I didn't have to work.

-Hey, I bet some day I will be an artist too. 

-Hey, Can you teach me how to do that?

-You should taste my lemon pie! I guess I'm an artist too!

-You should see what I've done with the redecorating of my bedroom! I guess I'm an artist too!

-I really have a green thump. My herb garden looks great. I guess I'm an artist too!

-You should see my latest needlework. I guess I'm an artist too!

-I wish I could have been an artist too. Playing all day with colours and things. That must be a hoot! But poor me I have to go to work every day!

-It's not like it's real work what you do, right? I mean you are an artist, right?

-Can't you give me one of your artworks as a gift? You have so many!

-You must give me one of your artworks for free, because you will get a lot of work if people see this in my home.

-Artists are supposed to be spiritual people, and yet you want to get paid? That's not right! (reply: Yes. Just like you do want to get paid for doing your own work. I don't want to shock you but artists too have to actually eat and bath and have electricity, and heat and they also buy groceries. Sorry for bursting your bubble there)

-I bet I could do that if I put my mind into it.

-I bet I could do that if I had taken Art lessons.

-I bet I could do that if I could have a copy of it. (Can I have a copy please?)

-I want to see something in blue. (Or red, or yellow etc) Cause if you are gonna say that to me, at least have a gun too and kill me on the spot to get it over with)

-Can't you make the same painting again but smaller, so that it will be cheaper?

-I love the Arts and would like to help you by buying your work.

-I can't afford to buy this.  I'm sure you won't mind making a good discount. I have kids in private school and their tuition is very high. (Apparently it's the artist's fault and should share the cost)

-Can you copy this I found from a magazine / book / the Internet? Because I really like it?

-Can you paint something with horses? I really like horses. (Always with the fucking horses!!!)

-You must have a lot of free time on your hands in order to have done all that.

-Why do you still create more artworks? I mean you have so many already!

 -Aren't you tired of painting/writing all the time? Why don't you do something else for a change? 

and of course the classic:

-How many hours did it take you to make this? (and assuming that they can then figure out the price)

and,

-From where do you get your inspiration? (Expecting to hear things like "From the Sea" "From falling in love", " from my kids", because such banalities are what people expect and want to hear and because in their head, then the mystery would be solved...

 

All that happens because Art is a language not spoken by most people. It is a restlessness, but it is also the remedy for that restlessness: it is that thing that non artistic folk are looking for, when they feel like their life is empty and they think it's time to find a new partner, a new job, a new hobby, do extreme sports, go on vacation, climb mountains or leave the country. It is that void that larks at the centre of your chest and you think that if only you could have fallen in love, if only you could have travelled, or buy more staff, it would go away. For artists, the void is bigger but the means to fill it, is always at hand! It is found in creating and it is often a never-ending, bottomless source  that makes other ways of filling that void favoured by people who don't have that same source, as meaningless and insignificant and idiotic. (That is why it is kind of a tough job for non artistic folk to be in love with an artist - or so I hear... Nothing, NOTHING is actually preferable to creating.

 

But when it comes to most people, the aquiring of Art it is not a necessity - as in vital for your physical survival (unless you are a very special and rare sort of individual that is, in which case, can I have your number?). To the eyes of most people, nothing "bad" will happen to you if you don't add it to your life, and buying it is therefore an extreme form of wasting money, an unnecessary luxury at the very best. That is why artists are not respected. Their contribution not wholly appreciated. (Unless hundreds of years go by, and their work is the one, in fact the only thing that will identify the history and the entire culture of an era) Art is yes, often a status symbol for people who have the money to buy it in order to assume a fake identity offered by the "acquisition" of culture. But Art is truly a real necessity only to very few people whose life's entire journey has let them to the realisation that other things lie across the horizon of the mundane and the practical. For them, buying Art is not a waste of money, not a luxury, and not done in order to boost their social status, but a real necessity, a real need that heals and uplifts their soul. That is why an artist cannot offer much in the way of persuading a buyer. If someone can feel that an art piece is desirable, worthy of having, then it is. Its worth is partly subjective and depended upon the individual's understanding of things. It is a mirror that reflects what's already there... And if nothing is there, then there is nothing that can be seen in that mirror and nothing that can be said...

 

That is why it is quite common for people who are interested in buying Art, to hassle, to ask for discounts, and to do it honestly thinking that it is not just OK, but it is justifiable, because, 1) they think that creating Art is an easy job in a kid-playing-with-crayons-kind -of-manner, and 2) they think it is a luxury, a waste of money, something they shouldn't be doing. That is why the same people would never go to a supermarket and after loading their basket, go to the cashier and start negotiating (for hours) the price of groceries, right? Like they wouldn't go to a pharmacy, a hair salon, a bakery, a bookstore, a shoe shop a department store or absolutely ANY store and when the time came when they would have to pay for services or goods purchased, they would go ahead and demand lower prices, discounts, payment schedule that can last for years, right? And they wouldn't feel offended if the store owner would say "No", right? But an artist saying "No"? That is practically blasphemy! Likewise, they wouldn't go to any store offering services in exchange of goods purchased, right? (which is becoming quite common practice these days) Can you imagine going to a supermarket and arguing with the cashier that it would be best for her to take instead of cash some yoga lessons, or a hair cut? Never mind that the services offered are not needed, or not at all of the same value as the artwork, or that the artist cannot go ahead and pay her electricity bills or buy food with it... Her refusal  is still seen as arrogance and impudence. Like it is not enough that people want to have her work in their home, she wants money for it??!!! And thinks that a haircut is not good enough to pay for it? Ah the audacity!!! (I mean artists, right? What do you expect?....)

 

And then there are those who blatanly offer absolutely nothing in return for your Art. It happens a lot, and it happens everywhere: recently, A Sainsbury's supermarket in Camden Road, in London, has posted a long ad with very specific requirements, asking for "a creative and ambitious" artist to "volunteer their skills", adding that "your work will contribute to our success". In short "work for free so that we can be more successful" How about that as an incentive? Graphic designers have answered to this challenge by posting their own ad titled: "Artists are looking for a supermarket to volunteer their skills" and restock their kitchen (Bless them for doing it!!!)

 

Things have become worse lately for artists because there are so many of us claiming to be that... We have always been a small percentage of the population, but now I dare you to say you are one, and not have the other person reply "So am I!" or at the very least "So is my daughter /sister/aunt/cousin, granddaughter" etc. One in two individuals is claiming to be an artist, and surely that can't be right! It started with artists who could not stand on their own two feet in the limited Art market, finding a means to survive by giving Art lesson to kids and adults. It is a great way too make a living but it has single handedly destroyed Art. Adults find catharses and refuge in Art class. Creating things is a kind of panacea: for them it is a relaxing act (lucky bastards...) plus it makes them feel "special". It is a drug they can not get enough of... Decoupage is the new craze apparently. I dare any artist who creates original work stand before any one of these artistic arts-and-crafts ladies and say something like " I actually created this on my own. As in, from scratch, while you just took  (as in stolen) something someone else created, meaning I had an idea which was mine and related to my entire life experience, and knowledge and inner self, I sketched it, I painted it with paints and brushes, used all kinds of skills and materials and spent endless hours on it, possibly days or weeks of my life, and saw it through, while you just bought a napkin and cut the flowers off it and stuck them with glue onto a wooden box". They just can't see what the difference is! No matter how patiently you explain it. All they want to know is that it feels good. You created something and so did they. You are doing the same thing. You are the same thing! The drug is working! They ARE special. Before you know it they will get it in their heads that they can do their art and crafts projects for a living, which makes the already limited Art market even more limited! You see them in open air bazars, with their handmade bags and their decoupage boxes and their jewellery. And they are a happy, proud bunch, aren't they? Art for them is fun! There is no shadow or doubt in their experience, no mirror reflecting anything other than their "greatness". (Never mind that it is borrowed or rather stolen!) There is none of the darkness and the turmoil associated with those who dive onto their own depths in order to find their Self. Only the joy for the end result...

 

Parents on the other hand, are happy to keep on paying for expensive Art lessons when they are encouraged by the Art teacher who has no other way of making a living, that they kid is the next Picasso. It is a kind lie that is easily believable by parents who also want their kid to be "special" and have no difficulty in believing it, and so return for more lessons year after year and before you know it, it is a lie that eventually leads to Art studies. After 2-4 years of "experimenting" at Art schools (which in turn gain greatly from this increased interest in what they are selling) the kid - now young adult - returns home. When creating Art is not exactly a "burning need" they then become in turn Art teachers, who live by creating more hopeful "artists" who after their own studies in Art school, return home to also become Art teachers in order to create more "artists"... It is a viscous circle that produces not Art, but Art students and Art teachers. And there is money it, so it won't go away any time soon. Funny thing is, artists who are the "real deal" cannot stand the idea of teaching... They just want to create... Anything else seems unbearable, no matter how little they earn from Art, or how much money they are losing by not teaching...

 

It is ironical how the only people who can make real money from Art these days, are the people who sell hope to artists and illusions to non-artists: gallery owners who gain lots of money even when you make no sales, Art website owners who lure artists with hopes of International exposure, people who publish Art books and Art magazines which are not actually on sale because they get all their income from artists, etc. And hope is cheap for those who sell it, but quite expensive for those who are buying it! The other way to make money from Art is like I said to make people who are not actually artists feel like they are: Art teachers, people who organised Art & crafts bazaars and lately, people creating colouring books for adults! Is it any wonder that this is the new big thing in Art, selling by the millions? Grown up people are buying these books like crazy and are not just colouring away but they feel that this simple act favoured by all five year olds, is in fact an artistic act!! They post their "creations" on Pintrest, on Instagram, on Facebook, proudly, as if they were actually the ones who created the original line Art!!! They say "this is my latest creation" and people are showering them with praise and "Likes" - cause where we would all be without "Likes" right? Is there nobody among their friends to do a reality check one wonders? Remind them that "this is NOT actually your creation, you just coloured inside the lines like a kindergarten kid... You can say that you enjoy it, that you feel it is a pleasant, stress free activity, but no, you can't say that it is an act related with creation. The woman who came up with the designs inside the lines of which you are colouring, yes, she can say it, but you can't. Sorry"

 

The vicious circle of Art teachers creating more Art teachers, is by the way what has caused the decay of theatre as an Art, here in Cyprus. When for whatever reason the great actors of the National Theatre THOC (who could have stand shoulder by shoulder next to the greats of British theatre) were forced to leave it, they turned into teachers in order to make a living. A few years down the line, this has resulted  in the phenomenon of having a plethora of actors who just can't play to save their life. That is why you see all these young wannabes (actors, directors, writers) doing experimental theatre, because they can't be measured up against classical roles, against "real" acting (not that it keeps them form trying of course). For the untalented, experimentation is the final refuge, it is the drug that keeps on giving. Giving them that old precious feeling that they are indeed "special". What they don't get, is that experimentation is the arena of a great sort of artist who has been measured up against the norm and therefore needs to brake its form, escape into the formless as it were. For the untalented, experimentation is however the best disguise. A way to hide what is missing. But honestly, how many more young people with white make up, shouting angry banalities, their mouth open, frozen in cries, are we gonna be asked to endure? Going to the theatre has become an act of bravery. Funny how we, the audience feel embarrassed watching them, while they feel proud and vindicated, and yes, "real artists"! I wish there was someone who would have warned me that those days when Mbepedeli, Gaitanopoulou, Santorinaiou, Kaukarides, Staurinedes, Shafkalli, Moustras, Louras, were given the chance to create unforgettable moments in the company of their peers (not in the company of actors that belong in a school play)  would never come back.  It was like watching Judi Dench and Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith all in one play! Even the lesser ones were greater than most of the young actors of today. Maybe it was that most of them came out of the same school of acting that gave them technique, discipline AND heart, maybe it was because they belonged in a generation when actors would work on their self as well as on their craft, and they were well read instead of just have good looks and a bucketload of ambition... Now, when a new play is announced, we are scanning the names to see if at least one those actors, is included in the cast to make it worth our trouble. And they often are, which might mean that there might be some measure of self awareness in these young theatre people left, because they make sure to include at least one actor from those good old days, as if they are secretly aware that they can't stand on their own...

 

But to go back: the truth is, each artistic creation has to be rooted in self awareness. It has hidden dimensions and carries the heart, the soul, the spirit, the energy of the artist who created it, while much like a mirror, is reflecting the viewer’s own. It is a capsule that holds something not only of the artist’s talents, but also their entire past, their thoughts and emotions and knowledge and experience and spiritual journey and understanding of the world, seen and unseen. Artistic creation involves staring onto the darkness of their own inner, ocean floor, and retrieving material that connects them with other people in ways unimaginable by those who can’t.

Every creation, is also an act of sacrifice, and every Art sale, is experienced as a loss, because every art piece holds a part of the artist, and artists have to daily part from pieces of themselves and to do it with grace and a clean heart.

 

When you are buying Art, you are acquiring an object of beauty that can add something substantial to your life, your home, your energy even. But bare in mind, you are not “helping” an artist, you are not being “supportive” of the Arts, making some sort of magnanimous contribution to the art world, in the same manner that when you are buying something you like or need from a shop, you are not “helping” a shop keeper. When you pay an artist, you are not making them a favour, you are not being charitable, in the same manner that when you get paid from your own employer or clients, you are not receiving charity and they are not making you a favour, but giving payment for work done!

 

Even so, please keep in mind that when you are buying an Art piece, whether it is a painting, an Art object, or a book, you are only paying a fragment of its true value or actual cost. Artists work with their mind, their spirit, their soul, their body even - that is why Art is special. Because the artist “uses” so much of her/his self and because it requires, it holds and captures and conveys so much of the human experience and condition.

 

Each creation, is the result of strenuous and painful work, that started in the artist's childhood and that involves countless hours of the artist’s life, and countless hours of failed attempts and experimentation and costs that are as a rule, never included in the price you have paid, which refers only to the end result. Even greatly successful artists, are only getting paid for a tiny percentage of their working hours. Think about it: in what other profession is this acceptable? In every other profession the loss of even one single unpaid hour is a huge deal, but for an artist, whole months or even years of unpaid work is kind of a given...

 

Art, as in the act of creating things, is actually a healing thing that should be attempted by all, but bare in mind this too: if you are an amateur artist, someone who enjoys creating things on their spare time (and you ARE an amateur, if you enjoy it, instead of dread it, wish you could avoid it, or suffer because of it, but also feel compelled to do it and feel like nothing else is really worth doing...), but you don't have your own ideas, do not copy artists who create original work and live by their Art! Copying is a dishonest, exploitative, and cruel act. Not to mention illegal! We've reached a point when we - artists - have second thoughts about exhibiting our work, in exhibitions, Art markets or the Internet. Because the people who will come by are more likely to steal your ideas rather than buy them! That's how low things have gone... Think about it for a minute: I don't come into your home or place of business loading your furniture and TV and computers and products into a truck and drive away just because you left the door unlocked! Do something you are good at for godsakes! And please have a little self awareness.

 

And respect Art and artists. Not out of charity, but because it is the right thing to do and because they deserve, at the very least, as much as everyone else, to not have their work being stolen. Or their heart broken by stupid remarks.

There, I've said it!

 

 

***

 

Art & Self awareness – Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved. Any unauthorized use – copying, publishing, printing, reselling, etc – will lead to legal implications.
 www.fanitsa-petrou.com

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