James Green Artist: My problem with the word ‘art’

22 Mar 2023   |  Journal

James Green Artist: My problem with the word ‘art’

‘Art’, for such a short word, is totally over-loaded with meaning & historical importance/significance. It represents a diverse and dynamic field of human expression that has been evolving and changing throughout history. It’s used so loosely and readily, often to describe anything painted or printed onto the surface of a canvas (or whatever surface for that matter). A true work of art isn’t necessarily immediately noticeable – unless, perhaps/possibly, you are familiar with the work of the particular artist and understand their mind & process on a relatively significant level. True art relies on some form of understanding, to at least some degree. It’s about context, meaning, purpose. Its reason for existing. It’s entirely possible that a ‘beautiful’ image on a canvas / inside a frame (or however the thing manifests) isn’t ‘art’ at all.

The ‘money and art’ misconception

It’s probable that the vast majority of people would assume that a person who has become wealthy as a result of successfully selling paintings, for example, is indeed an artist. However, if an individual creates visual work with the primary objective to be financially successful… Firstly, it’s important to note that there’s nothing at all wrong with that… However, there’s a possibility that they’re not necessarily inherently making genuine art.

I’m fortunate enough to know, and have fairly close relationships with, a handful of what I consider to be genuinely authentic artists, which (along with understanding myself, a bit) along the way has helped me to understand what it really means to be an artist today (which is no different to how it’s ever been, by the way). My concluding thought is that art needs to be something that (metaphorically) runs through the artist’s veins. It’s part of their make-up. They feel compelled to create. It’s a sickness. An addiction. They don’t run it; they’re run by it. The financial success element arguably needs to be secondary, and a coincidental byproduct of making authentic work (perhaps a better term than ‘art’).

The relationship between beauty and art

Early on into my career as an artist, it is fair to say that I had proven (through tens of thousands of hours worth of meticulous practice) that I had the (technical) ability to render an image that most would describe as ‘beautiful’. And I’m grateful to have inherited a decent level of technical skill from who knows where – as this enabled me to gain what I considered to be promising sales (and feedback from my audience) early on, which in-turn gave me the confidence to keep going alongside juggling a number of jobs whilst trying to get the ‘art thing’ off the ground.. However, the visual work I was actually creating was actually relatively meaningless – looking back now. I mean, we all have to start somewhere and it was certainly a rational place to start – however, the trouble is, simply coming up with an idea and confidently executing it using astute technical ability doesn’t necessarily mean you have made an accomplished work of art. The day I made the conscious effort to disregard formal learnings, dig deep, and express sincerely from within (and – I guess – my imagination), was the day I went from creating a product, to creating art – in my opinion.

Is superficial beauty an artistic construct?

I feel it is part of my role as a contemporary artist to challenge the notion of beauty at every opportunity. It is my personal opinion that if you start out the creative process with the aim to create a ‘beautiful’ image (as a physical objective) for the sake of creating a ‘beautiful’ image – the outcome will likely lack the fundamental ingredients to promote something from an ‘image’ or ‘product’, to something that could be attributed to the ridiculously short, for-something-that’s-over-loaded-with-historical-significance, word – ‘art’.

I’d rather make an ugly picture that was genuine, than a pretty/’beautiful’ one that was not. I have no problem with beauty if it just so happens, but I generally disregard that notion when making art. I want it to be more than just what’s apparent on the surface. From where I’m standing, art should be powerful before it is beautiful.

Honesty is everything

True art is about being yourself on every level. It is most certainly about being authentic.

As with anything in life, we all have different lived experiences and backgrounds which shape us into who we are; which includes our cultural background, our language and communication styles, interests, and experiences growing up – these are all things that help to shape us and make each one of us unique. This means that no two people will ever be exactly the same when it comes to how their minds work or what they are able (or likely) to produce. So no two people, if creating from a place of genuine integrity, should be able to create the same final outcome.

While the word ‘art’ may be short (and certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon), my personal feelings are that it shouldn’t be used so freely!