How Do You Make Your Art?

after the rain, photograph w/ lensbaby macro

“At it’s worst, [contemporary art] offers only imagination without vision, goals without values, individuality without character.”

Ted Orland

As I read this line in Orland’s The View from the Studio Door I wondered what distinctions he was making here. After all, it seems like a good thing to have goals, use your imagination and express your individuality. On the other hand, vision, values and character does sound better. What’s he after? Here’s my initial simple take, but this is one that I think bears ongoing examination.

Vision unifies imagination.

Values give your goals importance.

Character makes others respect your individuality.

Imagination, goals and individuality allow you to create art that is initially interesting. Vision, values and character allow you to make art that is interesting over time.

I am going to have to contemplate how I can integrate these into my art. It is so easy to just make the art – harder to make it with vision, values and character.

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15 responses to “How Do You Make Your Art?

  1. Thought-provoking post.

    We all probably could find examples to challenge the statement that the worst contemporary art “offers only imagination without vision”. In the worst art of any period imagination is wholly absent.

    An artist might “direct” his imagination in some way because of his “vision”, though I tend to think imagination and vision work much in tandem and are not necessarily separable, especially consciously.

    I would ask: Whose values? Why must art reflect “goals”? Is it not enough that art intrinsically has value? (Perhaps that should be “Art”.)

    The third statement is giving me a really tough time understanding or accepting. I’d like/need to know more about Orland’s sense or meaning of contemporary art’s “individuality without character”. There’s plenty of derivative junk in the field, just as there is a lot of “ugly” art. What lends “character” to art is an interesting question.

    • Maureen

      I realize I’ve taken Orland’s quote out of context – he is comparing artmaking today vs 200 years or more ago, when it was inextricably wrapped up in society. There was no distinct aesthetics, or art for art’s sake (with a capital A). He feels we’ve lost something as a result, though he does admit that, in the best case, contemporary art exhibits more freedom, diversity and pure creativity.

      I think imagination is necessary for us to have vision, but one can have imagination without a greater vision. I feel like that alot!

      I simply interpreted “goals” as something like “I have a goal to do a series of portraits”. If that goal was based on values, it might have more importance. For example, “I have a goal to do a series of portraits of homeless people to educate the public about their plight.”

      Finally, I read “individuality” as just being different. With character behind that individuality, it isn’t just being different for the sake of being different, but because that’s who you really are.

      Orland does sort of preach a kind of artistic social activism, at least in his rather poor opinion of the current state of the arts in our society. His book is an interesting read for this reason.

      These are tough questions and I haven’t worked them out for myself really – especially when it comes to implementing my own understanding.

  2. When we operate in whatever arena from a place that honors our true values, we resonate. That resonance is at whole new level, and can take our art to that higher level.

    I used to have a macro lens, and sometimes I still dream I do. I love this image – so fresh.

  3. I really like your take on this and it has clarified what I have been after for quite some time. I think you have just summarized M. Csikszentmihalyi’s “Creativity” in one paragraph! There is a connection between art and responsibility.
    Thanks for the post! So glad I found it!

    • Marie

      Glad this helped you in some way! I’m not familiar with M. Csikszentmihalyi but checked him out on Wikipedia. Thanks for the reference.

      I struggle with the connection between art and responsiblity – certainly art has great power to effect others and, with power, always come some kind of responsibility.

    • Donna,

      Both is definitely better! I sometimes find myself self-limiting to the first trio of words. Easier for me to be imaginative rather than work with vision, for example. Going deeper personally is where much of the real work of art happens.

  4. I would imagine ‘Vision’ to mean aligning art with a definite, identifiable direction that leads one to think, and possibly experience something that extrapolates from the art, and is not limited by the confines of the canvas.

    I would look to ‘Values’ in art as something that endures beyond the imagination of an artist, evokes emotions that relates to the context of our society and/or self in a way that either reinforces one’s desire to achieve good or propagate the ‘good’.

    While ‘Character’ could mean art rooted in the ethos of human emotions, reflecting nuances of living that has been shaped by civilisations. That which appeals to human imagination not restricted to the artist alone. Also ‘character’ as in a distinct ‘personality’ that is a voice which characterizes the work for its distinct quality.

    At some level art has to lend itself to interpretations as much for what it articulates on canvas as for what the viewer can draw in relation to his/her own experiences.

    Effectively character will come from art going beyond the mere novelty or need to ‘catch attention’.

    Else all art is dated.

    • Anil

      I enjoyed reading your elaboration on vision, values and character, which all made perfect sense to me. As you say, this level of operation takes both the artist and the viewer beyond just what is in front of them.

  5. Man, I just take pictures ;>)

    But trying to think a bit deeper…

    Seems like maybe a portion of our work should be organized around these elements.

    But focusing everything on images with vision/values/character – that would kind of take the fun out of it for me.

    Maybe that makes me more of a hobbyist than an artist?

    I do have a project in mind that might encompass these higher purposes, and maybe in that milieu I would be considered an artist.

    Great work with your lensbaby here. Based on this image I have determined you are of sound character, btw.

    • Bob,

      Really good point – it’s important to have fun as well. Sometimes too much thinking can make it impossible to actually make any art!

      I guess a lot of this rumination you hear from me comes from my background in philosophy which is what I have a degree in.

      I like your idea of partitioning your work into different categories with different objectives. Perfectly all right if some (or maybe all) of it is mainly for fun.

      I don’t know, maybe the lensbaby work indicates I am of fuzzy character…

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