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...feed your soul with art & creativity!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympics of Arts

In order to stay sharp and excel at any particular artistic endeavor or medium, just like an Olympic athlete, the artist must train and practice.  And just like an Olympic athlete, sometimes the product of that training is pain, an incompletion, or sometimes just bad choices.  In the world of art, this can take on the guise of messes, not having enough or the correct tools and supplies, not enough space to stretch out, too many other projects or items competing for the attention of the artist, or just plain ugly art.  With more practice, those errors and difficulties that arise early on become fewer and fewer and the quality of what is brought forth is better and better.

It is so important for the artist-in-training to remember that not all artwork is meant to be museum or gallery quality.  This can be a difficult concept for an artist to grasp because the creation is "ours" and who wants to admit they have created an ugly child?  As artists, we also like to shy away from such labeling, and of course, as with athletes and successes across the board in every industry, the ego does not like to admit defeat or failure.  While I am sure there are artists who, like Mozart, are able to make astounding art without any practice or flaws the first time out, for the majority, there is a training curve. 

This training curve requires first understanding the task to be undertaken.  It may require cross-training.  To begin working in glass, for example, first required knowing some basic facts about glass and skill sets:  what a coefficient of expansion is and why different COEs don't mix, some chemistry of glass since glass is made up of different recipes of ingredients and metal oxides, some of which don't play so well together and more basically, how the heck to score and cut glass.  Without these basic skills, a fused, torch or blown glass artist will run into many challenges.  And these are just the "stretching" exercises. 

Like an athlete, the training develops muscles--and memory skill.  The more one cuts a piece of glass, the better the ability to cut straight, make a good score the first time, not put too much or too little pressure on the glass as it breaks, find the 'grain' of the glass and become comfortable and efficient breaking glass scores by hand or with tools.  Athletes and coaches frown upon a "cold" rush into the pool or onto the track without proper warm up and certainly would not recommend trying to run a marathon if you have not yet mastered stretching, building up stamina and strength training.  At least not if you want to get very far, very fast.

Olympians are those who have practiced their craft daily, for hours at a time, pushing the boundaries of what they were able to do the day before, improving the quality of their end-product, and basically being involved in what an artist might consider "mass production."  The artist who only paints one painting a year is less likely to be good at it, much less supremely successful, because the skills and training have not been done.  Some artists believe they are above the "mass production" level of artwork, but in history, the most successful artists we know were prolific in their production of artwork. 

Grandma Moses, who began her career at the age of 78, practiced her skills regularly and by the time of her death at the age of 101 had created at least 1,600 recognized works of art and perhaps as many as 3,600. 

Copyright of Grandma Moses and estate--used with fair usage (education)
Front cover of her autobiography

A gold medalist indeed, whether or not you "like" his work is Pablo Picasso with an astounding "50,000 works of art, including 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics; 18,095 engravings; 6,112 lithographs; and approximately 12,000 drawings, as well as numerous linocuts, tapestries, and rugs, not to mention his letters, poetry and plays" (cf. Selfridge 1994, 102) ... or ... "1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 7,089 drawings; 30,000 prints (engravings, lithographs, etc); 3,222 ceramics; 150 sketchbooks ... With the addition of his personal wealth, his legacy was estimated on his death at an unbelievable 1,252,673,200 francs. " (cf. Robinson 1999, 10; cf. also Habarta 2000, 77) ... or "some 50,000 works that included 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 2,880 ceramics, 18,095 engravings, 6,112 lithographs, 3,181 linocuts, 7,089 drawings plus 4,669 drawings and sketches in 149 notebooks, 11 tapestries and 8 rugs". *according to several different sources* 

Pablo Picasso "Girl before a Mirror"
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  
Used under fair use (education)

Leonardo da Vinci is estimated to have painted a maximum of 30 paintings, but his other works include sculpture and a prolific amount of data collective for inventions of various kinds. His practice and training came in the form of sketches and studies for his artworks, for which he did numerous plans for each painting and for his inventions.  His notebooks are filled with the evidence of this extensive training.

Vincent Van Gogh reportedly painted about 900 paintings and produced about 1100 sketches.  This was accomplished over only about a nine year span of his life as he was not a painter for the entirety of his lifespan.

Another gold medalist of the art world, again whether or not you "like" him or his art is Andy Warhol, who, according to the Warhol Museum (they archive and catalog it so they would know) made more than 8,000 works of art by Warhol including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, film, videotapes, and an extensive archives.

Andy Warhol's silver clouds (c) The Andy Warhol Museum
used under fair use (education)

So, as an artist, there is a precedent for getting out there to "do art."  It is the driving passion of my life and even if it is only doodling or painting a background for an art journal, I MUST do some form of art every day. I don't know if I will ever reach the Art Olympics, but I continue to train, gain skills and improve my output.