Last week we wrote about why it’s good to be an art hermit and look at less art. This week is an argument for the opposite. Why it’s good to look at other artists’ work. Self reflection in solitude is helpful but if you want a career it’s not just about you. Even if you’re a hobbyist, if you share your work with others they won’t respond well if they don’t relate to it.
If you want a career of art it’s important to know what’s going on in the market. Family and friends will give compliments because they care, so it’s important be objective about what skill is required. Looking at other art in your niche allows you to compare skills to other artists and get an idea of what’s required. Magazines, galleries, and social media groups are all good places to start . Art directors and other potential clients frequent these as well, so they give an idea of the quality to aim for. Art doesn’t have to be made to appeal to masses but while creating it’s helpful to be aware of these things.
On a personal level, looking at art helps interact with other artists and their audience. You won’t discover beautiful new things if you don’t look for them. Socializing with creatives online and in person leads to interesting conversations about any facet of art. You learn new things by listening or may help someone else. When seeking out artwork, you can find new places to showcase your work too.
And the most obvious reason looking at other peoples’ art is helpful is that it’s inspiring. If I don’t feel like drawing a quick look at paintings and concept art makes me want to draw. Seeing awe-inspiring art gives me a higher level to aspire to. It’s impressive to see what’s possible. None of us has all the answers. After study and research it’s good to see how others solve artistic problems. When looking for inspiration, variety of art consumption is beneficial. A variety of influences breathes new life into your art. Constantly looking at new ideas avoids stagnating from the same habits. You discover whole new mediums and genres. Without that variety there is a risk of getting entrenched in the same habits. Seeing new types of art breaks the comfort zone of only seeing things you make every day. You can find things that appeal to you that you never would have imagined. Sometimes you don’t even know you like something until you see it. Doing art for yourself is rewarding, but there’s a whole world to be seen.
We don’t just enjoy drawing and painting, we also like looking at work by other arts. No matter how many hours we create, it’s still inspiring to witness a created piece. We know how it’s done and it still feels like alchemy to turn a 2 dimensional surface into what looks like a tangible thing. So obviously we love consuming art. But sometimes it’s healthy to take a break from looking at other peoples’ art.
Sometimes artists compare our art to others’ to an unhealthy degree. It’s good critique ourselves, because our work has to stand out in the crowd. Critique brings about improvement. But everyone has the potential to add unique content to the world. We may have positive attributes in our work. But sometimes we appreciate the art of others so much we think ours is disappointing by comparison. In our constant appreciation of colleagues we fail to appreciate our own positives. Just because you like someone else style, or subject matter, or technique doesn’t mean yours has be the exact same.
Consuming artwork makes you aware of trends and what other people like. This is useful, because if you want to have a career in art, it has to appeal to people besides yourself. But when viewing art, we have to remember just because something is a trend and works for others doesn’t mean we are all beholden to that. Creating beautiful, funny, or engaging art isn’t about ticking off all the checkboxes to making the perfect painting. It comes from an individual’s skills, thoughts, experiences, interests, etc. There is no recipe to making the perfect thing everyone likes. New things are born from all the aspects of the art-making process. We have found our most satisfying work doesn’t come from making the appealing things we think an audience will accept. Nor does our technical improvement come from going down the list of fundamentals without second thought. On a subjective level, ideas can come from experiences, interests, internal places. Technically, art is such a vast discipline, it’s daunting to know where to start. We study most effectively when we concentrate on fundamental skills as they become relevant. Looking at other peoples’ art can give an idea of where to start, but know one knows your mind better than you. You know what you want out of your art, so it’s up to you to learn what you need.
So examining our art independent of others enables honesty. Do I really like the type of work I do? What do I like so much that I have to be the one to make it? What do I have to say through my art? What styles, subjects, aesthetics appeal to me? Not my family, social media, art teachers, magazines. Me. Whatever the answers are, proceeding to create it in a closed environment makes it more comfortable without fear of consequences. It allows you to recalibrate your art, so it’s about why you loved art in the first place. Recapturing the naïveté of drawing purely for personal work. So the art has been distilled to the essence of Taisa or Tyra.
Consuming art while brainstorming leads to absorbing other artist’s ideas, styles, subjects, etc, subconsciously. This isn’t necessarily bad, since there is no such thing as a 100% original idea. It can be a problem, though, if we shut down our own work just because we saw something else. Or we run to other artists’ solutions before we give ourselves a chance to try. The artistic equivalent of asking the teacher for the answers because you’re scared of getting it wrong. Even if I’m not being an Art Hermit for the day, I don’t like looking at art while I’m doing preliminary sketches because I want to exhaust my ideas before I look to others. I don’t want to eliminate an idea just because someone else or no one else did it.
The variant of going to outside art for all the answers is that we fall so in love with an artist or style that we copy only that directly. Especially if you have a small amount of influences. As I said, nothing is completely original. We all have things we see in others we are inspired by and want to copy. But we should understand or selves and why it appeals to us, so we can incorporate it in a meaningful way. We see art we like, but we aren’t that artist. That artist has their own life, experiences, education, influences, etc. Copying another artist directly on every single aspect will leave your work looking derivative. We all have more than one influences, we don’t have to do the same work as a few favorites. Evaluate and bring various sources into art, not just the one favorite artist.
All of this does not mean we hate the idea of taking inspiration. But if you have lost sight of what your doing with your artistic life, it’s good to take a day or a few to remember what you are doing. You’re the one that is making your art. If you aren’t content with it, you have to be the one to figure out why. No one else can tell you what you like. At Jaunty Cat, we sometimes evaluate our art, technically and subjectively and ask if this is what we want. How should we make our art. Do you sometime need a break from art consumption? What did you learn about your art while you became an art hermit?
I recently came across a question from a former classmate expressing the desire to develop a portfolio. My first question to him was the same question Taisa and I were asked years ago.
“What type of work do you want to do?”
That’s something most of us take for granted so for a moment we looked like a couple of deer in headlights. We were at the stage of learning fundamentals, so we just assumed at the time that art was just art. If you are a person who likes many types of subject matter, with a wide range of influences you want to do everything. You have the super cool drawings you want to do, you have to be able to paint realistically, in both traditional and digitally if the internet is to be believed. You have to make money so you want to do what is considered practical or a “marketable skill” so that your mom, dad, best friend, and cat feel secure in how you spend your time. The only choice it seems is to be great at all the art right now. That’s right! You must be a world class web and graphic designer by day and a concept artist making comics AND characters for video games by night while selling still life paintings in galleries on the weekends AND your aunts all want dog portraits so you have to do that. You saw a girl on Instagram who paints beautiful florals so you just have to learn to paint perfect florals to sell at fairs. There’s that guy who draws all the awesome fan art and makes money with that so you have to have that to sell at conventions.
Let’s say you do dabble in everyone of these areas, someone will ask “oh you’re an artist that’s cool, what do you do?”
If you are as awkward as 20 year old Tyra you’ll stall and stammer and the person will glaze over. No singular thing about the work stands out as great. No resounding confidence in discussing your mish-mash of work because you don’t even care about half of it. The only reason you did it was because a teacher told you to do it, your mom told you to draw more flowers, or you just wanted to copy a character from a show. You may feel it was too stressful of an interaction to ever talk to that individual about this ever again. No chance to increase your network, no chance to have someone connect with your work. All of this culminates into an inability to convince anyone to look at, much less spend money on, your art.
When we imagine our careers we need to slow the heck down and think logically. There are only 24 hours in a day and we all need sleep, time with family, a day job with a commute time. You don’t have to be the greatest artist in a field in order to get work but there does need to be a reasonable level of expertise. If an artist wants to get work doing something, and get quality clients the best way to do it is to have a body of work. The artist and potential clients should both be confident that the artist can consistently produce a quality result. The only way to produce said body of work is to spend significant time on a narrow set of skills. This cannot be done if you are trying to be all things to all people. Not being able to meet expectations consistently will cause problems with any clients you get. This is not to say that an artist will be stuck doing this one thing for the rest of his/her life. Different influences can be pulled in, different mediums can be used to experiment or reinforce skills. Even though we feel as if we have to do everything, most artists who have a wide range of work have just been doing it a long time, James Gurney being a notable example. As you focus on a discipline, it allows you to “nerd out” about what you do, chase rabbit trails. When you have fun with it, it shows in the quality of work and the way you discuss it. It creates a level of confidence that attracts people to your work and makes you feel great about what you’re doing.