Oh god, The Journey. How many times have we heard that a young artist is just beginning their journey or that a mature artist is at a difficult stage in their journey? Yes, we are all on a journey of realizing self and community through our art. Or are we? I do believe that everybody is developing (or at least able to develop if they have half a mind to be open to developing) and that there is no consistency to each person's development. The stages of development I experience most likely will not be in the same order or at the same intensity as you. But there is this unwritten expectation that we all will end in a similar place. I can have experiences A, B, C. D, etc. and you can have experiences D, C, A, B, etc. and when we are both done we will have both experienced the whole alphabet of experiences. My actual life experience is that the further we each go down our own paths the further we get away from each other and that there is not a set of experiences we all get to work our way through. I believe this idea of a set of experiences developed out of the Industrial Revolution in which we began to plasticize and standardize life and all of its aspects.
Of course, artists are on a journey -- or are they? Everybody goes through development. By shear repetition we gain skills and abilities to create art differently than we had before. There are periods wherein we mature to a new level, but often, we don't mature much beyond a level or two over the course of our lives. Often, what seems like a deepening and maturing in the work is simply the fact that the audience is now seeing one hundred and fifty paintings about the same subject matter, whereas before they had only seen twenty. Sometimes the audience is the one that needs to come to see the place where the artist has been living for years.
I think we have some great artists in van Gogh and Gauguin, and others, who struggled to find the great Meaning in their lives and tried to find it through art. Yet, while trying to find this inner state of perfection and expression, came to depend on the opinions of others (art buyers and fellow artists) for their sense of self. Sorry, Vinnie and Paulie, you can't have it both ways. But that seemed to be the way of the world back then: people yearning to have their own personal experiences become the standard for the rest of the world. I think the Western world is moving into a new stage of understanding wherein each individual has a unique experience and using an individual experience to extrapolate across a population or a species just doesn't work. Art cannot save the world, or even individuals. Art is not Christ, and I don't even believe Christ, Bodhisattva, et al. can save us. We will get exactly what we bring about. If there is any Meaning to be found it is in the things that resonate with our own self. For some that is family, faith and community, for others it is an activity, ability and audience. Most people, once discovering these things, develop to one or two stages of resonance and then glide on through life slowly coming to rest at the end.
Is the journey about acceptance of self? Again, that is an end goal to the journey that obviously many people fail. If it is about "being what you will become" then how is that a journey? It just is. You will be what you bring about no matter what you believe. I do not mean this to seem flip about anybody's "journey," it just seems so obvious to me that the metaphor is poor and often creates false expectations.
Alright, enough negative talk, because this week I conversed with the very positive and pleasant Nan Jahnke. Nan has spent many years taking art classes and has considered herself a student of art, but she has recently begun to create and sell her own work identifying herself as an artist. We talk about Nan's pottery and paintings and her journey to identifying herself as an artist.