Artistic Difference

I went to a workshop this summer that hosted my all-time favorite ceramic sculptor, Beth Cavener . During the workshop, someone asked her what the difference was between her work and her mother’s, who also does animal forms in clay. (The visible difference between Beth’s work and her mother’s is that Beth’s animals evoke strong emotions and rich textures, while her mother’s depict contented animals with rich varieties of color.)

She responded by explaining why people create differently than one another in a way that has stuck with me ever since;

Everyone has struggles and pains- some people try to directly challenge and address those pains through what they create. Some people prefer to comfort and soothe themselves by what they create.

And this mindset also affects what kind of “art,” (which can be any form- fine art, entertainment, etc.) they enjoy consuming as well.

There is no “better” way to create or consume. It’s just a matter of taste and preference.

I will say that I prefer to create and consume content and work that is challenging and uncomfortable. Whether that’s through written word, video, performance, or visual art. I will purposefully avoid opportunities to create for the sake of soothing others with pretty or “fun” visuals/content unless there is a disquieting element that I am addressing at the same time within that work. And I know plenty of artists and audiences who are the complete opposite. Neither way of creating or consuming is a hard binary, and neither end of the spectrum is universally “wrong” or “right.”

I do know that for myself, I can hardly stand observing landscapes or portraits that serve no other purpose than to present a recognizable setting or face for the sake of commemoration or beautification. I cannot make fanwork or complete commissions for anything or anyone that I have no genuine interest in or connection to. I cannot connect with entirely non-conceptual pieces of work in any artistic framework- performative, visual, etc. (And there could be argument had about all artwork having a concept beneath it’s surface, but it wouldn’t change my defined taste in what I enjoy creating and consuming. Which is work that is not easily interpreted at first impression.)

These biases at times feel like a curse when I see other artists paving their independent way with digestible creations and open availability to the layperson who only seeks an aesthetically pleasing piece for their walls. But fuck- I’m not even a painter by trade, so what am I stressed about? And when there are people out in the world like Beth, sticking to their guns against the grain, what other role models do I need?

This particular reflection has been summarized in my mind by the following soft rules I encourage myself to practice when dealing with creative ventures:

Know your artists before you ask them for work.
& Know your audiences before you present your work.

You’ll save a lot of wasted energy by honing your passions and intentions.

May you be well, May you be happy, May you be free from suffering.

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