One of my professors at Rhode Island School of Design made this statement which I’ve never forgotten: “It isn’t art until it’s seen.” True, we can paint every day, as I usually do; we can stack up numerous works as I also do; but unless the artwork is seen, it really isn’t art.
Secretly formed in the artist’s mind–no matter how profound or gorgeous in bright or subtle hues as the theme dictates–the creative idea must finally be born on paper or canvas. But that is but its first step toward life. If it sits ignored on an artist’s neglected easel or is locked away in a cupboard, stored in an attic, stuffed in a trunk where it can’t breathe (probably coughing and sputtering–and no artist wants her art to suffer!) or hangs in a remote gallery no one visits, then it remains unborn, unseen. A viewer is required. Art communicates, has a visual story to tell. It needs someone to listen to that story. There is no guarantee that the viewer will appreciate it. In fact, he may hate it. But once observed, art is alive!
No matter that the artist thinks making it is enough; it isn’t. The work must not be kept hidden. It has to bounce into the world–visible, nakedly honest in telling its truth.
The artist wants her devotion to an idea–and her labor to convey it in form, line, shape, color–to be grasped by another human being. Preferably many others.
Right now, I have 400 paintings in my gallery. 400! Many framed. Many large. Ones completed some years or months ago; others finished as recently as this week. They are dying to be seen. In fact, if they remain unseen, they are as good as dead.
So I work at how best to show and market my work. Something I’m not particularly good at (most artists aren’t). I’ve done shows, galleries, competitions, received over 100 awards, sold pieces throughout many decades. I’ve placed ads in art guides, tourist maps, newspapers, mailings, have two websites. Location seems to be most crucial, and unfortunately mine is hidden. Nor does my neighborhood allow signs. Moving? I’ve thought about it. Easier said than done after thirty-five moves in 80 years.
But an artist cannot give up painting any more than she can stop breathing. For her it is life itself.
Artists will paint even if they rarely rise to the RISD prof’s statement. We will continue to throw ourselves heart and soul into the creative process. We have enormous allegiance to making a work be all it can be. Faithfully we obey the idea that comes to us. Often it appears as a “gift” from muse or God or nature or dreams or ramblings or struggles that say more than we may even know. We listen a lot. We work hard. Yes, it is hard work to create. People think it is just an easy “talent” that we come with. No! Making art requires nurturing, care, knowledge, ability gained and practiced over many years. I love the intensity it demands. I am always learning from my painting, attending to its message, beauty, truth, purpose. Even if I am its only viewer more often than I’d like. I dream one day that twenty or fifty or more viewers will find my gallery. That they will flock around my work, fascinated, pleased, uplifted, moved, eager to take a painting or two home to live with forever because they love it as much as I. Then, genuinely seen, it will be truly art.
Artwork: Hidden Old Mill, framed watercolor, 30″ x 23″, $975. We lived in an historic 1736 home some years ago that abutted this old mill. Recently I ran across a photo I’d taken of it and its potential for a painting struck me. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I just got it back from the framer’s. I wonder if anyone will find me and come see it?