“I am an artist,” Emile Zola said, “I am here to live out loud.” Artists, he suggests, make the internal real. They speak thoughts others suppress or release in daydreams. Before we over-glorify art, however, something else needs to be said—in living out loud, artists babble and prattle and blather and blab and generally fill shared air with noise and nonsense. And they can’t shut up.
As I’ve learned on the streets of Chicago, anyone can speak out loud. You only need to think you have something important to say. Most artists create because they can’t NOT create. Perhaps somewhere along the way someone offered a simple compliment—“That’s great,” or the more damning statement, “You’re good at that”—and misery ensued.
Where does that put me? I am an artist on two counts, a writer and a painter. As a writer, I’d like a bigger audience (feel free to tell your friends) but, if you’re reading this, I’m not unheard. Someone, I hope, wants to listen.
Painting confuses me.
As a visual artist, I fulfill Zola’s definition by turning my brain inside out. My artwork begins with protecting a border of one or two inches with masking tape. When I remove that tape and see the final image framed in white, I’m done. Between those two moments, I’m not sure what happens. Starting with a scramble of lines, my artwork pulls references from what I’ve half seen—the doodles, maps, cells, graffiti, emblems, fabric, machinery, foliage, calligraphy, peeling paint, and building faces minds absorb daily and promptly forget.
Then I ask, “To whom am I speaking?” I enjoy painting. I love this dialogue with my unconscious and love crafting something carefully. I usually feel making a picture is satisfaction enough and could paint everyday if I had the time and the money for materials. Living out loud, however, also comes with an urge to show my work.
You’ll notice this post is the first illustrated entry on this blog. I struggle with self-promotion and could never pretend my work must be seen, that the greatest beneficiary of my art is my viewer. I recognize I don’t have the technical skill of artists I admire. Still, let face it, I’d love to hear someone say “That’s great,” or “You’re good at that,” and, on some level, I must believe my art speaks or I wouldn’t bother spending hours and hours making it.
Zola may have missed the most important characteristic of an artist. All humans have the desire to be heard, but a successful artist has something more, a faith he or she speaks for everyone. I’m hoping my unconscious is your unconscious is everyone’s unconscious. I mean to commune, not blather, blab, or prattle.
Next Time—Selling Artwork