Growing as an Artist

Where does art come from? Why do some artists create art employing different styles? How does one find what works? I recently watched a friend do what probably every artist does, or should do – unhook from the rat race to experiment and re-discover where the art comes from. I’ve seen a number of artists try different styles and mediums, sometimes rejecting previous styles that worked brilliantly. In this, I can see no wrong or right. Maybe when you paint in a certain style for long enough, you become bored with it. Maybe you just find a new method or subject that truly resonates with you. It’s human nature. We change. We don’t necessarily like the same things we did years ago. How then do some hang onto a style for years and find ways to breathe even more life into it? Corot could be one example. His style and subject matter steadily grew over the years, building from skill to greatness to sublime with the darker scenes he painted later in his career.

"Souvenir of MorteFontaine" Corot, 1864 - Louvre (public domain, WikiPaintings.org)

When I think of embracing a style or method and growing it over time, my thoughts turn from fine art to music.

Years ago, I saw Ray Charles play at concert venue in New Hampshire. It was shortly before his passing and I still feel very fortunate to have seen him for what was to be my only time. It was an open air concert on a magnificent summer night. The Raylettes were marvelous. The crowd was rapt. And Ray… was Ray. Full of magic.

The show was joyous and as the evening deepened, Ray came to his signature tune: Georgia On My Mind. Now I’ve been to all sorts of concerts in my life and when it comes to an artist’s big songs, I’ve seen many bands and singers rush as if they were rushing a telemarketer off the phone. Others handled the tunes as if the songs were some despised duty. “Hey guys, it’s time to take out the trash!” some might have hollered. Occasionally, a band would blast through their signature tune, racing to end it quickly. Some would try to re-invent the song and do a new take, a strategy that rarely works unless you’re Clapton.

With Ray, listening to him play his signature song was a completely different experience. He handled that song like it was his dearly beloved; with respect, with reverie, with fascination. By the time he was a third of the way through it was clear that he loved what the song had done for him and for his fans. His phrasing… his exquisite pauses left me gasping for air and praying I’d remember the moment for the rest of my life. You see, Georgia wasn’t being rushed. It was being brushed and glazed to an exquisite finish by an artist inspired. I found myself tearing up as I realized the song wasn’t just great… the song was getting better every time it was played. Ray was getting better, too, if that’s even conceivable.

So… What does that have to do with fine art? Maybe you have a method that you’ve grown tired of and you just need to let it go. That’s OK and understandable. Or maybe, you need to re-connect with what it was that really thundered in your heart. Jim Rohn said: “Give what you are doing and what you are are, the gift of your attention.” Take some time then to experiment and explore. Lift canvas to easel… and grow your work to the next level. I advise neither direction over the other. You’ll know what’s right. Either way, you grow. I can hardly wait to see what will come of it.

Now if you’ll kindly pardon me, I have a recording to listen to…

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