What is art?

People have some interesting ideas about what art is “supposed to be”. Over the years I have had some interesting conversations (as well as arguments) about what counts as a creative work. I spoke with one woman some time ago about the way in which many comic books are created, that there was a writer, a penciler, an inker, and a colorist, and she kept on insisting that if more than one person created the thing, it didn’t count as authentic. I tried pointing out that if you are a member of a band that you are contributing to the whole song in much the same way, but that argument didn’t fly.

I have talked to people who believe that art comes, fully formed, from the mind of the artist and that any attempt at realism isn’t real art. Why paint realistically when you could just take a photo? There are those old school individuals who believe that art created with a computer doesn’t count. It’s all just programming and equations and has no soul to it. You have to be able to feel your materials in your hands, to get dirty, to connect with your art.

Then there are the conversations I have with those who behold an artist and her work with a sense of awe. They don’t understand how something like that could come from a person because they don’t believe they could create such beauty themselves. This leaves them to think that the artist has some sort of magic powers and that the craft is this unattainable thing, difficult to understand, yet somehow easy to do for those in the know.

As an artist, I say first and foremost: this stuff takes work. There’s no magic to what I do, not in the sense that it springs from some other realm and I’m the conduit through which it comes out. I have to spend time every day, every week, every month and year, honing my skills. I have to practice – a LOT. I have books and videos and bookmarked websites and blogs, all informing me on how to use my tools to create the effect I want to create and tell the stories I want to tell. I have over fifteen years of sketchbooks, computer files, canvases, and random pieces of paper containing ideas and techniques I want to master.

I have created art with everything from the exalted paint brush to the lowly crayon. I use the modern tools of camera and mouse and stylus to create digital works, not because I’m lazy and want to “cheat” but because I view them as a different kind of pencil, tools that have a specific effect, that give my final piece a specific look. It’s all art. And it’s all work.

This is starting to sound like a rant, but I have a point. Art is attainable, for everyone. The only difference between me and someone who “can’t draw a stick figure” is that I didn’t put away the crayons after elementary school. Remember back in the day when crayons, scissors and glue were required school supplies? Well, I still have mine and I kept using them. That’s it. That’s all. I’m pretty sure that if you picked up your crayons and played with them for a few years, you’d make beautiful pictures too.

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