I strive not only to give the viewer an accurate and familiar face or scenario, but also the experience of true recognition, regardless if it’s someone they’ve never met, a place they’ve never been, an event they didn’t witness or a loved one they’ll never forget.
The human face is equal parts familiar and terrifying. The addition of a face to any piece of art can be inviting or distracting to the viewer, depending on how it’s executed. Because the face has such a ‘make-or-break’ reputation in art, I’ve worked the better part of my amateur and professional career as an Illustrator and Portrait Artist, striving to master the craft and remove that fear.
My formative years were spent trying to get to know the people Norman Rockwell lovingly introduced me to, following the larger than life characters Drew Struzan immortalized, tracking the journey of each and every infinite line Al Hirschfeld charted, as well as counting all his hidden ‘Nina’s and dreaming new, elaborate dreams with Winsor McCay. Their familiar and recognizable work became my motivator for realizing the portraits and images I create, be it paint on canvas, scratches on various boards, simulations in a computer or etched in stone.
Art is every bit as utilitarian as it is impracticably complex. As much as a sizable cross-section of artists want Art to be the great divider that separates the enlightened from the bewildered, Art is, in fact, the great universal tool of imagination. Anyone can use it for any purpose under the sun, with no exclusions. Its multiple facets can be adapted in almost any way imaginable, from deep to shallow, education to disinformation, spirituality to blasphemy, calm to frenzy, and other infinite possibilities.
This works because, at the very heart of Art, there are no rules, only guidelines. The only exception would be the execution of a plan that has specific parameters that determine definitive success or failure, like a building schematic or a teacher’s syllabus. Short of that, there is no wrong answer.
Even though there are many aspects that are treated as an ‘understood’, such as the need for creativity, expression, and meaning, to name a few, even these ‘understood’ principles are not set in stone. So many artists are expected to never repeat themselves; they should always strive to produce new and refreshing images of every action and reaction. Other artists are told to work, rework and then rework again the same idea, making it into the final, definitive piece. Both aspects are correct, but not exclusive. Whatever the piece requires, whatever the artist attempts, that’s what is called for and it can change in a moment’s notice, and that, too, is called for. There are a million possibilities for how and why an artist takes on a particular piece. They can come in any combination and produce any number of variations. No one version is more ‘art’ than the other, except in the mind of the critic.
For centuries artists and their critics, as well as philosophers and scientists, have tried to develop the definitive theory on the nature of creativity and how successful Art should be realized, almost like a recipe. It’s impossible. Like the Earth rotates on its axis, creating polarity, so, too, does Art. It is always moving, always changing, adapting the old and the now to create something new, and then doing it again. It excludes nothing and takes on everything. This naturally creates division in the Art world.
“How can what speaks to me so strongly not speak to everyone else? What are they missing? Do they not understand or are they deliberately ignoring it?”
This polarity keeps the Art world from accepting the simplest of truths: Everything, in its own special way, is touched by Art. The chairs, the tables, the buttons and switches, the windows, the light bulbs, the tiles on the floor and ceiling, the phone, the fountain, the calculator, the cross tie, the pen, the sword, the ship, the sail, the plane, the train, the automobile, the candle and the conduit. Everything physically made has, at one time or another, passed through the hands of an artist, whether that artist is called a craftsman, designer, fabricator, engineer, etc. Art is everywhere and in all things. Accepting that diminishes the belief that the enlightened have something the bewildered can never have. In fact, the opposite is the case: It’s the so-called ‘bewildered’ that elevate the Art to an enlightened plane.
The more an artist tries to deliberately maintain a cliquish attitude toward what they do and who should and shouldn’t do it, the more they ultimately alienate those they would have embrace them and only succeed in excluding themselves. Art will always have different audiences that clamor for different experiences. Some will find it in sculpture, while others will find it in painting. Some will find it in sequential illustration, while others will see it in the most abstract of installations. Some will see it in computer graphics, while others will discover it from a can of spray paint. Some see it in architecture while many find it in a well-designed ball-point pen. It’s even in a well-manicured lawn or intrinsically displayed dinner setting. It’s all correct, all of it has value and no one avenue is any more enlightening than another, no matter how bad an artist or group of artists wants it or needs it to be.
The Art world as a whole needs to remember to make art accessible, not just for the few million who inhabit the artistic community and fancy themselves ‘enlightened’, but for the billions who don’t. When that happens, the Arts will never have another funding problem again. The public will understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ and they will embrace all of it, no matter their individual opinions. They will see that Art is just as much a foundation stone to successful Math and Science, just as Math and Science help to inform and drive Art. As the head can do nothing without the union of the arms, legs and torso, so go all the various branches of intellectual discipline. Remove any one from the union, and the whole is the poorer for it.
Art can and should be universal, all things to all people. It was designed to be.