Art is not about painting. That might sound weird, coming from a painter. But really, it’s about seeing. We artists synthesize visual elements. We use our personal focus, direction, poetry and lyricism to communicate with our viewers. Indulge my rant for a minute.
That’s why the question “How long did it take you to make the painting?” is so frustrating. That question reduces painting to the mechanics. I mean I could present you with all the parts for a Toyota Camry – body, windows, upholstery, electronics, etc.
How long would it take you to assemble a functioning car if you’d never actually seen one before? You might have the basic understanding of how the transmission and motor works, but no clear plan of how all these pieces fit together.
For example, an engineer MIGHT be able to assemble the car in a week’s time. But that doesn’t even begin to cover how long that person had to work to learn how the car is put together. And this analogy doesn’t really even compare to a unique work of art.
When I hear this question, I often feel like the underlying curiosity is whether the artist is able to sustain a livable wage, or whether, the art they are selling is worth the price.
Art is not really about the physical act of painting, though.
Artwork has historic, symbolic and poetic meaning. It’s not about painting like you’d paint the walls of a room. Reducing painting to production standards is demeaning. It’s like asking an opera singer how long it will take her to perform that aria. 20 minutes?
Ok at $15 per hour, let’s say I’ll pay you 7.50 to perform. Really? Artists often work for YEARS to hone their skills to a level worthy of performance.
Now maybe what people are really asking is whether the work came together relatively easily or if it was a challenge. Artists all know that some paintings are more cooperative than others. Heck, I’ve even gone so far as to say that some paintings are jinxed. No matter what you do, it seems that this particular piece doesn’t work.
Art is about Communicating
The key point here is that to make headway in art, we need to challenge ourselves on a regular basis. Because art is not about the act of painting. To be creative, and to communicate we need to try things we haven’t before, push beyond our limits.
Making paintings is not at all like assembling parts or covering a wall. It’s relatively simple to estimate the time those tasks will take.
According to the Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon’s arts and culture industry generated $687 million dollars in economic impact according to a statewide study in 2019. And that impact is not isolated to cities. Art is important. It’s important fiscally as well as culturally. It’s important historically. And it is important personally – to the artist and to the viewer.
If you agree that art is important (personally, culturally or historically) leave me a comment. I love hearing from you! And support me as an artist by sharing with friends on your favorite social media channel. Use the handy links below this post. Thanks for indulging my rant!
If you have thought about taking an art class during the pandemic, I am offering a short, online workshop this month! Click to check it out on my Workshops page..
I love the way that you expressed this “art is about seeing”
This got me thinking is is about seeing through both the eyes and the emotions.
Very well stated, Debby – I wish I had been that clear! Synthesizing the visual seeing with the emotional seeing – that’s art!
I actually enjoy taking the other approach, comparing painting to manufacturing.. Before any widget can roll off the assembly line in seconds there may have been tens or hundreds of people involved in the design of the widget and the assembly line. Artists usually do the whole cycle themselves. So it may have taken years to design the style they use and they still have to design the individual work they create next. It is manufacturing. But we are manufacturing something that has to have “magic embedded” in it or it won’t be purchased. And we have to do all of the design marketing bookkeeping procurement and sales work in addition to the manufacturing.
Thanks for adding to the discussion, Rick!
Art is about interpreting through seeing (observing).
Know that there will not be another interpretation like yours!
Thanks Debra- so true!
Sorry I’m so late with this comment but I’m just cleaning up my email. I really enjoyed your “rant” Ruth – especially the part about being asked how long it took to finish a particular piece. But I’ve even had fellow artists ask me that. No idea what that is about. Anyway – I’ve been stuck with a particular painting that won’t “come together” and your piece is very helpful.
Interesting! I do think knowing whether someone is a fast painter or a slow one might be a thing… but I think it varies so much from painting to painting… hard to even quantify it on one single painting. Do you count by the day or by the hour… hours actually applying paint or hours considering your next move? I think most painters can understand that. Glad you enjoyed my rant 😉