Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On personal work

On personal work:

There is a trend and dialogue among a section of my art community that believes in and supports personal work above client-commissioned work.  I have stated my current lack of interest in personal work in dialogue with certain people but I feel I have been misunderstood, so I would like to clarify my thoughts on the place personal work can and likely will have in all of our art careers.

The nuance I want to clarify is that I actually think artists producing personal work is inevitable.  This inevitability will manifest itself in a number of ways, including the discovery of personal themes, stories and influences that you will eventually feel the need to put on paper.  Also, there is an inevitability of being passed by fast-moving trends in the commercial world and needing a new (personal, self-initiated) forum to continue your craft and vision.  The internet is full of 25 year-old artists producing a dazzling volume of spectacular and innovative art on a daily basis.  A survey of older artists will likely show a slower pace to the creation of more simple or subtle content.  I have always been aware of a natural cycle in the life of the artist: You can commonly see if you survey the works of old painters how the paintings of their energetic youth are full of detail and "perfection", while later works get looser and more self-assured.  The older artist has less to prove to others and more to satisfy for themselves.  The rewards of fame and public adulation are less important than enjoying satisfying work and the experience creating it.

The reason that I am currently most committed to client work is that I think there are the most demands, deadlines, standards and learning opportunities.  This is not to say that you can't challenge yourself with your own projects, but there is a danger that you may fall into a trap of doing what comes easily, naturally or comfortably.  Your limitations may soon find excuse to be called a "series", and you may end up producing hobbyist art for a niche.
I have worked with some great art directors who act as teachers.  Exposure to other voices and critique is essential for learning.  There is a danger that a non-fully-formed artist, embarking on their personal vision will self-excuse aspects of their art "because it's their vision".
I wish that those who value personal work above client work would evaluate the art on its merits alone.  Some abstract or personal "vision" may be a complex expression of some eternal truth... or it might just be lazy work without enough comparable cues, making it difficult to evaluate and criticize for lack of criteria.
Another cause of growth is the production of a continuous volume of work. Client work and dealing with a prepared assignment and parameters allows you to constantly start and finish new work, taking away the stunting effects of indecision.

To reiterate the point of personal work being inevitable, I can see tolerance and energy for client work will likely dwindle as low pay-rates, the dearth of desirable assignments and tiring demands make one's self-directed art more alluring.  The issue is not whether to concentrate on personal or client work, the issue is when.  There is a necessary gauntlet of assignments, experiences and challenges that will build your skills for future use; so that your inevitable personal art will have more substance and less limitations.  With these things in place, your personal art voice will actually be stronger, and you will have the skills and depth of knowledge to be fully satisfied with your work.

My post here is not to dissuade anyone from working on personal projects, its more to highlight the arc our careers may take and to maximize the benefits of each stage.  A young artist needs to challenge themselves to the highest technical degree possible and maximize the part of their life that has the most energy and tolerance for growth-inducing painful labour.  Client work can be great for fulfilling that role.