Convictions in Art

How important is it for an artists to have convictions? How necessary is it for the creator of artworks to believe in their work – indeed to have such strong underlying beliefs that they shape the artist’s very direction, pushing forward certain ideas and closing off other directions behind them?

Conversely, what happens if an artist fails to have deep convictions about their work? What if instead, the artist can see and understand different ideas and theories, to the extent that they cannot commit themselves to any one particular way of making work?

If we look at the vast array of artwork being made today, we can see that there is no dominant mode of production. Looking at the media artists use, we see that painting is still incredibly popular, yet so too now are video, performance, sculpture and related 3D forms, including such widely differing media as ceramic and installation. Regarding the artists themselves, individual makers are still in the majority, but we now have the rise of the group or collective, issuing works as a until.

If we consider the ideas that motivate the works, again we see a large number of different approaches, from the jokey, slack-handed indifference of Martin Creed and David Shrigley to the political commitment of Ai Weiwei and Kara Walker. We see artists focusing on body politics and representation, the environment, aesthetic concerns and formalism, archiving and endless explorations of long-forgotten minor byways of culture and history. In short, there is no one dominant subject for contemporary artists.

With such a spread of approaches and materials, how can an art practitioner decide where to turn, or develop an instinct for their own art ‘path’? Artists can be pulled one way and another, never settling on one particular style or one overall theme. It is this quality which the art market craves above all: marketability. A common factor for artists who are not independently wealthy or who cannot rely on Mummy and Daddy to pay for their creative whims, is the obvious need to pay for the works. With the increased diversity in art forms and approaches, it seems to me that the only real conviction many artists hold is intimately linked to their material success. It is much, much easier to sell work as an artist, or for a gallerist to market an artist’s work if they have a distinctive or easily recognisable style. For artists ‘style’ is intimately associated with content. So artists who are deemed to chop and change their approaches and materials are not often welcome in the commercial art world because this variability impacts their recognition factor. Additionally, such changing is often seen as a lack of commitment to a particular personal artistic ‘vision’. This personal artist’s point-of-view is valorised because of the idea of the artist as a kind of creative ‘other’, and in older narratives as a ‘genius’. Perhaps genius exists – in fact, I’m sure it does. But that does not mean that all artists are therefore geniuses, even the most successful ones (apart that is, from making money – see Warhol and his epigones). The personal viewpoint of the artist is valued because of its internal continuity. It doesn’t matter if it changes, as long as it shows linearity and ‘development’. Anything other than this adherence to unity shows a personality flaw because of a perceived lack of conviction.

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