Making Art

Bringing Art Making Into Your Life

Deciding to make ‘Good’ art just doesn’t work.

It’s always a bad idea to decide to make a ‘Good’ piece of art. Firstly, whether something is or isn’t good, is a subjective view. Secondly, ‘Good’ isn’t an idea, it’s a result and thirdly it implies that you are going to put pleasing others at the forefront of your planning process.

I was sitting at home watching series 2 of ‘Work of Art: the Next Great Artist’ reality art show. It’s a competition with someone being tossed out at the end of every episode. Each week the artists are given 24 hours to complete an artwork based on a theme they are given. I basically disapprove of the whole premise. I mean who makes a good thing from scratch with a new theme, and possibly a new medium in 24 hours? No artist I know. And what artists like to be told what they should make? So many of us earn our living working as designers, it’s really not what we want to do with our art.. But I am like a rabbit in the headlights. There are so few shows on tv where they talk to artists about their idea that I simply can’t resist watching.

The artists on the show are mostly youngish, some are university educated in art some are not. They are a mixed bag, with varying levels of skill. For me the fascination lies in their response to the given task or theme. My husband [who is also an artist] and I watch with a mixture of horror and fascination. After watching the first series we know a little bit about what the judges are after, how much they want you to stick to the task and how you’d better have your justifications ready. It’s as much about saving your arse with the gift of the gab as it is about making good art. But although we can usually tell who is not doing well, we can’t ever tell who is going to get the boot.


Above: Peregrine Honig’s ‘Twin Fawns’. Honig was runner up in the first series and described how these twin taxidermied fawns are her muse.  [Photo by E.G. Schempf]


Above: A shot of Peregine Honig’s final show. wax objects with a sort of spooky carnival theme. I wasn’t too crazy about her work for most of the series, but when she got let loose to do what she wanted I really liked her work.

From the moment they receive their task,  some of them will start to veer away from what the judges have asked for. Then within a few minutes they are so attached to their idea, that even when they receive advice from their mentor Simon de Pury, they rarely ever listen to him. Even though its sort of annoying to watch, I totally get this. Your idea is already off and running. Artists usually make whatever they fancy and rarely need to reign in to suit a set of rules. But the other fascinating thing is that quite often they decide, in response to being in the bottom 3 the previous week that they should make something ‘Good’.

The problem is ‘Good’ doesn’t really mean anything. ‘Good’ is what  someone thinks about your work or not. Some artists were famously ill thought of then once the poor thing had died everyone suddenly decided their work is ‘Good’ after all. Also many artists know the feeling of surprise and annoyance, when nobody likes the piece they themselves think is their best, but the piece they think is a bit crap is the first to sell.[I know! Lucky to sell anything, but still.] So when the artists on the show start heading down this path it’s almost a death nell, because you know they will not be working authentically [hate that word sorry], they will be all transfixed on pleasing others and are unlikely to be thinking straight enough to express any idea very well. I mean, of course they want to make something good. Nobody wants to make a piece of shit art, but the thing is you just have to make a piece of art you believe in, with an idea that you are genuinely connected to, then let it go out into the world.

But the funny part of the story is that as I was watching it, I said to my husband ‘ I need to make something good’. He just looked at me with his eyebrows raised. Oh dear.  After a couple of seconds I said, ‘I would  never give anyone else that advice would I?’ Husband shakes his head.

I think the reason I came up with this idea of needing to make something good, is because lately I feel like I have lost direction a bit with my art making. The christmas holidays kind of scattered my momentum and the few little bits and pieces I have made since then have been exactly that… bits and pieces. There’s been no real through-thread, no big concept I have been working on. After a while working like this gets a bit aimless for me. I like to have something I can really stick my teeth into.

I thought for a few minutes and said, ‘I guess I  just need to make something.’

So whats the solution to my problem? Well I think its threefold:

  • Play. I probably need to lighten up a bit and just start playing with my medium. See which bits are going where I want and follow that direction. Maybe even try a new medium. Just enjoy it with no specific end point.
  • The heavy stuff. Sit down and ask ‘why have I been making these particular works?’ Think about what I am not happy with specifically. Is it a lack of a decent idea and thread to follow, or is it the actual work? Have I not been putting my all into each piece and they are a bit half arsed? I don’t need to beat myself up here, but its worth asking the questions.
  • Get out my ideas notebook and have a good read through all of the ideas. Pick out a couple I am most drawn to and make them. See which ideas I have written down in a variety of ways, which indicates a longer term interest in them.

And finally, I need to not worry about making something good. Just make something I connect to. Then make some more. Then sometime, if I am lucky, something good will pop out and it will be a little surprise.

2 comments on “Deciding to make ‘Good’ art just doesn’t work.

  1. Pingback: Playing with your art, a new medium, a new thread « Making Art

  2. Pingback: My top tips for getting into an creative headspace | Making Art

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2013 by in Artists, Inspiration, Making art and tagged , , .
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