We often talk about the myriad tasks of life that seem to buzz around us and can become distractions from our artistic focus. We call it “ground clutter”, a term borrowed from radar used to describe unimportant signals in the landscape. While it is important not to trip on or bump into ground clutter as we move through life, there are times when we have to remind ourselves to quit watching our feet, look up and see the bigger picture.
One of the things that increases the buzzing and can sometimes completely obscure the larger vision comes from comparing and competing. Although it may be rewarding for one’s art career to be accepted into a national juried show, or even win a top prize, this should never be the goal in art.
Acceptance is affirming, but it is often only the temporary opinion of a juror. Plenty of deserving art gets rejected from these shows every year. Likewise, the social benefits of working within an accomplished group of artists at a plein air painting event may be stimulating, but again, it is often only a temporary benefit. We have interviewed many professional artists for our Voices of Experience articles, and a common thread which winds throughout their lives is the dedication to the continuous development of their personal visions over the long haul, come hell or high water.
Joseph Campbell described the artist’s role best when he said:
“Creative artists . . . are mankind’s wakeners to recollection: summoners of our outward mind to conscious contact with ourselves, not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being. Their task, therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that an actual shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of a brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another.”
At those times when it becomes difficult to see the bigger picture and we begin to minimize our work by comparing and competing, it is vital to remember how important our individual statements of art can be. We are witnesses to the world around us, recording, reacting and sharing our sensitivities. We see this as the higher calling of art – higher even than winning that competition or being the quickest to finish a quick draw.
(Joseph Campbell was an influential teacher and American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. He was an expert on religious and mythological art in particular, and studied the role of the artist in society throughout history.)
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–John and Ann