If Artists Stay Sober, will Great Art DIE?

Dear Kim,
Are artists more creative when they drink, smoke pot or do recreational drugs?

Hmm, Joanie, Joanie, Joanie,
Haven't I warned you guys about huffing those oil paint fumes?  OK, I'll act like this is a serious question and trace it back a hundred years or so.

There are several examples throughout history when artists have turned to a green fairy or two for inspiration. Think of the Impressionists' love of absinthe, the liquor that made them crave turpentine-based products. Toulouse l'Autrec even painted some of his models green, but that could have been a result of the glow from the gas lanterns overhead rather than his alcoholic delusions.

Then there are the Surrealists in the 1920's who were fascinated by the new science of psychoanalysis popularized by the writings of Sigmund Freud. The radical idea that one could solve his/her problems by talking about them was fascinating. Artists began to ask, "What else can we find in our subconscious? How do we get to it? Hypnosis? Dreams? Opium?" 

And besides...think of the marketing value of the suggestion that artists may or may not be using drugs in order to paint. Salvador Dali and the daddy of DADA, Marcel Duchamp, loved to shock. They knew that the stranger they sounded, the more their art sold. If they even alluded to the scandalous idea of drug-induced art, their work brought in the coins.

Moving into the 60's, psychedelic art categorized the era. Considering that the term means "mind-manifesting", psychedelic refers to art created using drugs such as LSD and other substances that some artists believed could help to depict the inner world of the psyche. Remember "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles? Even Beach Bad Boy Brian Wilson claimed he could write better songs after partaking a bit of something special.

Nevertheless, let's just analyze the science of it. We all know that alcohol and drugs remove our inhibitions and cause us to feel as if we could conquer the world. (No, we won't go into any personal anecdotes, please.)

Well, isn't that the trick to great art? No, not drugs, silly, but the idea of getting over those fears that keep us from being creative? If we recognize that it's fear that is holding back our creativity, we can remove our own inhibitions. If we can embrace that fear, we can overcome it without the use of mind-bending "extras." Yes, we'll have to work on it in slow increments at first, but we can do it.

Just think, turning down the volume of that self-criticizing inner voice all by ourselves sure beats the heck out of the headache the morning after.

Two Simple Steps to Creating a Body of Work

Dear Kim,
Last time, you talked about selling a Body of Work at fairs and festivals, but how do I know when I have just that? Will I feel more professional? Will I know a Body of Work when I see it?

Dear Ben,
Good question and one with which ALL artists struggle. Just knowing when each individual work is finished is a brain teaser, but a Body of Work? Always a challenge.

Your question deals with more than one work of art. It deals with a quantity, yes? Well, keep in mind that every professional artist out there has been in your flip-flops. Each started out with the same spark of curiosity that you've already ignited, but they took it a bit further.

These two simple steps can put you on the path to creating a Body of Work:

  1. Continue to produce lots of art whether it's painting, drawing, photography, mixed media or sculpture. Quantity does pay off because it allows you to choose from more pieces to create that signature Body of Work. As you've finished your 20th painting or bowl, choose a dozen of your most successful. Avoid including every work because you will be judged by your worst piece, not your best.
  2. Study that Body of Work and ask for outside opinions (and as I said last time, NOT from family members, but from other artists). Make sure your Body of Work looks as if the same artist did it. Is it the same subject matter? Is it similar media? Does the color scheme of each piece relate to the others? Do you repeat your technique (Ex: brisk brush stroke, soft lighting, etc.)? If the answer is NO to these questions, make more art (see #1 above).

Good luck and please email again. I'd love to see some of your work.