I believe at some point or another, every creative person navigates the waters of what I’m going to call “artist obligation.” This term encompasses the sea of the imagination, the creative process and the message of one’s realized art. The artist obligation is multifaceted and entails social, moral and ethical responsibilities for the artist and also on a larger plane, his or her audience.
It’s critical for every artist to examine his or her views on each of the tri-fold pieces with regard for the whole picture. There are connections to each, and if one is solid in an area, your stance should be solid throughout. Each piece is hinged upon the other.
At the beginning of creation, we have an idea that usually comes to us in unorthodox ways: while driving, in the shower, or washing dishes. One is rarely able to force an idea to hit while just sitting at a desk. When the mind is clear or within the framework of rote tasks, the idea is planted and begins to take root. This is the point when we feel that rush of energy and our minds start racing. We can’t move quickly enough to our canvases, notes, computers, or studios to bring our idea to fruition. We are in the zone. It’s the place we love and long to be. This place is full of life, spontaneous creativity, and passion. We are so very happy.
In our complete creative joy, we are not likely to be thinking about our artist obligation. We have one thing and one thing only to do. Create. It is only after the paint is applied and we are on our way with our idea that we can take some time to pause and reflect.
We will be confronted with some questions; the answers to which lie in our moral, ethical and social compasses:
Do I have any clear messages in my work?
What exactly do I want to project and emphasize in my art?
How do I want these messages to affect society?
What is my role as an artist within the confines of society?
What do I want to accomplish with this work?
What are my beliefs? Are they clearly reflected in my work?
Let me be clear: this reflection should not derail the creative process, but enhance it. We have a responsibility to ourselves and society to articulate in some sort of non-visual language what our intentions are. Once we are able to accomplish this, we widen our own scope and that of others. If you want to be recognized, appreciated and understood as an artist, you need to help people understand. Also important to note is the fact that our obligations obviously have the ability to change and evolve as we do.
Aiding in this articulation could be something as simple as using the title as a gateway to your art to enhance other’s understanding. Being able to intelligently explain our work does many great things. It gives an artist direction and purpose, paving the path of self-awareness (which, you realize by now, I’m a huge fan of). There is something seriously selfish and elitist in an artist who believes that people should understand art by just looking. To an extent, that can hold some truth for the visually minded or cultured art peeper. However, if one expands their thinking and understanding of people, society and, ultimately, their audience, it becomes crystal clear that the general public may need a little help generating their comprehension of your work. Many non-creative types are intimidated by visual communication and art itself. It becomes a highbrow thing and very abstract. I’ve seen this first hand with students and also non-artist left-brained adults. When you look at the big picture of your work, there is a definite artistic obligation to guide the audience into full realization of your message. I would think every creative person wants to be both recognized and understood. It goes with the territory. Many times, this doesn’t happen. We create excuses when there is no need to. We need to think outside our individual realms and expand into that of others.
Simply, if you want to be recognized, appreciated, and understood as an artist, you need to help people understand.
Artists are in the unique and special position in the societal hierarchy to have the incredible ability to create change, rattle the cage, enhance their audience’s thinking, and help others to see differently. Seeing differently is not just visual. It affects the viewer’s thinking process and perception of whatever your message or meaning may be. Just digest it. Once the magnitude of this responsibility is realized, great things can be accomplished.
It is a two-way street and a symbiotic relationship that an artist has with their audience. We need them and they need us. We can show others our ideas of the world, our interpretation of it and, in turn, our viewers help us be recognized, appreciated, and understood.
It is our artistic obligation to do so.
by Kim Celona
Prolific Artist and Writer