drawingpaletteArt and Artists

I had every intention of writing about Music and Poetry at Corsham (and I will later) but then I remembered that I actually started this blog to think about art, now that I have had a lifetime involved in it in one way or another. Certain things still exercise me…one of them the most basic ‘Who or what is an a artist?’ It sounds an easy question but there are so many levels of definition and such a variety of understanding. Dictionary definitions don’t help much. I always wonder whether I qualify… under certain definitions I do and yet there are some that depend on judgement. I have been so unsure about it that I call myself a Maker as this I know to be true.

Here are some dictionary definitions.

Definition 1) A person who produces work, paintings and drawing

as a profession or hobby.

Yes, I can tick that box but that definition is not enough for me.

Definition 2) A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to criteria.

Getting closer but the question comes up who defines the criteria? There is an element of judgement. For years I have marked creative endeavours and have always felt uneasy about it. Would I qualify under those criteria whatever they are? Who knows? Clifford Ellis, the visionary who set up Corsham would not let Bristol University award degrees or marks. You either passed as a teacher and were awarded a certificate or not according to your ability to perform in the classroom. We had final exhibitions of our own work but were never given marks…if there was something good about your work that would take you further, they told you. I think it is true to say that a more than average number of Corsham students have gone on to teach in colleges and we have always had this problem of the lack of a degree hanging over us. I still find it painful in the extreme when art is ranked. The annual Beach Creative Water Colour competition gives me the ‘heeby jeeby’s.’

Definition 3) One such as a painter, sculptor or writer who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value.

Yes, getting closer but still a bit problematic for me. Imagination, that’s usually fairly obvious but aesthetic value…who’s values. I think it’s fair to say that people with lifetime experience at looking at colour, form, tones, balance, movement, mark making etc. should be given a bit of credit but you can still have very different views.

I could go on but none of them have been quite satisfactory for me. I haven’t seen the word ‘intention’ anywhere. There is a huge mismatch between the general public’s view of art and artists and the views of those in the trade (as it were). By and large technique is valued by the public at large almost above everything else.. If you have the ability to use a pencil to create an image like a photograph you are often widely admired. It is not my usual way of drawing but I can do it just to test out my theory. If you look at my Jan’s Art Trail you will see that I have put one in as a test case, The steps to the abbey at Whitby, I thought it would be admired and it was, but for me it was a bit of an empty exercise…yes it’s like a photograph but why not take a photograph? Then there’s subject matter that most people admire? Sentimentality is right up there,  cute manga type girls, crying eyes, animals, sun sets, they all cut it, just Google ‘Drawing’ and you will see.

Steps to the Abbey at Whitby.



I think  ‘intention’ is important…(yet I didn’t see that in any definition) what do you want to do? Is it personal to you? Is it original? Does it push the boundaries a bit? What do you want to say? Why have you selected those materials? Does it express your feeling? Why have you chosen those colours. Does it form part of a development of ideas? etc. Is it hackneyed, have loads of people done it before?

I don’t have much sympathy for artists who refuse to talk about their work at all, it doesn’t have to be a massive amount of information, just a little clue. I have had experiences that make it clear to me that a little explanation can create a clearer understanding quite quickly. I have a friend who on her first visit to the St Ives Tate, seeing abstract work by Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron etc insisted that it was all a big joke, ‘modern artists are pulling the wool over your eyes, taking you for a ride etc’, all art tutors have been there, heard these words. I went round with her looking at the paintings and talking about them a bit, it makes all the difference. She now tells me that she wants to go to more galleries with me in tow. How many tutors like me have taken their first year students to London galleries, to hear them say ‘You’re never going to get me to like that stuff’ I always said ‘I’ll ask you again in your third year!’ I did retire in !978 so things have probably changed a lot, there is more exposure to art on TV and other media.

Having said all these things it is true that there is a huge following for the arts, so something is getting through somewhere. The Tate Modern is always packed

(maybe not some of the less trendy galleries where there is equally good art)

When I think about, it a lot of the work that I love most, –  beautiful Romanesque and Gothic Sculpture, The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, artefacts from ethnography -were all made by ordinary craftsmen who didn’t call themselves artists. Of course I admire, Piero, Vermeer, Masaccio, Leonardo, Matisse great artists whose work is sublime, but if I am honest only in the same way. I think I have a strong egalitarian streak in me.


Back to Corsham…it was good for me because it introduced me to so many different forms of making but that in a way has become my downfall

I have become a ‘jack of all trades and a master of none’. I don’t seem to be able to focus on one thing, for me it is the subject matter that calls for a print, or a textile piece, possibly a ceramic. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So I think I’ll go on calling myself a maker (as that isn’t in question) and ignore the ‘artist’ thing!.

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