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Saturday, May 9, 2020


Do creative artists ever look back at works they have finished -- a painting, a sonnet, a concerto. a sculpture, a novel -- and say to themselves, "Yes, that is what I was trying to create, that is beautiful" or do they restlessly press on to each new creative effort, never retrospectively enjoying what they have made?


Jerry Brown said...

Most of the things I have built as a carpenter are far too useful to be considered art. But absolutely have I looked at what I created and been proud of myself and enjoy it in some sense. I can't imagine artists would not have a similar reaction when they know they made something beautiful.

Carl said...

Mostly the former. There are exceptions.

Ed Barreras said...

As an amateur dabbler in various art forms, I’ll answer this. I think probably all artists absolutely do stand back and admire their own work. Otherwise where’s the motivation to continue? It’s simply a matter of pride in your accomplishments, your ability to create beautiful things. But of course pride is a volatile thing. It’s linked to pretentiousness. I find that many amateur artists (especially young and insecure ones) are so wrapped up in the idea of their singular brilliance that they have difficulty accepting criticism. They think their critics just must not “get” them. Hence they don’t grow.

Is the finished work ever as good as what you imagined? That’s a hard question. I’d say that the finished work is always *different*. It results from a struggle between the artists ideas and talent on the one hand, and the materiality of the medium on the other. So, the finished work almost always surprises you. For example, a painter might be delighted at how he achieved the effect of a certain light, even if he might admit that such effect isn’t exactly what he was going for— it’s not what he “imagined.” And what is this “imagined” work any way? It’s not as if one can compare the actual work with a copy of the imagined one.

Of course, the actual work is always better than the intended or imagined simply in virtue of its being real, for as St. Anselm teaches us, existence is a perfection.

Jerry Fresia said...

For me it is both, but mostly the latter.

There are some paintings that when I look at them later, I don't know how I did them. There seems to be more going on than I remember being aware of when I did them. But that is the exception. My desire has always been to grow, to go deeply, to do something that I think is really me and really art. I'm 72 and I don't think I've turned that corner yet where my work or maybe one or two pieces cross the line where I can say with satisfaction, "I've done it." I haven't done it. There are many works that I think are good, are accomplished. But there is not that transcendent quality about them that marks genuine art.

That is why I love reading or listening to artists whom I like talk about their process. They always reveal clues. Matisse said that each of us must find our way out of our own particular maze. I keep pushing on the walls of my maze, but doors or pathways out don't open. I think I am growing, but ever so slowly.

James Camien McGuiggan said...

When I was in my undergrad, I was pretty serious about becoming a composer, and have written a handful of pieces that were performed multiple times for fairly large forces: one piece for orchestra, two pieces for massed guitars. I wrote these pieces over a decade ago now, and in the interm I've done absolutely nothing (this was largely because my creative energies went into philosophy).

When I look back on these pieces, especially the guitar ensemble ones, I'm mostly pretty proud. What art can do that philosophy (in my experience) can't is capture where you were at a certain point in your life, and this can be enough. In philosophy, there's the external matter of 'yeah but is it true' that can dilute this. And so when I say I'm proud of these works, I don't mean that they're perfect, or that they're what I'd write now; what I mean is that they capture something about who I was then (or who I aspired to be, or who I was inside but wasn't always great at turning into action), something that I could never have captured by *trying* to capture it, but which I captured by just being open and free with regard to what I wrote. I wasn't thinking about 'me' in writing them: I was thinking in a more impersonal way about what worked musically. But looking back, I find they were all me. (They were me even in their imperfection, which is something philosophy has never done for me either!)

So there's actually two questions in your post. On the one hand, yes I enjoy my previous work. But it's not in tension with this that I always push on to new things. I'm not who I was at twenty; my task now is to perfect me, not a past self. (This is also why derivative art is always so bad, even when executed perfectly.)

Anonymous said...

If we go by the modern understanding of art as expression of feelings or emotions, then no art form can capture our emotions exactly. An artist may be satisfied by an aspect or two of a particular artwork, such as its utility (or functionality), the difficulty overcome in that medium of expression of those feelings, or the perfection of expression for that time and place. But such artistic satisfaction, no matter how deeply or strongly felt, is ephemeral, not permanent. The best an artist can hope for, as Collingwood said, is to clarify the artist's own inchoate emotion. If you agree with Oscar Wilde that art is a form of lying, then it is easy to see why we are never satisfied with our lies, and the truth compells us to try again. Do better next time, come closer to the real emotion.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

As a working musician, but currently non-working, I can say with absolute certainty that there are times when after the performance one can say, "We did great, we nailed it." On those nights audience reaction almost always confirms your judgement. The times audience and performer reactions differ are often perplexing. I haven't done much recording, but I have never been happy with any of it, though there are degrees of dissatisfaction.

Music tends to differ from other art forms (with the exception now of slam poetry) in that it is done live, and it involves the re-creation of a work. The comparison of music to other art forms is problematic in some ways. A composer knows how the work will, or should, sound when performed. While anyone competent in the language can read a sonnet or novel and comprehend it, even if you know how to read a score, what the composer has created isn't real, or objective, until it is played and heard. But prior to recording, a piece was never played the same way twice. Music doesn't have the same objectivity as sculpture, poetry, or painting without mechanical reproduction.

Jerry Brown said...

I appreciate the note that you directed towards me in your next post. Thank you.

I have been thinking about this a bit in the meantime. I have always realized that there are many, many people that could have done whatever it was that I built. I know I have some talents and skills but that the odds are that some of them would have done it better in some way. Or at least differently so that it appealed more to some people than others. And that has never bothered me- but it might bother your true artist. So I just don't know. I would hope they appreciate what they create and have a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what they produced. But artists are not always thought of as happy people in general.