“I Could Paint That”

Wanted to share this brief, humorous article titled “12 Things Never To Say To An Artist” from The Huffington Post.

At the same time I was reading the HuffPost article, I clicked on the video (currently circulating) capturing U.S. Figure Skater Jason Brown’s performance. I posted a link on my Facebook page to share it because it is tremendously impressive.

What I find interesting when you compare sports to the arts is that there’s no equivalent phrase to “I could paint that.” The general public doesn’t look at Jason’s video and say, “I could skate that”. Or at a football game and say, “Yeah, I could’ve scored that goal”.

So why is that? Do we value athletes more than we value artists? It’s tempting to say “yes”.  Perhaps its easier to look at what athletes do and think it’s extraordinary. But I’m coming at this from an artists perspective, so it’s difficult to be objective. Many people take at least one art class in school (still, despite the insane levels to which the arts have been decimated from public education) and few end up on the football team, so does it boil down to that? Someone took one art class so they assume that gives them license to not only be an art critic but to place themselves in the shoes of the artist?

The equivalent statement that grates on me is, “That’s a beautiful photo. What kind of camera do you use?”

Scenario – You’re in a five-star restaurant. You order a sumptuous meal; a wonderful appetizer, an exquisite entree, and a spectacular dessert. When you are satiated, you ask to see the chef. He appears and you say, “That was an unbelievable, glorious meal. What kind of stove do you use?”

Doesn’t make any sense does it? The art of great cooking is in the mind of the chef. Selecting the ingredients, blending the tastes, balancing the flavors, and serving it just right. The tools rarely enter into it.

It’s much the same with photography. It’s not about the tools – it’s what’s in the mind of the photographer. The tools are necessary of course; but entirely secondary to the work of the photographer, which is seeing. Or, more accurately, seeing that which others don’t.

“I could paint that”.

“Yeah, but you didn’t. You didn’t pay for the canvas and the brushes or the easel. You didn’t work crappy jobs putting yourself through art school. You didn’t have endless fights with your parents about not having a ‘real’ job. You didn’t stay up all night, banging your head against the wall, waiting for inspiration. You didn’t spend gazillions on books, museum trips, and traveling to absorb the experience and influences that eventually work their way into the art. You didn’t do it because you’re too busy, or don’t have the time, or are uninspired, or worried that you’re not talented enough.”

Maybe the better question is “Why aren’t you doing it?”

So, next time you’re at an art show, an open market, or a craft fair and see something an artist made with their own hands and minds; please enjoy it and appreciate it (if it’s something that resonates with you). If you must say, “I could paint (or sew, or make, or shoot) that”, then stop, leave the market, and go straight to an art supply store, get the supplies and go do it.

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