Who Says?

Who are the arbiters of quality and worth in art? How did they become the gatekeepers? Why do people follow what they say? Or do they?

Art is intensely subjective and personal. Anyone in the role of a critic can only be speaking from the viewpoint of their own likes and dislikes. Who cares? They are welcome to their opinion, but their opinion does not determine whether or not the works an artist creates are “good art”. It does not matter what their education or credentials are, they were not granted a license to be a gatekeeper. But it is a role that many want to play.

In his excellent short book “A Beautiful Anarchy“, David duChemin has a great chapter entitle “Winning at Yoga”. He makes the point that, although humans are very competitive, that isn’t necessarily beneficial when it comes to art (or love or …). The very notion of art competitions seems as out of place as competitive yoga. If you practice yoga you are only “competing” against yourself. Likewise an artist cannot compare himself to any other standard other than his own vision and capability.

An artist can create to win a competition or he can create to satisfy his inner vision. The first may lead to some recognition in the short term. Longer term he will probably realize that that is not his art, it is just a work product. Which is important to you depends on your values and situation. After being in that place, I have chosen to create for myself even if it does not get recognition.

What about the gatekeepers? They can serve a valuable role, but recognize they can only tend their own garden. A gallery or a designer chooses art that generally satisfies their own opinions and values. If you find one who has curated work that you like, too, then use them. They have gone through a lot of work to sift and filter their selections. That is value. But remember, this person cannot really say what is good or bad, only what they value.

I’m an artist. That means I have to let my creations loose into the world. Not everybody will like them. Maybe nobody will like them. They are free to criticize my work from their point of view of perfection or artistic merit. That is part of the game. I have to be able to thank them for their opinion and try to find something to learn from it. The important thing for me is whether or not I like the work and am I growing in the direction that feels right to me. I cannot let gatekeepers determine that for me. I will not settle for living someone else’s opinion of what my life should be.