The final, great block on the imagination and practice of any artist is their own ability to self-censor. To limit what they do because they are scared to be criticised. As if anyone who calls themselves an artist should be fearful of someone thinking differently from themselves? As if they should worry about someone looking over the artist’s shoulder being critical because the artist thinks differently from them.
To narrow your focus to please others is not the artistic temperament. Look at what Rudolph Baranik says in the archive piece at the end of this issue:
“Philip Guston once wrote that when he starts to paint, four silent guests sit in the corner of his loft: a leading critic, a museum curator, an art historian, and a respected friend. But as he goes on working the intruders silently get up and leave one after another. During the long period of oppression a different set of intruders sat in the corners of the Crown studios of Soviet artists: a party ideologue, a critic from the party-controlled art press, an academic art historian, and a representative from the bureaucratic artists union. The union-controlled exhibitions, prizes, sales, commissions, and creative assignments – paid stays in the countryside on the warm seashore of the Crimea. From my talks with Soviet artists and visits to their studios it became clear that the post-glasnost intruders are as follows: a dealer from New York, a reporter from Flash Art, a collector from Germany and an art lover from the fashionable technocrat set.”
You should have a very select group you call upon to sit with you when you paint and none of them should dictate where your brush goes. In fact across all art forms, which can be very lonely pursuits, the voices in your head should be controlled by the artist. If you have conflicting advice from several sides you won’t produce anything of value to the history of art.
This is not the same as never being satisfied with your work. So many artists have rarely been satisfied with their work it is almost true to say it is one of the marks of an artist. Striving for better, striving to be clearer about intent and ‘message’ is what art hungers after. But choosing not to do something for fear of public reaction; limiting the subject matter for fear of offending; these are not the instincts of an artist. And it goes way beyond the political. The artist may comment as they wish upon anything, at any time.
And many of you do, but you pay the price. The price, which makes cowards of so many, is that you will get nowhere with politically correct curators, grant bodies and trustees. But then you will have some satisfaction in looking at those who do get on with those people and knowing what cowards they are and how they play the system in front of them.
That limits and finally negates their contribution to human culture.