Anybody can be an artist. These days there are no barriers to enter this field of work, no critical, educational, cultural, or economic requirements. In our modern way of thinking, anything can be art, and anyone who creates art is, must be, an artist. To me that makes perfect sense. We are a wonderfully creative species, monkeys who like to make things. To create something new out of raw materials is one of the chiefest joys of being born human, and that process of creation is worth sharing, celebrating and dignifying with a special, wonderful word: "art".
There is a smaller group of monkey-makers who take special pleasure in making pictures of things. I'm one of those, and I suspect you are too. We're the ones who scrawled on walls with crayons, doodled in textbooks, couldn't learn a formula without a diagram, and who never seemed to have enough pencils or paper close at hand. While other kids scribbled poems in notebooks, or ran faster than the wind, or banged on a piano, we started drawing funny pictures of our friends, or fell in love with comic books, or tried to copy illustrations from the books we read. We were arrested by the beauty of a painting so real you wanted to touch it, or so moving you couldn't look away. And at some stage we decided we wanted to create that magic ourselves.
These lessons are about creating that particular kind of art: pictures of things.
I enjoy all forms of art, from the most modern and conceptual to the abstract and non-representational, from comic books to animated film, from photography to graphic design. There are better and worse artists in every form, and every field has its fair share of charlatans and cheats. You won't find me criticizing any form over another, or any one artist over another. I have my preferences and bias just as you have yours, but in these lessons, I will be talking about realist art not because I think it is better, purer, or more exalted than other forms of art, but only because I understand realism better than other forms of art, having practiced it for the last thirty years.
I believe there is better and worse realist art, and we can understand the differences and therefore improve ourselves, but I do not believe there are better and worse artists, any more than there are better or worse people. I truly believe if we want to improve the art we create, we must struggle every day to overcome fear of failure, challenge our fixed beliefs, try new things, and learn to love the people around us and the world we live in. I struggle just as you do, and it's the struggle that makes us artists. You may be surprised to learn that the art you create isn't as important as your commitment to create more of it. It's the commitment that makes you an artist, not the bits of paper and canvas and paint. You're all Deviants, so perhaps I ought to say it this way: don't mistake the symptoms for the illness.
That's my first lesson, perhaps the most important secret about art that I can share. The drawings and paintings aren't important, the tools aren't important, the exhibitions and reviews aren't important. The burning desire to share the world you have created within; to explore and faithfully document that magical place inside your mind; to reflect, to see inwardly; to love yourself and nourish the creative power you were born with: that is what separates the artists from the other monkeys.
Now for some confessions:
I hadn't planned any of this. I gave up teaching in 1997 when I moved from Canada to the United States to build my career as a painter. I joined deviantART last week looking for some inspiration from among its millions of members. Now I've agreed to give classes to more students than I've ever had in all my years of teaching. None of these lessons were prepared with this audience in mind or for this medium of communication, so in one sense I don't really know what I'm doing. I'll do my best, but I hope you'll help out when I get stuck.
Confession 2: One day we may meet and you may be surprised to discover I don't speak English as fluently as I write it here. After all, I communicate with pictures, and began learning English when I was almost thirty. My husband Geoffrey has agreed to edit what I write, and in some cases, help translate what I would otherwise be unable to express. In return I have agreed to address him as "brilliant one" for at least a week.
That's all for now!