does your art have a story?

You may know I’ve never really identified with what might be deemed a Real Artist by generally accepted standards {qualifications, exhibitions, recognition, regular sales etc}.

I have written about how I feel about ‘being an artist’ before, also about the whole ‘real artist’ thing here.

I’ve been thinking about artistic identity again lately, although it’s now more from curiosity than any desire to ‘fit in’ somehow or be ‘successful’. {Why yes, I do like inverted commas.}

Something struck me recently as I was reading an artist’s statement on their website:

My art has no why. It has no story, no guiding principle, no concept I try to express or solve through the making of it.

I have no official artist’s statement, because I have nothing to state – in words – about my art. And yet I’ve never seen an artist who doesn’t have a story behind their work.

Here’s what I feel about it:

Outside of any short term experiments I might be doing, my art is simply an expression, and thus doesn’t fit into any specific category. My paintings have mostly felt like they are not altogether my creations. That’s why they come out sometimes very different from each other.

I realise that most artists would say there’s a higher power at work, that the art is a co-creation process. And yes that’s true for me too. But a story, a neat package in which to tie up the why of my art has always eluded me.

I have wondered why I didn’t want to explore a particular topic, theme or style over and over as other artists seem to, why each painting seemed to be complete in itself as a reflection of whatever I wanted to ‘say’ at that time. Repeating felt utterly pointless; the expression had been expressed – what more was there to say?

I could certainly make something up; I could say something erudite about transience, about colour, or my {genuine} interest in energy and the unseen. I could say something about personal beliefs or feelings that provoke the creation of the paintings.

What’s weird is it wouldn’t all be lies, it just wouldn’t be the truth.

The truth is, as far as I can make out at this point, that I make art because I make art.

I don’t do it to discover, to demonstrate, to narrate or to attempt to explain anything. It is simply an expression of something that wants to come out, wordlessly, without explanation.

Perhaps then the story of my art is pure expression. {Or the purest I can bring through.} Perhaps this is just the simple difference between an artist who paints for a living and an artist who does it for other reasons.

Sometimes I find nothing wants to come out for a long time. Sometimes something wants to come out very fast in its completed state. Sometimes what wants to come out has nothing to do with the things that wanted to come out before.

One thing’s for sure, this MO does not work with schedules, planning, daily practice, consistency, bodies of work or expectations.

It seems odd to me that I never see artists talking about this; is it a well known secret that art doesn’t always have a story?

Do some artists craft one around what they’re doing so that they will have something coherent to say about their work?

Do they think about how to create art that expresses a topic that’s interesting to them? ie. Is their art premeditated in a way that mine is not?

Surely there are other artists out there who don’t feel their work has or needs any kind of tidy explanation or message?

Perhaps none of us do, deep down, and it’s just a requirement for a career artist. I don’t believe one is better than the other obviously; I am simply interested in what goes on behind the scenes.

So I’m very curious: what is it like for you? Does your work have a guiding principle or set of principles? Do you explore different ideas through your art, building consistent bodies of work around particular themes as they interest you? Or do you relate to what I’m saying about this seemingly other way to do it, which is to just do it when it happens, without a story? Please do share your own experience of this in the comments! I’m most intrigued.