Is it art if it took ten minutes?

 

Recently I received a message on Instagram from @ruthwaldronart, asking a version of this question.

It’s one I’ve asked myself many times, and have often heard others ask. I’ve come to some conclusions about the answer for myself, and thought it might be helpful to share in case it’s something that bothers you too.

Here’s what Ruth said:

“I’m doing a lot of art on paper at the moment and it’s done pretty fast. I kinda get one chance at the image which is fine but I’m struggling with the idea that many layers and ‘not falling in love early’ is the best way to make art… I get that, but I’m confused. What do you think about doing fast pieces with only one or two layers?”

Have you ever wondered about this? Is it still art if it happened really quickly? Is it valid? Is it cheating somehow? Can it still be considered strong work?

If you’ve ever wondered or worried about it, you’re not alone!

I’ve definitely struggled with this myself over the years, particularly as my work has always been relatively quick to come together.

I’m not generally the kind of artist who works on a single painting for weeks or months; although some paintings do take a long time to complete, that’s not because I’m working on them every day, adding more paint. And many of my paintings have been completed quickly so this is a question I’ve had to address for myself.

Here are my thoughts at this point on the journey:

Some paintings just do happen very quickly, and it can feel hard to accept that they’re ‘valid’ as completed work if there wasn’t any struggle or very much time involved.

But then think about the months and years of work – the 10,000 hours – that have built up behind that painting, that made it possible for it to manifest very quickly.

It’s like when you spend three days at a workshop and then make something a whole level up on the last day in just a few minutes;  those three days were the groundwork for that final piece. I’ve done this more than once.

Here’s a case in point – three days of ups and downs, and then suddenly, this one flew out. In spite of the shocking photo, this one felt qualitatively different from the others, and it sold almost immediately.

 

This one was pretty speedy and has sold too:

 

Work that comes out quickly can connect just as deeply with the viewer as work that took months to complete. Annoying, perhaps, but true.

Although…

The only time I’d say this doesn’t apply quite so much is for beginners. Yes, a beginner/early stage artist could make something really strong very quickly, but it’s less likely that that would be a frequent occurrence, because the depth of experience and understanding isn’t there yet.

There’s just no getting around the fact that mastery comes from long experience; from trying and being disappointed and keeping going no matter what.

With my current paintings this applies even more as I don’t do the many layers I used to, which was a much more forgiving way to make art for obvious reasons.

Now I have to ‘get it right’ pretty much immediately, and I couldn’t do that – I simply wouldn’t have the understanding – if I hadn’t already done all those years of mixed media layering and experimenting.

{And making tons of very weak paintings!} I should also add that not all of them work by any means!

Below are three that I think work well – one of which has sold – and between you and me, didn’t take that long in terms of applying paint to surface.

{As a caveat, there are – of course – quite a few boards that aren’t working and are taking much longer to evolve.}

 

For some artists, a painting requires many carefully applied or reworked layers to work, and because of this, and perhaps myths and assumptions about what a ‘real’ artist does – and how – it seems easy to forget that there are as many ways to make art as there are artists.

Your process is as unique as you are.

There are tons of artists whose work is about spontaneity and a more minimal approach. Chinese brush painting is a great example of this. You literally have one chance to get each brush stroke right; it’s incredibly hard but the result often looks deceptively simple!

I think the more you come to ‘own’ your work, the easier it becomes to recognise that work can be strong and quick.

 

What do you think about this? Do you make ‘quick art’? If so, have these questions of validity come up for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

 

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