What is art for? Why do we make it? Is it a necessary part of life?
These are strange questions to ponder after I have spent the better part of my life entrenched in art’s gilded fist. I recently ran into a colleague of mine where we talked about the often brought up subject of being a “successful” artist. What does this mean I have wondered? Is the successful artist one who has made covers of various art magazines? The artist who has New York on fire with important exhibitions at all the right galleries? Is it the artist who can command the highest prices for her art, sometimes even before it is produced? If so, then I am none of these artists. You could say that I have been under-recognized. On the surface, that is ok with me. Even though I am not without my share of conventional success in the form of fellowships, gallery shows and sales, I have recently realized that my true idea of being a successful artist is one who is still making art; one who is still passionate about images; one who is still investigating and excavating the world and “arresting it for contemplation” to quote Thomas Moore. I know that I am such an artist, because after making art for over 35 years, I still get a thrill from laying down a square of color.
“The Birth of Desire, 19” x 19.5", oil pastel and ink on paper~ Linda Laino
Despite being satisfied with my quiet and humble career, I have often wondered what it would be like to devote myself entirely to this incredible journey of the heart and mind without any other constraints to hamper it. Those constraints being worries over time and its evil twin, money; to rise in the morning and know that my only job for the day would be to transform my deepest knowing into a visual delight for the senses.
When I was a young art student, like many involved in the creative process, I used to worry that one day I would somehow run out of ideas or images that needed to be expressed. To my wonderful discovery and surprise however, the exact opposite has occurred. I now realize I will never live long enough to express all that arises. The older I get, it feels more and more urgent to have as many opportunities as possible to knock on that creative door.
An artist of course, wears many hats in the course of a career: dreamer, creator, provocateur and marketer. Somewhere in that mix, we also need to eat. And so, we toil at other jobs we may feel suited to, ones we might enjoy and may even be good at. But there is always a feeling of restlessness, as if we are cheating on our true lover. And of course we are, because in the battle of heart and mind, a job may feed our coffers and our plates, but, an artist’s true heart is always in the studio.
“A Lover’s Prayer”, 9" x 10", ink, watercolor, prismacolor on paper. ~ Linda Laino. Collection of Alistair Palmer
While teaching — among many other jobs — has sustained me financially over the years, and has even been an inspiration at times, and for which I am grateful, it also can suck valuable energy away from the artistic process and the continuity that is so vital to exploring ideas. Why is it that what artists do in their studios is never really considered a job? If I allow myself to think about it too much, I have always been rather shocked that the profession of “artist” requires its practitioners to expect not to make a living. Shouldn’t artists be afforded the opportunity to contribute (and be compensated for) something that is essential to the world’s daily bread? Whether we are conscious of it or not, beauty and truth are fundamental to our collective survival. Surely this is worth throwing some money towards on occasion.
Art is not and has never been just a pretty picture to hang on the wall. Its power, if you allow it, goes way beyond decoration. One of art’s fundamental functions is to transform; to transform our world and our view, to allow us to pay attention, to open our minds and our senses to something beyond the veil.
This transformation, of course becomes a product, sometimes a commodity, but one that is shared with the world at large if one is lucky to have such a wide audience.
But naturally, this transformation is a process also. It is the creative process by which the artist is transformed. If an artist seriously enters her work, it becomes a sacred meditation. I don’t believe this is a lofty idea because I know that I am transformed by my work. I know that when I am painting, I become the best version of myself. And if I become the best version of myself as I am creating, then the vision that transpires during that creative process may in turn provide a seed for someone else to become the best version of themselves. The result is a three-way conversation-between the artist, the painting, and the viewer. This conversation in part, is what makes art valuable and necessary. Tolstoy said, “A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.” He recognized that the act of viewing art can provide the glue that connects the deepest parts of ourselves to each other. At the very least, this connection gives art a fairly necessary role in the world.
“Touniquet” 9" x 10", ink, watercolor, prismacolor on paper~ Linda Laino. Collection of Lauren Linowitz.
While viewing art can help us find our commonality, making art teaches us that we are all unique creatures and that our contribution to the world comes out of our own unique experience. To create something that never has been and could never have been experienced by anyone else renders the art process magical. To be “in” that magical space of experience and to come out of it with something to give to the world is both the artist’s gift and reward.
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