What is Art?

DALL-E is like a painter who lives his whole life in a gray, windowless room. He makes paintings that look like a landscape, however, he could not tell you one thing about what a real landscape is.

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I drew this Medusa years ago when I lived the cliched life of the poor, starving artist, in a drafty London flat.

Life was a struggle. Often, I wore gloves with the fingers cut out while I drew or painted, due to the icy wind blowing in one side of the building and out the other. I would draw and paint late at night while my husband slept. In the morning, he would berate my art, telling me I wasn’t very good, I was a fake, and that the only way I would be successful was if I lied to people that I was good. I didn’t understand. Surely my work spoke for itself.

What, I wondered, did success mean, anyway? Lying, cheating, living under the thumb of those who wanted to control me? He often likened himself to my mentor, my patron. Would it be worth compromising my freedom in exchange for money and recognition?

Increasingly, I lost myself in the world of my art. I was inspired to draw this Medusa due to a fascination with Japanese masks and an interest in the contrast between the calm smoothness of the face and the writhing intensity and scaly nature of the snakes. I am a meticulous artist. Every single snake has a starting point and moves out from there. I agonize over the details. Lots of artists aren’t like this. They would tell me, loosen up! But I don’t care. This is me. We are all different.

People often say, why don’t you just draw something. Can you draw me a cat, I like cats. Or a dog, or just draw anything. It must be nice to be able to do that. They don’t understand that it isn’t something I just do for fun or to relax. It isn’t relaxing for me. It’s an agony sometimes. It’s a compulsion I’ve had since being a child.

Living in that tiny flat, life became all about contrast. The contrast between the peace and quiet of my nighttime art sessions and the explosive danger of the following mornings. The contrast between light and dark, beauty and ugliness, love and hatred. Artists seem to have these kinds of lives. The intensity travels into our work and reaches out to the people who view it. They might not always know the stories behind the art, but something powerful speaks to them.

The eyes are everything, though. With a mask, the eyes are empty. When a person puts on a mask, their eyes see through the emptiness. The eyes bring the mask alive.

This obsession with masks extended into my writing. It’s a theme throughout my series Night Angels Chronicles. What do the eyes tells us? A great mystery. I am fascinated by eyes, windows, doors. It takes courage to walk through doors to other places that aren’t as comfortable. Increasingly, we find ourselves confined to small spaces. Art is something I have used to help free myself from prisons that other people might want to confine me in.

Mostly, I love black and white drawings. I also love watercolor. I have never done oil paintings. I am partial to light strokes as opposed to heavy ones—so there you go, another contrast, complex works with light strokes. With drawings and with watercolor, you cannot make mistakes and erase them away or cover them up with another coat of paint. Chinese calligraphy comes to mind.

Wen Zhengming | Summer retreat in the eastern grove | China | Ming dynasty (1368–1644) | The ...
Summer retreat in the eastern grove by Wen Zhengming, 1512
Drawing for my book, LUMINARIA

Drawing eyes, I only have one shot at them. If the left eye ends up looking not exactly in the same direction as the right eye, that’s it. All the work I’ve done up until that point is lost and I must abandon the picture. Of course, another artist might want the eyes to look in opposite directions!

What makes it art?

I can speak for myself and say it is everything that comes from my heart, my experiences, my desires and fears. Somehow, and I don’t know how, really, I bring that out of me, through my hands and onto the paper. The last bit of importance is the technique. But without the discipline to learn and draw and paint and draw and paint for hours and hours, to have that dedication, the art will come across as vapid and flat. So, it’s the internal energy of the artist and the external technique that somehow comes together.

Jackson Pollock threw paint on a canvas, and you can laugh and say, “anyone can do that,” and you’re right, anyone can—and they did. A lot of people threw paint on a canvas after Pollack did. But have you ever stood in front of one of his paintings? The energy consumes you. Something happened during the creation, and it isn’t something any of us can understand. But we feel it.

Red Abstract Painting Jackson Pollock Mural Wallpaper Print image 1

Pollack’s life was as wild as his paintings. He died at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related single-car collision when he was driving.

Artists often seem to live their lives as renegades on the edge of reason, outside of polite society. Some, like Pollack, are plucked out of the crowd and doted on by high society. His painting titled Number 17A reportedly fetched $200 million in a private purchase. In the end, it all comes down to money, doesn’t it? That is how success is determined. Plenty of artists of great worth live and die in obscurity.

Now we are being told that AI can make art just as good if not better than we can.

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