the art of appreciating art
by shekinah louis

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Art, as we may have come to realize, is liquid. It fills the mould of its chosen possessor in numerous ways — be it in the form of poetry and prose, lyric writing and song composition, sketching and painting — and all the undefined, squiggly (and often blurred) lines in between the said binaries. 

 

Art is done by some as a hobby. And if you’re one of the fortunate ones who get paid a handsome sum to produce it, that is an achievement indeed! As for me (a person whose love language is Words of Affirmation) sometimes self-satisfaction with the art I produce does not suffice, and I rely on the admiration from others to compensate. And (I suppose) that’s okay and valid too!

 

The song Vincent by Don McLean has since struck me, and while I won’t divulge into the specifics of Vincent van Gogh’s life and debate if the songs were an accurate version of the events leading up to his death, I’ve understood the core message behind the song: Vincent (whether this be the famous Dutch painter, Don McLean or even you and I) had lived a life of creating art that was loved by everyone but himself.

 

I have only recently arrived at the conclusion that the line from the song which reads “For they could not love you, but still your love was true” was not in fact a line about his critics. From curious onlookers to art lovers, one glance at Vincent van Gogh’s art is sufficient to snatch one’s breath away. It didn’t make sense to me, then, that Van Gogh would’ve suffered much criticism for his art in his time. And that was when I realized that this song wasn’t addressing a silent battle between a painter and his audience. It was about an unrequited love between a painter, and his paintings.

 

Whether you’re a creator, an artist, or a person who doesn’t frequent either, there is one thing we can all universally agree on— we are often our worst critics. I cannot begin to speak of all the times I procrastinated an idea for fear that I may not execute it well enough. Most of the paintings and poems I have chucked aside was not because I lacked the time or the energy to complete it, but rather, because I felt I didn’t have what it takes to bring it to perfection.

 

Being humans, I don’t believe our self-doubt is something that will crumble away any time soon. Some may argue that the very nature of self-doubt is what has brought us this far into human existence. So how then do we, as artists and humans, strike a manageable balance between self-criticism and self-acceptance?

 

David Bowie once said something regarding this. “Always go a little further in the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

 

Sometimes we feel as though our art isn’t quite there yet, or we feel like our feet aren’t quite touching the bottom, as David Bowie would say. Although strange, that is often a sign that we are growing as artists. It takes a certain level of maturity and humility to know that we can do better! But just because we can, does it necessarily mean that we should? 

 

Constant improving can often end up in a cycle of perfectionism, where we’re constantly feeling as though things can and should be better. Many artists and creators have probably gone through the process of improving their idea so much, that it often strays so far from what they had originally wanted. 

 

So this is me, an amateur artist, challenging you to find comfort in mediocrity. It’s okay to call it a day on your artwork even when it doesn’t feel 100% there. Resist the urge to maximize on the slight mishaps, and try to shift your focus to look at the amazing progress you’ve made instead. That near-perfect rhyme, that vibrant stroke, that line in the song that’s bound to bring the heavens to its knees — those are your defining works as a creator, as an artist!

 

Another way we can appreciate art, is by taking that leap to display it openly. This is often an anxiety-inducing step, especially if you’re often worried about what others might think. But I personally believe that hanging your art on your social gallery might induce a sense of pride and ownership over what you have made. And who knows? Maybe the feedback from others may make you realize some things about your art that you may not have noticed before!

 

Tricks and tips aside, even if you cannot bring yourself to appreciate your own art, no matter how hard you try— that’s completely okay. Remember this: Vincent Van Gogh may not have been a huge fan of his own art while he lived, but there’s not a soul on Earth that wouldn’t stare, starry-eyed, at Starry Night.

shekinah louis

Resident Writer

Shekinah Louis has always been fascinated by how words can possess such a powerful hold on someone's life, let alone their moods. Words have had a humongous impact in her life since her early teens, especially in the form of poetry and prose. Shekinah hopes to embody that in their own work, and wishes to write pieces that invoke strong emotions, and deals with the feelings that one would normally wish— or hope— to avoid.

chelsea akpan

Resident Artist

Chelsea Akpan is a Nigerian-born cartoonist that focuses on bringing bold colors and exaggerative shapes together to create distinct and playful illustrative work. Her work speaks to her personal experiences and portrays it in a humorous and whimsical way.