Great Things

Favorite artist? Why me, of course. 

Wait before you judge. There is a reason for my rating. An early mentor, Ron Campbell, rather abruptly gave me this advice after a particularly wearying session of self-critique, “if you don’t like your work, don’t expect others to like it either.” He suggested I look at each piece, isolate what I liked about it and what needed improving, and work on retaining the good and improving the rest. We don’t forge ahead in every area at once; sometimes, it’s by bits and pieces. 

Ron insisted on giving me space in his gallery in Ottowa even though I was completely new to sculpture and a beginning carver. Two of my very early abstract pieces sold that fall, and the sales gave me a bit of a financial boost and some much-needed confidence to keep going.

So it’s essential to like your own work. You can go too far in this. Strutting around like a rampant peacock is OK if you are a peacock, but it is unattractive in an artist. Liking your work is one thing; equating yourself with Dali, Arp, DaVinci, or Rembrandt is something else.

So here is the scoop. Enjoy your work for all its positive features. Then, place yourself in perspective. Whose studio or shop would you be an apprentice or journeyman in? 

As I style myself as a ship’s carver, I can see myself as an apprentice in the shops of McIntire, Bellamy, Robb, or one of the Skillins brothers. When I visit the Mystic Seaport or Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum, I find myself standing among the works of those I consider my masters. So yes, I am my favorite, in a way. But I have a perspective on where I stand among those with much to teach me.

Or as Van Gogh said: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” 

5 Replies to “Great Things”

  1. I feel the same about music. Some extra edits I do to tracks take up ridiculous amounts of time… and I’m pretty sure 95% of people can’t hear the difference, but I want to personally enjoy what I hear so I take the time to do it.

  2. I agree.
    Also, I believe that if I’m not a fan of my work, I can’t improve. Nobody bothers to give feedback to people they don’t see potential in.

  3. I have some pretty strong opinions about this. For every “famous” or “great” artist throughout history are thousands of quiet people doing their jobs. I admire them. Those are the great artists. Why is Van Gogh famous now? Is it his paintings (which I love) or his life? My money is on his life and humanity’s love of the underdog and the under-served. The mythology of van Gogh has a LOT to do with who he “is” now. I’m not dissing his incredible work, but… Michelangelo? Undeniably amazing, but there was a guy back in Italy in the day who wrote an art history book. THAT guy — Vasarie — was a so-called mediocre painter, but he invented the idea of the Renaissance and put Michelangelo at the top of the tree. He pretty much ignored everything happening outside of Italy and was one of the fucks who labeled the times before the “renaissance” the “Dark Ages.” It’s the only book we have of the time that discusses art. It’s big virtue is its existence. Then there’s the totally bogus idea that Giotto (whose work I love and admire) was suddenly (who knows why?) able to paint “realistic” people and therefore ushered in the illusory renaissance. Not the case at all.

    To me the great artist is the person who shows up and does the best he/she can. There will always be “better” work and people always have “opinions” — but those opinions can be founded on envy and ignorance as much as on objectivity and knowledge.

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