The Artist's Thoughts

What I would say to the applicants to the National Midyear Exhibition at the Butler Institute of American Art - Gregory Strachov, Dec. 20, 2011.

Recently, I was asked by a Dr. Louis Zona to be the juror for the 76th National Midyear Exhibition which will be held at the Butler Institute of American Art. Several thousand artists apply to this prestigious event each year and only a hundred or so are accepted to show in the museum. I thought about all that will be involved with the responsibility and felt honored to be selected for the task.

I then began to think what I would say to those who will be selected, as well as to those who will not be selected. Here is what I would say to them.

It is a great honor to be selected to be the juror to an event that is so important to the careers of artists. My aim is quite simple. My interest is not to define the meaning of art. My aim is not to judge what is good or what bad art. My aim is to shed light on art..... to reveal the shining examples of those whose commitment to their skills and connection to their own soul produced extraordinary visual statements.

All art is imagery but not all imagery is art. Art is based on a knowing. The kind of knowing that was first defined and inscribed on Apollo’s Oracle of Delphi temple, where the words “know thyself” greeted all visitors to that city. There is a difference between learning and knowing, just as there is a difference between seeing pain, feeling pain, watching death and dying. The same difference may be cited when comparing artists and painters, and is analogous to comparing composers to musicians.

A musician is someone who has perfected his or her skills. Trained musicians should be capable of playing any written piece of music on their chosen instrument. However musicians need the notes that were written by others as guidelines in order to play. In the same way, painters seek trends, styles, and the ideas of others in an attempt to make these their own. They rely on the guidelines that were offered in school as rules without realizing that many guidelines that are presented in schools are done so for the purpose of assigning a method to measure success and to offer a grade for the class. It is difficult to teach art in a conventional classroom environment. It is ironic to have rules and trends to guide the freedom of the creative process.

Art is not only a subject but rather it is a visual reaction to living and to thought. Many students of art have not lived enough or experienced enough to be able to say something other than show a mastery of their skills. Leonardo De Vinci once said: "to be a great artist, one must first know as much as possible about all things". There is a lot to be said about this.

A composer, for the purpose of example, is analogous to an artist. A composer writes his or her own music and then finds a way to convey that music with the hope that it reaches the heart of the listener. This is what an artist does. Here, several distinctions might be cited. There are composers who mastered their musical instrument to such a high degree that the music they write is composed only for the purpose of displaying the mastery of their chosen instrument rather than to communicate. All they are saying is that they can play. There are artists who paint in much the same way and for a similar purpose. Some artists are preoccupied with creating images which only reveal the mastery of their skills but offer nothing more for the viewer. It is rare to see an artist who creates work that would stand the test of time and that is created for the purpose of conveying ideas with sincerity for the viewer to witness. Art is much more than producing an interesting and complex image whose technique alone mesmerizes the viewer.

I recall giving an example during a speech that I made long ago during my first museum exhibition.

There is an enormous yet very subtle difference between an image produced by an artist and that of a painter. For example: If one asks a speaker to say a few words at a funeral about a deceased who they have never met, common sense and their own intelligence and speaking skills would help them arrive at a thoughtful statement. To someone passing by, these would be wonderful and thoughtful words…..that is a painter. However, if one would be asked to speak at the funeral of their own father ….… that is an artist. This is what an artist does when an artist paints.

My purpose is not to define art but to shed light on what art can be. There are as many theories and definitions about art as there are artists. My ideas abut the meaning of the word fill a full spectrum of thought, from simple to more complex. Although my definition of art rests more in the science of Neuroaesthetics than anywhere else. All thought, decision, reaction and interpretation lies within the intercellular interactions within the neurology of the brain. The interconnectedness of the neural networking and our understanding of these processes will provide the ultimate definition of what art truly is. Until then, we can only hope to understand and make our decisions by listening carefully to the silent utterances of our soul as it seeks its own reaction to the visual thoughts of others.

Art is a type of communication where feelings and non verbal ideas that an artist feels are successfully communicated to the viewer, who senses the same awe, or emotions, or visceral reaction as the artist without even understanding why. This would be the primary criteria which I would use to select work for this or any exhibition.

It takes years of practice to be able to spot the subtle differences between an image and a work of art. In the same way, one might listen to various composers perform Beethoven’s seventh symphony. However, after becoming very familiar with Beethoven’s seventh symphony, one can then hear the subtle differences between the performance of this symphony as done by Leonard Bernstein, Karl Bohm, or Herbert von Karajan. Each is a renowned conductor and each guided the orchestra in his own way producing subtle differences that only a trained ear can notice. One of these conductors seems to interpret the symphony only by having the orchestra play the notes in a technically correct fashion. Another of these composers adds pauses and subtle changes that add a unique and interpretive mood to the piece, which makes it unforgettable and permits it to stir the marrow in my bones in ways that could not be described. This is the same as the difference between looking at a imagery and finding art.

In summary, all art is imagery……but not all imagery is art, just as not all noise is music. The works that I would select to this National Exhibition are works which exhibit more than technical ability, more than adherence to trends, more than humility or technical arrogance. The works that I would select are those who touch the soul, not by their noise, but by their silence.