The past few days I’ve been going crazy. My professor assigned a narrative painting for our next major project. She gave us only one day between classes to come up with a narrative, sketch, find resource images, and purchase our materials to stretch canvas in class. As you know from my previous entry, I have quite a commute to get any real art supplies … and I work full-time, so that means I can only go in the evenings… and I have children so either they come with me, or I find a babysitter. Not an easy task to complete in such a short period of time.
But it wasn’t the materials that had me so agitated. (Despite the traffic and hassle of going so far out of my way, Utrecht Art Supply in Los Angeles never lets me down.) It was the narrative itself that was weighing heavily on me and affecting everything I did. The point of narrative painting is to tell a story, or at least to hint at one.
One of the most famous artists of this genre is the slice-of-all-American-apple-pie Norman Rockwell. His scenes depicted idealized life in America, each one telling a quaint story with a simple action or expression on the faces of his subjects. Narrative paintings are illustrative and communicative yet the finalized product is intended to be seen hanging on a wall, rather than in print. This is the basic differentiation of Illustration / Communication Arts and Studio / Fine Arts… but I digress.
So what it comes down to is this: What is my story? What am I trying to say as an artist?
I could just create a “slice of life” moment a la Rockwell. Say, a family at dinner or children at play, but I wanted to do something more meaningful. Something personal. Something with teeth.
Some of my biggest art heroes spoke out through their work. Manet used wit to expose and shock the French aristocracy with Olympia. Louise Bourgeois created monstrous sculptures that were representations of struggles in her childhood. Cindy Sherman photographed herself as all the iconic idealized women in art and film to question their place in our culture.
24 hours to have an idea of what I am to paint and what I am trying to say as an artist. I ask, can anyone work like this? In a frenzy of sketches and collages used from my image hoarding… er… collecting I came up with different scenarios for my composition. I worried that this wasn’t really enough to go on, but I had deadlines and my artistic crisis is not an excuse for tardiness.
Franticly I arrive in class with a sketchbook with chicken scratch layouts with pages and scraps of images from my collection and 5 foot stretcher bars under my arms. I made it just in time for the meeting with my professor. After a long discussion with her and sharing my ideas, sketches, and images I have finally come up with a concept. It is something very personal yet vague enough to allow the viewer to create their own story.
In the end, I met the deadline, but it made me wonder… do other artists go through these same struggles? Do we all grapple with finding a way to be true to our artistic selves while still meeting the demands of the professional side of art?