A common starting point on any conversation about art is “What artists do you like?”
In my younger years, I practically loathed this question. I felt it to be pretentious, just a way to demonstrate how much you did or did not know about art. I also objected to being defined by my choices — just because I like Josef Albers and you do not, does mean that you know more than me or are better than me. Or because you are an ardent Dan Graham or Roni Horn fan and their work is more intellectual or current than the many painters I will tell you I love that you are somehow better than me.
It took me awhile to realize that the question “What artists do you like?” is actually a framing question. It’s a shortcut to telling someone, through the common language of the work of other artists, what qualities and values you find important in art.
And this is why, if you’re in art school, for example, you will be asked this question over and over and over again.
Just try to imagine having a conversation with someone else about their art preferences without referencing the work of any other artists.
I like paint
What kind of paint?
I like thick paint, but I also like thin paint.
What I’m trying to say is that I like paint where I can see the artist’s hand; the visible brushstrokes as a record of the movement of the brush.
Like long strokes or short strokes?
So do you due diligence. LOOK!
Look often. Look broadly. Hone your personal preferences. Think about what the common theme is through all of the work that you like. Trust me. There will be one, or a few. And then start to really think about why this common theme is what you like; why it resonates with you.
This is my biggest complaint about many artists just starting out or artists who never seem to get anywhere.
They are not looking. Even in this age where you can see art from all over the world in seconds — seconds! And they are not thinking. They are not trying to understand themselves or what they like and why they like it. They seem to miss that this is paramount in being an artist and making good work.
I get though that people may not know where to look. That they didn’t take art history and don’t have an idea about the larger scope. And that they are only looking at the same kind of stuff over and over and over again.
They are also not talking to others about art — other artists or otherwise. They are scared, as I was many years ago, about being seen, about appearing foolish, about saying the wrong thing. That I could take this fear away from every single person — artist, art appreciator, everyday citizen — so that we could all freely and joyously talk about the art that we love with everyone we ever meet.
Thankfully in this day and age we have some wonderful tools with which to collect and sort the art and artists we like. You can make secret pinterest boards or instagram accounts where you can follow everything about cat paintings, or any other topic, to your heart’s desire.
And if you are luckier than me to live somewhere where you can see the world’s best artists in person; dang it, go do it! It’s still the very best way to see art. Screens are ok but nowhere as good as sticking your nose in something.