Pablo Picasso said, “The less Art there is in painting, the more painting there is.”
Notice how he capitalizes “Art.” My guess is that he refers not to the physical manifestation of creativity, but rather a superficial object to be acquired. Picasso, perhaps the most influential artist of the early twentieth century and co-founder of Cubism, a man who devoted his life to artistic innovation, knew that the work itself, the very act of creating, was the true and constant reward, no matter how the result was received. That the intrinsic value in every authentic creation far surpassed the assigned value of the finished piece. He also saw the ease with which the integrity of any creative act could easily be corrupted by focusing on the material evidence of the journey’s end, as opposed to creating for the sake of creating. When the wealthy art community hung Art in their homes as symbols of status, not as inspiration or a bridge connecting the surreal to the real, the true beauty and organic nature of the piece’s existence ceased to be relevant.
I regard his statement, too, as a reminder to stop trying so hard to make “something” for “someone.” To keep the process a very personalized and intimate one. Are there musicians, writers, artists out there who pander to an audience? Who produce songs, novels, paintings for a target market with the highest bid? Absolutely. Are those “artists” smart businesspeople or puppets? Perhaps a little of both. But the true greats, the ones who endure, know that wealth or success rooted in the ulterior motive of pleasing future buyers is not sustainable — financially or intrinsically. Are the works they produce revolutionary, transcendental or perennial? I think not.
Yet a third interpretation of Picasso’s famous line is that he is encouraging all of us to forego the structural, disciplined application of our chosen art forms in favor of a free-form discovery process that is in and of itself extremely valuable. I have an artist friend who has the luxury of being able to devote the majority of her time to her passion of painting, drawing and creating marine debris mosaics. Though she doesn’t operate on a set schedule, “arting” is essential to her identity, nearly as crucial as air and water. She just feels when it’s time to engage that right brain and makes sure she puts her body in the studio when that pull happens, not necessarily with a particular outcome in mind. When she tells me she’s “fArting” today, I know she’s in the zone, with her hands and materials ready and willing but not dictated to by a preconceived notion of what the outcome must be. Even if she is doing a commissioned piece, her clients understand she maintains creative control over the outcome. This, I feel, is real art.
Picasso is credited with authoring another line that speaks to the transformative nature of creativity: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” In this truth, the conception of something that’s never before been built requires letting go of all you know of what is possible. In that very rejection of what has already come before, by starting with a clean slate, you are able to give life to stories, poems, paintings, songs, etc. that make you see/feel/hear/understand the world in new ways.
When Picasso discovered Cubism, constructed sculpture and collage style (I like to say discovered instead of invented, since I take the view of artists as vessels of a divine nature), he did so by letting go of what he knew of structure, shattering the “how” into a million pieces, then using those pieces to invent new means of expressing his desires and emotions. As the first abstract art style, Cubism was met with resistance, to say the least, but ultimately expanded perceptions to an immeasurable degree. The New York Times article When Cubism Fractured Art’s Delicate World explains how:
“It challenged Western ideas about time and perception by complicating the pace of looking at art. The day of pure optical pleasure was over; art had to be approached with caution, and figured out. It wasn't organic, beneficent, transporting. It was a thing of cracks and sutures, odors and stings, like life. It wasn't a balm; it was an eruption. It didn't ease your path; it tripped you up.”
Painters use colors on a canvas, toggling between organization and chaos, to invent a visual arrangement of singularity. Actors take character attributes and dialogue and invent whole personas. Writers do as much, but with words. At a recent magazine launch, my editor Kevin and I half-jokingly came up with the line, “I Art Words” to describe our trade/hobby/passion. Though rudimentary, we giggled at the exactitude and irony of the sentence; the very act of coming up with the line demonstrates what is so beautiful about writing. Three little words arranged in succession can speak volumes, conjure up infinite scenes and give life to feelings, concepts and sentiments. We’re planning to have t-shirts made.
On a final note, author Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art speaks on the notion of inauthentic art or “selling out” as a form of giving in to Resistance, and something all artists would be wise to keep one eye open for:
“Remember, Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work… How many pages have I produced? I don't care. Are they any good? I don't even think about it. All that matters is I've put in my time and hit it with all I've got… To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”