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Culture and Individuality in Art

Joan Rolls-Gragg: Umukai 1994, watercolour

Joan Rolls-Gragg: Umukai 1994

Joan Rolls-Gragg: Mapu 2005, watercolour

Joan Rolls-Gragg: Mapu 2005

Tim Buchanan: Band 1994, Oil painting

Tim Buchanan: Band 1994

Tim Buchanan: Band 2004, Oil painting

Tim Buchanan: Band 2004

Art environment

From artists in small communities, for example, the Cook Islands, it is expected that they focus on the typical local culture and environment. Art Education is based on the local culture - on what else - and only later do other art histories broaden the horizon of students. It has been contemplated to keep outside influence out of art education, to prevent the copying of trendy clichés and foster the exploration of the local heritage.

But a young artist's motivation can be easier stopped than channeled, and a certain amount of freedom to explore, choose, make mistakes and detours are essential for the development of good art. Although the encouragement and support of the local community is important, what influence does public success really have, and what happens when an artist finds him/herself without it? Will s/he just stop working?

The cat called inspiration

As children we draw, paint and put together what interests us, without caring too much about what others think of our artistic endeavors. Later, as beginning artists, we lose this confidence and feel that we need to have a practical reason for doing artwork, that it must be useful and make money. Besides the fact that we all have to make a living, early success can be a mixed blessing. First it gives confidence and will be a driving force, but soon it might manipulate imagination and make it difficult to pursue an independent motivation.

Why would it be so important to be independent, isn’t being a successful artist the ultimate goal? Well, yes, but the thing is, art doesn't happen at the point of sale, and motivation does not always kick in with the observer in mind. Instead, many artists work in privacy or even solitude, because their creative spirits and imaginative resources are like cats: they don’t always come when you call them.

Experience changes perspectives

Almost all artists start out by applying their talents to subjects and topics that are striking and typical, depicting the obvious beauty of culture and nature they live in. After several years of working, the prominent motifs and themes have been done, and those continuing are either repeating or searching more independently. As an artist gains experience and confidence with her/his methods, new ideas will be sparking.

There is an inspiration-expression spiral: new ideas need new techniques and skills, and the acquired skills facilitate the creation of original ideas, and so on...

It is interesting to observe the development of artists, and compare their early works with later ones. Some artists work through many different subjects, others change their styles, but there is always progress of methods and techniques: you can’t avoid getting better if you keep doing something.

Unity and diversity

Unless the artists are streamlined by doctrine or marketing, the diversity of art within a community is rich and reflects its features, concerns and attitudes. The study of art history and information about what has been achieved by other artists will not be a stronger influence on an artist than the environment and society s/he lives in. Neither cultural nor personal style needs to be consciously cultivated because the imprint of personality, community and culture in the works of art can’t be avoided.

Judith Kunzlé

Other Articles:

- The Success of Cook Islands Art

- Art Critique

- The Origin of Abstract Art

- Decorative ...or deep and meaningful?

Judith Kunzlé: Tropicbirds 1994, watercolour

Judith Kunzlé: Tropicbirds 1994

Judith Kunzle: Cook Islands Drum Dancer

Judith Kunzlé: Drum dancer 2006

Judith Kunzlé 2008