I often take for granted how I see the world from an artist’s perspective. I typically believe everyone sees and feels the same things I do, but I never really realize the specific way an artist’s brain (and soul) functions, until I speak to another artist, or non-artist, for that matter.
I was in my kitchen the other day, talking to my partner, a non-artist, and we were just cleaning up after dinner. I was standing on the outskirts of the kitchen, looking at our refrigerator’s profile, and I spotted our Valentine’s Day brownies on top of the fridge. They were in a 13″ x 9″ pan with a fitted plastic lid, and within a split second of glancing across the kitchen, I could see, from about 10 feet away, that the lid on top of the brownie pan was slightly ajar and needed to be closed. I walked over to the brownies and closed the lid, playfully mentioning to my partner that he needed to make sure he closed the lid when he had his midnight brownie snack. His immediate response was, “How did you even see that?” And my immediate response was, “How did you NOT see that?”
Artists see everything. We’re like Spiderman where our “…senses have been dialed to 11. There’s way too much input.” We observe fragments of the minutest details in any given moment. We see color patterns and shape relationships everywhere we glance, and we just fundamentally know when something looks “good” or “not good.” We can also make things beautiful in our minds regardless of whether or not that beauty is reflected in our actual reality. We daydream in technicolor. And sometimes, we just feel so much, that the only way to get all of that energy out is to spill it into the world in material form. It’s a relief of tension to turn our feelings and inspirations into something we can touch and hold. It’s a natural act to use our hands (or some other body part) to solidify our vaporous thoughts into tangible matter. Better out than in. Beauty is what we know, but our art typically begins with some kind of raw emotion stemming from our soul, before we can actually formulate a beautiful product. We might not even be able to understand, articulate, or pinpoint those raw feelings, but our art does that for us, and that’s all we need to feel better. The process of spinning the wool of our emotions into the yarn of our art is unique for every artist, but every artist must spin in order to stay sane.
After getting off the phone this afternoon with my bestie, who is also an artist (we went to the same art school and studied the same field, although we have very different aesthetics), I felt so understood by my fellow beauty-intelligent soul.
During our call, he mentioned how he felt very inspired by both my artistic work and his other close friend’s artistic work (I also love his friend’s work, and it’s similar to mine in some ways), and how he wished he could make that kind of art himself.
I love hearing my bestie talk to me about my work, because honestly, I don’t understand it myself. He can step back from it, completely “get” what I’m trying to do, and accurately reflect back to me why I’m trying to do it. But, when I’m in it, I don’t know why I’m doing it the way I’m doing it. I do it that way because it feels right and because I must. So, I appreciate his ability to articulate it for me.
Some of my collage work © Libby Saylor, obtained from here.
He described my artistic style (as well as his friend, Seth’s) specifically as “perfected imperfection.” I begin with a lot of raw imagery (childlike, messy, emotional, intense, wild), and use layer building techniques, incorporating layers of cleanliness into layers of mess, so the overall effect is rather seamless. I devote my creative process to “perfecting” the original mess, and finding that exquisite balance between uncontrolled wildness and extremely tight composition. So, the idea is, that it looks playful, open, and uninhibited, even though every square inch of the final work of art is thought through, tweaked, edited, and accounted for. It’s so very French!
“I decided to reach out to a few French women to get their takes on the obsession with French beauty and some insight into what their average routines entail. They all agreed on one thing: Despite how easy they make it look, it’s anything but effortless. ‘It is true [that] French women have a natural flair for beauty,’ my colleague Catherine Masraff told me. ‘But it is not true [that] it comes magically. It’s a routine, constant practice. Like sport, you become really good with regular practice…years of regular routine.'”Quoted from an article by Megan Cahn | Refinery29 | “Why I’m No Longer Calling French Beauty ‘Effortless'” obtained here.
To comfort my friend during this phone call, and to validate his feelings, I first thanked him for his amazing compliment about my work, and then also expressed my understanding. I too feel the same way about certain works of art, wishing I could create what others create, and came to the conclusion that there is a certain level of pain that an artist feels with regards to beauty. We are born with an inherent knowledge about beauty, and we see things that others just don’t. But not only do we see with our eyes, we in fact see with our souls as well, so looking at something beautiful doesn’t just affect our brain, it affects our spirits. And when something is so beautiful, it often hurts. I don’t know why this is, but we both agreed that we feel this way when looking at specific works of art.
I almost never go on my Pinterest likes page because it honestly hurts too much. These are just some of the works of art that shoot spears directly into my soul, by way of my eyes. Each of these works of art hurts me in a different way. I long for each one of them. I long to create something as beautiful as these works of art. I long to be inside of these works, and for whatever reason, I eventually need to look away, because I know this beauty will never be mine. Images obtained from my Pinterest likes page.
Perhaps the unavailable nature of beauty is why art can be painful for other artists (and perhaps non-artists as well) to look at. In general, art is meant to uplift, and good art really does this. But I think as an artist, I can get really greedy about beauty. I want to possess it and I want to own it. Maybe because it’s a familiar language to me, so I can become half convinced that I have a shot at an unrealistic level of intimacy with beauty. But beauty, like nature, is fleeting and unattainable.
What happens when you pick a beautiful flower? You pick it because it’s beautiful and smells delicious, and you want to bring it into your home so you can continue to admire it. No matter how you justify it, this is a form of stealing and possession. You can’t own a flower or keep it in any capacity. Any kind of “keeping” you do is just an illusion. Flowers are Mother Nature’s children, and once you remove them from their home, they wilt and die.
Luckily, you actually can bring a work of art into your home and admire it for a lifetime. But when there are so many beautiful works of art out there, I sometimes become a bit overwhelmed. I want to be intimate with all of them, and there is just not enough time in this life to do that. I must let some of it go. I must just enjoy the beauty that is realistically accessible to me in any given moment, and not try to pin it down. But it’s hard.
I reflected during my phone call about how I handle this kind of, really rather unbearable, pain when I feel it. I often feel pain in the form of envy, because I wish I could make the kind of art that someone else is making. I often long to be a part of another artist’s beauty story.
The best thing I can do when I come across art that makes my soul hurt–because it’s just so damn beautiful–is to I try to accept that my gifts are my gifts, and I can use that inspiration to keep making the work that seems to want to come out of me. I can’t help that what comes out of me is not in some other form or style. I’ve tried other ways and it just isn’t me. I can admire (and borderline worship) those artists that can create in certain styles that I just can’t reach, but I really need to accept that there is a place for my style as well.
The pain I feel in admiring another’s work can be a useful tool to motivate me to keep making my own art–after I have a pity party and feel terrible about myself. A true artist knows good art, and a true artist can’t deny when someone else just has that magic-making ability. It’s unavoidable, so, all we can do as artists is just keep trying to better our own craft.
TO ALL OF MY ARTISTS OUT THERE, DO YOU FEEL THE SAME?
TO ALL OF MY NON-ARTISTS OUT THERE, DO YOU FEEL THE SAME?
I rarely write about art and it hurts to dig deep about my feelings about it. I always end up feeling tortured when I think about the ungraspable nature of beauty. It hurts me to look through my Pinterest likes. It hurts me to try to explain why it hurts. But it honestly hurts more to keep my feelings inside about this, so I spewed them to ya’ll and I do feel better. I hope this article doesn’t come across as a spew as much as an invitation to reflect, and an inspiration to explore.
Happy art making to all of my artists, and happy art loving to all of my appreciators. I love and value both parties and look forward to hearing all of your thoughts!