The Honest Artist
By Sam Powers
Artist is the most intimidating title. Using the same label as Picasso, van Gogh, and Michelangelo for yourself verges on blasphemy. The historical weight to achieve and go beyond all those in the past makes the title of artist completely intangible — but it can be.
Robin Collingwood, author of The Principles of Art (1938), sees the artist as an ordinary person. The only distinguishing factor between the artist and the rest of the world is that the artist expresses their emotions with complete honesty. The idea of the artist as some type of genius that is different or above the rest of us is a relic from traditions of the past. When art was typically objective renderings of the natural world, there was a necessary emphasis on the skill in which the world was rendered. The masters who could flawlessly translate what they saw onto a surface stood above the rest because their skills placed them there, but art is constantly changing. No longer is value placed solely on the ability to objectively imitate reality.
Though hard to pin down, for now it seems expression has replaced skill as the most crucial part of an artwork. Being able to render the world objectively is gone, and the artist, along with their point of view, is forefronted. With this replacement comes a new concept for the artist. There is no longer a strict distinction of the artist from their audience based on skill. It is now crucial for the artist and audience to be on the same platform. The artist’s expression can only be understood if the audience is capable of experiencing that emotion. Collingwood illustrates this point using poetry:
If a poet expresses, for example, a certain kind of fear, the only listeners who can understand him are those who are capable of experiencing that kind of fear themselves. Hence, when someone reads and understands a poem, he is not merely understanding the poet’s expression of his emotions, they are expressing an emotion of their own in the poet’s words, which have thus become their own words (118).
In Collingwood’s view, to be an artist all you have to do is to express your emotions honestly. Through the artist’s expression the audience is able to express their own emotions, which in turn makes them an artist. Collingwood sums his philosophy up with “we know that [the artist] is expressing his emotions by the fact that he is enabling us to express ours” (118). Art becomes an outlet for expression for not only the artist, but also the viewer.
Being an artist is intimidating, but we should all strive to be one. That doesn’t mean we all have to pick up a brush or pencil. It means to express yourself truthfully everyday, to look inward not for anyone else but for ourselves and to better understand ourselves and those around us. In the end, it is all about honesty.
Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of Art. Oxford University Press, 1958.