Thursday, August 31, 2017

Art and Intuition - How Trustworthy Is an Artist's Inner Voice?

Artists are expected to follow their intuition. But does it always lead to great results? What if your intuition is playing a trick on you?

Intuition is important when creating art.

The stereotypical artist uses some kind of sixth sense instead of his mind. His ideas seem like a divine vision that he only has to bring in a physical form in order to create a timeless masterpiece ...

Only it doesn't work like this. Well, following one's intuition mindlessly does work sometimes. Paul McCartney is said to have composed the ingenious melody of Yesterday in a dream. But in most cases, especially in the cases of average-talented and yet inexperienced artists, this results in stepping into every cliché trap possible.

Lack of Experience

The thing with intuition is that isn't divine at all. Or rather: What beginners often consider their intuition isn't their intuition but rather the memory of the artworks they enjoyed so far. Being a huge Tolkien fan I've seen many other fans becoming charmed with Tolkien's work and then trying to create a fantasy world of their own. Most of these worlds seem more like rather poor copies of The Lord of the Rings to me.

My first stories were horrible as well. I did add some other influences into my stories, so it wasn't only Lord of the Rings, but ... Middle-Earth, pseudo-feminist warrioresses and a flavour of anime mixed together in the mind of a fourteen year old girl are an embarrassing mixture, really.

When I wrote those stories, however, they felt right. I did feel what I believed to be "divine guidance" and trusted my intuition. So I don't judge other beginners who don't realize their "inner voice" is playing a trick on them. Some things one can only understand through personal experience, not the experience of other people.

Learning Theory

Most artists remain stuck on that first level and never learn to use their mind. Some of them fare rather well with that and create truly great works. Most, however ... I haven't seen many people create truly great stuff without any theoretical thought to it.

Writers seeking to develop their skill turn to experimenting with perspectives and story structures, they try out different techniques to improve their style and they put more thought to their characters. Artists who prefer to draw or paint seek to learn more about colour and shading, about proportions, perspective and harmony. ... Long story short, artists seeking to improve their skill usually start to explore the specifics of their respective art genre.

Yet sometimes I feel that some artists dive into theory and techniques too deep. While beginner artworks often are ridiculous artworks by people who listen too much to other people's advice, who read too many how-to books and who use structures and patterns that are proven to work more often than not feel faceless to me. I wrote about this impression in another article:          
Rules vs. Artistic Freedom - Why Perfection Is Boring. And after almost two years I still believe that:
"[I]f you just blindly follow the paths discovered by others you're a boring artist."

The Golden Mean

Intuition is important when creating art. It helps to spot disharmony or to understand how a plot should develop, it tells which emotions should be evoked and whether the overall direction is right or wrong. Yet there's usually need to complement it with theoretical knowledge that helps to understand what works, what doesn't and why, as well as techniques that help to make something work or create a desired effect.

What makes a good artist, in my experience, is both: A good intuition, developed through much experience and failure, as well as knowledge of theory and techniques. Relying on only one rarely works. Yet you do need personal experience as an artist to realize that. Otherwise you may not believe that your "intuition" makes you create poor copies of greater works or that following advice from how-to books without listening to your own inner voice makes your artworks not really yours.

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