Art and Free Speech

by

Armand Cabrera

I have been writing these articles for over ten years now and in that time I’ve rarely strayed from the narrow topic of the general nuts and bolts of art but with recent events taking place here in this country and around the world I feel compelled to speak out against what I see as an assault on free speech.

Art does not exist in a vacuum. To flourish it needs certain conditions and to my way of thinking the most important is the free exchange of ideas. Ideas that challenge our comfort zones and push our boundaries and even may offend us are an important part of what goes into making all forms of great art.

In this country free speech is being strangled on college campuses by individuals who only want a platform for their narrow worldviews. They have set themselves up as the overlords of all things right and good and in doing so have destroyed any chance for dialogue between opposing viewpoints. Surprisingly this is coming from the left side of the political spectrum instead of conservatives.

This goes against everything America was built on. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right even when it is distasteful or outright offensive. As an artist I am well acquainted with this kind of fascist control over what people can say or do or write or draw. In my career I have been blocked from showing my art because it had religious overtones, political commentary, nudity, violence or in some cases fantasy elements.  I abhor censorship as much when this comes from the left as I do when it comes from the right of the political spectrum.

Stifling free speech leads to an insular worldview and limited thinking which leads to extreme and sometimes violent intolerance of other viewpoints. Reports of students spitting on people listening to speakers they disagree with or locking out and threatening journalists trying to report on news events shows how far they have fallen from American values on our campuses.

Even more disturbing are the recent bombings around the world showing that democracies are being threatened by extreme fundamentalism. Attacks on musicians, writers, journalists and cartoonists some with murderous outcomes for the victims of the aggression, have been increasing around the globe. This type of attack goes against the core beliefs of a free democracy and capitulation to the aggressors is not the answer. No ideology, social or religious, should be exempt from criticism or outright ridicule by anyone in a free society.

Artists of all disciplines have always pushed society’s boundaries. They have always been the forefront of free thought. In my opinion the world is now a better place because of this, do not let a few extremists who fear progress and change alter that. 

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Artistic Intent

By Armand Cabrera

“Brush strokes carry a message whether you will it or not. The stroke is just like the artist at the time he makes it. All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of his spirit and all the littleness are in it.” —– Robert Henri
 Intent is often overlooked when creating a painting. Intent is different than an idea for a painting. The idea is subject or narrative of your image but just as important for the image is the why of it. Why make this image?

In my opinion it is intent that drives the creative process and affects the outcome of the final image. Why not make it conscious? I would argue the best paintings an artist can make have a clear intent from their author. The artist has found something to say about the subject being depicted.  There are more utilitarian forms of intent like only painting to make money or painting to be famous or just practicing for improving ones skill but even there knowing the purpose of your work will affect the outcome.

Every artist who has ever attempted to sell their work has had to deal with compromise. Once you put your work up for sale you begin a form of collaboration.  Better to have that collaboration at the beginning of the painting process before the artist actually starts the image than the end.
 At its best all parties respect their roles in the transaction and this allows the artist to willingly accept the work being requested or purchased outright. In its worst form selling art can be a nightmare, it is a job with the artist being little more than the one who renders the idea with little other input into the creation.  Sometimes an artist can be asked to change a finished piece of art to accommodate an interested client. To the degree the intent of the picture is embraced by the artist the better chance that artist has of creating something worthwhile.
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Artists and Family Life

By

Armand Cabrera

 

 

Today is Father’s Day — which got me thinking about artists and most of the professional artists I know that don’t have children. Maybe it’s the difficulty of becoming a professional artist in the first place. Is it the lack of a steady well-paying income for most artists? The delay of success when and if it finally does come compared to other professional careers could be the main issue but there is something about being an artist and especially a gallery artist that keeps them from having families.
Commercial art seems to be different, maybe because of the more reliable pay it lends itself to more normal choices than gallery work. It is not just the men I know; many of the professional women artists too are childless. All of which makes one wonder what it is about choosing art as a career that keeps people from starting a traditional family.
Of course there are always exceptions to the trend and there are artists both male and female who do have children and just like individuals in the rest of society, some of them are better at being parents then others are.  Most of the time it seems that artists that marry spouses that support their choice to be artists and have a steady highly paid professional career increase the opportunity to provide a better chance for family life than artists who marry or partner with other artists.
Some famous artists that remained childless:
Michelangelo
Leonardo Da Vinci
Donatello
Nicholas Poussin
Albrecht Durer
Rosa Bonheur
John Singer Sargent
Cecilia Beaux
Edgar Degas
Mary Cassatt
Winslow Homer
Thomas Eakins
Edward Henry Pothast
Elizabeth Shippen Green
Guy Rose
Grace Carpenter Hudson
Kate Greenaway
Georgia O’keefe
Jackson Pollock
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Artists Block

By Armand Cabrera

 

I see a lot of people starting their art career seem to get overtaken with artists block. They define artists block as their ideas seem banal or they have no ideas at all for subjects. It’s an interesting idea but one that ultimately is in control of the artist themselves. I think the problem stems from a misconception about the importance of subject as opposed to handling.

Most artists will tell you that subject matter is unimportant in art. It’s the execution of that subject that has worth, not the other way around. Of course that kind of facility with a medium comes at a steep price for most people. Professionalism requires long hours of boring fundamentals and lots of practice. I find that usually these people are frustrated with their abilities not the lack of ideas. The good news is ability can always be improved.

Every professional artist I know goes through periods of unmotivated creation where everything being done is mediocre or just outright crap. The way to overcome these periods is with discipline focusing on process instead of outcome and finished product. Most professionals I know just continue to work through the slow periods because that work can and usually does lead to breakthroughs. You might even find with enough facility at your fingertips anything is a subject and your problem is solved.
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Artists’ Studios

By

Armand Cabrera

I’ve been having fun sharing pictures of artists in their studios on line and I thought I would post some of them here. Life could be hard for artist in the 19th century but those studios were beautiful especially when the artist was successful as you can see in the following images.

 
 

Mucha working on the Slav Epic

Albert Bierstadt’s Studio
Puvis de Chavannes
Howard Pyle
N.C. Wyeth
Frank Brangwyn
John Singer Sargent
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