Technical Skill vs Expression

In the struggle to find my authentic art I’m working to balance out technical skill vs expression and at which point on the spectrum my true self lies.

Jeff Vehige recently shared with me his love for the art of Sadie Valeri and her atelier. She has some amazing work and the classes she offer look spectacular as well. But the exact reproduction of objects in her paintings led me think of the struggle I’m having between technical skill and expression.

Robert Henri, again, captures my feelings exactly in this eloquent passage from his book The Art Spirit.

“In some works, marvelous though they may be, the spirit of the observer seems to be caged within the measure employed, and in other works, more marvelous, the spirit seems to be liberated into a field of other and greater measures.

In the first type of work we find ourselves caught and held in fascinating intricacies. In the second we find cause to take departure and enter into a condition of new and yet very person states of consciousness. One catches us and shows us its marvels. The other in incentive to a personal voyage of discovery. The first type can eventually be exhausted. The second can remain as a perpetual incentive to new flights.”

Robert Henri

I read this passage in right after corresponding with Jeff via email on the same subject and it fits perfectly.

At this point in my art journey I feel I have a pretty good grasp on how to control these mediums now, yet I will always work on improving though, and now it’s time to research myself and find what I want to say to the world. I think less about making a painting or drawing look good or making it look exactly like the surface of the subject. Now I’m thinking more about what motive I have in creating it, what I want to communicate.

But there is a balance. And now I’m thinking about Dan Siegel’s book Mindsight.

“Now the qualities of an integrated flow spelled a universally memorable word: FACES, for Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized, and Stable. We can say that any healthy complex system has a FACES flow. In other words, when the self-organizational movement of the system is maximizing complexity, it attains a harmonious flow that is at once flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable…

I like to imagine the FACES flow as a river. The central channel of the river is the ever- changing flow of integration and harmony. One boundary of this flow is chaos. The other boundary is rigidity. These are the two banks of the river of integration.”

Dan Siegel

Like the river of flow, art making has banks also, on one side is technical skill and on the other, expression. We could go all in on technical skill and create photo-realism, skillful but lifeless, or we can go all in on expression and become an abstract expressionist, full of energy but too esoteric.

All of art history has explored the outer banks and beyond of possibilities with paint and pencil. Now it’s time for art that explores the subtle nuances of skilled expression. The same subtle nuances that exist in all of us that make us unique from our brothers and sisters. We all have common humanity but it’s in our own idiosyncratic expression that the “NEW” art lies.

Remember there is no one else quite like you or me, our individual selves, our “suchness”, as Alan Watts likes to say. What the world needs is more of OUR “suchness”.

Don’t stop creating and communicating!

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