I recently went to the Toronto Art Show where there were about two hundred artists displaying the fruits of their labours. As I wandered the aisles of fine art, I kept obsessing about the question: “How do you classify art and artists?” I often obsess about putting things — everything! — into neat little categories. I find it helps me to understand the world.
So, here’s what I came up with.
“Oooh, it looks so realistic! It looks real!“
The “camera” is an artist who strives to reproduce exactly what they see. For example, painting an extreme closeup of a flower with dew drops and insects and stomata (ok, maybe not stomata, but you get the idea).
“Oooh, it looks just like Monet!
“The “copycat” tries to imitate a famous artist’s style — technique, subject matter, composition. For example, painting exactly the same landscape, in exactly the same way, as Lauren Harris did.
“Oooh, pretty patterns!”
The “computer” is one who realizes the power of repetition or abstract shapes. This art can be technically superb, executed with extremely precise repeated motifs, or random looking lines and colours.
“Oooh, pretty colours!”
The “colourist” is amazed by the intensity and beauty of colours. For example, a piece that contrasts two different colours in vertical stripes.
“Oooh, how did you do that?”
The “craftsman” likes to discover and use secret techniques which nobody else has ever used, or difficult methods which take years to master. For example, creating a wall sculpture out of tiny rolls of paper. Another good example is the wall sculpture at Toronto City Hall made out of thousands of nails.
“Oooh, you used that?”
The “materialist” is an artist who, for example, paints on wood panels and makes it known to all who look at the art, that, in fact, those are real, solid, wood panels (imported from the pristine forests of Northern Ontario).
“Oooh, what are you saying?”
The “creator” is the artist who makes art for art’s sake. This is a person who uses art to express ideas, to provoke, to evoke emotions, to interact with viewers, or even to just to please himself or herself. This type of artist is not in love with reproducing reality, though the artwork can look amazingly real. He or she is not in love with a particular established style of art, but can work within many styles. Nor is he or she limited by mindlessly creating mosaics or abstract figures, but understands the power of rhythm and randomness. The artist uses colour to express, not colours for their own sake. The technique may be perfect or it may be underdevelopment, but it is always secondary, a means to an end, not an end in itself. And finally, this artist doesn’t let the materials of the art get in the way of the art itself, but is mature enough to work in any medium. This person is a true artist.
There you have it, the camera, the copycat, the computer, the colourist, the craftsman, the materialist, and the creator. (You’re right, I couldn’t come up with a suitable synonym for materialist which started with ‘c’).
Which type of artist are you? Am I missing any types of artists?