An Artist is a Rebel
In my last post, I described how I like art that connects with people. I particularly appreciate when artists make art that challenges the status quo. The artists I look up to most are those who raise questions, push boundaries. The Avant-garde.
The term ‘avant-garde’ was used to refer to artistic expressions for the first time during the era of Impressionism. Started by a group of French painters in the nineteenth century who began to throw aside the rules and regulations of academic painting set by the Academie des Beaux-Arts, Impressionism was an artistic rebellion. Instead of painting portraits or scenes with religious and historical themes, these artists painted what they saw. Scenes like picnics and ponds and sunsets. Unlike traditional painters of the day, they often painted outside, en plein air, and used freeform brush strokes to capture the changes in light, mood and ambience of a moment. Because they painted what was in front of them, these painters needed to work quickly and so were able to finish a painting in a single day, which was previously impossible. Because they could produce more works, art actually became a viable commercial endeavour. They no longer needed to rely on the benevolence of rich patrons to pursue their craft. This made people mad. Heaps of critique poured upon them from the elite, but the Impressionists did not quit. Driven by imagination and ambition, this rebellion opened up so many possibilities of what an artist could achieve.
Artists are Rebels
There is a line of thought that says artists must constantly recreate their art or else they will become creatively stagnant. Art which becomes typical turns into common, normal artifacts which no longer connect with people in the same way. And so, the basic act of being creative is to challenge the status quo. There’s a spark that ignites every time someone has an idea or asks “what if...” Doing so indicates that we are not comfortable with the way things are and there is something that can be done about it. Making art is in itself a rebellion.
Subtle Acts of Non-conformity
I don’t think I’m much of a rebel, but I definitely have the desire to be different which fuels many subtle acts of rebellion. When I was a kid, I chose piano lessons when all my friends played basketball. In high school, I wore Converse All-stars when they all wore Air Jordan’s. Sometimes, instead of just buying friends gifts, I would hand make things for people as a simple act of non-conformity. For example, here’s a kind of embarrassing story… When I just began trail running, I used to wear these sweatbands I made out of old sport socks. I thought they were pretty cool (currently embarrassed). A group of us traveled to a race together and I wanted to get us all something matching for some team bonding. So, I took a load of my old, gently used socks and cut them up to make sweatbands for everyone. I even sewed my initials into them for authenticity. Oh jeez.
Another time, a few years ago when our running group was doing hill repeats on one of our favourite trails. There was at least a dozen of us. The route was fairly short so we all left our hydration packs at the bottom. After my first repeat, I returned to the bottom for a sip of water and a bite to eat. I looked at the pile of black and red technical fabrics strewn along the side of the trail. Perhaps my eyes were full of sweat, or I was dizzy from the quick descent, but I couldn’t figure out which pack was mine. Soon after, I decided I wanted to put patches on my pack so it would stand out.
These don’t sound like the acts of a true rebel by any stretch. But, these are my subtle rebellious acts of non-conformity which underpin why I want to do things differently.
The Rise of the Rebellion
I created my art. I made my sketches, doodles, pictographs, abstract impressions of mountains that people liked. I could have tried to plaster them on t-shirts and coffee mugs and notebooks and water bottles. I could have tried to hock them at craft fairs and farmers markets just like so many other artists, designers and craftspeople have done… but this kind of mass production did not appeal to me. That’s what anyone else could do and I wanted to be different.
I didn’t want my art to be hung on a wall in someone’s living room. I wanted to bring my art back to the place where it began. To complete the circle of inspiration, I wanted people to experience it where I was inspired to create it. So, I made my mountain pictures on little slices of wood I cut from an old Christmas tree.
I didn’t even want to sell them. At this point, I knew they had no actual value, so I wanted to give them away, but, not as typical gifts. Along the same theme of breaking convention, for my first ‘exhibition’, I took them on my runs and left them beside the trails for people to find. There was a note on the back asking people to tell me when they found the medallions, but few did. I don’t really know how many were found and how many just disintegrated into the forest floor.
Eventually, I stopped doing this because I felt like I was littering. The statement I was trying to make was at odds with something else I valued. So I had to think of another way to share my art with the people I wanted to connect with. The answer was clear. Trucker Hats!