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Wrote this in response to a student regarding art assignments with specific themes, but since I hadn't verbalized these ideas in a while, I thought I would post it here as well.  She wondered what was wrong with just drawing pretty pictures.  The answer, I think, is nothing:

As an artist you are throwing your work out into the world, and hoping it connects with an audience. The strength of that connection, its resonance, is, I think, the measure of good art. All art is expression; meaning is its interpretation. Good work will always create a resonance in the audience's imagination, a meaning they draw from it and that draws them to it, whether or not it was intentionally placed there by the artist. Different elements resonate for different people: taste, in other words. Sometimes there is no more complex theme to a piece than beauty or eros (which are still complex themes); but the master artists, the ones that still seem fresh even after hundreds of years, resonate on many levels with many people, even if their main themes are simple beauty.

As an artist it may take a while to find your voice, which to me means discovering and exploring the deeper ideas that inform your work. I don't think that there necessarily has to be a move towards heavy themes-- Gil Elvgren did great work painting pinups his entire life; Leyndecker painted magazine covers and advertisements. But there may be something out there that you haven't run across yet that could give your work greater weight. That's where experimentation comes in. Assignments like the one you described are (ideally) designed to make you step out of your comfort zone and explore. As an artist who lives firmly within his comfort zone, I can attest to the usefulness of such exercises, even while I agree with you that they suck and I hate them. =) If you don't feel like you have anything specific to say with your work, that is fine-- practice and experimentation is what we do so that we are ready if and when we do have something more to say. Meanwhile, beauty and eros are themes as old as art itself.
  • Listening to: Airborne Toxic Event
  • Reading: Roadside Geology of Wyoming
  • Watching: Daily Show
  • Playing: Guild Wars 2
  • Drinking: Water
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:iconsylvancreatures:
SylvanCreatures Featured By Owner May 9, 2013  Professional General Artist
I'll second KlarkKentThe3rd, post M0AR.

That said, I think you've outlined a pretty healthy perspective in both sections here. Not just for visual art. I know plenty of people who are fine musicians that spend their days in much duller jobs during the day, and enjoy sharing their talents with family and friends.

As for getting outside of the comfort zone, I couldn't agree more - it's the only way to grow!
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:iconklarkkentthe3rd:
KlarkKentThe3rd Featured By Owner May 9, 2013
As long as YOU upload MORE STUFF.
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:iconartytoons:
Artytoons Featured By Owner May 6, 2013
From my observation...it would be difficult for some very skilled artists to try something different when they get a high number of views for drawings with the same theme, punchline, and/or sexual fetish over and over again.

If they are content with the same large audience pair of eyes for their art in the same vein, why would they risk lowering their viewing number in doing something different?

That is something that is difficult to change ego-wise.
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:iconsankam:
Sankam Featured By Owner May 6, 2013  Professional Artist
I think that is a whole other subject, really: do you chase the muse or the money/popularity? Ideally it's both, of course-- something fulfilling that other people also love. This is the illustrator's territory. I think Norman Rockwell is one of the best examples of a working stiff who could pack his magazine work with character and emotion; but I think it's true of most working illustrators and concept artists.

Or, you could just chase the money, like Thomas Kincaide. Some artists hit a sweet spot at some point in their careers, but as they continue to evolve they may fall out of public favor. Some artists hit that sweet spot and monetize it for the rest of their lives. Whale-mural painter Wyland also comes to mind, or Jim Davis, the creator of 'Garfield.'

So it comes down to what is most important to the artist. Usually there is a financial component and a creative component, and you have to balance what inspires you vs. what you need to do to put food on the table. Everyone has their own solution. Get a day job and do the stuff you love after hours? Balance commissions with your own work? Do the sort of work you know people like and market the hell out of it? Collaborate with other artists? It's hard to take risks when your finances depend on your popularity. Compared to that, ego is a relatively small hurdle.

I think success is a combination of doing good work, and finding an audience for it. You can go for a niche, like a lot of the fetish work you find on image boards, or you can go for broad popularity, like Kincaide; but as Neil Gaiman said I think the wisest approach is to Make Good Art, and let the audience come to you.
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