Overheard more than once at one contemporary art show or another: “My toddler could paint that!!”
A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum while they had their Rebels show, which included (among many others) Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Camille Pissaro, and my idol Vincent Van Gogh to name a few. I was in absolute awe in viewing in person many of these paintings that i’ve idolized as an artist and art lover over the years.
When sharing my awe over the show, I heard comments in different forms, about how simple some of the art seems, and how “anyone could do that” sort of idea. It really struck me at first, and I almost got trapped into that sort of thinking.
Years of trial and error are behind any great piece of art.
What you don’t see when looking at these works that seem simple- is the background for the artist. All the trials, all the experimenting, all the failures to finally come across that one great idea. For many artists, it’s more than just trial and failure to find success. It’s a deep, inner obsession that consumes the mind. That leads them to keep searching and struggling- sometimes at great cost to their careers, families, or mental health. Sacrifices for the inner drive-that they might not even be able recognize or name until it happens.
I recently made a discovery in my studio- a much easier way to paint what I have been trying to paint for years. And it’s so easy and fun, i’ve decided to start teaching the method to those interested. And i’m sure i’ll encounter students in my classes that might be tempted to think “wow, it’s so easy”. But I hope they will also see that artist behind the concept. It’s one thing to look at someone’s idea and repeat the concept.
Without experimenting and failures, yes it does seem simple.
Make sure you consider this the next time you are tempted down the path of thinking of a form of art as easy or simple. Sit down and try it yourself. And you’ll see, probably immediately that it’s not as easy as they made it look. And consider and respect all the background work that was done to lead up to that one big great idea.