Thursday, March 22, 2018

In Praise of the Hobby Artist and the Botanical Art Movement

Iris germanica - Midday - No Sunshine, Cool Light
Colour Study
Watercolour on paper
Coral G Guest

As many of you will know, my work has developed from the long European tradition of Flower Painting. 

Flower Painting is well documented by art historians and represented in museum collections, and it is always evolving.

I have chosen the fine art aspect with which to work, and to these ends, I have done so through observational painting and drawing. I have worked with the specific intent of bringing fine art techniques to the botanical art world in general, because I have a great admiration for Botanical Illustration. This lives within me along side my love of horticulture and its relation to the natural world of flowering plants.

The title Fine Art or Fine Artist, is generally used by universities, historians, museums, galleries and art dealers as a generic term. 

What we artists actually do is refer to ourselves as a Painter, Sculptor, Print Maker, Film Maker, Performance Artist, etc. 

Being a Fine Artist is considered a 'given' when we use these terms.

I am simply a Painter and Draughtswoman who paints flowering plants and landscapes, and so for the vernacular definition I use the term Flower or Landscape as a prefix to Painter. This is a norm in the Fine Art sphere.

When it comes to Botanical Art and the issue of definitions, I remain inclusive of all definitions and all terms that surround the representation of flowering plants. 

What are my reasons for this? 

I have believed for some years that what we have been building is an art movement and art movements embrace all the Fine Arts and all the Applied Arts, and many other variables and eccentricities. If we exclude any one aspect, we would be reducing the effectiveness of the Botanical Art Movement. 

In 2012 I first mentioned to my students, and through this blog, that we have an art movement emerging as a reality. At that time, I gave an interview on the Renaissance of Botanical Art to the highly thoughtful Tania Marian, and this had the imperative effect of making me ask myself if this reality will become far more than any of us ever anticipated. I feel that the critical mass point has now been reached and we have gone beyond it.

I come from a particular way of seeing things that the Fine Artist holds, I see history building through the fine and applied arts. I am also focused more on the flowering world itself than on definitions of art. My attitude to definitions is inclusive, because everyone has a respected place.  

I'm often asked this intriguing question:

Is Botanical Art a Fine Art or an Applied Art? 

Rather than answering this question, it is maybe best to say that if botanical artists want to be a part of the bigger picture of the art world, it may be necessary for each artist to address this point individually by becoming fully aware of their intent and purpose, and the fundamental difference between the Applied Arts and the Fine Arts.

The Applied Arts are Illustration, Design, Graphics, Digital Design etc. There are many excellent and detailed explanations to be found online, far more than I have the capacity to write about here.

The term ‘Applied’ refers to the arts that are applied to everyday objects, or education, or are created for a specific purpose, perhaps to serve science. For example, an illustration has a purpose to illustrate something in particular. This is the domain of the designer and illustrator who works to a brief.

There are limits and limitations to a brief, and there are boundaries to be worked with in the world of Applied Arts. 

Some artists work in both Applied and Fine Arts, for example an artist may divide their time by working as both an illustrator and a painter.

The Fine Arts, in contrast, have no boundaries, other than the ones the artist chooses for themselves. This is often why Fine Art is not the first choice of many art students. The applied arts are often considered less of a risk both emotionally, and also when it comes to earning a living.

A Fine Artist has the responsibility of understanding their own philosophy and their history, in order to recognise the context and meaning of their work.  This operates in co-ordination with their talent and abilities and allows them to know where they are going. A cutting edge fine artist has to be able to balance their spontaneity and creative impulse - which is mostly emotional - with their intelligence and their critical thought.

A painter works each day through self-motivation, which is something that often causes many to feel that they are falling through a black hole of doubt, because they have no given boundary to hold them in place psychologically. We move forward into the unknown.

My own work relates the flowering plants to our deep and meaningful experience of beauty and how we connect this to horticulture and popular culture. This thread runs symbolically through much of the history of Flower Painting in Europe. 

It is the manifestation of this intent and purpose that I have been committed to sharing for some forty years. I remember as a young artist, my tutors at art college drilling us in the need for originality and the need to think it all through with a critical eye and intellect and then to share it with all without discrimination. 

One aspect of my motivation has been to share Fine Art painting and drawing techniques with the artists who work in the Applied Arts, and also for those who work both as serious amateurs and as hobby artists. I wrote the book on Flower Painting because I felt that the non-professional Botanical Artists of all disciplines have as much right to learn high level techniques as those studying in art schools to be professional.

The techniques developed are now used by professional Illustrators of all kinds, as well as the Flower Painter. This is perhaps why it has been so popular because it is useful for both applied and fine arts. The techniques are not limited to Flower Painting. The techniques are universally applicable, and the book champions this idea.

The high end of the Fine Art genre is a tough place to live in. To simply say, I am a Fine Artist  is not enough because the work is critically inspected in relation to its history and the bigger picture of contemporary art. Its a different ball game.

In the Fine Art sphere, we can do and say as we please, because there are no boundaries. 
But, this is something we were woken up to as students as being a false sense of security.  

As one very good lecturer once said to us at art college:

‘They will have you for breakfast out there if you have not thought it through’.

This of course is true, and in order to maintain and evolve standards we work each day remembering this.

A fine artist is never reduced to working within a prescriptive definition of their work that someone else has thought up for them. A prescriptive set of rules is a kind of anathema to a Fine Artist, because a fine artist works with intent and purpose as an evolving aspect of creativity.  Its not until you see the work of an artist who has achieved this that you realise what it actually is.

Definitions and rules are a necessary aspect of the Applied Arts, and this is what makes it purposeful in itself.

In contrast, and in order to be true to themselves and to forfeit the imposition of a prescriptive definition, a fine artist has to face not only the art world and society around them but also themselves, from within. 

Of course, each artist chooses the creative area that fits their talents and their personality. We all have a place, this is the privilege we have in our civilisation.

So, here is another interesting question:

Which is the easier route to individual happiness, is it the Applied Arts or the Fine Arts?

The answer to this, in my opinion, is neither - which I mean in a positive sense.

The one who has the easiest route and perhaps the happiest, is someone who has less expectations of financial success, is outside professional competitiveness, and yet can belong to a Society and be part of a wave of interest in their subject.

This someone is the Hobby Artist.