Sunday, July 5, 2009
Conviction or Bust
I'm unaccountably drawn to conviction. I think most of us are. What is it about conviction that's so appealing? Is it for want of it that we find it so attractive? And how do we recognize it in art? It's just there. You know it's there because you feel it. Conviction is a felt phenomenon; it's a presence that lingers after the artist has exited the painting. I'm not talking about belief systems or values. I don't care what a person believes, or about her morals. So what is conviction? And how is it recognized?
I've been pondering this for a while. I see so little evidence of conviction in contemporary art. There seems to be a perpetual question mark hovering over so much of what I see, as if the artist is asking the viewer, "Is this right?" When the artist is dependent upon the viewer to validate his ideas in order to execute them in some tangible form, there's a serious problem. The creative process must be independent of approval or opinion. (Yes, this includes art critics). Did Pollock think about approval while he dripped? No, and he didn't think about conviction either. He was conviction. Or, in his own words, "I am nature."
Conviction isn't something that we believe or cultivate, like tomatoes. Conviction is what we are. It flows in our veins. It's the internal sense of what is true, and the action taken to correspond to that truth. We don't need assurance that our conviction is correct, anymore than we need praise for breathing. When a person "has" conviction, it's very powerful. Even if his convictions vastly differ from our own, there's still a magnetic quality about him. And if that person happens to be an artist, her convictions will come through in her art. I don't know how this happens, but it does, and it's very seductive. We're naturally drawn to that person's work, because it resonates on the deepest level.
These are tough times. It's hard to keep it together and pay the mortgage, much less rely on our convictions to put food on the table. But this isn't the time, nor is there ever a time, for an artist to be looking outside herself for approval ratings. Or second-guessing what a gallery will want, or a collector will buy, or a critic will write. Conviction doesn't ensure sales or launch an artist's career, but it gives the rest of us hope that there's something to strive for, or bust.