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Is Art Relevant Anymore

Updated on November 1, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Broken | Source

Breaks Your Heart

Not long ago I asked a group of friends to answer the question “What breaks your heart about your art (visual, musical, or writing) and how people see you/see it?” I got a lot of different answers but one made me think.

Hiding from the world.
Hiding from the world. | Source


Nancy: When you hear people tell artists they’re no longer relevant.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines relevance as a relation to the matter at hand, also practical and especially social applicability: pertinence. With that in mind is art no longer relevant? Is it no longer practical or pertinent? It leads me to think that anyone who says that artists are no longer relevant is thinking of fine art gallery paintings and not art in general.

We have art so that we shall not die of reality.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

All the Arts

Art encompasses all the arts. It includes illustrations in books, product packaging design, animation, movie production, set design, video gaming design, theater sets, dramatic arts, musical arts, dance, copywriting, book writing, magazine, and newspaper layout design, photography, and yes, fine art painting. There is so much more that I didn’t mention, but you get the idea.

Photo with digital filter
Photo with digital filter | Source

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Portrait Photography

So let us assume that someone making the comment, “Artists are no longer relevant,” means that visual arts and in particular gallery painting is no longer relevant. I can see why they would get that mistaken impression with all the new advances in digital software and photography. Why pay an artist for a portrait when you can take a photograph and with the help of filters, digitally make it look like an oil portrait? Actually, artists rarely get portrait commissions these days. People just don’t want to pay the price for a good oil painting unless it is of their pet. They do like having gallery type art in their homes but don’t mind prints of originals that cost a fraction of the price. This means someone somewhere had to create an original to make prints from.

Charcoal portrait of my friend Lupe.
Charcoal portrait of my friend Lupe. | Source


The art that painters create is more than photography. A truly good artist puts more into a painting than a camera can capture. They try and capture the emotion of the moment, the soul of the sitter, or the feeling of the landscape, and the deep feeling of the painter himself. They go for the impression or expression of the day and time rather than a photographic representation that the camera can capture. That alone makes art relevant and more valuable than digital manipulation of a photograph.

Passenger Pigeon

No matter how experienced you become at digital manipulation and visual software, there is nothing like the experienced painter’s work on a painted canvas; or for that matter, the experienced watercolorist’s work on paper. The digital software actions do come close but miss the mark. It just isn’t the same. Good paintings take a lifetime of dedication, devotion, and practice to master, and it should break everyone’s heart when they are demeaned and belittled. If painters and paintings ever go the way of the passenger pigeon, the world will be a poorer place.

Charcoal portrait of a sailor
Charcoal portrait of a sailor | Source


When you hear artists and their work being demeaned in this way, you have to consider it is counted as of little value for education as well. When children are deprived of expressing themselves with color and shape, and presented with only the 3R’s in school, the joy goes out of education. After all, if there is no art, no music, no drama, what is there left to read and write about?

The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed… because people are changed by art—enriched, ennobled, encouraged—they then act in a way that may affect the course of events… by the way they vote, they behave, by the way they think.

— Leonard Bernstein
One of my paintings on the right at an art show reception.
One of my paintings on the right at an art show reception. | Source


We artists work quietly and alone. We get very few accolades for our efforts and mostly please ourselves with our product. So often we look for praise from the public and so we enter art shows and fairs to put the culmination of our labor out there for the public to see and hopefully admire. Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment but we really do want to hear what people think and often we pay for it. Entering fairs and art shows often involve paying a fee per painting. Many people don’t realize we pay for the privilege of having work included in a showing, however brief that show is.

Carol: What breaks my heart is when I work ALL summer on a painting and it doesn’t get a ribbon. Not even an Honorable Mention. Oh, that hurts.

Carol is right, that hurts. But it won’t stop her from entering it again next year and the year after that. Why? Who knows? We want to paint and we want to have our work seen. Each of my paintings is like a child I have labored over and given birth to. I’m so proud when it is done that I want to frame it pretty and display it for the entire world to see. When it isn’t loved as much as I love it, it hurts but it isn’t the end of the line for my baby. I still love it. I may make changes, dress it with a better frame or even give it a face-lift, and then display it again. I know Carol will too.

Setting up an art show display window.
Setting up an art show display window. | Source


It is hard to put a price on and sell our babies as well. What price would you put on your son or daughter? Still, we do and hope it goes to a nice home where it will be loved and cherished. What breaks my heart is when I give one of my adored babies to a friend or family member, only to find later it is stuffed into a closet or under a bed because they didn’t care for it at all. That tears me up.

Judges scrutinizing work at an art show before the hanging.
Judges scrutinizing work at an art show before the hanging. | Source


The rejection Carol feels doesn’t mean that the painting is no good or not relevant. It means the judges didn’t find it his/her favorite. Art is subjective. What one person loves, the next one will hate, and vice versa. There is no telling sometimes what the judges are looking for or why one painting gets ribbons and the one next to it by the same painter doesn’t. It is all about personal opinion.

Acrobats | Source

My father used to say opinions are like armpits. Everyone has a couple but they usually smell.

Final Thoughts

In the end, that is the answer. When someone says that artists are no longer relevant, it is personal opinion and not necessarily the truth for all of the general public. We artists have to grow a tough skin and let it roll off our backs. The truth is these artists are by nature a sensitive lot and we never really grown that tough skin. It never rolls off our backs. We take it in, internalize it, shrug and shed a tear, and keep painting.


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