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Expression, Creativity, and Skill

April 30, 2021 4:48 PM | Dan Nelson

Broad segments of the art community assert that self-expression is the essence of making art. Many in that same community would say that creativity is the second-most important element in art, and that the least valuable aspect of art-making is the apprehension and demonstration of skill. These are views you are likely to encounter if you hang out in any university art department.

If you agree with those sentiments, I'm not going to try to change your mind. But I have a lot of friends who are doing art, and I want my friends to flourish. For this reason, I am proposing a view contrary to the one I have just described.

These three values are, indeed, fundamental in the making of art, but I think our art-making life will go better if we completely reverse the order that I have just stated. In other words, I believe expressing yourself in your art adds a teeny-weeny little bit of value to your life, exercising creativity benefits you a little more than that, but developing real artistic skill benefits you most of all.

Of course one might argue that the whole purpose of art-making is NOT necessarily to benefit the artist, and I could be arm-wrestled into accepting such a proposal, but I am limiting the scope of this writing to that narrow band of experience: “How much good does making art do ME?”

The bottom line is this— Doing something well makes you feel good.

Expressing yourself . . . not so much. I can think of several moments in my 41-year-long happy marriage to Nancy when I wish I had NOT expressed myself! It definitely did not make me “feel good” when it was all over. “Let it all out” is good advice sometimes . . . but if you have tendencies toward being a serial killer, umm . . . we all would appreciate you NOT letting it all out.

I think human beings are hard-wired to make stuff . . . and to make stuff as good as we possibly can.  

Make good stuff, feel good feelings.

That’s all “Doctor Dan” has to say today: Do two paintings and call me in the morning. I’m trying to get better all the time. I know a lot of you are, too. And it’s more fun to do it in community. Thanks for being a part of mine.

Let me know how it goes. Leave a comment here.

Happy Painting!


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