Discouragement

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

I'm a big Jerry Saltz fan. For those of you who don't know, Jerry Saltz is a very well known Pulitzer Prize winning art critic. It may seem strange to those of you who know me that I would be a fan of an art critic. I generally abhor critics of all kinds. I refer to them as "goalies" who stop true creativity in its tracks with withering, high-brow, elitist negative reviews of art, film, music, etc. It's only an opinion, after all, no matter what background you may or may not have. I am pretty darn certain that if he were to walk into a room filled with my art, he would either wretch or smirk, maybe both.

But the thing I really love about him is his authentic love for art and the wretches that produce it. His mantra is "Get to work you whiney sissies". (I paraphrase, but you get the point.) He is one of those who has defined what "Bad Art" is, which is purely subjective on his part, of course, but he thinks he's got it figured out. And, in a way, he does. His basic message is, don't be a phony. This is what I have always felt. I went to art school back in the seventies majoring in illustration. This was a major mistake which would haunt me for decades. Always trying to produce what somebody else wanted. A world of T-squares, protractors, french curves, and so on...(here in the Computer Age, those references must sound quaint, but it was all analog back then). It was boring and meaningless and it drove me nuts. Plus the money was lousy, so I got a regular job to support my young family, not in the least bit art related. Over the years I free-lanced a little, but it meant nothing to me.

But that urge to create was always there. I would produce weird and strange art with felt-tipped pens, which is one thing I discovered as an illustration major, a medium I still largely use today. I produced scores of drawings over the years, mostly chronicling my inner thoughts and struggles, most of which were deeply personal. I couldn't show them to anyone, other than a few like-minded friends, for fear of being exposed as a total weirdo who only pretended to be normal. A prime example is shown here: "Under Law" ca. 1985.

Finally, nearing retirement, and with the encouragement of family and friends, including an art student who loved my work, I decided to become a full-time artist, with the intention of doing whatever the fuck I wanted. No compromise, this is my work, I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK. This was a major milestone, and I believe only the maturity that comes with an aging soul made it possible. Many of the examples are here on this site. So what does this have to do with Jerry Saltz, a guy who will probably never know who the hell I am, and would not care less? In a word: discouragement. My fellow artists that may be reading this know all too well how fragile our psyche is, and how easily we are brought down. Even though my pal Jerry is on the side of the artist, if he thinks your work sucks, he will say so in no uncertain terms. So will that guy that looks at your work and shrugs, or worse yet, ignores. My advice to you: fuck em.

You have to know WHY you produce art. This is fundamentally important. Now, you'll notice I shamelessly promote my art with the aim of selling some. Nothing wrong with that, so stop the "selling out" thoughts you might have. I am truly honored that someone would wear my art or put it on their wall or phone. So far, not much luck there, only a few sales. I don't think it's for everyone. But if I ever approached that virgin white plane with the intention of selling it on the open market, it would strip all the creativity out of it, reducing it to an illustration. No, what I produce is about serving the creative, to hell with the outcome. As long as I know that what I have is as honest as I can make it, that's all that matters in the end.

Am I ever discouraged? Hell yes. Only the fellow artist will understand how important their work is to them and how it is repeatedly buried in a sea of apathy. The key is to get back to that goddamned easel, or paper, or clay, or WHATEVER. If you are creating art to sell, that's fine, good for you and good luck. If you are creating for the sheer joy of opening up your soul to the creative spirit, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Discouragement has a short existence in that world.

Ask Jerry, he'll tell you.