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Submitted on
February 19, 2012


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It's been quite a while since I wrote a preachy "THINK ABOUT YO' ART"-type journal, and some of my newer watchers may not know that this is a particular(ly annoying) habit of mine.  This is a subject I've had on my mind for quite some time for a number of reasons, and it's recently coalesced into a semi-soluble form so here we go.  (As an aside- this journal does have some recycled ideas from a previous post of mine, but obviously I hadn't really said everything I wanted to on the subject.)

It's no mystery that I love this website.  I came in at the tail end of the pre-critique wonder years, when the internet discovered and exploited that, yes, we don't always produce the highest quality art here.  There's a lot of unpleasantness directed towards DeviantArt.  At RISD, I made a point to never mention that I had an account here, because of the looks of disgust I would get haha and people would think about me differently.  It was something to be ridiculed over.  

I honestly think we're entering a new phase, though.  There are a lot of professional artists joining up on DA, recognizing it for a fantastic way to interact with other people in a language we all speak.  It's a combination of a portfolio website and Facebook, and it's ahead of its time and it's fantastic.  I no longer hide from anyone that I am a very active member here, and every single honest-to-god work offer I've gotten has come directly from my connections on this site.

However, like I said, I think we're entering a new phase, and I have some thoughts.

If you're a creative person and you have a facebook, you have undoubtedly read Ira Glass's poignant quote about taste.  If you need a refresher:


"What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through."

God bless you, Ira Glass.  I mean, the man works in radio and speaks well for a living, so nothing I can say after that is going to be quite as affecting.  Acknowledging everything he's just said and after meditating on if for months, I've got to say that I don't entirely agree with him.  I don't think anything he's said is incorrect, but I do believe that there's another side, which he didn't really get to: taste development.  

"Taste Level" is one of those phrases bandied about in art school and no one can really put their finger on it but they know it's something we're all aiming for.  

Shall we take a look at what I considered my "best to date" 5 years ago?  best of 2006 by toerning

You know that "Draw This Again!" meme?  Those honest to god alarm me.  If I were to "draw this again" with the piece I posted above, the right panel would be empty, because I no longer believe it's worth drawing.  Not to get down on the subject matter or anyone who likes it.  

I could easily say this ditty: Ardee's Getting Crunk by toerning is a recent and very similar piece.  Lurchy posture, focus on pretty lady, lots of hair, lack of explicit storyline, indulgence in the media.  The thing is, that drawing was done in an hour, and almost not shared at all because it is so far from the level of finish I usually require from myself.  That purple drawing, on the other hand, I slaved over for DAYS.  DAYS.  And it was my MASTERPIECE.  

I'm trying to say I'm not immune. I obviously maintain plenty of the same visual fetishes that I had 5 years ago.  However.  I no longer think "pretty lady, big hair" merits an illustration, I now recognize that those are simple aesthetic soft spots of mine, in which I allow myself to indulge every once in a while when, for instance, I'm on vacation.  And there are certain items of questionable taste I'll NEVER grow out of: Fanart, cleavage, backlighting.  God knows I work them in whenever possible.

The thing is, I have yet to see a "Draw This Again!" meme that makes any notable changes to composition, content, or impact of the work.  Is a person's ability to draw more convincing clothing folds or a more roguish grin evidence of what they have accomplished in their last two+ years of artistic development?  This is a matter of taste, and we are limiting ourselves.

Defenders of DeviantArt (such as myself) like to say that we encourage each other to improve, but it is my opinion that we also perpetuate bad habits and insulate ourselves against real-world standards.  Taste is a big deal.  And as a community, we don't have the best taste.  We allow ourselves to draw sketchbooks full of faces and measure our improvement by how many times we had to erase the eyelashes before they looked right.  We balk at the idea of considering composition, of learning color theory, of trying to put story into our works, because it's a vast and unfamiliar ocean and it's comfy here in the shade of the DA umbrella.  We convince ourselves we don't WANT to do that stuff, anyway, this is just for fun, and if we wanted to do complete illustrations, we would!

Well maybe this is true and I don't mean to criticize hobbyists, and obviously I used to follow this exact code of conduct, but even those of us who are genuinely content to just practice running poses or angry faces should accept that there is a greater standard of taste outside of DA and we are willfully shutting it out.

Taste Level is the doorway through which we peek at every Skill aspect.  DeviantArt has programmed us to see Expression, Posing, and Media through the tiny crack in between the door and the frame and to think that's all that's there.  But if we were to open that door, there is just so much more behind it.  Skill is only one part of artistic development.  Yes, skill encompasses technique, anatomy, expression, composition, value, narrative, anything else you can think of.  But without Taste, we would ignore all of that in favor of a really stellar pair of eyebrows.  

I don't want to close with any aggressive demands like "it's time to man up" or whatever, but now you know my thoughts, and I'm looking forward to hearing anything you guys have to say.  Thanks for reading.
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Macabeak Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012   Digital Artist
Wow, I needed this and read it at exactly the right stage of me pushing myself. Thank you!!!
BooSchnoo Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow, so true. I totally do what you've described, in terms of most of my artwork (whenever I make the time to actually do it) consists of the same old faces that I did four years ago. This journal has seriously given me a boost to reconsider my artistic work ethic, especially in terms of the level I wish to achieve with each piece and not just having a "that'll do" attitude. This was a very interesting read. Thanks! :)
TRDLcomics Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2012  Professional Interface Designer
I've read this three times now. Very well articulated.
portheiusJ Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2012  Professional Artist
Yes. I think it might just be a common thing that you're getting at here. A person can't really make a project if they never start it after-all.
Perhaps it's mostly due to the fact (generally speaking) that deviantArt seems to be more interested in the process than the final work. I can't really say that I'm best at it, but I tend to force myself to doing projects rather than just playing about with the idea! Can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say they have a great idea and then never get farther than that. I can't be that person I guess...
I'm kinda rambling a bit now. Agreeing with your thoughts basically.
xRoxyryokox Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2012
I completely agree with this. I am going to a University with an animation program and although I haven't improved as much as I like due to the way the program is set up (lots of essays, tests) and am unfortunately grouped with a bunch of animation majors who don't seem to really like art, I have met several inspiring students and teachers here who I think impacted my taste. And when I talked to the artists I used to know in high school they hard nothing in common with me anymore. I used to really like the anime style, but more and more my taste has moved away from it and I much more like characters with interesting silhouettes and exaggerated shapes. My friends and me were talking about a possible wicked movie. And I mentioned that I had really liked character designs that Elsa Chang did, but my friends didn't like the "funny" look.
Personally I think my taste changed for the better. Although it means I'm never satisfied with anything I do anymore!

I really like the art you post here because its so different from the status quo here. And I think I never would have found your art if it was on another site. : )
tguillot Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
This really makes me think.
I remember when I first started drawing (i'm only a junior in highschool, and i started around 5th grade. I'm still not where I want to be with my art.) I was so happy with my terribly-proportioned-3rd-grader-drew-it-anime-scribbles. now, if i can even make myself look at those, i always wionder what i was thinking and how i thought that looked good. I'm still going through that today, and i'll prolly be doing it for many years. As i've improved, my taste level has definitely changed. However I can't say that I do not do alot of the same thing. I want to try to, but i feel my skill level isnt good enough, and that i need to learn more in art class about it. I also need to look more at my surroundings. study the world... even if you didnt say that "its time to man up" it has made me think to myself that it is that time.

Thank you for writing this! :3
ninkira Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2012  Student General Artist
Shit son, the amount of respect I have for you right now is reaching sky-high. Thank you for writing this, even if it is reiterating an older topic of yours! I agree this is a very important aspect we should address in our work we decide to post on DeviantART. I go to the front page of DA and glance over the art there and think, 'this is not why I am on this website. Ignore this'. Also, further perpetuating media's stereotypical representation of 'beauty' (aka hair, cleavage, pretty face) isn't interesting or healthy for our own perceptions of self-worth and beauty as well since it is usually not real and unattainable! (Of course, any other representation could be equally as fantastical in retrospect, but hey at least it breaks out of the mold of the same thing we see over and over). It is great to be on this website and see and learn from inspiring works.
But I agree that DA is kind of like Facebook for artists. The crowds we get are varying and there are a lot of different ways to use this website.
perfect-tea Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Why is this a journal and not an article. People should read this. It more articulately says what I've been saying all these years about concepts > "skill" (which is such a vague term). Well done, thanks for your thoughts. <3
toerning Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2012
haha, thank you! Rhetorical though your question might have been, I actually have an answer which is that I don't really believe that bludgeoning the public with my rather strong ideals is really the best way to spread my thoughts. With journals, I feel safe knowing that only the people who have volunteered to watch me are subjected to my rants- pushing this kind of thing upon a larger community results in the kind of political drama which ceases to become about the content and turns into a dissection of the personality of the author.

In any case, I am very glad you found it helpful. :heart:
perfect-tea Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That's... very true! I think similarly about my own opinions, but forget to put other's into the same context. There -are- some who respond well to a stranger's strong ideals, but as this is DA, and we are all opinionated babies... I totally understand. Wise choice. c:
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