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?
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:
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.