3 Oct 2011
On Artistic Success with artist Bianka Guna
My dear friend Bianka Guna, who is an abstract expressionist painter and a teacher, has just moved her studio into the Distillery District in Toronto. I visited her during the 2011 Nuit Blanche, which happened last Saturday night throughout the city, and I am so happy for her for making this step. The Distillery District is an amazing area with lots of galleries and great art all around. I know just being there will be a constant inspiration for her! Good luck Bianka!
I asked Bianka to write a guest post for my blog, and here it is, On Artistic Success, published by permission from the author, artist Bianka Guna.
On “Artistic Success”
by Bianka Guna
September 29th, 2011
I am sitting and looking at the faces of people that surround me. The film has just ended, and the lights have been flicked on. Somebody asks, “What is artistic success?”
I think to myself, really? “What does artistic success mean”? People answer: money, fame, and glamour. I think about living off one’s art, but in modest means—the joys of living in a room of one’s own comfortably. After downsizing from a suburban house (which contained my studio in it), to a small apartment in the city, I missed the nights I spent surrounded by my paintings. It was just me, myself, and I filling up my empty canvases and papers with colour, and that was enough to awe me and send a rush of blood to my head. I kept to myself.
How does one measure success? People in the room answer: a high education in art, monetary rewards, awards, solo shows, juried group shows, art galleries, and museums around the globe. Others say being elected into venerable art societies, being published in serious books and catalogues, or acknowledgement from knowledgeable or wealthy people that dream of being glued to the names of the geniuses they have sponsored.
I remember one of my beloved teachers, Peter Kolisnyk, a well-known artist in the ‘70s, but who chose to live remotely at the end of his rich artistic life, mostly forgotten by the media. He himself did not want to be a part of the “art circus”. He painted daily in his small apartment and several times a month would give art critique classes in order to make some money to survive. When we, his students, complained about the vicissitudes of life—illnesses, divorces, rebellious kids, politics, religion and war—and we did so often because we were all a bunch of middle-aged haggard ladies, or when we complained about our art materials being too expensive, Peter would say, “sell your jewels, your husbands, and mortgage your homes!” We laughed, but he was dead serious.
An artist cannot stop. The art becomes, for serious artists, a compulsion. We go to galleries, read art books, watch films about art, write articles about art, teach it, take classes with people we admire, and discuss art with like-minded people over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Art is our life, our religion, our air. What makes us successful? I don’t quite know, to each his own. Perhaps just to be human (true to yourself and aware of the human condition), to share what you know with youngsters, or to be tough on moral crime. I am speaking of the kind of crime people in the “industry” commit every day in the name of art: abandoning their young, taking to substance abuse, deceit, accepting abuse from gallery owners, misleading others, giving hope and leaving people dry, ignoring what is quality and praising charlatans for some hidden motive. I keep all of this to myself.
The commentators continue: “artistic success means money, sales, recognition from the public”. Yes, but what public? People that buy trinkets and souvenirs, or those that are knowledgeable in the subject? I think being in the “wrong” galleries or participating in the “wrong” shows is not healthy or flattering at all. Then again, “self esteem is for sissies” some wise guy once said. Maybe a balance between the two. Hard to keep. Can one exist as a people-pleaser, putting on one’s different personas, and still excel in every one? The housekeeper, the perfect mother of two, the lovely partner and wife, the “accomplished” career woman, the feminist bitch, the nature lover, the city gal, the politically correct or active citizen, the well-rounded middle-class traveller, the perfect daughter, the considerate teacher, the atheist, the peace bringer…
We must always make a choice. We excel in something and must give up other things. The question then becomes, what are we willing to abandon? Be selfish like others before you: betray your country, your lovers, your friends, abandon your children, husbands, and parents, kiss ass, eat others’ bullshit, pretend you are someone else… Why? Why can’t we be absolutely normal and great artists? Is it not honourable to get up at 5 a.m., work hard until 6 p.m., and then come to our families at dinnertime? Why are we not paid like plumbers, doctors, taxi drivers? We went to school, we too are overqualified, and we too invest in our careers. The artist must always doubt his art. As an artist, I would never go up to a dentist, let’s say, and tell him his root canal does not make sense and why did he not do it another way. But as an artist, one must face hundreds of sermons from people and what they are looking for in “a piece of art”. People who have become connoisseurs of “what art is” in the seconds before.
Nonetheless, to have too much confidence in one’s work is another sign of artistic weakness. I think of parents that raise their children into thinking they are the centre of the universe, raise them with distorted perceptions of their talents and selves. To “believe in yourself” when you art so obviously lacks any spark or glimmer of creativity is a bit of a dirty trick.
The question of artistic success seems extremely intrusive, and I look around me at the puzzled reactions of people confronted with it. I think to myself. To have a voice, to be left alone and be independent of others, and create what you want when you want, free of criticism and praise, that is artistic success to me.
Want to read more about Bianka?