Name Your Art

“Is this piece finished?”

“Am I ready to sell this?”

name that book badge2Familiar with the feeling that you can’t let go a piece of your work yet–whether it’s giving it away or selling it? Sometimes it’s the inner critic beleaguering you, filling you with doubts about your talent and skill.

Sometimes it’s the attachment to the work. You’ve done hours, days, even weeks of work, and the idea of the growing, living piece being taken from you is a lot to handle.

And sometimes, you just feel like a fraud. It’s a common occurrence with creative work–we feel that the beauty, the way it came together was an accident, that we really didn’t have much to do with it. That’s the inner critic again, and you need to call out a powerful inner hero to talk for you.

"Adam Naming the Creatures", 1847. Currier & Ives print, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, LOC #LC-USZC4-2780.

“Adam Naming the Creatures”, 1847. Currier & Ives print, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, LOC #LC-USZC4-2780.

The inner hero is the Name-Giver. Not familiar with that one? There is an origination story that gives precedence. God did the creating, then set Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to name the animals. It gave them dominion over them. And the action of naming does give us a certain power. We give names that are meaningful–we name our children after poring over name origins and finding just the right match. We name our children after others to honor them and remember them.

The same is true of our creative work. We name it to have dominion over it, and also to, at the right time, set it free. As a child leaves home to become an adult, our creative work has a life away from us. And giving it a name allows the growth and separation to begin.

–Quinn McDonald sometimes gives an artwork a public name and a private name, one she will use to retrieve the magic of creation.

 

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17 thoughts on “Name Your Art

  1. I quite know my Inner Critic: blonde, tall, Barbie like, perfectly dressed and made up, soft spoken with words of ice and steel.
    I haven´t been able to see my Inner Hero´s face yet. Although most of the time I think he is MIA, that I never had one, things get done. Maybe he´s working in stealth mode.

    • To explain:
      Oddly enough, “naming” is an issue of some complexity in programming. Various things have names, and the names are both labels for your own use (a variable named “price” is a lot easier to remember than “b”) and for others who will use what you’ve written. There have been all sorts of attempts to come up with ways to name variables and other things so they’re understandable — to yourself in six months, and to anybody else whenever.

      There’s an approach to programming where two people work together on the same code at the same time. I’ve tried it, and one of the things that surprised me is that naming works much better when one person writes something and the other person names it. My conjecture is that “making” and “naming” are cognitively quite different.

      • What I’m talking about has nothing to do with randomness. My wife is an artist, and I name her pieces. And programming, by the way, is just as much art as anything else.

        • Well, if you set your own definition, sure. I think it’s interesting and maybe even unusual that your wife asks [lets] you name her pieces. It’s either a great collaboration or has a background I shall not inquire about.

          • At some level, everything is an art to someone; at some level, boundaries are made. For example, if you approached a traditional gallery and said you wanted to mount an exhibition of programming, you would be turned away. At an avant garde gallery, you may be accepted only if you are already well known; at an experimental gallery, you could be welcomed with open arms. In your experience, programming is an art. I do not dispute that.

            I once worked at a gallery where everyone who was a member (paid their dues and gallery sat when it was their turn) was considered an artist, and cold exhibit their work. Much of it was not what I thought of as art, although the gallery member most certainly did. I eventually left the gallery, not because I was not allowed to set the definition of art, but because no one did.

          • “What constitutes art” is an interesting question. One aspect of it is the process — when you say everything is ‘an art’ to someone, that makes me think of the way they approach something they do. In some cases the activity itself is generally regarded as ‘an art’ because of its subtlety, complexity, uncertainty, or something. “There’s a real art to balancing lots of spinning plates on sticks”, for example.

            Another aspect is social expectations. When you say “if you approached a traditional gallery…” it makes me think of the complex social networks involved in the gallery industry. Although I’m no gallery expert, I rather expect if you approached a traditional gallery wanting to mount an exhibition of oil paintings — and they’d never heard of you — you’d be turned away as well. This stuff changes with the times, of course (I suspect this kind of thing is the change in “changes with the times”), and a google search of “computer generated art exhibition” turns up a lot nowadays.

            Then, finally, there’s the actual product (of the activity, which is enmeshed in social expectations). Not “an art”, but “art”. Decorations with no utility; useless adornments. Or, when I’m not doing my best to be provocative, things that you don’t directly use but are created to reward contemplation. A thing, the comprehension of which, alters your subsequent process of comprehension. I think this part of what Tolstoy was trying to get at when he wrote If only the spectators or auditors are infected by the feelings which the author has felt, it is art.

            All of these aspects are extraordinarily slippery. Even my attempt to isolate “the product” backslid into a question of process: “things…created to…”. Why should that matter? It clearly does matter — a label from a can of Campbell’s soup differs in many ways from Andy Warhol’s painting, but doesn’t differ much in what it looks like. Social expectations matter too — I could (theoretically) make a painting of a label using a process almost identical to Warhol’s but I wouldn’t expect mine to be valued (even by me!).

            I think I’m left with something like this: it’s art if (and only if) a sufficiently large group of people collectively agrees that it is. In other words:
            if [social_group] > [magnitude] then
            [definition] equals [social_group_opinion]
            else
            [definition] equals [free_country_nobody_cares]
            end

            See? Programming!

  2. I am more than happy to sell my work, Quinn!! I gave up attachment a while ago.. but it is the naming that gives me probs. I see others with profound, cute, etc. etc. names, but nothing comes to my mind when I do a piece of artwork!

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