We are creatures of comfort. Many of us avoid uncomfortable situations whether physical or mental. This can limit our health if we avert physical discomfort by avoiding dentists or gyms. This could limit our relationships and career if we avoid difficult conversations or people. To risk rejection and/or failure is uncomfortable. Artists have to take these risks.
It occurs to me that good art is about discomfort, at least a little bit. And artists need to be able to tolerate a little (or a lot) of discomfort in conceptualizing and actualizing the work. Let me explain.
Discomfort is a sign we are challenging ourselves. Therefore, discomfort is a symptom and a sign of progress. If we are challenging ourselves, this is a good indication that we may challenge the viewer. And by challenging the viewer I don’t mean we try to confuse or confound or repel, although that may be a result. Our goal, many of us, is to challenge the viewer to engage on some level, with the work. At best this engagement can be transformative, at least it will be thought provoking. Without engagement, we have clutter, stuff, knickknacks, dust-collectors. We encourage the audience to engage with the artwork in a meaningful way by challenging ourselves to invite discomfort. Evidence of that challenge is apparent in the artwork, and this elicits a response in the viewer.
What causes discomfort feels challenging is different for each individual artist. This is also true for the viewer. That is why different people love different art.
In order to make good art, the artist must choose one aspect of herself to explore. The artist must challenge herself to make authentic work about that topic, specifically, intentionally, and truthfully. The choosing of an aspect of the self to investigate is or can be the uncomfortable part, I’ve said before that art takes bravery. I am not talking about navel-gazing here. When I say that an artist must choose an aspect of herself to investigate, I don’t mean the work is literally about her, although on some level it always is. I am talking about the artist’s distinct point of view. What the artist chooses can be anything at all, from an in-depth investigation of the color yellow or a childhood memory, to her feeling on race relations or the state of the economy. When viewed through the lens of the artist, every topic becomes somewhat personal. Art is not the news. Art is the editorials. Unlike the newspaper, the audience is not required to know the topic of the piece. It is enough that the artist know and challenge herself to truthful representation of this specific idea, regardless of the form the final artwork may take.
It is this specificity and truthfulness that becomes apparent in the artwork and engages the viewer, even if the topic itself remains the artist’s secret. If an artwork is successful we don’t need to know what it is about or even to understand it, we need only to feel it.