What makes something art???

Recently, at different gatherings, people have been interested in my thoughts and opinions about art, knowing that I make art for a living.  They show me photos of art that they just don’t “get” and ask my opinion or ask deep questions about what makes something “art”.  I’ve had the most engaging and lovely conversations about art with a fine arts student at Columbia college who is very dear to my heart,  (Narineh Seferian, Nars Art, check her out on Facebook!) and the amazing artist Kathleen Scarboro, who taught me much about painting and life during my year with her in Paris. (Also on Facebook).  All of these conversations have really sparked something in me and I think after all these years I have finally synthesized my opinion on the subject.

I believe the purpose of art is two pronged.  The first is simply to create something beautiful.  I think when we see something truly beautiful in this world it is a glimpse of the divine and, as artists, we feel a need to share it. There is always a place for beauty in our lives wether it is painting, music, architecture, or interior design just to name just a few.  The second is to mirror humanity. Our happiness or heartbreak, is a connection we all share and to see it reflected in the work of another gives us an awareness of that connection, something we may need reminding of from time to time. I believe this applies to all art forms as well, visual arts, music, theatre, any creative endeavor really.  Artists take the beauty or humanity around them and reflect it back, and our humanity is not always pretty.

But what makes great art? I believe the answer lies in the willingness of the artist to share their passion to create and their vulnerable heart.  In that vein, I’m not sure how much great art I have created if any.  It is the combination of talent and skill melded with your passion and heart that makes something truly great.  Even art created for commercial purposes can transcend it’s usefulness and be something extraordinary.  Talent and skill alone can be lovely, but put it next to something that has all three components and you can feel the difference. In the same vein expressing yourself through art but not being able to do it skillfully can deter from the message. It is not about manipulating the emotions of the audience as much as sharing yours and letting the audience identify.  We’ve all heard songs that are overtly manipulative of our emotions,  (anybody remember Billy don’t be a hero???) but we innately know the difference between that and a song that was written from personal emotional experience.  I believe the same can be said of visual art as well.  I know in the world of fine art it is taught to be provocative, to shock people into seeing your point of view, to have something really important to say, which can be OK if you truly have a passion for that point of view. If you come by that point of view honestly and can no longer keep your emotions on the subject to yourself that can make great art.  Authentic is the word that keeps coming to mind.

I think most of us get involved in art originally because we love to create, not because we have opinions.  As we mature as artists we can use our creative skills to express ourselves.  I am a firm believer that as a student of art you should learn all the skills and techniques possible.  Fill your proverbial tool box with as much as you possibly can.  Learn all the rules until they become second nature so that then you can break them beautifully and with discernment to express your point as eloquently or effectively as possible.  Practice, practice, practice.  After having been a student of art filling my toolbox for close to 40 years I feel like I might almost be ready!  I’m a late bloomer 🙂 time to be brave.




christo bridge


Incidental Art

One of my prized possessions is an old paint rag that belonged to my grandfather Robert Hockenbrough “Hock”. He used it to clean his palette knives (he always painted with palette knives since cleaning brushes was not his bag) and it is framed and holds a place of honor on my mantle.  In a similar way, I have one of my grandmother’s recipe cards, in her handwriting stained with batter, framed in a place of honor in my kitchen.  While they aren’t the banana bread or the actual painting, they are objects that honor the art of the process.  Tools made beautiful over time that represent the love and effort that went into final product.  They are in a way more intimate and more beautiful because they weren’t necessarily meant to be seen but offer a glimpse into the creative process.  Obviously the Art Institute understands because they included one of Van Gogh’s palettes in their Bedroom exhibit, and it also is beautiful incidental art.



Van Gogh’s paint palette



My Grandfather’s paint rag



Grandma B’s banana bread recipe




An afternoon with Vincent…in his bedroom

One of the best things about living so close to Chicago is the Art Institute!  From now until May you can view some of Van Gogh’s work and most importantly 3 versions of his bedroom in his beloved “yellow house”.  It’s truly an excellent way to learn more about the troubled artist’s life and the stories behind some of the images we’ve all come to know, plus view some of his paintings you may not have seen before.

I always come away from an afternoon at the art institute feeling freshly inspired and that is truly worth the price of admission!

van gogh bedroom









Colorado Inspiration

There’s something so inspiring about getting out of your element and your day to day routine. It’s exciting to conquer a personal physical challenge, (climbing the Manitou Springs Incline) and explore a new place.  Add the amazing natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the fresh air and warm sun on your back and you return home with a fresh perspective and a new energy.  I’m thinking a return trip involving some plein air painting is in order!

Gotta love Colorado <3