Am I an internal or an external artist?

I have been wondering for a while what sort of artist I am: whether I am an inward-looking one or an outward-facing one.

It has been well documented that there are various kinds of art (and various kinds in between the various kinds and various kinds which cross the various kinds). These are: representational, abstract, conceptual. In addition, there are different channels of expression and media to use. There are too many to mention: sound, vision, paint, performance, pencil, paper, stitching, colour and food to name just a tiny few.

But whatever area of art an artist dabbles in, I believe that creative people are generally either motivated by a need to express something within themselves or from their environment. The former ‘type’ is the stereotypical existentialist artist who uses art as therapy (although that is a rather crass definition). They feel compelled to create to try to lessen the burden of their own thoughts and troubles. They need to pore out the contents of their mind onto ‘canvas’ (the metaphorical kind). This is the art of isolation. It is the art of the void. If there were to be a Venn Diagramme about it, this sort of art would overlap with the art of abstraction and abstract expressionism. The Dadaists flourished at the art of the internal. Jackson Pollock is the patron.

Francis Bacon may be one of the only both inward and outward artists

Francis Bacon may be one of the only both inward and outward artists

On the other end of the spectrum is the artist who observes, the watcher, the stalker, the silent witness. This artist wants to express what they see or play with perception. Their motivation is either to spread a message, share with others the joy of what they have experienced or seen, change perception or challenge it, or pass on a social message and change something bad about the world. They see themselves as the vessel. In the Venn Diagramme of art this type of artist has a toe in both the representational camp and the conceptual camp. (Note though that the conceptual camp also overlaps with the internal artist in this imaginary Venn Diagramme.)

A Venn Diagramme

A Venn Diagramme

I think that I am the latter type of artist. But why is that? It is partly because the thought of using art to express what is in my mind terrifies me. What if by doing so I find out that I am psychological damaged? What if people don’t understand what is in my head and that leads to confusion and rejection? What if the process of inward art sends me even further over the edge? It is the same fear one might have about embarking on therapy. What if I find out that there is no hope for me and I am a psychopath?

That aside, I’m an external artist first and foremost because I love to watch. I am an introvert (I think both types of artist are generally introverted). I love to watch. I love to listen and record and enjoy what life throws at me in the way of stimuli from people and things. I live for things. Things rock! But I also love people. They are so fascinating. Sophie Calle is the artist I would stalk, if she wasn’t already busy stalking someone else.

Sophie Calle is a watcher

Sophie Calle is a watcher

Artists, and specifically art students who share the same studio space as me in Wolverhampton, who are of the inward kind both fascinate and terrify me. I think they are so brave. I am in awe of them. I wouldn’t know where to begin using art to look inwards. I really don’t think I could. The whole idea of it truly terrifies me. There is one particular art student (and I won’t name or shame) who creates the most amazing inwardly-looking art pieces. His paintings, if placed next to mine, couldn’t be more different. So perhaps it is impossible to cross that divide. I wonder if an artist can move from the outward camp to the inward one (and indeed visa versa).

The patron saint of inward artists - and look where he ended up

The patron saint of inward artists – and look where he ended up

I’m not ready to try just yet, maybe one day I will. And perhaps, like Francis Bacon, it is possible to combine the two. Ignorance for now though really is bliss.

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