‘Colouring Light’

October 26, 2011

Leeds Victoria Quarter by Flickr User jo-h

Leeds Victoria Quarter picture by Flickr User jo-h

I watched the brilliant BBC programme on painter and stained glass artist Brian Clarke called ‘Colouring Light’, currently available on iplayer here.

I was amazed by his beautiful stained glass, but even more impressed by his attitude to making art and how he functions in the art world. His insistence on working only on commissions he really wants to and only doing work he feels he has not compromised on is admirable.

In an interview in 1977 he said:

“I’m often being told by people that I ought to compromise. That these days you can’t afford to lose commissions, that you can’t afford to upset people. I think that you can’t afford to compromise. If you’re making a statement, artistically, then when you’re making that statement, as far as you’re concerned it’s absolute; and any variation, or dilution, or subtraction from an absolute, makes it less than absolute, and therefore makes it untrue. Therefore, by definition, a lie. And I am not a perpetrator of visual lies.”

I think this statement is as applicable today as it was then. The economic climate is such that the emphasis (I feel anyway) is on making money, or leading towards making money, at pretty much whatever cost artistically. I was speaking to an artist at some studios recently and asked him how he felt people functioned in the studios as artists; and he admitted it was often quiet during the day as most artists had day jobs and found it very difficult to make a living as a full-time artist. This, I didn’t find surprising and fully expected; however, what did make me think was when he said that if there was someone in the studios who had found a particular style or theme that was popular with the buying public, that everyone would bend their practice towards it in an attempt to sell.

I’m not so idealistic as to think that artists should not sell their work to make a living, of course not, we cannot live on air alone, and talents and skills should be rewarded financially. However, I found the suggestion that artists would readily bend their practice towards the market rather vulgar and anti-artistic. To bring it back to Brian Clarke, he made the point that as an artist he finds himself battling with clients as they often only really want to have something they’ve seen before, the banal, but it is up to artists to be the alternative and to fight it, both for themselves and to progress the artistic medium. I hope there are more artists with this attitude around.

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