A new definition of art and artist?

 I use a grid system and  (gasp)  math whenever I get down to "real" drawing.  Despite the ridicule from art teachers, math and geometry have been the back bone of age-old artistic endeavors. Not to mention, both tools support my need for structure. Photo/self portrait (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2015

I use a grid system and (gasp) math whenever I get down to "real" drawing.  Despite the ridicule from art teachers, math and geometry have been the back bone of age-old artistic endeavors. Not to mention, both tools support my need for structure. Photo/self portrait (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2015

My mind and writings were filled with tangents as I wrote this post. (A geometry pun!) There was so much information this piece would have been a book instead of a blog post.  (Hmmmmm...)  I've managed to lightly skim the surface of a very relevant topic.

"Real Artists Don't Use Math"

Thanks to an old-fashioned Catholic Elementary School Education, I learned art appreciation, art history, and the uses of geometry and math in art. (Do they even teach those subjects anymore?)

By the time I approached art classes as an adult, I had a solid system for constructing my ideas.  Imagine my surprise, when a painting teacher questioned me as I laid out my grid.  She informed me, "Real artists don't use math. It's all creative and intuitive." An "Elements of Design" teacher told me baroque diagonals were not important - would I please draw an example of a "happy line" - and a smiley face did not count. (Channeling Obi-wan Kenobi, "These are not the teachers you're looking for.")

In rebuttal, I offer the following;  pyramids, soaring cathedrals, aquaducts, the coliseum in Rome, Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, Alexander Calder's mobiles, religious icons, and the ubiquitous "Rule of Thirds" in photography. The classicist, Myron Barnstone, teaches in great detail the use of geometry by the Masters and it's relevance to today's artists. Geometry...math...engineering...a happy line?

And as I write this, the question develops, "Did I initially gravitate to iconography because  I recognized the structural system  - not the theology -  of the icons?"  (There is nothing like blogging "out loud" to cultivate clarity of thought!)

Who is a REAL Artist?

It doesn't take long to find a plethora of discussions about what is art and what is not, or who is an artist and who is not. In my opinion, the core of these discussions is "us=artists, them=not artists."

Perhaps the "us=artists" feel entitled to the credential, "artist", because they are deeply invested. Perhaps, they have spent many years and a great deal of money towards learning a certain artistic skill.  Or, horrors, "You do it differently than I do, therefore, you are not an artist." Maybe artist/not artist is being used as a proxy for less experience versus more experience.

What are the levels of experience and learning between someone taking "snapshots" as opposed to the photographer of fine art photos? And is the story behind the snapshot any less important than the story of the fine art photo?

The Role of Story

I believe people create as a way for their lives to be bigger. The creative act is an explosion of one's core essence out to the world. The created work is the vessel for a personal story the artist shares with the world. If we, the viewers, can appreciate the story, our worlds can be expanded.

Appreciating the story is not the same as liking the art.  I have seen plenty of works I don't like.  I prefer artistic works that make my spirit soar; works that make me want to be a better person; works that encourage me to explore. I also gravitate towards art work with a discernible structure my eye can follow.  Yes, I am a classicist at heart. Yet, I can understand the story behind something bold, ragged and angry, tempestuous.  I can appreciate the story the artist chooses to share.

My personal preferences are not the arbiter of art/not art. I suggest that no one's personal preferences are the arbiters of art/not art. I suggest the root of a critique about an artwork is related to how deeply the critic can see/feel/appreciate the story behind the work.  (A discussion about technical critique is scheduled for a later post.) Perhaps the critic conflates "I don't understand this story", or "this piece does not fit my personal preference" into "therefore, it's not art".

A Benefit of Making Art

It doesn't matter if you use a Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon, Canon or cell phone to take photographs. It doesn't matter if you make movies with toys, craft quilts, restore antiques or sculpt sea turtles out of snow. It doesn't matter if you recreate the Great Lakes by digging out your back yard with a spoon!  You are creating something of value to you, and possibly, to others. You are sharing a story with your vision, your hands, your voice.

There is problem solving at work. The math work may be subliminal, but it is there. A story is being developed and shared.

Creating art is the profound act of increasing one's brain power - or in scientific terms - increasing the neuroplasticity of the brain. Learning is happening; neural and informational connections are being made that spark ... (wait for it) ... the AHA moment!


The process of art-making is no more than problem solving cleverly masked behind the call to self-expansion and self-expression.  One part of the artist's self becomes 'bigger', more experienced, more learned, more fulfilled. The creative act and the resulting art are more than expressing "who you are". It is about the story, the learning, the sharing. It is the moment of exhilaration when the artist knows "I did this!" and "I have new information!"

Bottom Line

Perhaps the designations "art/not art" are only indicators of how much story a viewer understands or appreciates. No more, no less.

Perhaps the designations "artist/not artist" are only attempts to protect personal investments. No more, no less.

Start where you are. Use what your have - be it a brush, a camera, a sewing machine, or a spoon. Keep learning. Keep experimenting. Keep telling your story.

I haven't drawn a "happy line" yet...and I'm okay with that.

Did anything in this article strike a chord with you?  Please share your thoughts in the Comment Section...and don't be afraid to "Share".

Thank you for visiting and reading.