Friday, July 25, 2008

Art is so subjective...

What can I say?

I'm a 37 year old self-taught regular guy who's strongest ability happens to be art. Or it might be better stated: "I can create stuff". As far as the word "art" goes, I have been learning just how subjective that can be!

Ever since I can remember I have always been able to create and draw well... Throughout most of my life, I never had any technical understanding about what it is I can do, EVER.

Only recently, over the past few years have I been learning what others in industrial and institutional establishments have set in place as to what the "standards" are regarding that "technical understanding" of what makes art what it is...
And boy... Has it been WEIRD for me. Sometimes good... Sometimes bad. It depends on the perspective of the person(s) I am dealing with. But the closest thing I can come to for any "absolutes" regarding the matter is to observe half of it in statistics, and the other half in philosophy...

The first half, statistics-- is referring to the general populace and it's reaction to the art... Do they like it? The answer is yes. The vast majority of people who observe what it is I do has an extremely overwhelming reaction to my work. The smaller percentage that does not tends to have a very critical reaction to the work, but mostly from an institutional or industrial bias... Meaning that my worst critics are my peers. Some in fine arts, some in commercial art, but all somehow coming from a standard that they base their own experience and perspective art truly is.

And with that, we are left with the other half of the mix: the philosophy. It's a typical pattern of human nature. It really reminds me a lot of religion and politics... You get a mix of opinions and bias based on the circumstances, educations, and sometimes insecurities of the individual who presents their opposite view of what you believe in, or what makes you who YOU are.

But ultimately, I have learned there is one trait that can really help an artist cope with it all... At least for me... And that is humility. In other words, knowing you are not the best... Your knowledge or experience isn't THE knowledge and experience behind it all. Basically, just have an open mind. An interesting but HARD thing to do, is try and put yourself in the reversed role of the critic who is panning your work. Switch it around, and pretend it is his/her work and it is you saying these exact comments about them.

For example-- recently I did a google search for "chrisscalf" to see how well statistically my website (or terms relating to my website) come up... It was only a few results down that caught my eye: one of the links was a prominent CG forum where someone had found my youtube vids and was posting links for others to check it out. But I as read down-- what had started out as a compliment from this individual who seemed impressed soon evolved into an awful scrutiny from others that ranged from a questioning the authenticity of my art to extreme critism of my use of color and proportioning/composition skills. In a nutshell: they tore me to pieces.

Naturally, it bummed me out. But I quickly joined the forum to defend first and foremost my authenticity as a REAL artist and not a FRAUD. But even though I winced and wanted to lash out-- I stayed humble and accepted the criticisms of my work and admitted imperfections that I am aware of in my work.

Though I wish more of the people would have responded, I did get one person who replied in a friendly manner, and seemed to be doing his best to make somewhat of a peaceful retraction of the fraud speculations. However, this person also continued to offer a novel's worth of advice for bettering my art skills... From various resources in anatomy training to better choice of color composition.

The person meant well, and spoke very kindly-- but this is where the statistics contradict the philosophy: Here I was-- for a moment-- reduced down to the mindset of an art student-- or a person who was just about to begin a career in art...

Yet as a contradiction by reality, I was already a professional working in the field for years on countless commercial projects regarded highly and persistently sought by clients for my judgement and ability to do the very things this individual was criticizing me on.

It was a very weird feeling, and interesting situation to learn from. Not about art, but just how we as artists (let alone as human beings) treat each other in the field, even if the statistics say that we are doing fine with our own unique abilities.

...But that's why I value the importance of humility. So many times have I encountered situations like this... And I personally know other artists who have gone through the same thing, or do the very thing to others. It's best just sit back and try to find those faults that the critic is seeing... It slaps the ego a bit, but useful info can be gleened. And it can also expose the critics perspective and where their bias is truly coming from.

For me in the situation outlined above-- I got yet another reminder that sometimes when I draw without reference, my lack of anatomical knowledge shows. This person recognized that and wasn't the first one to point that out in my work. But at the same time, this person had also recommended a further study in my use of color-- which in fantasy art painting is completely subjective. (I have always felt that art derived from the artists imagination best depicts the artists feel and mood, especially in their use of color) And while I accepted this person's view that there are different teachings of "color theory", this was not a recurring weakness I had ever been critiqued on, but rather a strong point of praise from 99% of my clients. Therefore, statistics outweighed an isolated this person's personal perspective that was perhaps based on his own art educational experience.

But all in all, I observe the whole occurrence that took place in this forum and only wish that humility was used in the critics who scrutinized my work... The use of the words "in my opinion" or "from what I've learned" or even "from my experience" are all good ways that I wish they would use. But like religion and politics. It's human nature... It'll never change.

Anyway-- that's my stance... That's basically who I am as an artist, and where I come from. But that what these blogs are for, right?


Meglet said...

I've been watching your videos and I'm so inspired! I had no idea that stuff was possible! I'm afraid a lot of critics are just jealous. It's hard for me as an artist to see what you can do. Like you said, we all need humility. Why do we all want to be the best? The ability to create is amazing! I can't let comparison steal my joy. Still, I'm inspired to stretch myself to the limit.

Chris said...

Thanks for your kind words!

And also regarding the humility thing and having the ability to create--- I think ego robs us a lot from the pure enjoyment we can get form other people's art.

Too often , we find ourselves comparing our abilities with theirs in a competitive way. There's nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, but if it gets too much in the way, we forget to enjoy that other person's art and really take in the inspiration they have to offer, as well.

Personally, I really want to be entertained by other's art. It is so fulfilling! ;-)

Albusd said...

Hi Chris, my name is Alan and I'm 17 years old. It's amazing what you can do. I found one of your videos today and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
I really admire you. You have the gift of creating anything you want and that's something I'd like to do.
I love drawing and I enjoy it a lot.
I use PS too but I still have to learn a lot of things javascript:void(0)I dont know yet.
Just as Meglet said, I'm inspired to try new things and improve.
Well, that's what i wanted to say and I'm sorry if I've written something wrong, I'm from Argentina, so I speak spanish.
Ok, Chris I hope you have good luck with anything you want to do.
Good bye, and take care.


bliSSter138 said...

Stumbled across your blog from your main site after checking out some of your YouTube vids and found your most recent post incredibly inspiring. I believe humility is just the most important trait that any artist can carry with them.

There is a metric ton of ego floating around online, but we should all remain teachable. No one has cornered the market on art and there will always be someone better out there...that's what hopefully keeps our skills sharp and ever-improving.

Absolutely amazing work btw; made me want to go throw down with my Wacom on something completely unearthly. ;)

Joseph said...

Hey iam an artist from what people tell me iam good at what i do but iam not as in to the whole world of art as i should be i work in my room alot just drawing with pencil and ive takin up painting with brush and oil paint but ive been looking at some of your videos and i noticed that you use a computer to do your work and ive found that it is hard to use a mouse to draw on the computer so i was wondering if you could let me in on some tips on how to use the mouse in a better way and what is the software you are using to create your work because the software that i have is not as advanced as your using so if you have any advice it would be of great help

Vash said...

Hi Chris I've also been watching your videos, it's truly impressive and fucking great, I honestly want to do the same I just watch your videos and try to learn all the little things you always do :p
Even if it seems simple on some points of view I can't have "The" thing I want on my pictures ^^' ...

Anyway I hope i'll be able to do some real stuff in some months :p

Cordially Vash ( a young student xD )

DJ Smack Mackey said...

I've been watching your vids on youtube. Great stuff. If you're at all interested, a friend of mine started up a team blog called Thought Faucet. It's just a daily,weekly, and monthly topic that are pretty much open to interpretation.
check it out, and if you're interested, join up.

info said...

A lesson in humility is always a lesson well worth learning, but remember what Galileo said, "I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him". Your story of discovering the relentless critic is philosophical paradox. looking for one thing and then finding an unexpected other.

carnal said...

A lesson in humility is always a lesson well worth learning, but remember what Galileo said, "I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him". Your story of discovering the relentless critic is philosophical paradox. looking for one thing and then finding an unexpected other.

Jennifer Hatch said...

Greetings Chris,

My name's Jenn and I'm an aspiring artist currently taking some courses to better my talents. By the sounds of it, you and I have a tad in common, having this ability to create since a young age with no formal training, but I'm curious about a few things, since you're quite a bit more experienced than myself.

I've been drawing for nearly 90% of my life and have had so many people compliment me that I feel a bit of my ego has begun to show. Not many have critiqued me harshly, but I don't understand why not, which is probably why I'm a little high on myself... this has already been mostly rectified by my discovering your art on youtube. I'm definitely not of your caliber yet, but I hope to get there someday, and I do hope to make a career out of my art. Would you have any hints on achieving those goals?

I'm quite inspired by your work, and will keep myself updated!

- Jenn

Dyun said...

Hi Chris,

You've touched on a subject I'm very familiar with and have been thinking about a lot. I found your time-lapse videos on Someone posted a job offer and wished to have eight similar videos/paintings made for whatever purpose. I had a looksie thinking maybe I might be able to help, but when I saw your portrait work I threw down my tablet, stomped on my notebook screen and screamed "I quit!!!" LOL! OK not really, but your work is amazing. I then proceeded to watch your other videos as well and really liked the way you use color in your fantasy work. It was very interesting watching your technique. At first I was confused watching you start in gray scale, but soon realized that all artists seem to have a different way of working to accomplish a similar goal. Never tried it that way, but now I might just to see if it's any easier than what I do. You've got eight years of artistic experience on me so I figure you're bound to have better time-saving techniques. :) Now on to my main point: I sometimes have my peers critique my work and sometimes I find that they critique things which I purposely left in. I don't mind critique, but sometimes I would like people to enjoy a piece for just the way it is. If the piece is based in fantasy the rules of our world don't have to apply! There may be many strange and other-worldly elements which cause the different lighting conditions for example. Sometimes I don't want to follow the rules. Sometimes I just want to play with color and atmosphere, or put down what's in my head no matter how much it goes against earthly logic. :)

Chris Wolf said...

wow, yeah I don't know what this person could have seen wrong with your use of color and lighting. I agree with the 99% that that's a praiseworthy point of your work.

I'm trust entering into the art field now and I'm so scarred of how my work might be "torn apart" like that. Espeially since I'm working in Japan, a very conformist society.

Well, anyway, your awesome so don't let anyone tell you different.

DustFury said...

Hey ^^

Your art is pure awesomeness, really.
I've learned much about drawing dragons thanks to you. If I look at my dragondrawings before I started to watch your vids and now ... there's a huge difference. And I'm only getting better by watching and studying how you start drawing the head and such. Really, it's all thanks to you, man, and I greatly thank you for it ;)

A great fan ^^

PS.: you should check the animation part on the site, my laptop went crazy when I clicked on it :/

Art Guy said...

Amazing! I've seen your videos. How is this possible? A modern-day Chuck Close.

Christa said...

Everyone is an art critic...and as you said, sometimes other artists are worse than the regular folks.

I was trained in traditional art (or fine arts) from an early age and grew up with it since dad was doing it for a living...but I never went to art school. One of dad's colleagues took me on and gave me the basics in how to handle oil paint, composition etc. etc. and then I was on my own.

Since then (I'm 44 now) I've developed my own style, going through different periods several times. But I clash with other artists when it comes to digital painting since I use the same technique on the screen as I do on a canvas.

A lot of the CG communities online today are very arrogant and narrow minded. At the same time I've been a member of Renderosity since almost 10 years back, and never had any problems like that. DeviantArt is pretty good as well and have some really great artists on their list over members.

The ones who cannot open their mind to alternative ways of doing things are the ones who will stop learning after some time. As you said, there's always someone out there who are better than you and it takes both courage and and an open mind to recognize that and learn from it.

But I think it has a lot to do with how mature you are as an artist and as a person as well. I know all my weak spots as an artist these days and what could use a bit more time and practise...and it takes a certain maturity to see and acknowledge that.

Some people just never will...some think they know everything and that no one got anything to teach them...and they are the ones missing out.

Anyway...there's a lot of these know-it-all out there and it's not really a strength.

Aarohi said...

Your work is wonderful....don't let anyone tell you otherwise. As long as you know your own weaknesses and are aspiring to better yourself....thats all that matters.
I, for one am amazed at how you seem to create stuff almost effortlessly!
I paint too....very different to what you do...but I would love to hear your take on it.I warn you,there is lots of different stuff and styles.

Thomas said...

Hi. If you can't handle endless negative comments and abrasive idiots then you should not be on the internet ;p (I kid).

But seriously, praise is nice, but you must know its pretty much useless. Plus you get enough of that on your YouTube posts.

Granted there are jerks on every forum, but getting negative crits from a community with higher expectations should spur you to improve instead of writing a giant whining post disguised as a humble epiphany.

You have major skills. The moods in your fantasy creature pieces are fantastic. If you care, my crits would be similar to those you have mentioned; your anatomy is far far below your rendering skills and your perspective could use some work, especially with anatomical perspective. Shot design tutorials would help your compositions a lot. I think all the things you need to work on are exemplified in your Fairy by the water painting. Bad anatomy and flat boring shot design.

You need to challenge yourself. Artists who do what they are good at again and again because they can cease to be true artists and become hacks. Granted you can't experiment on a clients work but instead of doing umpteen dragons for YouTube you might better spend your time working in areas you need practice in.

You may find this interesting and I mean nothing bad by it. I came here from your YouTube videos which I found amazing and fantastical, but as I read your YouTube descriptions and then started reading your blog posts I was getting the impression of a bitter tired man. I hope this is not the case because you have an amazing talent and I wish my skills at mood and paint rendering were at your level. Your videos are very inspiring, I'd like to see you work on some larger works with better shot design. I think this is the best tutorial on the subject:

Good luck with the autism cause and also coping with the sleep apnea, a friend of mine has an apparatus he wears in bed and he sounds like Darth Vader.

Chris said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with most of what you said, but I think you misread the intent of my post. I was pretty much pointing to the lack of humility that sometimes exists in my professional peers via competitive insecurities...

If I based my status as an artist on the criticisms of those people-- I shouldn't be an artist professionally. I should still be working in a factory somewhere, and spending a lot more years studying the craft. BUT my message wasn't about ME as much as it was meant as an encouragement to other struggling (perhaps young) artists out there to be aware of this kind of behavior that comes sometimes even from the TOP.

Maybe I shoulda' stated that more clearly. ;-)

Someone is always gonna say something nasty, especially if you are working "outside of the box" doing things different than they are.

As I pointed out in my post, I am aware of my own weaknesses (such as poor anatomical knowledge, etc). But I wanted to point out to the readers that despite my obvious flaws as an artist, I am keeping my nose to the grind stone and persevering as best as I can while I continue to learn-- AND maintaining a good steady career as an artist while doing so.

I regret that anyone would read my post as from a "bitter tired man"... That wasn't the intention.

The bottom line WASN'T that I didn't like being criticized-- It was that a reputable forum of professionals (who according to their profiles each had professional industry jobs in movies, tv, commercial art, etc) resorted to insecure behaviors of putting down a total stranger's work (some saying it was "fake", some just making outright obnoxious comments).

It's one thing to go onto a forum, and be there to get constructive criticism as they encourage to do... But it is completely another to have them find your work and go against their own forum etiquette rules of the forum.

But again, I just wanted to vent about professional ego. After all- that's what blogs are for, right? Venting? ;-)


carnal said...

Thomas was supporting a critique of your art work defending the concept art community that offers advice for improvement and that is fine, but I think I see where Chris was going with this from the get. The focus here is the “subjectivity of art”, and that is welcome conversation. But first a few very important terms should be defined, when an assignment is about time and results, there is no such thing as cheating. Terms that view all artwork as taboo to all that don’t adhere to classical technique, like cheating, and cliché, should stay in the realm of academia. Keep the customer happy and knowing how diligently wrap things up is key, even if it is with tracing paper and crayons. As you mentioned in the post above, you have a few weaknesses; well, we all do. I see the difference in your old work and your new work in regards to anatomical improvement, and I love to see that. But back on topic, I think the point of this post was to encourage artist that are just getting their brushes wet; grow some thick skin off the bat. Any one can be a critic, and their verdict is shit. Seriously, an artist should pay at least a little attention to the shit other artists have to say regarding their work and not get all wounded about it. Art is subjective because of its content. Bottom line: content. Chris by turning your painting process into a movie you have shown everyone your process and that opens up the proverbial can of worms that the shit talkers fish with. Any one who has ever had an art class can throw out critiques mentioning composition, value, color, and content, but they may not be worth their weight in salt standing in an artistically demanding industry and work flow. An acclaimed artist who is not constantly studying and improving on perspective, composition, values, and autonomy, may just as well be flinging paint on to a canvass and selling it with a cunning label, which by the way would be a cool job to have.
I remember the first time I ever saw Chris airbrush from reference, it was a photo of Clint Eastwood with green ink, holy shit. I was inspired. Chris should post some airbrushing videos on youtube. You would feel inspired. And that is the point here… Folks that are just starting out in digital/ traditional art, don’t let peer critiques unmotivated you, get use to it, don’t get all wounded because most honest critiques will not be what you want to hear, but they may serve as a great catalyst for both improving on technique and also soaring egos. Honest critiques are how you get some idea about how someone else views your work, it is always better to hear complements, but you may never improve..
blogs aren't just for venting.. I dont vent on mine

Chris said...


Carnal? Is this Jeff form the old days when I lived in the Wixom trailer park?

If it is it's been a long time! I have wondered about you! Drop me a line if you see this! (my website email).

I'd love to chat it up with ya.


Ryan said...

Well for what it's worth Chris, I thought your use of color was pretty astounding.

You're right though, most of the praise I get are from a lay person, in terms of art literacy. But crits are very subjective, who makes that call? Who's the say all end all voice? No one in my opinion.

Just stick with your intuition, because, in my opinion (haha, you mentioned that phrase in your blog and I find myself using it, woops) it's excellent. Stick with your gut, obviously it's been working for you thus far.

Best of wishes to you.

About the Artist...

Blah, blah, blah... (in other words, I'm still working on this part...)