Declaring What’s Yours – and Important

“Well, All Right, Okay, You Win”
from The Colors of Jazz collection
©2020, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas
30″ x 24″


Making art is many things to many people.  Some of us work at realism.  Some of us work at landscapes.  Some of us paint bowls of fruit or flowers.  Some of us work with wood or metal or clay.  Some of us paint nudes.  Some of us paint scarves. Some of us make collages. Some of us work on abstract pieces. Some of us paint puppies or kittens. Some of us…some of us…some of us…

Whatever we choose to do, the words of David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art and Fear may ring in our heads:

“…making art allows, indeed guarantees, that you declare yourself.  Art is contact, and your work necessarily reveals the nature of that contact. In making art you declare what is important.”

Bayles and Orland were not writing here about all the other things in the world that are important and places where we need to declare ourselves – and there are many – but about the possibilities for art, the decision and declaration we finally make and say in words or gestures, “This is me, this is my work, this is important.”

Our declarations don’t preclude every other kind of art.  We can appreciate it all and marvel at the skill of other artists whether we agree with their declarations or collect their work. We are still asked to declare ourselves when it comes to our own art.

This news came first to me when I was told I needed a body of work if I wanted to approach galleries or enter shows.  As an art history student, I was well aware of “bodies of work” by the artists we studied.  The notion felt right and jolted me into getting busy.  I’d done a lot of painting and some collages that relied heavily on painted backgrounds, but it was all over the place.  Nothing like a coherent body.

Lesson:  Before any artist can get busy creating a body of work, you just gotta make that declaration.

My first effort to create a body of work was not the same as the work I do now, but it was a step on the path.  It was abstract and focused on color, but it was more structured built loosely around something I’d seen by Frank Lloyd Wright.  I created 12 pieces for that body and approached a gallery owner I knew who invited me to show her the work on a day the gallery was closed so she’d have time to review it.  We spent an educational two hours with my work, and I am eternally grateful to her for that time.  I was able to see the work with new eyes and an open mind as I listened to her critique.

She didn’t end up taking any of the pieces, although she liked a couple of them quite a lot and she encouraged me to keep working.  I ended up selling her favorite – and mine – a few weeks later and that bolstered my confidence.  I was further bolstered because the piece I sold was my first real move away from the structure and into abstract expressionism.

Over the next weeks and months, I moved farther that direction and gained a clear understanding of my work.  I made my declaration and I haven’t looked back.

The best things are that I know how I got here, I know what I’m doing and I know why I’m doing it.  I know how to stretch the boundaries of my work to keep it fresh without throwing anything out with the bathwater. I know how great it feels to go to the studio and get busy with new pieces.  I know there will be moments of doubt about a particular piece, but that I don’t doubt my direction or my work.

I know my work is not for everybody, and I know that the people who enjoy it do so because they know what they want and they know why.  And if they just like it because of the colors without explanation, that’s more than enough for me.

Let the critics say what they will about art.  For many of us, the best words come from those who enjoy our work and simply love living with it.







2 thoughts on “Declaring What’s Yours – and Important

  1. You are so right it gives a person a little shot of pride and confidence to look back at something that you created with your own hands and say that really looks great and is something you can be proud of as well.

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