What is living art?

When an artist spends their final days and reaches the end of their life. When their art stops changing, society can then reflect without argument from the artist. We can look at their life and art as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. We can view the society they grew up in. We can speculate and wonder on the effects of global events on their life. We can talk to people who knew them, look through their diaries, or search under their bed for secret motivations. Their lives are exhumed for these stories to be told. 

However, when an artist is alive, when their work is still being created, this story is incomplete. This is what I consider living art. Their styles might change, they might suffer some great tragedy and it affects their art. Every artist is a lens, a window for the experiences and events of today to be seen through their eyes. Their unwritten future is alive with possibility, and their artwork could move in strange new directions. 

So rather than delve into psychology, biology or sociology, I would like to illustrate a new language which combines many of the influences into an emerging concept called Game Theory. This idea is less than 100 years old, and is now seen in nearly every aspect of contemporary life. Game Theory is currently used to describe economics, evolution, science, politics, even ancient folk wisdom. It is based on psychology, biology, and extensively used in marketing. It can also be used to describe the process of an artist’s growth. 

What is Game Theory?

Game Theory is the notion that choices and outcomes can be organized and understood with repetition. This means you can learn from mistakes and make new choices. You can learn from the mistakes and outcomes of others as well, observing failures and successes from a distance. 

One example of describing Game Theory is a sequence of people or “players” entering an unknown environment. The first person has little or no information, often making many mistakes. The second person has more information since they have observed the first person. They can now make new mistakes and different choices. Likewise, the following people or “players” have more knowledge and make different mistakes, and so on. Abstract ideas like freewill are perhaps ways to express there is no upper limit to the variety of new choices or new players, since information can be added to the following player or person. 

At first an artist creates, never having been an artist before. Perhaps they sell a piece, or receive an award, which is something they haven’t experienced yet. As they continue to express and create art their first experiences inform their next steps. Do they make art to sell, to tell a story, vent their emotions? These early experiences lead to new topics. Sometimes artists have difficulty thinking of themselves as artists, comparing themselves to the success of others, regardless of the quality of their art. 

As an artist grows and continues to express themselves, they change into new people or “player”. They might try new mediums, share travel adventures, or reflect the world around them. There are many roads an artist can take into the unknown, or wander paths of well-traveled techniques. With access to the internet, history, and countless styles, artists can transform themselves.

Another attribute of Game Theory is the idea of rewards. With every choice there is a payout, or lack of payout. Some artists will create regardless of sales of social acknowledgment, expressing themselves without a reward. For example, Vincent Van Gogh, was an artist born in the Romantic period (1853). He died without benefiting from success or fame.  His last words were “The sadness will last forever.” 

Now his name and paintings are easily recognizable, and extremely valuable. 

Part of growing as an artist can mean changing how you view your own artwork. This can bring on feelings of regret, often in dismay at what you previously created. This regret, this hindsight is important to being able to make something different. As with Game Theory, previous experiences are foundational. Regret is not something necessarily to be avoided, but an emotional doorway for which the artist travels through. 

If you desire to see artwork flourish in the world. Let those living artists know. Tell them what your art means to you, purchase their work, and celebrate them when they change their style. Personally, I have never regretted purchasing art. Such regret seems rare. These opinions are meant to encourage the support of artists and allow them to change into something new.

These opinions come from the years Raymond Street has served as a Normandy Park Art Commissioner, a grant writer and artist for the Mural Masters Graffiti festival, a previous Burien Art Walk organizer,...