As an artist I am always wrestling with a conundrum: do I make something new? Or do I make something well? Obviously the answer is “Yes”! But behind each of these directions is a ton of struggle sometimes – making something new often means throwing out everything you know, coming to a fresh place of thinking, and letting the chips fall where they may – the result may not feel very new once you look at it in context, but it was for you- that day- a new place to be in, to be making art from. When doing this you may well find yourself breaking rules, pushing materials to their breaking points (in my case with clay, quite literally!) and generally stepping off into thin air without much of a net.
To make something well, for me, means working with a honed and reliable set of tools, skills, materials, processes. It is the craft part of art. But it is of necessity anti-innovation. At its best it means creating a form with dynamism, balance, power – that quality of ‘it had to be that way.’ But doing this might mean you have created something very similar dozens of times, near-misses, and the process becomes automatic enough that you can forget about the craft and get some magic, intuitive set of strengths to come into the work. Still, it is unlikely to look ‘new’ at the end.
So while we wrestle with all this, enter a third dimension of struggle for the artist: I have no name for it so I will just call it “It”. Does the piece have “It?” You can plan, conceive, execute, innovate to your heart’s content, but will the resulting piece have ‘zing’ as a work of art? Often this “It” quality has something to do with a wider cultural context, a way the piece is seen or received by viewers, a resonance or echo the piece has with something that is on people’s minds. Can an artist honestly set out to create an art object or installation/performance that can be expected to resonate this way? Or is it something that just happens, that we occasionally get lucky with? Are great artists likely to just have super cultural antennae such that whatever they are making is somehow vibrating with significant cultural resonance? Or do the best artists actually bend the culture to resonate with the things that are on the artists' minds?
Anyway, this is the stuff I ponder all the time about making art. It can be too much, so in the end I just go in and make something and hope for the best.