The Decision That Will Affect the Rest of Your Life

Words and Images by David Finley, 
further images by Michelangelo and Jean Shin

 I'm living a double life.

 There are two sides of me at war; An ever present struggle between the fine artist and the illustrator. Unfortunately, it seems I must pick one path and leave behind the other, and what I decide will affect the rest of my life.

  Those of my Scofflaw readership who aren't visual artists might not see the clash as an issue that arises from being split between these two forms of art. Why not do both?

 That is a valid point. The problem arises when the visual artist seeks to have a career of some sort. In the professional art world, the difference between an illustrator and fine artist is like the difference between a dentist and a heart surgeon.

 Most professional advisers will encourage a unified portfolio full of similar work so potential clients will know what to expect when they seek commissions or wish to purchase art. In other words, clients will be shy to approach an artist for hire if they don't know what to expect from them.
"David", by Michelangelo Buonarroti
 For example, let's say a Cardinal living during the 15th century Italian Renaissance sees the sculpture work of Michelangelo on his visit to Florence. He is taken with the work and decides something similar would be perfect for his own chapel. He gathers the funds, hires Michelangelo and waits three months in anticipation.

"Soundwave" by Jean Shin
 Then, the day of anticipation finally arrives and Michelangelo shows up with this sculpture constructed from his old collection of music on vinyl on his wooden cart. It is a fine sculpture and clever expression, but clearly not what the Cardinal expected. The Cardinal is outraged, not only because the sculpture is nothing like his expectations, but also because he sees a copy of "the Beatles White Album" in the sculpture and he's been looking to purchase that record for a long time. I think you can see the dilemma, which brings me back to my own battle.

 Should I choose Fine Arts or Illustration?

 Over the years, I've asked that question to a lot of people, ranging from college professors and gallery owners to friends and family. While the answers are usually very polarized from one end of the spectrum to the other, it never brings a conclusive answer for me. The answer they give is contingent upon their own preferences. That's okay. I'm not sure there is any other way people can really answer, and I've learned you shouldn't depend on others to make your life decisions for you.

 The real answer is that I was asking the wrong question. The real question I should be asking is...

Which do I love more?


 Illustration, and by illustration I really mean cartooning, and I have been in a lasting relationship for as long as I can remember. It was there when I doodled in class, it made light of my bad situations, made the stories deep inside me visible, brought my heroes to life, and even earned me my first professional assignments and paychecks. I have made a decent living with illustration.

 And, it goes back a long way. I've spent my whole life looking at the work of my favorite cartoonists, comic book artists, and animators. I spent hours trying to learn to make lines as perfect as Hank Ketcham, characters as endearing as Charles Schultz and Bill Waterson, and tell stories like Walt Disney. There is real love in those drawings.

When I need to tell a joke or express frustration, Illustration is my tool of choice. Illustration helps me disarm the annoyances that would otherwise weigh me down. It's quirky, and fun. It relieves stress and makes me laugh.

 There is also less risk involved with illustration.

Fine Arts

 On the flip side, I first discovered my love for fine arts when I was introduced to the art of Auguste' Renoit in my high school art class. Further study in college uncovered the raw nerve of Kara Walker's silhouettes, the masculine power of Pablo Picasso, and the fleshy stripped down work of Francis Bacon.

With fine art, I can tap into something deep inside me- something that needs to break free becomming unhinged and unbound. As I paint and collage I openly express my rage, my hope, and the deepest sorrows of my soul in a more direct and honest way than I ever could with illustration. When I make this kind of work, I'm not bound by the style choices associated with illustration. It is more emotive and intuitive. I feel the piece as opposed to thinking about it.

Fine art communicates my inner truths in a way that nothing else can. I love it.

 However, when you expose yourself in such a deep and raw way, there is a lot of risk involved. People are not always ready to see what lurks within. Your naked emotion makes them uncomfortable. And, from a professional side of things, not everyone wants your sorrow and anger hanging in their living room.

A Decision

 So, as I said before, I'm living a double life. And, only recently, that's been okay with me.

 I don't mean to cop out with a no-decision here. I can tell you that if I was forced to make the choice professionally, I would pick fine arts. I had an epiphany of sorts when listening to an interview with actor, Bryan Cranston conducted by Marc Maron on his WTF podcast.

 The only one who can make me choose is me.

 Mr. Cranston, when talking about his career objective, said he always just wanted to be a working actor, an objective that he has succeeded in admirably. It wasn't about whether he worked on TV or movies, nor whether he had the lead role or whether it was comedy or drama. He just wanted to act. He was acting in 'Malcom in the Middle', and he is acting in 'Breaking Bad'. (one of my favorite shows, by the way)

 So, that answered it for me. I just want to be a working artist. Sometimes that's illustration which is like comedy, and sometimes that's fine arts which is like drama, but the important thing is that I get to do what I truly love: make art.

 I have made my choice and it is arts. Let others make the distinction between illustration and fine arts.

Thanks for reading!


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