I define self-expression in art as a process of creating; specifically, when the artist creates their work as an outlet through which they can release any emotional tension they feel about events in their life. Both the creative process and the end product become extremely personal and, hopefully, fulfilling to the artist. In a previous article, I warned young artists about the dangers of basing an artistic career on personal expression, and I explained that personal expression is not the ONLY way to create meaningful art. However, there is a fine line between being invested in your work and being self-expressive. I BELIEVE that meaningful art can be created through other means than personal expression. I DO NOT believe that meaningful art can be created when the artist has no investment in the subject matter of their work.
An artist’s investment in their work is what makes their work thrive. If the piece means nothing to the artist, how could the artist possibly convince an audience of its meaning? Every process has to start with an investment from the artist, and personal expression is one way to achieve this investment. Among the dangers of personal expression that I mentioned in my previous article, there are advantages to personal expression; for instance, we’re more connected and invested in our OWN lives than anyone else’s. But self-expression is only ONE way to achieve investment in your own work.
It’s challenging to identify the small – but important – differences between investment in your work and self-expression in your work. The balance between investment and self-expression will be different for every artist – it’s a personal decision about what kind of an artist you want to be and what kind of process you want to have. The line I prefer is one where personal expression is separated from my work. If you think you might be like me, start paying attention to how invested you are in the subject matter of your work. My advice: be yourself. Create your work around the things you TRULY care about, and use your passion to communicate that meaning to the audience. What do you care about?