“The idea of artist”

“What is the idea of artist that you are working out of or heading toward?”

Painting created by artist and author Cat Beaudoin (2019).

In my experience, my formalized education has inhibited my creative growth the most. Can a numeric or letter-grading system accurately evaluate creativity, innovation, or critical thinking? Do these systems incentivize any of these qualities? Personal experience as a student and an educator in the United States lead me to believe these are not likely outcomes of the systems currently in place.

Throughout my personal career in the arts, I constantly receive information about how to best market my work and what artistic concepts I should explore deeper. Most of this advice works if you want to conform to the systems, algorithms, and perceptions of “good art” that are already in place. Rarely does this advice yield room for more experimentation, learning, and exploration.

I am currently exploring a personal philosophy that I consistently use in my teachings: push your work to the point of failure and then push it further. If you live in a safe space doing all you already know, you will forever inhabit the plateau of your creative world. Failing is an illusion.

Cookie-cutter lessons where children reproduce an image provided by a teacher is a problematic practice. It creates a stale, idealized version of success while celebrating perfectionism. Students begin to feel like if their art doesn’t look exactly like the things they see, it is not a success. I argue creating only what you see is the absence of artistic expression.

What I find particularly terrifying is taking my own advice and being transparent about my journey. My website and social media pages are full of my work using various mediums, techniques, conversations, and expressions. The common voice I am pushed to have by art academia is limiting. The thread holding my work together is that they are created from my own experience; each work illuminates an extension of myself.

In my most recent work, I cannot help but identify with the passage by R. Buckminster Fuller. I, too, “am trying to be lighter.” I am pushing to create with found and natural materials in a way that is more conscious of the environment and my place as just another living organism within it. My work, though still developing, is meant to break down, either from its presence in the public or from erosion and decomposition.

Photograph of “Runoff” (2019) arts-based research project by Cat Beaudoin in White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, United States.

This work further collides with the high art world, as artists are pushed for “archival quality work,” noting the process must include practices that keep the work in tact for as long as possible. I find this concept ludicrous, as it seems like an attempt to immortalize the creator, elevating the individual’s production of consumable goods over the natural order of the world’s cycles of growth and decay.