For the last 20 years I have worked as an artist in Malta. I have exhibited my work regularly, and taught drawing and watercolour in Malta for around 20 years. I tutored painting holidays with Malta Art for about 8 years. I have represented Malta in many countries abroad. But I have only really worked within the Maltese art scene.
I have often gravitated towards other ‘foreign’ artists, perhaps because of their differing methods, artistic education and approaches to their work. I have learnt a lot from working alongside them. I’ve been inspired to try new things, and I hope that I inspired them too. Creativity is reciprocal and inclusive – it cannot grow in a vacuum.
It’s only recently that I have realised how very differently the art worlds operate in Malta and abroad.
A common Maltese attitude was epitomised to me once when someone said ‘why do you teach? You are showing people how to take your work away from you!’ That was many years ago and attitudes have changed somewhat with the advent of the internet. Malta is a very small country though, with limited resources and opportunities. The jealous defence of ‘secrets’ continues in some areas.
This does not make much sense in creative spheres. Unless you are a very talented forger, you cannot paint another person’s paintings. And why would you want to? Forging Picassos or Van Goghs may be financially rewarding until you get caught, but copying anything less famous is hardly worthwhile if you want to exhibit and sell it. It also illegal. As a learning exercise this is a time-honoured way of experiencing different techniques and working methods. As long as the results are titled ‘After*******’ it is quite acceptable. But otherwise?
I was once invited to a student’s first exhibition. She very proudly showed me her version of ‘my’ tree. She had copied it (badly) from a photograph of one of my paintings. No ‘After Jeni Caruana’ of course. I was quite shocked at the time, but now I wonder why she would even want to do it. Surely her own version of a tree would be a more personal and honest work?
Creativity cannot be tied down or controlled. The best way to keep it alive is to share it. Like lighting candles from one another, the brilliance of inspiration comes from passing on the flames. Each one is slightly different and unique, but each one contributes to the whole. Once we have learnt the basic techniques and know how to control our medium, then our creative adventures can begin. We can borrow and share ideas, giving them our own individual stamp and pass them on.
My recent visits to London and Texas were very interesting. Their thriving art scenes are a testament to creative expression that is encouraged and supported at every level. Healthy competition is emphasised through rigorously juried exhibitions and national competitions. Being accepted by a respected gallery or winning a prestigious award is the ultimate goal for thousands of artists. This keeps standards high and rising. Of course there is controversy and endless discussion, and art critics can be devastatingly outspoken, but constructive criticism should ideally strengthen resolve and conviction. Being judged and possibly rejected is a sensitive issue for artists, but no different from writers, actors or musicians.