Starting anew: artistic devotion?

Words of Agnes Martin and two artworks by her. Originally featured in The Digital Issue Newsletter on Feb. 2, 2024.

by nina (andre)

2/2/20243 min read

Welcome to the first newsletter of 2024. In previous years, January has often felt like an eternity – an idea I believe many can relate to; regardless, this year has unfolded differently: January went by fast, reminiscent of the post-pandemic years – hasty and sudden. We are already in February! (… and I admit I sound like an ‘old’ person).

As I entered the beginning of this year, the concept of fresh starts and new beginnings filled my thoughts. Surprisingly, I didn't experience that familiar urge to wipe clean 2023 and dive into the new. Perhaps age has granted me a perspective that acknowledges the impossibility of complete erasure, or maybe everything feels new to someone with a short memory (like me!). Yet, I didn't feel compelled to erase the experiences of my previous years. While there were moments I could have done without, they played a role in shaping the person writing to you today.

This new year, for me, is about continuation rather than fixating on the allure of the 'potential new' in myself, my practice, or life itself. I've been focusing (or trying to) on taking small steps to keep engaging in the journey, exploring fresh materials and ways of expression. A continuity that simultaneously brings excitement and, of course, the natural challenges. Perhaps, at times, the key isn't trying an entirely new material, but rather discovering new ways to explore the same one, whether it's the same canvas size, brush, topic, character, or storyline.

This newsletter is a shared experience, and despite its possibly perceived simplicity, I find it rewarding to share a quote from Agnes Martin—this one, in particular, clicked:

“Artwork is a representation of our devotion to life”

I've actively avoided embracing the title of an artist throughout various phases of my life. I've deeply scrutinised and debated the reasons behind my reluctance to be associated with the term ‘artist’. What does it truly mean to be one, anyway? Frankly, I don't find pride in labeling myself an artist. Art is arguably one of the least rewarding career paths one can choose, irrespective of the medium or form. The financial allure of an artist's life is nearly non-existent. Aren’t we so many? (but, aren’t so many businesses selling us stuff we don’t need?!) – a ‘rebellious’ thought from a naive younger self.

Rarely do I identify myself as an artist, especially when not in the company of fellow artists, since, in most cases, such a suggestion is met with skepticism. I recall a recent dinner where someone remarked that if you aren’t a famous artist, being one is essentially pointless. While I didn't feel attacked, the notion of fame as the sole measure of artistic satisfaction did make me pause and think.

Despite my constant efforts to deny my artist identity, others often point it out: 'I thought you were an artist' or 'You sound like an artist.' It makes me question whether being an 'artist' is a conscious choice or if it lies in choosing to dedicate oneself to the craft while embracing the term. To make it clear, I don’t think you can choose to be an ‘artist.’ You can decide if you will dedicate yourself to it or not; that’s something else. I find myself deeply devoted to art, perhaps even more so than to life. The two are intertwined, defining the extent of my devotion.

What are your thoughts on the complex relationship between identity, recognition, and artistic devotion? Or, what do you think about Agnes Martin's quote?

Untitled, 1965. Estate of Agnes Martin/DACS, London, 2015. Published in Agnes Martin, A Monograph From Distibruted Art Publishers.

Agnes Martin was born in 1912. She spent her early years in rural Canada, surrounded by nature. Later, she moved to New York, where she collaborated with the Abstract Expressionists. In 1968, she returned to rural life and eventually settled in New Mexico. There, she adopted a monk-like lifestyle, dedicating herself to painting every day until her passing in 2004.

Thank you for reading!