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  • Maggie MacMullin

Fine Art vs Fun Art: A Balancing Act

Updated: Apr 9

I was speaking with another artist recently, talking about advice for starting out and how she has developed her painting practice over the years--she is at this point an established oil painter racking up awards at emerging artist competitions across the country. I admire her work, and was thrilled to begin a mentorship with her. During our first conversation, I found our approaches to art in general are vastly different. This very talented and successful artist informed me she had never been one of the "try everything" types. For her, oil painting has always been her great love, and she easily devotes all of her creative time to that endeavor. And it shows. Her ability to simplify a scene into just 20 brushstrokes is incredible, and that doesn't come from lack of practice.


But the idea of spending all my time with just one kind of paint is not appealing to me. I am absolutely a "try everything". Even as I'm in the middle of a painting or drawing, I want to try welding, jewelry, glass blowing... so many cool things to learn how to do! Even now I flit between pen drawing, pencil drawing, watercolor, acrylic, oil paints... and on my supplies shelf I have charcoal and oilbar beckoning too. And while a part of me knows that continuing to explore any of these more deeply will only help my practice and improve my results, there is also some truth in that exploring different media can play off one another.


When I first tried watercolors, I used them as if they were acrylic paints (I'm talking watercolor out of a tube, not the dry stuff in a palette). My results were different from everyone else's paintings in my class, but that didn't make them bad. It just made them different. Later, I started using acrylics like watercolors, trying them very diluted to create thin washes.


What I'm trying to say is that there exists always a tension between continuing to get better in one medium vs. trying out new things. I am very much aware that I am still finding my own footing and style and practices that work for me, and that to some extent that will always be the case--that's growth. But every time I go into the studio, I am faced with the dilemma: make something that's "fine art", like a painted landscape or a still life that would be at home on a wall somewhere, or make something that's "fun art", like experimenting with mixed media or new techniques and making something strange to adorn only the walls of my studio. But then... is there even difference? Somehow, I think (or hope) that they end up helping each other become better.




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