Ralph Steadman learned to draw not to make pretty pictures but to apply drawing like a weapon; to invite people to observe his world and actively think and act upon it.
In the documentary film, For No Good Reason, Ralph Steadman is shown starting a picture with a splash of ink on a canvas. He explains that when he doesn’t know what to do, he does that. Some artists may think that sounds like – a poorly-planned composition. Objectively, there is little that could dispute that. Nevertheless, throughout the documentary we get to see what Steadman makes out of such a random act: and his career, his talent and his body of work is also, indisputably, impressive.
This is a refreshing documentary that advocates on the abstract side of art; the value of bringing a haunted image out of our imagination for us to have in material or digital form. And this is not just abstract art. This is abstract art often driven with a personal message from an artist who is not shy about his opinions be it politics, war, society or anything else.
A great abstract or conceptual artist, to me, is somebody who creates beyond the aim for beauty, skill, craft and ego, and has enough beauty, skill, craft and ego to pull that off. The great thing about art like this is that there is nothing to measure it by. It either says something to you or it doesn’t. It either excites you or it doesn’t. To discuss how good the art is, or to compare styles or skill, is irrelevant and almost stupid. Just look at it; take what you will and move on.
That Steadman has art skills is beside the point because his stand-out gift is that he can draw a story that no photograph or other human eye could capture. How? Well, I guess, first, he let himself.
An artist who would never start a composition without a plan will also never know what he/she could do in a similar situation.
Stream-of-consciousness writing is the most similar concept for writers: just spewing, or spewing off a subject, until something usable comes out. I lost interest in this type of exercise a long time ago because I wound up weeding through a whole lot of crap. However, I’m glad to know it’s a tool in my holster if I ever want to explore that side of me again. Though my skills may not be good enough to make ‘art’ out of random acts, stream-of-consciousness is still a great exercise in mental and emotional cleansing. Writing coaches often recommend this exercise to get motors rolling and to cure writer’s block.
Honestly, I think an artist needs a little more than just skill to pull off art like this. The artist also needs a high level of faith and trust that the artist is going to find something from that starting place of nothing.
I recommend this documentary for any kind of artist, even if you find abstract art offensive. His reasons, for starting with no reason, are fascinating and his career and dedication to his craft is inspirational. I can see how his style is very good at keeping an artist’s mind hungry and courageous about and during the creative process. It seems to have kept Steadman very agile and youthful.
I will end this short blog with some favourite quotes from the film:
- I go out of my way to make something that is as unexpected to me as anyone else.
- Anything can exist on that piece of paper.
- You can start something and not know how it’s going to come out in the end. If you did, what is the point of doing it?