……what’s with all this hand-wringing?

…. you caught me….pondering my local arts scene … my place (or lack of it) within said art scene…how exhibiting has changed over the years, and, as a footnote, whether physical art galleries are still relevant as a venue for me.  (answer to last question- perhaps not.)

imagesI am not sure why there is this recent expectation that anyone self-identified as an ‘artist’ is entitled to or should expect to make a living in their chosen hometown doing just that. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of the whole business model of being an “artist”; you make a business plan, type out a budget and projections, and “voila!”  Not much consideration about the quality of the work or what it means or how well it is conceived.

I’m actually waiting for the flashmob of local accountants, (or fill in your choice of profession here- ) demanding more coverage in the local news, whining about how no one appreciates them and supports them,  wondering how we can re-make our town into a destination for people seeking accountants….  ok- this gets silly in a hurry … but hopefully you can see the point here.

What is taking place here?  What actually constitutes “support?”  Does it mean being paid by a local non-profit to sit on street corners “performing” to drive business to downtown restaurants and shops? Does it mean the artists paying a local public venue good money for the privilege of showing work to a local audience? (we used to call this a ‘vanity’ gallery – and it’s about $100 a day for the privilege.)

It should be simple enough.  You do something that people value and want, you find an audience.  Otherwise- look elsewhere in addition to your local friends and admirers.  Lots of elsewheres.  Sure, other factors are often critical- meeting the right people at the right time, having a partner who brings in the income so you can be in the studio or workshop, being willing to go wherever and do whatever it takes to find more opportunities.

A couple decades back, after grad school, the norm was teaching and gallery representation. Galleries were more relevant because they were the way to find an audience pre-internet.  The validation of gallery representation was a mark of professional status, giving you something to work towards- having a solo show every two years.  It was affirming to have people working in those galleries that believed in you and your work. Those lines on the resume added up to solidify serious intent. This is still true, but not the only truth.

Last year, one of my former gallerists, the lovely Francince Seders, retired and closed her Seattle space.  She had a long run – over 40 years – and carried work from some serious heavyweights. She championed regional Northwest artists, had a very special relationship to those she exhibited, and operated with the highest level of integrity. But she too lamented the changes she saw… more online / less in-person. A gallery in CA that briefly carried my work went out of business, (not before I made sure I was paid though)  and another in Ashland, OR, with beautifully designed shows, had an owner who retired end of last year, and the gallery was up for sale.  All this just goes to show how things are constantly evolving according to factors that are not always in the control of the painter, or even the gallery owner. So do we wring our hands?

Perhaps this is bound to happen.  It speaks to the labor, expense and dedication (on both the part of artists and gallerists) involved in making a go of it through hard times and the challenge of continuing to work through your own aging process. In my own small city, I’ve seen lots of venues come and go during 20+ years- not too surprising given the demographics of the area. Some were fairly provincial in scope or ambition to begin with- but sadly the few attempts at local contemporary commercial spaces, have had an average life span of about 2 years. Now, more then ever, if artists want to get their work out to the public, they have to be nimble, have lots of outlets, new venues.  Even if they do have a gallery, they are likely expected to do some promotional lifting.

Plus, the internet has totally changed this equation.  There is a lot more “inventory” to deal with. Anyone and everyone can call them selves a “professional”- and perhaps start selling their work.  Buyers don’t have to be educated in the visual arts to know what they like, and can afford.  Which means that there is a multiplicity of things that make me cringe, but also make me swoon – in a good way mind you. All this is mind-boggling democratic.  It’s all a giant soup of choice, and the world keeps spinning.

Many people can’t easily travel to galleries, or are too busy or intimidated. Most folks probably feel they can’t afford the prices. Lots of people seem to think the Arts are a value to society.  (insert your favorite study here) But there is a lot of competition for the brief attention span and limited time of said appreciators. And what does it mean to be an appreciator?  What does it mean to participate? How will all these struggling arts organizations keep cultivating an audience?

I would think that creative/maker people should be among the most flexible among us, but what I’ve witnessed lately is that when the subsidy rug is pulled out from under them, they get very panicky, and wonder if the sky is falling.   But when we demand support, are willing to give our work away, think someone else is going to save us, and cling to old models and institutions, we seem a bit desperate…. and no one is attracted to desperation.

So, my modest proposal….just go back to the work.  All the rest is noise.  Just do the work that makes your soul complete, and if you must, make a living in some other way along side of it. Share what you do freely.  Keep seeking out those connections and supporters.  If times get better, or you connect with the right people or patrons or project, great.  You will hopefully at least have made some contribution to the timeless creative conversation.

 

 

 

 

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Everybody into the pool! (the art of not being all-consumingly productive all the time)

scan_7616174339_1

that’s my dad and me filling up the old pool in the back yard-

I was reminded there is such a thing as the “academic calendar” upon spotting the occasional U-haul trucks loaded with belongings making an appearance in downtown streets.

I used to live by it, whether in tune with my daughter’s school activities and vacations, or dealing with my own academic life.  Waiting for summer, so I would finally have more time for my own studio work.  (Hah! you’d think that would be the case, but if you’re an academic mommy, it just means your own kids are out of school, so you are pulled differently away from your work, not necessarily less so.) I also remember the sinking feeling when department meetings started up again…..”no… not yet!””

All those years are far behind me now. And I tend to get more studio work accomplished during the fall/winter/spring months. Times when there are fewer outdoor distractions, when I don’t mind hunkering down in the basement under the lights.IMG_0017

Summer is a different story. After the studio tour wrapped up,  3 cubic yards of great top soil/compost was dumped in the driveway.  We’ve been trying to cut down on lawn area and use more of the front yard for growing veggies and perennials and flowers.  So, many shovels and wheelbarrow loads later, it’s all distributed and also stored in the garage in two trash cans.  Then there’s the recent load of stripstone that I loaded into the back of my station wagon to edge the flagstone patio and the garden beds in back.  I also enjoy the daily picking, dead-heading, occasional weed pulling, and watering.

There’s been time spent reading, gathering my thoughts, finishing up a few smaller paintings, weeding out things in the studio, swimming at the pool around the corner, bike rides, hikes….. and just enjoying sitting on the deck, watching the clouds and storms roll in, appreciating the birds and other critters that scamper through the hedge, and ….. well, you get the picture.

pastel- from my Oregon days-  9x12

pastel- from my Oregon days- 1984 -9×12…… it seems I’ve always been a gardener

It’s not that I’m a total slacker though, there are a few shows coming up this fall that are getting contributions from me – “Aria” a small group exhibit at Artworks in Loveland, CO;  “Contemporary Colorado” a juried show at the newly reopened Curfmann Gallery at Colorado State University;  “Must Love Art”  a combination exhibit/and marriage celebration of two friends.. and the on-going posting of new works on two art marketing websites.

I am also determined to finally get my hands into some solar plate print-making.

But this is also the time to sit. To look at the sky, to marvel at the lovely birds that come  close by for a drink or meal, to read a good book in the shade. Simple stuff.  Not resume builders or the kinds of things that prompt you to moan about how “busy” you are, when asked.

The real gift of summer.

 

 

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Art Touring…..

this past weekend was the

Fort Collins Studio Tour

little vine linocut - 4.5 x 5

little vine linocut – 4.5 x 5

For the third year, folks got a glimpse into life in my basement workspace.   (I’ve been at this for over 25 years, so I have quite a selection of oil paintings, ink wash drawings,  lino cut prints and calendars and monotypes, and other works on paper) 

I believe people should be able to buy and live with original fine art – so  I try to make smaller things as affordable as possible, (and I never make reproductions of my work.)  This also gave me a chance to describe how easy it is to “do it yourself”  frame all the pieces that I have matted.  I do all my own matting, and shrink-wrapping,  and framing, so it doesn’t seem that intimidating to me.

People seemed curious about the prints- monotypes, etc.   I enjoyed explaining how I use the press (or not) depending on the plate or thickness.   The linoleum prints were produced by lots of rubbing and a trusty wooden spoon.

And lots of people were admiring my lovely Griffin press as well.  It is a thing of beauty!

Once again, I was struck by the support of other artists, in addition to new collectors. I appreciate that out of 51 stops, people singled me out for a visit.

Work finds homes . . . the artist feels validated . . . all is right with the world!

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stopping the art-biz hustle bustle-

2013-05-23-listsI think it’s now far enough into the new year that we are safely past all the ranking, list-making, resolution promising… and in order to live with myself on a daily basis, that means making choices that feel ‘authentic’ or as Fred Rogers put it, “you rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices, and hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

A few years ago, I made the choice to pull my work out of commercial gallery settings, and not pursue any new venues. It was partly a response to feeling like I was struggling to find a strong direction, partly a result of one long term gallery relationship losing steam, partly because I needed to rethink what my place was in the activity of making art.  I wanted more control, but should I in fact keep painting?  Will anyone notice or care if I don’t?  How do I do this in a small city?  Do I care about shipping my work around the country anymore?  Should I be more business-like? Maybe this is just a phase…?  It was not so much about questioning my life’s work, but more like, “is this when I should stop?” And while this was happening, the commercial side of the art world was, and still is, undergoing many shifts.

But, something that gives your life meaning and challenge is not something you give up. You keep doing it for yourself, if for no other reason.  I think that might be the reason that people who keep doing creative work last longer- still working into their 80’s and 90’s.

This last year, I made a conscious choice to get off what I call the “art business noise machine” which was starting to feel a bit redundant to me.  Everyone essentially giving out the same advice, whether they had real-world experience as working professional artists or not- people gathering insight from the same books and ‘experts’, webinars about being organized and focussed, making endless lists and diagrams, and how to be a creative thinker and take risks.  So much time spent hearing the same advice repeatedly.

I discovered being bombarded with a constant stream of updates on other folks’ weekly goals, hours spent painting- or why they can’t paint- doesn’t do me or my own work any good at all. Time spent commiserating is not time spent working.  A real constructive critical dialogue would be helpful, but everything in on-line artist communities seems so perky-( “Love this” “good job”)  it kinda smacks of self-esteem boosting “here’s your ribbon for participating!”,  and can become a tad meaningless. People just hit the “like” button and love everything- but rarely want to take the time to ask probing questions, challenge anyone, or describe their reaction in a way that can contribute something to the artist. Description is a lost art. Probably why I read so much fiction….. but that’s another post.

I am very supportive of other artist friends – near and far- in whatever way I can be. I’ve purchased work from and traded work with local artists. I love seeing what some folks are up to in the studio. But online social media groups are not so useful to me. I just had to learn that. I know a lot of this is my age and past experience talking.  I grew up in the 50’s/60’s when benign neglect and leaving kids to their own devices seemed like the order of the day; before the days of ribbons for participating.  We all like praise, but I don’t think it challenges us to make the hard choices sometimes.

So, I’m getting back to a more basic frame of mind. One where the real work needs to happen with the hand and mind of the maker engaged in their own private dialogue- which might come to include a wider audience- or it might not.  I’ll ask for feedback in person, and stay in touch with friends over coffee.  Oh, and all those changes in the commercial world, I’ve managed to adapt to some of those too.

It’s on my to-do list.

more about lists…

 

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revealing the mystery

Fort Collins Studio Tour

You can also follow the tour on FACEBOOK for current info….

The Fort Collins Studio Tour is approaching- June 27, 28 and 29, and this is the third year I’ll be opening my home to the public. One interesting change this year is the addition of an evening on the front end of the tour. There are so many artists (52 stops), we hope this makes it easier for folks to get around to visit more studios. (note the different times for each day)

The tag line for this event used to read, “revealing the mysteries of fine art and craft” which has always made the activity seem rather alchemical….

How do we do what we do?  What divine intervention occurs behind closed doors? Sometimes I wish I could say there is a mysterious component at work. Sometimes it would be nice if the elves came in at night and resolved some sticky problem.

In fact, perhaps there is no mystery behind it any more than there is a mystery behind how someone learns to cook with artistry, or balance a set of books and figure out the IRS tax code, or manages to leap over a set of 3 foot obstacles while running on a circular track.

You find something you like. . . something you might be good at. . .something you have an aptitude for…something you develop a passion for… and you spend a lot of hours doing it. Then you find you want to keep doing it.

Is some of our work inspired?  Perhaps… when we don’t over-think it.  When the world drops away. When the mechanics come from a life of experience,  visual and sensory memory, things that catch the eye, things that irritate and stay lodged in our brain, combined with the nerve to keep at it, and lots of thought and lots of screw ups.  Watching someone paint is actually a lot like watching paint dry.  All those tiny and not so tiny decisions hopefully leading to some sort conclusion.   The sum total of years of effort, constantly training the eye, not settling for mediocre, and constantly questioning what we are up to.

I like having the time to talk more in depth with people who are seeing my work for the first time, as well as those who have followed me for years. Sometimes it’s like a little mini-reunion!  I like showing people work “in-progress”  and explaining that even though it may look like ‘something’ already, I probably haven’t had enough of the experience of living with it and having a conversation with it to call it finished.

little vine linocut - 4.5 x 5

little vine linocut – 4.5 x 5

This year, I’ve been busy carving lots of linoleum (13 different images) which has been a very satisfying manual activity!  The process is also rather reductive, like much of my painting, but cannot by its nature involve so much reworking. I’m making calendars with hand pulled prints for each month.  It’s a nice way to have original art work at an affordable price that can later be framed.

Hope you will join me!

 

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wait…. is this work really complete..?

imagesHave you heard the oft-repeated phrase about the viewer being necessary to complete the work of art?   “…the viewer completes the conversation.”  “…the work doesn’t truly become complete until it is out in the world”.

 At a workshop once, I found myself having a visceral reaction to this statement, and finally had to respond, which probably shocked most people in the room.   Why do people keep repeating this notion… why do they think it’s patently true?  And what exactly is this amorphous quality that the viewer is supposedly adding to the work?

From what I see in museums and some galleries nowadays, their cell phone is having the actual interaction with the work.

What, if any kind of dialogue is such a viewer having with said piece? How, exactly are they completing this piece of work, if there is no obvious interaction taking place?   Are they completing it by taking a “selfie” with it? or saving an image of the work in their phone before moving to the next shiny bauble after 5 seconds?

It’s not like some awkward passage down in the lower left corner was waiting for this passerby to take brush in hand and make the stroke that resolves the matter…and it’s also not often the case that you get to have any meaningful dialogue with someone who is really looking at the work. You see little discussion, argument, or thoughtful gazing.  (there are exceptions to this, and when you are present as the artist, you can gain insights into what the work might be conveying – I say this as someone who has exhibited my work in plenty of galleries and other public locations over the years.)

Art gallery openings are often a schmoozing, networking and sales opportunity. People are there to support their friends, and admire the work at hand. All this is good and often celebratory.  We should celebrate the effort and hard-won results of artists.  (And a chance to be amongst humans again after months thrashing around in the studio can be enjoyable.)  Does this complete the artwork?

Why is a conversation between the artist and the work any less important, or less complete, than a crowd of people in a gallery “looking” at the same work?  If you are living with and experiencing the piece, being challenged by it, feeling a sense of completion when it all seems resolved, when it teaches you something….why is that not enough?

To put it as simply as possible – and this is a simple answer, not a total answer – I know when a painting’s finished when I understand why I wanted to do it in the first place. “(James Elkins)

Does having the work in a more public location, in a more rarified, or approved air add validity to what has already been accomplished? Are we giving ourselves more credit as viewers than we deserve?

Here’s an idea…
Let’s start to question the tropes repeated again and again…… and make up our own minds.  Instead of implying that the work of art needs the audience to complete it, I would offer another possible truth.  Maybe it’s the viewer, (and I include myself in this demographic) who might be incomplete until they  have an opportunity to interact with beautiful, challenging, technically accomplished, emotionally resonate work.   The viewer has more to gain from the exchange, not the work.   Perhaps by being experienced and appreciated, the work can live on in a way that resonates through time.  Completely.

The song is ended
But the melody lingers on – Irving Berlin

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Brick by Brick

bricks

Working in the basement on a rainy day seems like good cause for ruminating, while I keep myself on task.

Author Daniel Pink says he believes in the simple action of showing up- working brick by brick. .. how taking small steps every day becomes a cumulative effect.  This is an experience I can attest to, since my paintings often evolve over the course of weeks and months.  (Even the tiny ones- geesh!)   But since I am not replicating reality or a photo of reality, there’s often no real reference points except what I find interesting or compelling.  And often I can’t see that until I am well into a conversation with a piece.
Waiting for inspiration is lame-  we’ve oversold it and been undersold the PRACTICE. But part of the practice is being able to respond to a thought, idea or impulse that may only present itself for a split second.  Is this inspiration? or just the clarity that comes with wrestling with a problem for long enough that your mind is working behind the scenes.   Sometimes when you’re going for a walk, sometimes when you’re talking with a friend, sometimes when you go downstairs to glance at the painting on the wall for 10 seconds at night on the way to shove some laundry in the machine.

The hand and eye working in response to how you specifically think and feel about something  (idea/subject) takes more time and effort… or practice. The result can be abstract/non-objective or representational or ?  But vapid sloppy work can also be the result.

images

 As Dave Hickey so aptly put it- “A frenzied, vague, emotional response just means your hand is moving in a pleasantly abandoned fashion.”  (ie: Art as “therapy”)

And this results in the kind or work that I remember being discussed in grad school as the sort that you could just “peel off the canvas”. . . emotionally thin or sloppily conceived or not dense enough to have been thought about very much.  It relies on gimmickry or facility or satisfaction without labor.  Things of which I am still wary (the Protestant work ethic is, after all, part of my genetic makeup) …. so… brick  by  brick  by  brick

 

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Curating a Studio Life

There are plenty of magazine articles constantly advising us on how to rid our lives of clutter- it feels good- it lightens our mind and soul to feel free of things no longer relevant or useful or needed.
So, I’ve been making some progress towards that end in the studio….to wit….getting rid of:

so long....

so long….

1. Too many small paintings that have been lingering around- like guests at a party who seem to keep nattering on -even though you’ve started to load the dishwasher.
(Done!)
2. Less than inspiring drawings/prints things done on paper in the drawers of my flat
file…  if they weren’t the best examples of that theme or period of time- b’bye!
(Half done)
3. Larger medium weight stretcher bars- will never use them again, so why hang onto them when a nearby student can get a very good deal. (Done!)
4. Frames that I will never use again. Sold at a deep discount to another artist. (Done!)

the slasher has been here

the slasher has been here

How is it that I am willing to weed out (and not the first time, mind you) various artworks from my stash in the basement?   Some pieces are definitely better than others…. how do I know this?

“wait, don’t throw that out, I’ll take it if you don’t want it!” 

At this point, I don’t really have to lament the lost time- it was so long ago, who remembers the hours spent laboring over something? And chances are, something in the clunky ones served something in the work that came after.   Also- the sad truth about most galleries/juried shows is that if something isn’t hot off the presses in the last year or so, don’t even bother showing it.  I know there are exceptions, but barring the potential ‘retrospective’ show, many of my older paintings/drawings are not going to see the light of day again, unless they find a home through my efforts.

Well, this is a good thing to do-  getting over the preciousness of what we make- realizing that perhaps there is intrinsic value only if we are truly satisfied with what we’ve done;  that it resonates well over time, speaks for us and enhances our life.
I told some friends,  “if I die tomorrow,  I don’t want anything sitting in my studio that I wouldn’t be proud to leave behind.”

So here I sit on the floor, ripping, slashing and generally have a good old time.  Recycling the little stretchers for the wood stove, feeling lighter and better about what will happen as a result.

Ahem-  on another note I’d also like to make disappear the burgeoning business in wine & paint “parties” where adults are encouraged to turn out wretched copies of badly done copies of paintings that I wouldn’t even want on the refrigerator if my kid did it.   Plus I think the drinks cost extra!   painting+wine=fun …..  but not art.

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In praise of craftsmanship

IMG_0260On a recent trip to Philadelphia (almost the home of my childhood- which was nearby in Oreland and Glenside), I got to play art tourist.

What a lovely city for walking around, and making beautiful discoveries everywhere.

Historical districts, architecture, public art, murals,IMG_0345 beautiful museums and an art school or two, were all enough to keep me occupied for several days.  And even though painting is my main occupation, I often find myself being totally inspired by work in other media.

Sometimes I’ll go into a gallery and be wowed by photography, or art glass….and yet just as often, I am disappointed for what passes for contemporary painting, including the lack of a certain level of craftsmanship and a unique personal vision-  which I believe is possible in very contemporary/abstract/conceptual work.

What struck me in Philadelphia,  walking around and soaking in various venues, was the celebration of a high level of craftsmanship.

From the fountains and sculpture in public plazas, to the beautiful architecture of the boathouses along the river, to the immense and impressive murals, to the ornamentation and craftsmanship of objects in the museum.

One of the last places I went to was the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art,IMG_0417 and on wall after wall, there seemed to be a confirmation that painting was and continues to be an important pursuit.  Contemporary students’ work, alumni work, displayed near William Merrit Chase and Winslow Homer, Eakins, etc etc.  All the work beautifully inspiring and alive.  In one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve been in.  Recommended if you are ever in that city, and have an affinity for great painting.

I got a kick out of this painting of a painter in action!

"A Motion Picture", Margaret Foster Richardson, oil, 1912

“A Motion Picture”, Margaret Foster Richardson, oil, 1912

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Does this painting make my studio look big?

IMG_0172As mentioned in the previous post, my next project was a commission for the soon to be finished Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver.   Earlier this year, they accepted submissions from artists for 10 very prominent large spaces on each floor of the building.

The thought of doing something that large (to fit a 14 foot niche) was a bit daunting, but I charged ahead. My idea used blue vines of various shades that swooped up and down across the expanse of 11 feet.   When the large committee had finished voting, my idea was in the semi final round, which meant there was a good chance that I would have some kind of art included in their project. It turned out to be the big one!

So, after some official correspondence, I ordered up some nicely made birch panels, and set to work.   Fortunately, I had some lag time to think about what my strategy would be for working on something this large-  would it fit on my wall? (Check!), should I mix up mass quantities of the major colors ?(check! cat food cans with those handy plastic lids), and would I have enough time to develop all these things in layers and not feel rushed? (check!).     So, here’s a very time lapsed view into how all this went down.  “Blue Vine Dance” to be delivered by early December.

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I’m glad I challenged myself to do something that was new and a step up, and very grateful that it will be in a setting where lots of people will experience it, and hopefully find it relaxing and engaging.

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