help wanted….?

box that UGallery sends to me. I pop my work in the foam sandwich/cutout, stick on the prepaid label and drop it off at the UPS store. What a genius system!
When I sell a piece of art, a box from UGallery comes to my door. (wrapped in way too much plastic)  I pop my work in the foam sandwich/cutout, stick on the prepaid label and drop it off at the UPS store. What a genius system!

I’m not normally one to ask for help…part of the lineage of work-ethic Protestantism, no doubt. I’m not normally prone to getting other people to do things for me like mowing the lawn, helping me get places, cleaning the house, (a somewhat rare event anyway) stretching or priming canvases, doing other tasks around the studio.

But lately, I’ve been rethinking that position. There are various piles of slides in my studio, now that I’ve sold the cabinets they were stored in.  And, since the technology of documentation has changed during my time as a painter (and will probably keep changing), I need to convert these images of work into digital files.

The local arts incubator start up in town has forged an alliance with the university art department, and there’s a small class of students who want to learn more about being artist-business people. Part of this involves an internship with a local artist or arts organization.
I’ve never had someone helping me in the studio, but since I have taught university age students and have lots of tasks to get through, I decided to go for it
– and applied .

Being in the class last night, I was struck by the energy and optimism of the students, but also how much they need some real world experience.  It almost strikes me that getting young people all riled up about being a business before they have gotten very far in their art making process might be a bit premature. And I think they need some introduction to the daily slog and hard knocks that come with being in any creative endeavor and needing to find an audience or support.   At the time I left school after getting a BFA, I was already an older student, since it took me a while to go back and earn the degree.  But in fact, that was a good thing.  I had a chance to experience many other places, and experiences, and when I did return to school, I was incredibly more disciplined and focused.  ie: a better student.  Then, after the BFA, I took a year to just work and paint on my own, seeing if I had the mentality to be by myself for hours, working on things that may never see the light of day or get any recognition. Turns out, this suits me.  Then, I went on for an MFA, and after that, most of us were thinking “university teaching career” is the way to go. The majority of the people I was in grad school with, ultimately ended up taking that road.  Some are still on it.

Because my path led me to leave the academic world, which at the time was a rather hostile environment, I am now at another cross roads, where my career as an artist is pretty much up to me.   The world would not suffer if I quit painting cold turkey, but I might.

So, in this latest iteration, I am venturing out into venues that didn’t exist when I first began, and there are lots of learning curves, which is good, because challenging my brain with lots of new information and problems to solve is something I relish.

In Praise of Persistence –

quote outside the “Becoming Van Gogh” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum

It’s always a somewhat unsettling transition after working on a series for a show.  I like having a goal/deadline and an end of the road destination for my efforts.  I can concentrate on producing.  It makes everything seem more tangible and valid.

But afterwards. . .   you’re back in the studio, often with your work sitting around you  again, and you need to proceed.  You need to pick up the thread and keep pulling on it, keep the momentum alive in some way.   Many artists experience a letdown after putting a show together, and we all have our ways of coping with the transition. I think the quality that this reinforces in us is a kind of resilience.  And persistence.

With experience, you learn there are ebbs and flows in the work itself;  in how much attention it gains from the public.  You see over time that your enthusiasm can dry out, or you begin to question yourself, or need to regroup.  And then you pull out of it, get a fresh breath, get your footing again and move on from there.

Are some folks born with a “resilience gene”?  The internal force that says, “nope, you’re not quitting buster!”  If you were to walk through the exhibit up at the Denver Art Museum, called “Becoming Van Gogh”, you might start to wonder.

Aside from one or two pretty iconic paintings, or drawings, this was a walk through the individual effort it took to “become Van Gogh”, and one got the feeling that often he was urging himself on, without benefit of a peer group or mentor or any real teacher. There was some packaged drawing course, and looking at what other artists were up to… but he seemed determined to teach himself how to draw and use color.   And, keep in mind that all this took place over a mere span of ten years!  By the last rooms of the exhibit, I turned the corner and I swear it looked like the paintings were glowing on the wall. The color was so fresh and vibrant, it looked like it was lit from within.  These were not paintings where every stroke was second guessed- but  a series of confident strokes of beautiful color, laid on canvas without reworking and rethinking. Brush strokes that carved away at the image, changing direction and mass with each area, or event.

Edge of a Wheatfield with Poppies - private collection
Edge of a Wheatfield with Poppies – private collection

I grabbed a shot of this label on this painting before the nice guard came over and told me “no photography” of any kind.

IMG_0392It’s another way of saying “painting well is the best revenge”.  Almost like he was aware on some level that it would be decades (if ever) before his uniqueness as a painter would be truly seen and appreciated.  But I think he reached a kind of transcendence in the work just the same.

Not only does the dogged persistence of Vincent confront you from every wall, but the very act of putting up this show is a testament to the same human quality. The curator Timothy Standring spent about 7 years courting and cajoling 40 collectors and museums in order to gather the components of this fascinating show. You can read more about it here. 

So congratulations to our local gem of a museum, even though the slanty walls still bug me and seem to clamor for more attention than is good for the display of works of art.  I almost blew this one off and am glad I didn’t.  Some painters remind you on a visceral level how important it is to be persistent.

Swimming from here to where?

During the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa, I heard many speakers refer to “success”, and it made me start to question what they actually meant by that term.  Money? Power? Being on a national stage?  Here are two other ways to define that term.

After her grueling attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, Diana Nyad wrote in the Huffington Post:

“It’s not in my nature to admit that no matter how much will you summon, no matter how much courage you express, no matter how much intelligent and complex planning you do, no matter the excruciating long hours of training, no matter the dedicated and expert individuals you choose to help you, sometimes you just don’t arrive at your destination. And somehow you still have to find the pride and the joy in your journey.”

and just recently, she wrote about her late brother who had lived on the streets of Boston for most of his adult life…  (you can read the entire article here)  On the way to his funeral, she said,

“I was…fully prepared to mourn the tragedy that was my brother’s life.  But so many of the homeless who showed up at the service, intelligent and marginalized individuals, to be sure, stood up and spoke of Shariff with eloquence and sincere admiration.  One blind man said my brother had brought him dinner from down the street at the soup kitchen every night for 12 years. No matter the winter weather. No matter if Shariff had the flu. He made a tray and carried it down the block to this fellow every single night for twelve years.

I flew home in a state of contentment. Sure, I wish Shariff had known more daily physical comfort. I wish he had taken some adventure vacations. I wish he had soaked in a few lovely hot baths.

But he evidently created a community who turned to him for leadership. He cared about a great many people and took good care of them.
In the end, I admired him.”

Diana’s just a few months older than me, and frankly, I would consider it a success if I swam more than 30 laps in the pool, without getting bored.  So her 100-plus mile achievement is pretty mind boggling. On the other hand, perhaps she’s never tried her hand at painting, and would marvel at what I can evoke out of pigment, brushstrokes and curiosity.

Maybe, there are alternative ways to think about success.  As artists, as human beings. ….still thinking about this.

in a row

OK you duckies, get in a row….

It always takes a bit of an adjustment. A reset,  after finishing up some sort of art event- coordinating one, participating in one, or being one in the case of the recent two day studio tour in town.

This feels different from working towards a large solo show for two years, and shipping it off, and all the activities tangential to that. The lull that happens after that intense focus and effort is the kind that leads to wondering, “what next?”  (Or just needing a realllly long nap.)

Now, it’s more a feeling of needing to get the ducks in a row. Follow through on some tasks. (OK, bathroom, I know your walls are waiting for some plaster and a coat of paint…)

Art decisions are sometimes thrust upon us.  In the case of this year, I will not be spending any time coordinating and hanging a large silent auction benefit art show because the non-profit in question is putting it on hold to reevaluate its relevance.  So I lose income but gain a whole lot of time that is relatively stress-free.

I know I am engaged in the current work, and also know I don’t want to make large pieces.  At least for now.

In the case of goals to be working towards, there is a small show locally in a theater in September, and then a large open void.  Hmmmm, what will come next?

It seems that I have actually been the one selling/marketing my own work for the last four years.  Perhaps I should get more serious about that and make it possible for folks to purchase on-line.   Although some would frown on putting prices on a website or blog.  But I have no gallery to compete/coordinate with, and frankly I’m past the point of caring what most people do.   But what if I enter into a future agreement with another gallery?  Well, I’m not actively looking.  At least not for a venue out of state.  So, perhaps that’s a non-argument.

My life has downsized, my needs are not huge, and I mostly want to see what I do find an occasional audience . . . and if I am fortunate… a home.

Wonder if other people’s goals start to change after reaching 60 or thereabouts…

the end of this beginning…

Many artists around the country have had the distinct opportunity to participate in a Creative Capital Professional Development Weekend.  And this last weekend was my chance. (big shout-out to Beet Street for bringing in a second annual one)

The presenters, Maureen Huskey, Colleen Keegan, Aaron Landsman, Jackie Battenfield, and Byron Au Yong, were all incredibly generous and helpful- I think everyone felt like they took away quite a bit that was not only useful, but truly personal and meaningful to each participant.

At the wrap-up, Colleen used the expression the “end of the beginning” to refer to our impending activities- filtering all this good stuff, starting to address issues unique to our own practice and moving forward, armed with clearer intentions (can you say “strategic planning?”) and optimism.

As it happens, I have been following “Communicatrix”,  Colleen Wainright’s blog for a while  (although it is much more than that) and today, something arrived in my mailbox with her last in a series of “embracing the tiny” observations.  Coincidence?   I think not.

For my part, I left the two days, filled with new energy to lead myself back to work that was more personal and meaningful to me- something that made me excited to keep moving forward, not something that I assumed would be embraced by a too-specific audience.

I (re) learned that I need to make the work that matters, and then move it out into the world, so the right audience can find it.  I will feel blessed, and I think those finding it will feel fortunate when they do.

Beets me….

some might dread the coming of winter-

a few weeks of CSA beets waiting for attention

me, I’m actually looking forward to fewer little tasks that need attention-

like harvesting the last of the garden, remodeling the bathroom, and the end of an interesting but time-consuming contract job. Gives me itchy fingers just thinking about it.

In other words… more time in the studio ahead. Why do I get myself involved in so many other things that distract and dilute me?  Can I not say “no” to an opportunity to replenish the bank account, gain satisfaction from doing things myself….hmmm…I like a challenge and being handed a big project.

But the down side is that I’m uber organized, and that translates into sleepless nights occasionally.  The curse of being able to look ahead  I did just read that the optimum amount of sleep women need to live the longest is 6 hours a night- just anecdotal I’m sure, but it gives me some bizarre comfort!  My pledge for the year starting November 10 and thereafter is to only do things that help my art, help my physical health, and help my happiness quota!

(by the way- baked them, and shredded them, made borscht, and might even pickle some!)