No Complaints

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Dear Fellow Starvelings,

No complaints about being a starving artist this time around, in this year when tragedy seems always to be hanging out just around the corner for everyone everywhere, ready to pounce on innocent people all over the world in all manner of hideous ways. I may not have money to give, but I do have a voice, and I’m very grateful that I can use it: to counter lies with truth, to speak out when I see wrongdoing, to support candidates of my choice — and to use my right to vote, because voting, too, is speech. 

In fact, I’m grateful for a number of things. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get sappy on you. It’s just that … well, let’s see. I’ve got a roof over my head, I’ve got a spouse who loves me (there’s no accounting for taste, I guess), and our family is completed by our two endearingly demanding kitties. We have books, we have music, we have humor (although that last quality is lost on those same playful but non-jocular cats). We have the internet, which helps us to make a living as well as to entertain us and allow us to make friends with folks all over the world, who tell us what life is really like in their countries. We are world-travelers, snug in our office. Our real community is pretty great, too — colleges, galleries, the beautiful expanse of forest, the beautiful ribbons of rivers. 

And I have art supplies coming out the wazoo. Clearance sale by clearance sale, thrift shop find by thrift shop find, I’m finally almost satisfied with the number of color pencils, oil pastels, heavyweight paper, paints, brushes, and sundry other necessities which are now overtaking my work table. 

I only have one problem right now, and I wonder if any of you guys have ever had it. I love my art supplies so much I hesitate to use them, for fear (I tell myself) that I’ll use them all up on unworthy projects and never have enough money to replace them. I know it’s silly. When you have art supplies, USE THEM! Don’t let them dry out, or get lost, or even break because of their precarious positions in piles of fragile stuff. 

At least I have a project in mind, which I hope I’ll be talking about next time. 
 Faithfully, The Starving Artist





Posted: June 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

I almost always meet the deadlines I set for myself at work. 
I always meet the deadlines set for me by galleries.
So why can’t I set a deadline for this blog and actually meet it?
Maybe because I’m so busy meeting all those other deadlines.
So I think I’ll plaster a big sign right above my computer with
some arbitrary deadline for the blogs. Maybe I can make this work!

What with all the snow & cold & sniffles & whatnot, I discovered myself last week without a thing to wear. Yes, really. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to the laundromat and foraging about the back of the floor of my closet yielded nothing but a few fossilized hairballs. So, heaving a sigh, I filled one basket with Warm and a second with Cold, and set off into the wilds of Sunderland, where my favorite (because usually empty) laundromat awaits.

Because I hate doing laundry so much, I always take something along that might at least give me a tad of simple pleasure, for balance —  usually an art book or journal or just some purty pictures. This time I brought a very plump overview of what the blurbs  contend are the most majorly exciting artists on the scene today (or at least yesterday, since the book was published  in 2008).

I did like a lot of the pictures – 2008, if you’ll remember, was a year filled with taxidermy, toys, and, as usual, huge inhuman installations — but what I found most striking was the language with which these works were described. I’m wondering now if the jargon of 2008 still works today and, if so, should I be taking more advantage of it.

Here’s a list of words and phrases I found in the text which, I think, are intended to indicate that the work under discussion is Very Very Very Important and Earthshaking and Cool:
visual and visceral — appropriation — decontextualization — multiple encoding — iconic — temporal flow — not strictly ocular — juxtaposition — deliriously infantile — revealing cultural codes — strange, mysterious quotidian objects — transformational — process — post-non-representational —

And so on. I’m sure you know where I’m heading with this (don’t use a small word when a bigger or more obscure one is available), but you can’t really get the true flavor without the surrounding text, which both in style and substance declares itself an art know-it-all, with the perfect vocabulary to set itself apart from the yahoos of the world.

Possibly I can boost my own art career by making more and better use of these and other polysyllabic words & perplexing terms. People will read my artist statement and scratch their heads, but by gosh they’ll pay attention and maybe even think I’m some kind of genius.  Then again, possibly I need to get a brand new book describing in brand new, yet still obfuscatory,  jargon just who’s the hottest of the hot cutting-edge artists of 2014.




Dear fellow starvelings,

We last left our heroine (that is, me) talking oh-so-knowledgeably about art brut & being self-taught & stuff.
That was, hmmm … MONTHS AGO!

I’m still here, getting through this horrendous winter as best I can, draping cats over me for warmth, and hoping my gel medium doesn’t freeze.

I actually have a show up, sort of.  A group of 12 collages, all having to do with literature, all displayed in local bookstores to celebrate National Book Month.  “But,” you say, “that was JANUARY for pity’s sake!” Yes, yes it was. I was supposed to gather up the pictures the beginning of February but a combination of snow, below-freezing temperatures, and The Cold That Wouldn’t Go Away, has made me extremely late in retrieving my wayward pics. When I get them back, I’ll show you a few of them so you can get the idea of what I was aiming for.

I also have to submit my application for reimbursement of expenses (I got a grant from the Northampton Arts Council for this project), which seems backwards to me.  I needed the grant money most when I was actually getting the supplies.  Better late than never, though – and I am grateful for the grant.

If you’re read carefully up to this point, you will have noticed that I made 12 (count ’em, twelve) collages for this deal. Big ones, too. I loved doing them, but I was working like a fool for months getting them just right. I’m still suffering from post-artum stress disorder and have been diligently working on books to re-fill the shelves of my own bookstore.  I usually work on pictures after the store closes, but I haven’t picked up a color pencil or a brush for a few weeks now.  I’m sure I’ll be all peppy & full of vim & vigor once this SNOW GOES AWAY! (< hint to sky-god).

In the meantime, in case you’re interested here’s a link to an article about the show.

You will note that the picture came out very badly. It does look better in person. It does! It does!

Nobody ever said this was going to be easy.

Dear Fellow Starvelings,

I know it’s been a while but don’t worry. I’m still the quintessentially struggling artist,
and I’m not going anywhere (except, occasionally, to my work table). Hope you’ve all
had a wonderful summer.
I’ve been a BUSY struggling artist, anyway. Last month had four pieces in the “Nouveau Brut”
show at the Becket Arts Center in Becket in the Berkshires.  The show was fun, the other artists
were terrific, and the curator was helpful & bubbly & very enthusiastic about the project.

All the artists were supposed to come up with a little screed about what meaning the term “Nouveau Brut” had for them,
especially within the context of this show. Since I feel pretty strongly about what is termed “outsider” art, my piece
turned out to be pretty heartfelt. And here it is:

The (Nouveau) Brut Inside Me

I’ve always been a little resentful of the term “Art Brut.”  Apparently Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term, meant to restrict its use to describe the work of artists so far outside the mainstream they wouldn’t even know what the mainstream is. Artists in institutions for the  mentally ill, for example, or prisoners, or lunatics at large, or  illiterate peasants living in huts far, far from Paris and its oh-so-refined understanding of Art with a capital A.

I can go along with this to an extent. Such artists do need to be recognized and appreciated. But to me the term smacks somewhat of condescension, the notion that these artists are in some sense primitive and this primitive state must be preserved in order to maintain their artistic integrity. In the meantime, their art is marketed for high prices to mainstream collectors, and the official tastemakers continue to decide what’s in fashion and what is not.

Still, I’ve always liked the idea of art completely outside convention, springing from the artist’s heart – an artist who may have heard of, say, Andy Warhol (who hasn’t?) but doesn’t want to *be* him. An artist who might be unschooled but is not entirely otherworldly. Can there even be a true “outsider” artist, according to Dubuffet’s definition, in today’s world? Or can an artist be aware of the surrounding culture and yet still be an outsider at heart?

And here we come to “Nouveau Brut,”  a perfect term, I think, for the work of artists who are in some significant way outside the mainstream even though they might know what the mainstream is up to.. Maybe these artists just don’t give a damn about tastemakers and trendsetters.  Maybe they didn’t bother to get an MFA. Maybe they’re old people or poor people or working people. Maybe they’re just driven by a compulsion they can’t easily explain. What they have in common is a passion for the art they’re creating. It comes from their hearts and minds. It does not compromise, ingratiate, or wheedle,

But every artist wants her art to be seen, praised, purchased – including me. There lies the conundrum. The driving urge to express one’s vision of the self and the world, and the hope that the viewer will some way, somehow, share that vision.

        I see that this little piece about “Nouveau Brut” is full of contradictions.
       So is art. 
       So is life.                                                                                       


Dear Fellow Starvelings,

I know it’s been a long time since last I wrote, but I’m determined to hang around this time. There’s a lot I’ve learned – both what to do and what not to do.  And there’s an awful lot to write about.

The main thing about this summer is that I got to spend more time than usual with my mom. She turned 97 last month, she still lives at home, and is as feisty and independent an individual as you are ever likely to meet. She sees the portents of mortality, and she’s facing them courageously. Then again, she’s always been courageous. Shy people who stand up for themselves are the bravest people I know, and she’s at the top of that list.

I did some gardening. Mom has always been a wonderful gardener but can’t do it any more. She can, however, give very precise instructions! I did some tidying and got rid of some tins ‘way over their sell-by date to give her more counter space (she’s one of those Great Depression kids who doesn’t want to throw anything away “just in case”).

We went over old pictures, letters, newspaper articles. She told me a lot of stories I’d never heard before about her young days. This time I wrote it down, as much as I could. Every time I visit she wants me to take stuff back with me that she doesn’t want any more. Usually I say no, but this time I said yes, at least to many of these items. I realize that she wants me to have them as remembrances, She doesn’t want them scattered to the four winds or sold at a garage sale. So now I have Mom’s wedding ring. I wear it all the time and find that when I touch it I feel a sort of communion with her. I don’t regret accepting this gift one little bit. It keeps a part of her with me always.

We also sang together. Mom loves to sing. Her favorite song, she told me, is “The Rose.” So I had the bright idea of setting up the DVD player that had been gathering dust in the corner, made a call to Ken, and in a few days Mom got a little package in the mail – a DVD of a Bette Midler concert including The Rose! And by gosh, Mom just loves Bette Midler, as it turns out. We played the concert twice and had so much fun. I love it when my mother laughs.

I’ve done a few pictures for her and plan to do some more.  I talk to her on the phone three days a week. (advice to starvelings: get one of those bundled phone/cable/pc deals where you can use your land phone to call anywhere in the US and have any number of these calls just folded into your monthly bill at no extra charge).

Anyway, it’s time to jump back in the saddle. I’ll have some interesting reports in the coming months so stay on board. Now that really WAS a mixed metaphor, wasn’t it?

No wonder I call my Facebook Art Page: Judith Keefer Tingley – Mixed Metaphors.

Dear Fellow Starvelings,

This week I’m getting ready to visit my Mom in Michigan. I do this every year, and every year I want to spend more time with her.  She’ll be 97 years old soon, and I treasure every minute with her. Sure, we talk on the phone several times a week but that’s just not the same as a good hug. She has a lot of stories and a lot of wisdom to share, and this year I want to act as her secretary, taking down those stories in a manner I hope will do her justice. I’m also going to bring her a present, which she’ll almost certainly try to refuse, but I want her to have it anyway. It’s this collage I did wherein I picture Mom and me as two little girls together:


Dear Fellow Starvelings,

I know all about how a true artist must follow her singular vision, not care too much what others say, make her art for herself and not necessarily for any intended audience.

But we all know how good it feels when someone praises our work! Especially when we know they’re being sincere about it.  I’ve got a smallish but (I hope) growing base of people who apparently see things through as  bizarre a lens as I do.  Or at least they like taking the occasional peep through that lens.  And it feels soooo good to hear them say so.

I’m promising myself right now to spend more time “liking” the artwork done by my friends on Facebook, and “liking” the galleries that show interesting stuff, and even “liking” the foundations that make a lot of this art-making possible. Telling people in person, too, of course, when I have the chance.

Everyone should feel the glow of praise once in a while.  Of course, no one should praise something just because she thinks she should, or because she’s expected to, or (lord have mercy) because she’s asked to. Fake praise is nothing but flattery, and flattery not only gets you nowhere, it’s also usually recognized as being fake. Which just makes things sticky and awkward.

So praise when you feel so moved. That’s my advice and, I hope, my practice too.

I’m in an especially good mood today because I’ve been selling some of my recent pieces straight off the internet. Even though I don’t intend to use Facebook as a commercial venue, and just post my pictures to let other folks see what I’m up to, when somebody says he wants to buy something  he’s seen there, what can I do??

At any rate, I think maybe it’s time to rethink having a commercial website where I can send people to browse. This is really going to be a big deal for me, and I’m going to tread carefully.  It does make sense, though, to give people a chance to see the pieces priced *before* deciding to buy them.

I do just want to mention one thing that’s even better than hearing that someone likes my stuff, or even that someone wants to buy my stuff. And that is all about making the art itself — when I’m stuck, having a sudden vision of what I have to do to make the thing right — or finishing something and actually liking it myself (I’m a tough audience, especially for my own stuff) — or just the sheer joy of applying color to paper. Those are the true moments of ecstasy for me.

And I hope for you too —

See you next week!

Judith Keefer Tingley – Mixed Metaphors

Dear Fellow Starvelings,

April has come and gone, a sodden sodding mess. Now the sun has decided to shine and I’m ready to go dancing in the streets!

But before that, let me describe to you a very tricky situation a friend finds herself in. This friend (we shall call her MM, for “Miss Moral” because moral she tries to be, even though the moral path is sometimes not the most obvious one).

Here are a few facts about our MM:

She is a painter. She is also passionately political.

She belongs to an association of painters, all of whom are very nice people. It is a well organized association, with a President and a Board of Directors and lots of committees.

Recently MM received a notification from the Association that she needed to add her signature to its by-laws, as this was required of all members. Our poor MM had not been aware of this requirement; she had not even been aware that the association had by-laws. Wanting to be a good member, she found the by-laws, read them once, read them again, and then again, shaking her head in bafflement. Most of the document was just as she’d expected, but one clause gave her pause. It was undoubtedly the most well intended of all the sections, but she worried that its inclusion might force her not to sign, thereby resigning her membership.

What was it that worried MM so? It was the insertion into the by-laws a statement asserting that the member would not make art “that defames or vilifies any person, people, races, religion or religious group and is not obscene, pornographic, indecent, harassing, threatening, harmful, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, abusive, inflammatory or otherwise objectionable.”

Well, of course this sounds perfectly fine on first reading. MM would never ever ever make art that could be considered racist or sexist or homophobic or ageist … but wait a minute… MM considered the content of some of her political paintings. She made fun of certain political groups. She made fun of religion in general. She vilified racists, sexists, homophobes, ageists and others of their ilk quite strongly in some of her pieces. She sometimes included likenesses of well-known politicians or celebrities in her work, and not in a flattering way.  She pondered the meaning of even including privacy rights and publicity rights in the by-laws.  But as she understood it, art trumped these, at least when applied to public figures.

The more she thought about it, the more confused she became. Surely some of her paintings could be regarded as indecent, maybe even inflammatory, and “otherwise objectionable” — she was sure at least some part of the population would object to many of her pieces.

So, though she deeply respects the intentions of the agreement, she still hasn’t signed it.  And the vast world of possibilities seems to be getting smaller and smaller as she considers some of the pieces she has planned —  what might be indecent, what might be inflammatory, what might be otherwise objectionable.

I took my show down last week. It was a wonderful month full of nice people saying nice things about my work (and even buying it!!). I feel like I’ve taken a big first step.

On the other hand, I’m also feeling something similar to postpartum malaise.

I know I need to start working again, and I even have plans for a Scarlet Letter piece and a Cain & Abel piece (settling the score, as it were). But these projects are large & complicated and seem intimidating right now.

What to do? Well, I’ve decided to give myself a little boost by beginning with an abstraction & then finding patterns in it. Like when I was a kid and found patterns in the wallpaper. I’m working with the first abstraction now, using color pencils to discover my own creation within the lines. It’s fun and surprising and I find that I’m actually constructing a coherent picture out of it all, just going with my gut..

I don’t know if it’s art, but it’s getting me energized.  I’ll post the finished product when it feels finished, and you can judge for yourselves.

Art or not, it is serving a useful purpose – it’s getting me going again!