Archive for the ‘art’ Category

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.

http://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2014/01/literature-inspired_collage_ar.html

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.

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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.
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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.                                                                                       

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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.

Fellow Starvelings,

You’ve seen them. I know you have. They’re usually in strip malls or retail complexes or even in the somewhat grander vertical malls, the ones with escalators and food courts where you can order Pad Thai. I’m talking about arts & crafts chain stores. They all have the same inventory in the same sections so if you’re in a far-away city you’ll still know just where to go for those Very Special non-toxic archival quality sparkly pens, or whatnot.

It should be obvious that I’m not talking here about independent artist supply stores, where the staff  knows something about making art, and tries to provide the highest quality merchandise to their patrons. Yes, these independents can sometimes be over our normal budgets, but sometimes the prices aren’t so  much more than the chains. Not to mention the fact that once in a while one really does need to splurge. (We starving artists especially deserve an occasional splurge, since we’re so tight-fisted otherwise & save our pennies for such eventualities.)

The chain stores are expensive, too, and I’m not just talking price. They sell gimcracky & faddish stuff, meant to fall apart. They sell KITS for heaven’s sake. All well and good for the youngsters, but don’t kid yourself that a finished kit in any way represents an artistic endeavor. They sell a lot of junk, and no  matter what junk is priced at it remains junk and is therefore expensive, wasteful, and time consuming. For the sake of honesty I should add that they do stock some respectable brands as well, often priced about the same as what you’d expect at the independent store (see above); so go for the independent in these cases.  I have nothing against handicraft, by the way, and am fully aware that it takes a lot of time and talent to produce some of the wonderful pieces I see at artisan exhibitions. One of a kind pieces, and again, NOT  made from kits. So this is not about art vs craft. It’s about the declaration that somehow by merely following directions and making something that looks “just like the picture” in the magazine one is making ART.

Personally, I blame the rise of these look-alike chain stores on the concurrent rise of glossy a&c magazines, expensive magazines with delusions of glory. You probably know the ones I mean. They’re big & colorful & full of ads for the very same merchandise to be found in the Big Boxes. It all begins to make sense, doesn’t it? And these very popular magazines are full of what they call “art” — which all looks alike. Boys and girls with angel wings. Ghastly mermaids. “Glamorous” tributes to such artistic cities as Paris and Florence, etc. etc. The magazine will feature articles (in actuality sets of instructions) which, according to them, will inspire the artist to new heights of imagination and skill as long, of course, as the artist uses the list of brand name products (coincidentally their ads appear in the magazine for ease of  acquisition)!

Your imagination will soar! The possibilities are endless! scream these magazines. Well, no. Copying someone else’s design does not require imagination, and the possibilities seem to end with the final bit of instruction.

Honorable craftspeople doing their own thing should be horrified at what these magazines (and shops) are doing to the concept of craft as well.  ART is the goal, even though what is being promoted isn’t ART at all. Craft, on the other hand, is relegated to the children’s department. When I think of the brilliant, original pieces of handicraft that I’ve seen at artisan exhibitions, the dismissal of craft in favor of GARBAGE AKA ART in these magazines makes me weep.

This is so messed up and turned upside down that I’m almost driven to despair. I’m beginning to see “art” pulled straight from the pages of these horrible magazines now hanging in galleries.

Perhaps I’ll be less grumpy next week. After all, the exhibition is going well and I sold one of my favorite pieces today! (or maybe that’s helping to make me grouchy — I’m losing one of my favorite pieces — bye, bye!) Hope to be writing about more unusual sources for materials that really *can* send your imagination into overdrive next week. In the meantime, Find time for art this week!

Greetings, Fellow Starvelings —

Well, I got ‘er done. That is, with the help of my cheerfully competent husband and my fellow exhibitors my first show is hung and will be appearing at the Hosmer Gallery at the Forbes Library in that artsy town of Northampton, MA, for the rest of March. You’re all welcome to come!

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And  now you know why I’ve been absent from this blog for the past few Sundays or so.

Having gone to quite a few small gallery s hows in my day, it occurs to me that much of the expense for the artist is putting a classy looking frame on the art. I’ve never seen the need for frames myself, but a lot of galleries insist on them. Sure, they make the presentation more “professional” for what that’s worth. They also make the piece look more expensive, more worthy of the money being asked for it. Or am I starting to sound a tad cynical?

Anyway, I’m very happy that the Hosmer seemed to understand that my stuff was never intended to be framed and they did  NOT insist. Partly because most of my stuff is obviously 3D (lots of layers to be seen from various angles).  Also, I often have pieces extending past the edge of the wooden board I use as platform.  The pictures look as though they’re uncontainable, and that’s part of the point.

Anyway, here’s a practical, easy, and cheap way to get your unframed pictures ready to hang. Get some wood “furring strips” at your local hardware store or lumberyard. Different sizes are available; get what will go horizontally across the back of your picture with a few inches to spare on each side. You’ll need two per picture (across the top & across the bottom). Pick up some screw eye hangers & wood glue while you’re at it.

Follow directions on wood glue, using clamps to hold the strips to the wood back, then allow 24 hours to dry completely. Wood glue gives a very strong hold when used wood-to-wood. Now screw in the hangers, one at each end of the top strip (I put mine right into the side, but you can also try an approach from above). You can use your fingers but after yesterday I recommend you get a forceps or something similar to reach in and do the twisting for you.

Now all you need is some strong fishline and you’re all set. You can buy fishline in massive spools and have a life-long supply for $40 – $45  or so. Or  you can get just what you need for a specific project. I was first-time lucky, because Hosmer gave us both fishline and hanging brackets.

What is the strip across the bottom good for? you may ask. Well, it  makes the picture hang straighter, eliminating much of the inward lean that so many pictures (framed or not) have without it, and which can make folks seasick just trying to meet a picture head-on.

Okay, now I’m left with the absolute and total disaster area that my living room has now become. Wasn’t I talking about organization just a few weeks ago? Ha ha!  I’ll tell you right now that no matter how organized you might normally be, the last few weeks before a deadline can wreak brand new havoc. At least I know what to do with the stuff I’ve been throwing around once I find it. There’s a place for everything. Of course, I also have to find the places under all this  junk.

See you all next week!

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Okay, I’m fortunate enough to have a gallery show next month, my very first in Northampton. The hardest thing about getting ready is the pricing part. There is no secret formula (though I’ve been advised of a few). Naturally, however, there are factors to consider. I’m not known, except to my best friends and maybe on Facebook. My pieces vary in size and complexity, and all of them are weird. They will not be purchased by any cash-stuffed corporate guy to hang on his office wall. The people who like my stuff tend to be other starving artists who can’t afford gallery prices. But I must have something on my price list (due tomorrow!).  I’m at the point of calling an old buddy of mine who is also an art dealer BUT he has bought pieces from me in the past and tells me he intends to in the future. Would consulting him be kosher? I know he’ll be practical and honest, but it would still be sort of an awkward situation.

So. Maybe I’ll devise an mysterious formula of my own using: a) length of time it took to make; b) complexity; c) size; d) X factor (i.e., How much do I like it? How much do I never want to see it again?)

Did I mention that I’m sharing this show with two other artists? I have no idea what they’ll price their things at or their rationales. We’ve talked about it amongst ourselves but only in the vaguest of terms. They both have MFAs and I do not. Does this mean I should price mine lower? I’ve looked through a large book of galleries and their average sales figures for individual works. Most of them start at $100-$150. I’ve never priced ANYTHING over $100.

I’ve been told that so-called “emerging” artists tend to price their pieces too low, out of a desperate need to validate themselves and their art by selling SOMETHING, ANYTHING! I’ve also been told that it’s easier to lower a price than make it higher. But I’m also embarrassed about asking for real  long green.

Oh, bother. Plus there’s that pesky thought at the back of my mind — I need the money. I spend the least amount possible on first-class materials, but I need SOME recompense for all those hours spent painting, cutting tiny pieces of paper into recognizable shapes, sanding the board, preparing the board, making the thing look the way I want it to, sealing the whole thing up against the ravages of time and sun. Well, geez – let’s not forget coming up with the concept in the first place! Good or bad, I’m the one who thought of it and put it together.

I’m still deliberating. After all, I have till tomorrow. I always tell myself that I work and think best against a deadline.

If it comes down to it, I can always just pull figures out of a hat. Then if any of the gallery patrons asks me why such erratic amounts, I’ll tell them that even my pricing is a work of (conceptual) art.

Personally, I’ve never been a football fan, and usually don’t even know who’s playing in the Super Bowl. Yes, I realize it’s the Great American Holiday but I just can’t understand the entertainment value in eating pizza while watching a bunch of huge guys smashing into each other But that’s just me. My own Mother is looking forward to the game (although I think in her case it has more to do with being a Beyonce fan than anything else) and so are a lot of my friends, even the literary ones.

However you feel about the Super Bowl, here’s my advice on how to make it an opportunity for artistic endeavor. If  you dislike it and don’t even want to watch the commercials and have managed to avoid committing yourself to being present at any parties, well fine. Consider the day to be your own Art Holiday, and spend the day undisturbed and free to work on your stuff. No guilt.

If you are for any reason watching the game, use it as an opportunity to sketch the human body in motion. Since these are very large bodies, this exercise should be especially helpful to those of you who aspire to be comics artists specializing in superheroes. You can also practice delineating a veritable panoply of emotions, as you watch faces expressive of hope, despair, joy, rage, etc. etc. If you are aspiring to be a commercial artist, take note of the memes being used in the extra-special advertisements so that you can avoid what they’re doing (after all, you want to establish your own Brand, yes?).

Have a good time, football fans, and whatever you do, try to avoid any discussion about the huge amounts of money football players get paid. Those same muscle-bound hunks you see tearing around the field like gladiators today might easily wind up in wheelchairs in their fifties. They’re making a sacrifice and a compromise to keep the Great American Holiday going, and I hope they’re also making some good investments.