Archive for the ‘artist’ Category

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.
Image

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.                                                                                       

                                                                                                                  Image

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!

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!

IMG_4776

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!

Image

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.

 

ImageI get asked where I get my crazy ideas maybe a little bit more often than a lot of other folks, maybe because a lot of my ideas really do seem pretty crazy. Like the collage illustrating this post. I do have my fans, and most of them use phrases like “strangely disturbing” to describe my stuff. That suits me just fine. But honestly, the most important thing is not having fans who “get it” (as wonderful as that is), but the fact that you, yourself, love what you’re doing. Seriously.

I keep hearing about artists with MFAs who chart careers. I can see the graph now, the incline, the plateau, and then either a further incline or the long descent: “Emerging” then “mid-career” then “late-career” as though the stage the career has reached is the best way to describe the art and the artist as well.

Take heed, fellow starving artists: I personally don’t care if you’re on a career path or not, but I do care whether or not you love what you’re doing. Otherwise, why be an artist at all, especially a starving one?

One of the most useful,  entertaining, and  inspirational experiences I ever had was a week-long workshop with Lynda Barry a few years ago. This woman is a genius who draws and writes like nobody else. She captures the feeling of what it’s really like to be a child (the terror, the longing, the love) as well as anyone since Dickens. I love her work and no one else could do it.

Lynda Barry spoke from her own experience when she advised us to pay attention to the work, pay attention to the voices in your head. Do not give a thought about an audience for your work (at least not while you’re in the midst of  working). Be selfish. Do it for you. At the time of the workshop Lynda was working on a wonderful art journal where she put ideas, drawings, snatches of conversation, color experiments. Did she use a fancy-schmancy expensive notebook with an extra-special grade of paper? No. She used regular lined yellow paper. What counted was what she put on the paper, not the paper itself. Being allowed to leaf  through that journal was one of my most thrilling adventures to date (and I’ve had more than my share of adventure).

At any rate, what I’m trying to say is that you can find a way to do what you want to do somehow, if you really want to do it. This may mean you have to get a grunt job somewhere to pay the bills, but that’s okay. That sort of job just leaves your mind more free to explore ideas when you get off work, instead of fretting over some office deadline. By the way, don’t fall into the trap of getting stuck  in the kind of corporate career path you find it hard to get out of, even if it’s a path in corporate art (unless, of course, it’s corporate art that truly makes your heart sing).

I know it’s hard to do this, especially if you have a family and all the responsibilities that entails. Still, try as hard as you can to come as close as you can to your ideal. Listen to your inner voice, be it quiet or explosive, soft or wild. Take time, and let your family know you must take time, to do your work. Even if they tease you. Even though they may ask you why you do it, when it doesn’t look like anything they’ve ever seen before. Or why you do it, when they’ve seen other things” just like it.”

I myself have partially solved this by having an extremely understanding and caring husband, who is a genuine 50/50 kind of guy. We are both self-employed and live and work in the same building, with a bookstore up front and an apartment in the back. It took us years to achieve this goal, but it does give us more time as well as more space. We can trade off chores, depending on who is getting ready for what project. This month I’m working on getting a gallery show together, so Ken is demonstrating his culinary skills (good for me, since Ken is an excellent cook). In March, while the show is on and I have more free time, I’ll do some more cooking and he can spend more time on his own projects.

As I said, this required time and commitment, but we have as good a balance right now as we could ask for. We may not have much money, but we do have the most important things: love and meaningful work.

Of course, there are alternative solutions and compromises that you can come up with too.

Just remember, the first thing to do is listen to those inner voices and they’ll tell you what your priorities are.

For any artist of any sort, the most inspiring words I’ve ever read are from Neil Gaiman’s commencement address at the University of the Arts in Pennsylvania.

Read this, take it to heart, and  you’re halfway there.  See you later, when I’ll be talking in my own voice about surviving as a working-poor artist. But first:

“Remember, whatever discipline you’re in, whether you’re a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer — whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique: You have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I’ve known, that’s been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times, and it gets you through … the other ones. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.”

– Neil Gaiman, in his commencement address to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he was bestowed with an honorary doctorate in fine arts (watch the full speech below)