Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

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!

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.