Summer is now one for the books. The snap of fall weather always gets me going. I love the crisp air mixed with warm sun. Somehow, the fall season gets us to shift gears from the light days of summer and into cozier clothes and heavier foods. Favorite smells and spices fill the air around town and in our kitchens. The idea of warmth comes around as the we all start to settle in for a season of gratitude and reflection.
These days during the pandemic, our holiday time is going to be a little different. Maybe that’s okay. Holidays are often hectic. This year, perhaps it needn’t be so. As I continue to be vigilant for my own health and for the sake of others, I have limited my physical interaction with others. Instead, I have an opportunity to think about how my holiday time may be personally meaningful.
Have you ever had to make a speech? What about an interview? You know you have one shot to make an impression. You want to be prepared and confident. A lot may be expected of you. What do you do when you ain’t got nothing?
I think of the old silent movies. A scene shows a merchant demanding payment from the scamp drifter. The drifter pulls his empty pant pockets inside out and shrugs. The merchant protests, arms waving and fingers pointing. Then, “ah-HAH!” an idea comes to the drifter. Some sort of solution is manifested and somehow all is well again.
Sometimes the harvest from the field of ideas is abundant. Other times, it is like the empty pockets of the drifter. The moral of our drifter’s story is often about faith and perseverance. The drifter’s attitude is one that offers the sunny side of the street, and that you may be down but you’re never out. Something will turn up so long as you hold out for it.
That is fine but being at a loss for what to say or do is a feeling of predicament. How does one generate ideas when nothing seems to come? The ticking clock only seems to make things worse. The longer the wait for an idea the less likely it seems anything will spark.
We are told that to succeed in anything, one must focus on that one thing and do that one thing well. Fine, but what if the one thing you focus on requires many things to be done well, to succeed? How do we manage our success while being a half committed artist?
Who among us has not had an observation about films, music, art and uttered, “They sure don’t make ‘em the way they used to!”
That makes me question, does the art suffer if the artist can only be half committed? We may come to a point where we finally say to ourselves that the time for complete commitment has come. Our sideline creativity has come to a crossroad and it is time to commit or quit.
A typically unavoidable fact is that there are many talented people who need some regular supporting income that allows them to do their creative work. So much can be said about this truth.
The aspiring artist may have arrived where their work has evolved as far as it can go but must “set it aside” for other income sources to be fulfilled. If the aspiring artist is split between dedicating themselves wholly towards too many requirements, the notion often evolves towards cutting a few of those away to clear the path to succeed at the desired goal of being a self-supporting artist. The thought might be that one must focus and do the one thing well. That is when the artist positions themselves on the precipice of life’s proverbial cliff to “make the leap” and do the thing they were truly meant to do!
Sell the House?
Hopefully, the prospect that your significant other or your family will either cheer you on, or disown you, has already been considered before making your announcement. Much is made of chucking the old job, selling the house, and setting up shop in the country somewhere to finally write that novel, write the opus, create the body of work. That is a healthy fantasy, but it is assumed that the artist does only one thing. That is, nothing to do but paint pictures or write pages, or play music. Not frivolously, mind you, but dedicated! How untrue and unprofessional this fantasy is.
Personally, I have not yet taken the running leap off the proverbial cliff. Although I feel like I might be hanging on that always present branch that juts out from the cliffs face. There I probably am, dangling before I loose myself and let the wings take flight. Here, suspended between full commitment and drawing back from the edge of the cliff, I find that focusing on the one thing in order to succeed at being a full professional in my field requires many, many things unrelated to the popular idea of what being an artist means. Today’s artist must be able to do more than just the one thing well.
Business Owner – Entrepreneur
Many of us have set ourselves up as a small business to help us manage our necessary purchases, rentals, expenses, and income as our work develops beyond the “at home” stage. Managing the business, no matter how modest, still needs to be done. That includes the accounting! Accounting seems most opposite of being creative. At least it better be!
“Being in sales” sounds more like something heard at a regional manager’s convention than at an art studio! However, good salespeople are often able to understand the needs of the customer or client and pinpoint how to satisfy that need. Not all salespeople are the “used car lot” types. The good ones are also caring about their clients and know that a good sale means a good relationship.
Oh no! Marketing is supposed to be the antithesis of art. Well, but it is creative. Thankfully, the type of “good” marketing I find myself doing is simply insuring I have enough exposure for people to know I exist and to maintain a relationship with an audience or client base. However, that also means becoming versed in the language of marketing and social media.
Social Media, Webmaster and Content Manager
It is a constant upkeep of creating and managing content for an audience. I would like my content to be enjoyable, inspiring, and engaging. If an artist is hiring someone to handle their online presence, then great! However, most of us do it ourselves. If that is your case, then you know you are always having to manage and improve your content and platforms.
Do not forget: Being an artist !
This is truly a calling. If your artistic dedication is to either paint or play golf, then you are safe from this discussion. Making art for the pure joy of it is highly encouraged! However, if making art because life is difficult if you do not, then you may already know that your thoughts are continuously at the passionate service of your ideas and observations.
Perhaps it is a rite of passage and maybe we are tested by fire before the reward is received. If we find that we have gone from the weekend artist towards the full-time (or mostly full-time) artist, we must find out whether we are willing to dedicate ourselves happily, to the many tasks required to maintain an arts practice. Shedding all the burdensome occupations to pursue one’s craft is to only find yourself engaged in all the various other things necessary to allow for that to happen.
The artist may find themselves working even harder in every other kind of way outside of creating their art. However, if the artist can wake up each day and be glad to keep going, even through challenges and doubt, to maintain perseverance while managing their schedules, tasks and creative output, as well as a side job, then may that artist reach their intended definition of success. It is possible the art public will be better for it as well. Perhaps then, the arts could delight us to the highest while appealing and drawing out the best in us.
Once, I was out painting and someone came up and admired what I was doing. Then they said to me, “Man, I wish I could be an artist and just paint pictures all day”.
I made a quiet grin and wondered to myself what that would be like!
When I was young and it was time to shop for school supplies, I could not wait to get my box of crayons!
My first set was small and simple, just enough to be useful and fun. Later, the expanded sets were available. As I got older, it seemed more appropriate that I could handle the big boy box of a previously un-imaginable number of crayons. It was the exciting sixty-four set with a built-in sharpener in the box! I would arrive at school with my impressive mega-box of crayons and plant it proudly on top of my desk.
When it became time to use them, I would explore the arsenal of choices and linger over my decision of which one to use. There were my old friends. Red, blue, yellow, green, brown, black, even white! My new friends in the sixty-four cray-o-la mega-set were very exotic, like Periwinkle. What’s a Periwinkle?
Who has not rocked out to the rock n’ roll anthem, “Back in Black” by the group AC/DC? Perhaps you were in your car while stuck in traffic and you turned it up while it was on the radio. You may have been in your studio, playing air guitar in front of blank canvas.
If you were painting outdoors it is not likely that the song was running through your head. However, it would be very possible that black was certainly not on your palette!
Black is often considered to be a forbidden color for outdoor painting. Technically, black is not even considered a color! Since black is the absence of color, it is defined as neutral.
Without getting too technical, black is either the absence of color or the accumulation of all colors at once. That is a discussion that will be saved for later regarding additive and subtractive color mixing. For now, let us get back to the use (or non-use) of black as a pigment for painting.
If the question is ‘Can Art Create Community’ then the answer should be obvious. Art is intimately married to an innate human need to communicate. It can express and provoke thought. It gives us an ability to record events and tell stories. We can understand ourselves or even ponder the sacred. How has this been true and how has it changed?
People often say to me that they could never be an artist. It is not for lack of skill or desire, they say, but because they don’t have the patience to do it. I rarely understand what they mean by that. My work typically deals with the immediate response and interpretation to what I see in front of me. I work with big brushes and make broad strokes, and the process is energetic. So that is possibly why I get confused when people tell me that they don’t have the patience to paint. Well, what about the patience to look at something?
It is the beginning of a new decade, and this one seems more significant since we are beginning the “Twenties”. The “Twenties”. When we say that it seems we often think of that decade of a hundred years ago. In many ways that decade seems to mark the beginning of the modern age as we know it now. Many of us often nostalgically fantasize what it would have been like to live then. “I wish I could have lived in the “Twenties””, we may say to ourselves or others. Well, now we can! Since we are all now able to say we were alive during the “twenties”, we may correlate what is similar and what is different about our decade compared to the one hundred years ago?
The nineteenth century into the twentieth marked a period of dramatic change from agrarian society to an urban cosmopolitan society. The turn of the century must have been confusing with the shift of the industrial age creating so many modern advances in commerce, politics and social norms. The globe was just finishing World War One, machines began to fly, there was an establishment of the working middle class. Notable artistic responses were the angst-ridden German Expressionism, American Regionalism, and the beginning of Modernism.
The twentieth century into the twenty-first could be compared similarly. We experienced an Electronic Revolution and the Information Age. Our society is moving into a more global one, socially and financially. Our artistic responses have been non-object-oriented conceptual works and experiential communal art events.
But how do these art responses relate to us today? It seems apparent that the two decades, ours and the one a hundred years ago, share in one similarity in that the age was baffling and fast paced. The speed of information and change then and the speed of information and change now could be comparable. The change is in our frame of reference. What if the fastest thing you remember is the horse compared to the car? The pace at which information flows, our twenty-four hour society and the access to every known fact at our finger-tips creates another kind of dizzying pace that could be relative to the one felt by our great-grandparents. The artist becoming a navigator, simple responder, or an aggregate processor puts us in alliance with our times to our culture. The pace and confusion is reflected in our art as we should expect it would. The axiom is, after all, art is often a reflection of our times.
As the new decade approaches, these milestones often create in us a period of reflection. Like my activity in my studio the other day, many of us tend to weed out and separate things during the change of the new year. The question becomes, what do we keep? What do we let pass? How will we shape our future? If our times today are considered as chaotically filled with constant updates of information and announcements of events that pass by our lives as ephemera, we may begin to consider a slowing down. I am already reading and learning of “slow movements” and “returning” to various things like, dinner-time at a dinner table and actual eye-to-eye engagement with others.
At the beginning of this century, I ended my career as a closet landscape painter and decided to pursue oil painting in its traditional practice, honestly and earnestly. The idea was to create a kind of answer to the dis-embodiment of object- oriented artworks. I still believed in the artwork as an object, and I wanted to make my artistic output closer to the definition of the word painting. My statement at the time was; after de-constructing everything, my current work is a record of my serious pursuit of putting it back together. Well, okay. A decade has passed since then and I feel less rebellious towards my own time.
I was rummaging through my studio, sorting and clearing out a few things. Stacks of old canvases and sketches, basically untouched, began to reveal a story. The story was the progress of my work over the last decade. Going back and looking at the old canvases was like going through a lost photo album. I could remember the thoughts I was having, the difficulties or successes of the moment. It was astonishing to see where my work was at ten years ago. Of course, I had to consider and ask myself, where will it go from here?
One of my favorite books on art history is titled, “The Story of Modern Art”, by Norbert Lynton. The book was required reading during my art history days in college, and I still have it. Albeit the torn up and dog-eared pages are over-highlighted, it remains a good read. Interestingly, the book covers in great essay style detail about the changes and developments in art from the Impressionist period of the eighteen-sixties into the twentieth century. On the very last page of the book is this quote, “What Western man has lost is the kind of tempo that goes with looking and the stillness that goes with a focused attention.”
At one point during my time as an art student, we learned how to describe a work of art. This was an excellent exercise for all of us young eager and emotional students ready to pour out our guts to anyone who would listen. Our professor had us put our work up on the wall. There, we were to stand before everyone else and start divulging our own descriptions of our pieces. This was opposite of a critique. A critique included our work on the wall for sure, but now others would talk about what they saw and thought about it. This time the artists would speak for themselves. Oh boy! Continue reading “The Opposite of a Critique”
As the holiday season approaches, I started thinking about artists as grateful gift givers. Artists can be thought of as gracious and giving or snobby and pretentious or maybe a mix of all of these. As my thoughts were coming together, I remembered a funny routine by comedian George Carlin about his views on the game of golf. The bit explained his unique perspective about the game. He joked that golf was a snobby, elitist, pretentious endeavor played for the sake of chasing a tiny ball around for hours on end. Perhaps art can be viewed with similar terms. Continue reading “Artists as Grateful Gift Givers”