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the artist's idea factory
Tuesday
Mar182014

the wangechi mutu influence

I’ve locked myself in my studio these past months working with blind faith that in time their will be a new kind of clarity to my work. I’m absorbed by it. It’s what I think of day and night as I continue to determine the direction I want my collages to go in. It’s a journey that has no map or blueprint, just pure trust in allowing my impulses to guide me. To find a new way of seeing takes patience and determination…a tenacious will that won’t give up. Most days I feel as if I’m just playing, which does have it’s moments of fun.

To fuel my imagination even further, I was fortunate enough to have seen the Wangechi Mutu exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum last week before the show closed. To say I was overwhelmed by the scope and imagination of her art is an understatement. She’s a Brooklyn based artist born in Nairobi, Kenya who has developed collages that have paint and found objects incorporated in them. She combines the female body with animal, plant and machinery parts using cut magazine images. These collages done on mylar are large with themes both political and sexual in nature. I can only imagine the hours of play and discovery she had to put into them to come up with such imaginative work. When imagery comes together like this it becomes an experience rather than just two-dimensional art. It made me proud to be an artist.

What I take away from this is the joy of creativity. Every artist who has achieved any kind of status in the art world has at some point worked through the growing pains of finding a next step. So when I see the end product of another artist’s struggle, it encourages me to keep working. And by the way, I hope I’ll always have that sense of curiosity that keeps my work changing. Only the limits I put on myself can stop me.

Tuesday
Feb182014

what mindset are you?

My art is struggling along with moments of breakthroughs, but mostly it’s hard work with much anxiety. This experimenting is expensive and there’s no guaranty about what results it will bring. Still, I forge ahead knowing in my gut I’m moving towards something that will change the way I see and make art. My experience tells me the more open to experimentation, the more likely I’m going to discover something new.

I wasn’t always this way. I have always been a rule follower who tried not to make mistakes. I studied what was being written in the art magazines and tried to emulate what was being shown in the New York art galleries. While this might be a good way to find inspiration, my own art lacked that sense of urgency and originality. There was definitely more to this process I wasn’t getting as a young artist.

I recently came across an article taken from “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck Ph.D which talks about the two mindsets people develop and the way they determine personalities. This article really spoke to me when it talked about a “fixed mindset” as opposed to a “growth mindset.” I know well what it feels like to have a fixed idea in my head, because, as I said, I was a rule follower and knew how to avoid failure by following what has already been proven true. I found it very hard to change this mindset, which showed up in my skilled but uninspired art. I wanted to work smart and not make mistakes, or maybe, I might be deemed untalented. In my defense, this is how I was taught as a young child to fit in.

However, the “growth mindset”, which sees failure as an opportunity doesn't allow for mistakes. These people only see challenges that force them to conquer and advance beyond what already exists. To them it's in trial and error where real inspiration lies. 

I for one don’t want my art to have a “fixed mindset” and that’s why I’ve opened myself up to share what I’m going through. By working with collage I’ve discarded all the rules I once followed as a painter. There are no guidelines for what I’m doing now, except the immediacy of the art process. I keep repeating in my head, “There are no mistakes, just opportunities. There are no longer rules to follow, just instinct and experimentation."

 

Wednesday
Feb052014

art out of chaos

If you walked into my studio right now you would not see the floor. It’s a mess. And while I try to clean it up, I’m distracted by what’s going on in my work. I’ve always considered myself a painter, but I’ve become addicted to working with collage and it has taken over everything I think and do. I’m obsessed with looking for materials, thinking of new ways to reinvent imagery and finding new ways to put it together. It’s no longer about the paint as it is about tapping into something that is so different from what I’ve ever done before that I’m surprised by what I’ve done. Truth is, how do you outdo yourself?

I’ve decided to write about this period of chaos to help me document the disorganization and distracted mental state that has overtaken me. It’s been months since I’ve felt comfortable with my work. I’m experimenting with gels, glues and varnishes that don’t always behave the way they’re supposed to. It’s frustrating to work on a collage for weeks only to find the work yellowing or clouding up. I keep telling myself there are no mistakes, just opportunities. If something isn’t working, I know I have nothing to lose but to work into it. At this point I’ll try anything, even to paint into the collage. I keep telling myself to keep my mind open and let things happen.

While I’m excited to push my work forward with new challenges, there’s no roadmap to where it’s taking me or even where I want to go. Just look at my studio, you can see the stubborn disorder that plagues the whole process. I’m obsessed at the moment without knowing what it is I’m searching for, and yet I feel the answer is there, I just can’t see it yet. It’s as if I’m in this bubble and everything else is noise around me. Even when I’m not actually working in my studio, my mind is always on the work. It’s the best and worst of times for making art.

Tuesday
Jan212014

behind a juried show

I recently juried an important art exhibit and was reminded of how tenuous and arbitrary an art career can be. To have a career as an artist is somewhat of a miracle when you think of how much works against it. First off, the competition is fierce amongst young students to get into the best colleges or art schools just to study art. Many of these students come from art savvy homes and have grown up with an appreciation for the arts long before they even knew what they wanted to be.

Having said this, I was one juror on a panel of three. I can see how this would make for less confrontational decision making since it would take two jurors to push an artist’s work through, but the problem with this system is finding a middle ground for the jurors to come together...and this doesn’t always happen easily. First off, my view of art and what I responded to was very different from the other jurors. I come from an illustrative, photorealistic background and value sharpened skills. I also value, since I have become a surrealist in my own work, intriguing concepts that are not cliche or ordinary. I want to see something I haven’t seen before.

No matter how talented the artist, there’s a skill level that comes only by working at his or her craft. I can usually tell how long an artist has been working by the finesse shown in their pencil or brush work. Talent plays a big part when it comes to the depth of an artist’s vision, but it’s the commitment to the work that develops skill and a unique technique.

I found it hard when an artist I wanted pushed through didn’t make it into the show due to taste differences between the jurors. This happens more times than not, which is not necessarily the fault of the jurors since they are entitled to their own opinion and shouldn’t be criticized for it. Perhaps having one judge is better for consistency in taste, although this also has its problems.

I write this blog because I think it important for every artist to understand this is a flawed system and being rejected from a juried exhibit is not an indictment of your talent. It’s just one of the many obstacles that helps season an artist. The biggest enemy to the art world is when an artist stops making art. Just don’t let that happen!

Tuesday
Jan072014

the artist's life

I’m amazed with how many wonderful, innovative, extraordinary talented artists there are around me, and yet, none of them have been discovered by the greater art world. In fact, there’s maybe one percent of one percent of the artists graduating art schools that ever make it to the big time. I’ve spent most of my life aspiring to become an artist, yet the dream was not just to make art but to be appreciated with a self-supporting career.

I’m often asked by parents of young art students, “Can you make a living as an artist?” Well-meaning parents push their children away from an art career with good reason. It’s a hard, often unreliable way to live. When the work doesn’t go well, it has a way of influencing everything around me. I’m tense, easily frustrated, walk around as if in a daze, don’t want to communicate with friends, and more times than not, come down with a nasty cold. In the end the work becomes everything. I often stay up late into the night working on a painting that isn’t going well, only to work over what I did in the morning. I learned never to destroy work before going to bed. And still, I continue to create art with a willing and grateful heart, knowing there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. The truth is when a painting or collage passes my expectations, there’s nothing like it. The high I get is worth all the low points I’ve suffered through.

So my answer to all those young students who want to know if you can make a good living at art, if you have to ask, you should find another means to support yourself. The call to art is something that can’t be explained, but when you have it nothing can sway you from doing it. I supported myself by teaching art. I waitressed and cashiered to keep myself in paint. My point is if your child can be talked out of pursuing an art career, then chances are they were meant to appreciate art as a Sunday painter.