Friday, January 30, 2009

Soup 'n Art

I've had this discussion with Melinda: "What's the important thing about the work we're doing right now, that it gets seen, or that it sells?" We have an agreement, pro tem, that we'd concentrate on getting it seen, and worry about selling later.

That's not to say that even showing work isn't freighted with emotional landmines. But Dinnerware was terrific to put together this show, taking all comers, throwing a kind of potluck, with several artists bringing big crocks of their best soups, and asking a small donation for ladles full of lovely hot home cooking.

I kind of thought the accordian was a fine bit of bistro atmosphere, too. I'm afraid I didn't get the gentleman's name, but he knew his way around the classic German folk songs. (And it was very kind of Melinda to take some photos to help me record the event.)

All together, music+food+original art on walls (and floor), from dozens of artists, gave the evening a welcoming, festive air. And made for an interesting and varied opening reception. The theme: to mark the passing of the last administration, and the entry of the new with art that dealt with the times.

It took me a bit of nerve to even submit my work for a show. I'm not sure I'm ready for an audience, so I was nervous to begin with. And, given the theme, the nature of the call to the artists, and the no-jury entry -- well, it goes without saying that the work is going to be highly granular in texture. Or maybe the metaphor is "all over the map." It's a big subject, and everyone's got a hobby horse to ride. The point is, Dinnerware provides a rare venue: a chance to display without value judgements intervening between the artist and the audience. This is important. It is not just freedom to be whoever you want to be... it's unconditional acceptance.

There were entries in ceramic sculpture, digital video, and large stenciled cloths on the floor. Paintings, drawings, prints, photos and collages. The content -- and let's face it, this was a highly charged theme -- ranged from lamentations to jubilant, from snarky to histrionic.

In one room there hung a 9 foot tall American flag, done entirely in black velvet -- even the red, white and blue bits. A Mac showed image collages morphing behind phrases taken from speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, while voiceovers from historic gatherings muttered along behind.

One artist took the front page of the New York Times, which featured an array of 9 photos from Bush's final news conference, showing his alternately combative, smirky, and defensive expressions. On each photo, a little "Hitler" mustache had been added. Some images challenged the viewer to accept a pair of nude white guys, or lampooned the "border fence", wherein America looked like the metropolis in the second Babe movie.

Yes, the show was cathartic. Yes, some was hilarious, some was haunting, some cliche-ridden. Some work was pointed, some blunt. Much was petty, some obscure to the point of opacity. Me, I liked the turkey soup, the whole-grain shepherd's loaf of bread, and the peppery corn chowder. Because, sometimes, a hot meal is as good as a come-to-Jesus altar call.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Toe in the Water, Feeling Wet

Got a call to artists from our local outsider arts co-op, the Dinnerware, to submit work in response to the outgoing President, the incoming President, or the politics of the last eight years. Since I had a ready-made submission in Retablo (and no work was to be refused), I figured it couldn't hurt. This will be my first art in a show since my college years, decades ago. Here're the details:

art, politics, and the soup of change
January 17-24, 2009
Dinnerware ArtSpace
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12pm-5pm and by appointment.
264 E. Congress St, Tucson, AZ 85701

Reception for the Artists
Saturday, January 17th, 2009, 5-8pm.
Bring your own bowl and spoon.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Validating the Best Thing You've Ever Done

This post steps outside of my expertise, and so I'm inviting response from those more experienced than me at showing and selling art.

A bit of background: Melinda posted about this, in an indirect way, which got me thinking. And Silvina Day is struggling with her authentic vision which got me thinking some more. I was reading How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist the other night, and had to read and re-read a short passage on "validation" of one's work, because it struck me so. Then, I was visiting Martha Marshall's blog, and read her excellent posts "It's Your Art, not your Soul" and the earlier "Fear of Rejection." The comments there are important to read too, filled with real experience, and wisdom.

I'll reproduce my own contribution to those comments:

Can a non-fine-artist chime in on this one? I’m forced by my field to have a different perspective. As a graphic designer, I create work to fit a client’s parameters. If it’s rejected, it’s basically because I didn’t meet the client’s
needs. Sometimes this happens, when I just know that the work I made is excellent in every way — design, concept, execution (it’s a work of art, man!)… but if I put a Ronald McDonald in front of an exec from Walt Disney, he’s not gonna buy it, no matter how good an idea it is: it doesn’t fit him. That doesn’t make the work less than great — because the client isn’t the determinant of the objective success of the work. But then, neither are my peers.

I’ve seen Martha [Marshall] and Bob Cornelus refer to Art & Fear, which I don’t have, but a quote appears in “How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist”:

"…courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts—namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work."–Bayles & Orland, Art & Fear 1993, p.47

...but I had more to say on the topic than I had the nerve to post on someone else's blog:

Unlike my design work, when I create "art that nobody asked for," I put it out for people (anyone) to take it or leave it. If they leave it, I know that that piece didn't meet the viewer's needs -- for that person, at that time. We respond to art at a very visceral, pre-conscious level, choosing to love work that fills a hole in our psyche -- much like we choose mates. We meet hundreds, maybe thousands of potential mates, but are attracted to only one or two at a gut, "this person completes me," level. Showing work is like speed dating between the art and the viewer: it clicks or not, but it has a lot more to do with the psychology of the viewer than whether or not the art is "valid."

The circumstances remind me of something profound that I heard; There was a movie made about this nun -- Susan Sarandon plays the nun, who works with prisoners on death row. In a documentary I saw, the (real) nun was asked why she worked with these killers. She said [paraphrasing] "People are more ... than the worst thing they've done in their lives."

Art is like that: "a discrete act, in a finite space and time." It isn't your whole life, it isn't all of you, no matter how much you pour into it, there's more of you left over that isn't in the artwork. So, rejection of a piece, or a body of work, or your whole career, isn't rejection of you. It can't be. You are always more than the best thing you've ever done in your life.

Validation of your work must spring from your own feeling of rightness and authenticity about your work. In design, I've had to defend my work, and validate it for others — "Why did you choose blue? What's this line for?" This has taught me to be conscious of my choices, and to be articulate about what is and isn't there. But, it's also made me sure that my work was what it was for one very good reason: because that's how I did it. And no one can take that away.

Don't let anyone take your work away from you by making you doubt it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Retablo: Leave Nothing To Chance

7"x12" Watercolor on paper

The second in my marks and signs series.

This scene struck me on a number of levels — the St. Francis statue seemingly guarding the Obama sign, the little collection of rocks, as though each was somehow signifying something (or as an offering) at his feet. The horseshoe. Perhaps the Obama sign is a prayer, or perhaps it's a shield, too. And, despite all these wards and sigils — marks and collected objects designed to have an intangible influence on the tangible — the door is gated with iron bars.

Overall, the tableau is stultifyingly prosaic and ill-composed. But there was so much faith being put out there on display, that I thought it should be painted with a kind of heroic energy. It moves me, that we humans are driven to redirect, reshape or reform their world with each scribble and arrangement of things, sometimes even without rational consideration or consciousness of our desires.