Saturday, February 4, 2017

“Defending Yourself as an Artist – Part 2”

Yesterday I started covering this topic about standing up for ourselves for our art. What are the parameters for someone being a professional artist, a real artist? Is it those who have the courage to say they are an artist? Are people only considered an artist if they have been juried into an art association or group? Are real artists only those who have studied for years under another artist or those who have gone to a credited art school? Are real artists only the ones whose work sells? Are real artists those who fit into the traditional art styles? Or is the real artist the one who just bends to the task of their work?

I’ve been asking these questions for years. I question the psychology behind the rules and beliefs because I want to understand. Are rules made to make certain artists more special than others? Is it for a sense of belonging? Is it to exclude some to make those in the group feel more important? 

Art has evolved much over the years and the doors have been blown open, and with technology, almost everyone can be some kind of an artist. Does this threaten the traditional artists? How does a painter feel when someone manipulates a photograph on the computer to print it to look like a painting? Is that real art? Is it deceiving the buyers? Or is it just another form of art? How artistic is it to push a button and have the photo look like a painting or a pencil drawing? (I’m a photographer and I question doing this, but do I have the right to say it isn’t art?)

I can certainly understand the competitive market is inundated with art. I understand that it must be tough for those who have studied for years, done the practices, honed their styles, paid their price, only to find up-and-comers jumping in without going through the years of development. I know what it’s like to work hard on a piece only to have the area so inundated with art work that is just as good that it’s almost impossible to sell unless you have built a following. 

What is it like for the traditional artists to be competing with the newer styles and media? And, if you’re in that field of the untraditional styles, how do you make your mark in the art world? What if your creative passion takes you in another direction? Does that mean you are not an artist?

I’m curious to know what others think. What questions do you have?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Defending Yourself as an Artist – Part 1

(Forgive this long intro; for some reason, I felt the need to include this before I got to the meat and potatoes part.)

I have few memories of art as a child. I remember my mother loved to color with my brother and me. There is a vague recollection of nature coloring books where one page was a color-by-number and the next page was the same picture without numbers. My favorite possession was a box of 64 Crayola Crayons with a built-in sharpener.

My best friend, Gail, and I would make our own paper dolls and design the clothes for them. I remember tracing the form for the clothes to fit the doll and making the tabs to fold over for her to wear. My figures were always plain (in my eyes) and the clothes not very inspiring while Gail’s dolls were beautiful with fashionable clothes (in my eyes). She was two years older than I and played the big sister.

The next thing artsy I remember was a girl in elementary school not allowing me to color in her book because I refused to color the horses white. Sometimes the kids on the playground would make fun of me so bad the teacher would let me stay in for recess. I’d spend the time drawing pictures on the blackboard – usually things of nature such as birds, trees, and flowers. Horses and cats were my favorite animals. Fourth grade and I was drawing the inside of a human body from pictures in an encyclopedia. 

I was still an outcast in high school. I saw the other kids in art class as the better artists. (Looking back now I think it was mostly because I was a loner and I never wanted to do exactly what everyone else was doing – which was kind of the norm at the time.) I didn’t dare say anything. However, I remember one time standing up to the teacher because she only gave me a C on a project that I really liked. Plus, it hurt because I normally got As and Bs in everything. I remember going up to her desk to demand a better grade, but I don’t remember the outcome … I don’t even remember the piece. I only remember feeling humiliated by her tone. I never spoke up again or defended anything I did.

Maybe it was because I didn’t copy others that I was made to feel not good enough. I wish I could remember more. Most of my younger years are a black hole. 

Years passed. I took occasional classes when time and money allowed. The desire for creativity became a driving force, almost a life or death situation. I found a voice through various self-help types of courses and writing, and it was in studying “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron that I finally found the courage to proudly say, “I am an artist.” 

But it was the move to Bradford in 2006, when I took up charcoal landscape drawing that allowed me to devote time to actually be an artist. A friend convinced me to apply to be juried into a local art group and I was accepted in both charcoal landscape drawing and photography. 

It wasn’t just being accepted in a group, but being accepted by other artists. Here there were a variety of different mediums used. Here the artists were not copying each other or doing the same thing, and I loved it. It’s very inspiring to visit other studios and shows. And another thing I discovered was that these artists loved to talk about their work.

I found a common denominator in many stories: Artists have often needed to defend themselves and their art. 

So many aspects come into play and artists are often sensitive, emotional people. There’s that driving force within us that makes us artists, but too many times we face criticism and put downs. Our work is pooh-poohed as a hobby and not considered real work. We’re told to get “real jobs.” Then if we are doing something outside of the norm, that puts even more of a strain on our sensitivities. 

The greater community doesn’t understand art as a driving passion. They don’t see the hours or the emotional ups and downs while creating. We finish our piece only to have critics find fault or we hear time and again how beautiful our work is, but no one makes a purchase.

I know the passion I put into my drawings or even with my photography. I am excited with the finished products and the joy at creating feels like it is oozing out of every pore. That excitement makes me not just show my work, but I want to talk about it; I want others to love it and want to buy it.

So what happens when you’re on an emotional high with a finished piece of art and you don’t get the responses that you would like?

Stay tuned. Nan McCarthy and I have been having wonderful conversations about art. I want to explore this subject further and would welcome any comments and feedback. 

What do you do for art? Are you a traditional artist or do you enjoy exploring and finding your own way?

When have you felt the need to defend your work? 

After reading my story, how has your own story of being an artist gone? Call me or email me.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Two Different Styled Artists

I had another amazing conversation with Nan McCarthy yesterday. It never ceases to amaze me how our styles, techniques, and attitudes towards our work differ, and yet, we can talk art for hours.

One of the biggest reasons we get along so well is that we don’t expect the other to adhere to our personal style. We have great respect for one another and that allows us to support the other in whatever technique she chooses to work. She could never work like me, nor could I work like she does.

Nan is very passionate about her painting. She’s a photorealist and it is of the utmost importance to her to have her painting look exactly like the photograph from which she is working. Her mathematical mind has her taking measurements and she is very precise in the colors she chooses. 

Her lines are crisp, clean, and the paint smooth, and she strives to get minute details to every object in her scene using a size 0 brush. Layer upon layer is put onto the panel in painstaking detail and she’ll spend hours at her table.

Nan is a die-hard photorealist. I, on the other hand, am a Sasha-style impressionist. My style, because of the medium of charcoal and pastel, is loose. The drawings lean towards impressionism, but it’s not an exact. I always strive to put my own spin on things.

I use the photograph as a guideline. I make a token attempt at similarity, but once I start laying the charcoal on the paper, I am willing to allow the drawing to take on a life of its own. (A person familiar with the area could still recognize it.)

Nan has to take breaks to let paint dry between layers. I work in short 10-20 minute bursts. I walk away to allow fresh eyes when I return to the easel. 

It usually takes Nan two weeks to finish a painting. It doesn’t take me as long with the charcoal and pastels, but I have to know when to stop, when it’s enough. I can too easily keep going back to tweak something. I have to be careful because when I over work the drawing, it starts looking muddy.

Viewing perspective is another big difference between Nan’s paintings and my drawings. Nan works in small and miniature. Her favorite size is 7 x 5. I prefer drawing on sizes around 14 x 11. Nan’s paintings are best viewed up close and my drawings look great from a distance of at least 5 feet. 

There may be many differences in our work, but we are both passionate and dedicated to what we do. Sharing our stories with someone provides an understanding witness to the challenges we experience while honing our techniques. We can discuss aspects that only another artist will appreciate. Even though we are very different, we still offer feedback and provide suggestions and sometimes that is what is needed to push us to the next level.  And who else could we talk art with for an hour, but another artist?