Saturday, June 16, 2012

No Purpose Necessary

Yeah that book review thing? It's still kind of hanging me up. So rather than put this off any longer, I'm just going to post random thoughts.

I went to a few galleries yesterday. I've been reading Robert Hughes' very excellent "Nothing if not Critical" and it has me wanting to see what's happening in the local art scene. I took my kids to the DMA on Tuesday, which was fun, but maybe not the best opportunity for lingering and pondering, so yesterday I went out on my own.

I've read before that part of the difficulty for artists who are also parents is that quality of being constantly interruptible. When your kids are young enough to need help with food, transportation and supervision, you can't just immerse yourself in your art until you are ready to come out. I found it to be true yesterday as well, even on my own, phone calls came in and pick up times had to be met. My kids think it's a neat trick that I almost always know what time it is within a few minutes plus or minus. It's more like a curse and a necessary evil that comes with motherhood, at least the way I practice it.

What always strikes me when I go see what the "real artists" are doing is evidence of time-on-task. There is a proficiency with materials and confidence in mark-making that doesn't come without lots of hours in the studio. Probably uninterrupted hours, but maybe that's just my mommy fantasy. 

Y'all, this stuff was good. Maybe not all of it was my cup of tea, and not all of it was uniformly good or one as good as another, but these people have been at it for a while. Conduit Gallery's exhibition of Heyd Fontenot: Homosexuals Are Ruining My Life may have made my inner prude uncomfortable, but the quality of line and brush stroke was outstanding. The Jacob el Hanani exhibit at Holly Johnson Gallery is one of those ethereal wonders of infinitesimally tiny writing that I always love. In fact, I've seen another show of this sort of thing at the same gallery before and loved it, too. I can't imagine investing that kind of time or patience into my art at this point in my life. It was gorgeous. Lace curtains and old maps of Paris come to mind.

I was not as thrilled with the Jackie Tileston exhibit at Holly Johnson, but I need to preface that opinion with a solid - but what do I know? It's just that the one little abstract by Joey Brock at Craighead Green was far and away more satisfying in terms of composition and technique. No pastiche here. Also ... wall labels! How hard is that, gallery people??

Joey Brock, "Hooked" 
(disclamier: not the image at Craighead Green, but similar)

I keep hoping that with time and practice, the ideas will come. Almost certainly my technical skills will improve. They have so far because, let's face it, when you've nowhere to go but up, well ... At any rate, I hope to find my voice, as I'm sure most artists do. I wonder where the line is between "mining" for inspiration and ideas, and being derivative. But I might be satisfied with my technique being anywhere close to as good as some of the stuff I see out there. And maybe that will be good enough.
For now ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

Big dreams are very seductive. Not so big as to be completely unattainable, but the kind you can build on and get nicely carried away with.

I had my doubts about starting a blog. It's not like there aren't a million of them already and I'm pretty sure I'm talking to myself out here, so what am I up to, really? Well, self-expression mostly. Humans have been responding to that yearning for connection to the creative force since the very beginning, I suspect. I can talk to myself in the car or I can do it here, and this is frankly more fun.

But I wasn't going to start this journey if I didn't think I had something to contribute, so I made a little outline of what I might like to touch on. And that's when it started to get interesting.

A planned feature here is a series of book and exhibition reviews. Trouble is, I'm a fairly voracious reader (at least by current standards) and just undisciplined enough to be as yet unable to slow down long enough between books to write the darn review. The same is true for the exhibition reviews, although I'm sad to admit that the reading and art-making have distracted me from actually viewing current exhibits. For shame!

So, confessions aside, here's a promise to try and do better in those areas. There's quite a backlog of books to review, so it might take a bit. I'm a card-carrying member of four different libraries here locally and my bedside table looks like a Seussian cityscape made of books. And summer's almost here, bringing the promise of a little more gallery-hopping time in my life.

If there is somebody out there, hopefully being enlightened or at least entertained, I don't want to leave you hanging. Here's to dreaming!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Goin' to the Show

Home Grown, 2012, acrylic, transfer, & charcoal on canvas, 9x12

Gah!!  It’s the deadline to submit work for an upcoming exhibition, my first, and I am frozen in petrified procrastination. I have the entry form filled out, and the waiver of liability. I’ve completed the artwork and even taken a picture, but now I have to put on my geek hat and figure out how to get it into the proper size and format to send. And now I understand why so many calls for entry specify sending images on disk. Adding blank CDs to my shopping list, along with eyelet screws and picture wire, so I can make sure all work is "hang-ready." Guess I’ll need to put on my art-handler’s hat later.

There is a little work to this, but it’s doable. It just has a way of bringing up the old term-paper-due anxiety and I am suddenly much more sympathetic to my 7th-grader’s dilemma of facing down a 30-book minimum reading list, one third complete, and less than three weeks left in the school year. This uses a different brain hemisphere than painting does, and toggling between them is a wee tad uncomfortable.

Also - it’s kinda scary to put my work out there for strangers to judge. Literally, judge. And vote on. Oh god, what have I done? Plus … this is the first painting I’ve made specifically to sell and I feel quite guilty about it. I mean, these things are personal. These are my babies.

OK, breathe. If they hate it, it’s a learning experience, right? Likewise if they love it. Even better if one of the judges has some constructive criticism. Yeah, OK. No problem. And if it doesn’t sell, I have a head start on Christmas presents! I think if it does sell, though, the money will go toward more supplies and entry fees for more art competitions. And I might have to start a therapy fund ...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creativity - Some Thoughts

The weird thing about creativity? It really is like a muscle. It can atrophy from disuse, it can be strengthened, and sometimes a little cross-training or even a break can be good for its development. For many more years than I care to admit, I completely abandoned the fine or visual arts. I didn't make any art of my own, visited no galleries or museums, read no articles. I gave away my large and treasured collection of art history books. That one hurts the most to say.

I can't even explain why I did it, exactly, but I think I had a broken heart. In the all-or-nothing mindset typical of a fairly dramatic 20-something, I hit a particularly high wall of resistance and, tired of choosing between gas and groceries on my museum employee's salary, I quit. I left my beloved MFA,H and my hometown, and got a job at an oil company in Dallas. I sold out. To the suits. I couldn't cut it on my own and I had too much pride to try and find the middle ground. Sigh.

Water under the bridge and all that. Before long I met and married a wonderful, artistic, gainfully employed man and have been busy raising kids with him ever since. But I never went back to art. I felt I had failed. I did other creative things, knitting, sewing, scrapbooking, of course. I have a very wise sister who says I was "exploring other media." But not paint, canvas, paper. When my husband would beg me to make art again, I would tell him it would be an obstacle to having food, clean dishes and laundry on a regular basis. (It has been, by the way.) But the truth is, I was scared. What if there was nothing there anymore. What if there was a whole lot of stuff in my heart and head and stirring it up would be more than I could handle? But all the while I was making excuses, I was painting in my mind. What colors would I mix to make that? What shape mark would show the form of that object? Remember how awesome it is to walk into an art supply store? To buy a canvas? To paint?

Then a little over a year ago I reconnected with an old friend and he asked me if I still painted. Ouch. It was not fun to hear myself say no. I can't explain why, but that conversation was the one that brought me to my senses and away from my excuses. I started to make art again and haven't slowed down yet. And I've been amazed by the speed of the learning curve! I'll never be finished learning and growing, but I have truly loved making nearly everything I've made over the past 12 months or so, primarily because I quit beating myself up for perceived failure and just did something. Some of the books and resources that have helped me in this journey are Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit," Margaret Peot's "Successful Artist's Career Guide", etc,  and Rice Freeman-Zachery's "Creative Time and Space."

I guess the bottom line is, don't assume you aren't creative or that you used to be but it's gone or worst of all that you don't have anything to add. Or that it isn't a necessary piece of the life puzzle. It is. Even if you only do it for yourself.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

About Time

Been thinking about time a lot. This is an eventful year. My youngest moves from elementary to middle school. My oldest officially becomes a teenager, godhelpme. I’m going back to school to finally finish the art degree I started 30 years ago. My own sweet little mommy is inexorably slowing down like a dearly loved heirloom clock. My friend and neighbor has just begun her fight against breast cancer and my thoughts are very much with her and her husband and young son. I turn 50 this year and I can no longer pretend that I don’t notice the years slipping past me and the effect of that erosion on my body. Not that I’m going to give in to it, by any means. But I’m starting to admit to myself that it’s time I cultivated my personality more than my vanity, and that if I’m lucky, really, really lucky, I will be growing old. I feel time simultaneously pressing in on and slipping away from me.

This painting has many layers, starting with some journaling pages that I tore and used as a collage background. I subscribe to the somewhat kooky conviction that I’m merely the facilitator of my paintings and they kind of tell me what they want to be as we’re working together. At one point, the painting wanted a forest fire in it, but I decided that would complicate matters too much. We compromised with some modeling paste and some impressions of gears which then found their way into the collage. We finally settled on the title, “About Time.”    And it is.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Artists' Journals

Artists’ Journals. It’s a concept that confused me at first. I mean … I barely have enough time to work on the projects I’ve started (or want to start), why would I add another to-do to the list? Why not just sketch in a sketchbook and write in a notebook? It didn’t make sense to me.

But … they were so pretty, the examples I saw. And so, mysterious, somehow. Like they were special books of poetry or arcane spells. So I tried it.

I had already started a garden journal after finding a watercolor field notebook on deep discount. I’d been planning to paint more from life, especially plein air, and had been neglecting all media except acrylic. So … a watercolor garden journal.  One night, while trying to make a color chart of my portable watercolor palette, my youngest was driving me nuts wanting whatever materials I touched. I vented my frustration on one of the plain paper pages. The jump to artist’s journal was not too far.

So the gist of an artist’s journal, as I understand it, is that you basically illustrate your topic. Or decorate your writing pages. Or collage your subject. Or something, anything, whatever you want. Actually, this kind of exercise is a good one for someone like me who tends to take it All Too Seriously. It encourages play. Something I could use more of.  It gives me the opportunity to try out ideas in a small format and provides a serendipitous prompt for new ideas. In the past two days, I’ve sketched out background pages of a celtic knot garden and what can only be described as “Mondrian meets Monet.” Two ideas that were nowhere on my radar before this experiment.

In short, it’s kinda fun. I think I will look for more opportunities to journal. And rather than keeping me from my ongoing “real” projects, I find I’m thinking about them even more and making even more time to work on them. Who knew?

(A quick Google search turned up lots of information on Artists’ Journals, but this site is one I found helpful.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Perfect Day

I like to imagine myself more organized and disciplined than I am. Maybe it’s a form of visualization or self-talk, but I like to construct the outline of a perfect day in my head and imagine myself moving through it. So far there have been absolutely no real time manifestations of these “perfect” days, but I’m still hoping. And dreaming.

The perfect art day would start with me bounding out of bed, resentment-free, at 5am to workout, preferably triathlon training. Back home to shower and get the family off to work and school, throw something in the crock-pot for dinner, and head out to the garden with mug of something hot and caffeinated.

Once there, I would putter with the plants and bird feeders, sketch and journal, maybe write a blog post. When my cup became empty and cold, I would head inside to the studio to limber up with some gesture and contour drawings, moving on from there to negative space and symmetry exercises, because symmetry is my biggest weak spot. Then I would spend a couple of hours working through whatever self-guided study tome was currently enthralling me.

By then I would be hungry and ready to  grab a bite of lunch and work on current projects or run errands to get out of the house. Or meet a friend for lunch and check out a gallery or two. If I’m imagining this day as part of my current season of life, I have to run home to meet/pick up kids from school and start the evening routine. If I’m imagining the life of an empty-nester, I teach classes or private lessons in the evening.

Dinner and a glass of wine with my husband, and it’s back to the studio to work on current projects until I’m ready to climb in bed with a good book until lights out.

Yeah, it’s a nice fantasy. Funny how on my one day off, I end up napping most of the day. Just thinking about being that productive makes me tired!