Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant - there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing." - Georgia O'Keefe

This first blog of 2015 was prompted by a heartfelt email from an emerging artist in New Orleans. Her questions prompted much thought and desire to share some of my thoughts as a mid-career artist, still struggling myself to find the answers in this uniquely unprescribed career.  I offer these musings from my own humble perspective, just some habits and practices that have become clearly effective and important to me on my own path as an artist. 

Thank you for your questions, MM!

What is a logical first step to get started as a painter? 

Always start with your own work. Spend time in your studio/(corner of the room) EVERYDAY, even if it is only 20 minutes. Can you get to the point where making art is as automatic as eating lunch? Create work that you love and want to be around. When you start to considering exhibiting your work, take realistic stock of where you are in your development - are you ready to put it out to the public? Are you behind it 100% so that even when it gets criticized or ignored, you can still be proud of it? Get to this point before you put it out there, as there is nothing worse than witnessing critical eyes confirm your doubt about your own work, and nothing better than standing confidently unaffected when critical eyes disregard work you know is good and true.  Make sure your work embodies a heartfelt effort, and then boldly start sharing it in a way that feels right. This is different than feeling like your work is perfect or comparing it to others. Do you love it? Is it honest? That's what matters, and that's what will give you the confidence to share your work and continue evolving your artistic language.

Second, explore the art culture where you live. How to other artists share/sell their work? What venues haven't been tapped into where you can envision your work displayed? Is there a place for a pop-up show? Do you have a few artists friends who you can join forces with and put on an exhibition? Just explore the possibilities where you are, and if there aren't good ones for you at this time, find a way to create them. Even if it's inviting friends to your living room for a one night show. You just have to start somewhere! And then you will find your way, find out what your style in the world of art business is. And what keeps you creating the best work you can. Online venues such as Etsy are also a good place to start. The sooner you can get an online presence with a website or shop the better. Make sure you are putting out only high quality images of your work. The way you present your work to the public reflects the respect you have for it. 

What are the most difficult aspects of painting professionally?

Keeping studio time sacred, and your artwork unaffected by the demands of the market. This being said, every artist has the option of finding his or her own relationship with the market, and sometimes it is very satisfying and lucrative to create something you know sells well. I do not believe this is a conflict of interest - it's more of a bracket of questions - 1. Is this work true to my own aesthetic and passion? 2. Is this work marketable? As long as one keeps #1 the most important, keeping an eye on the market will not be soul-sucking. And a no answer to #2 doesn't mean you shouldn't be making that particular work, just be realistic about it being financially lucrative. Keeping studio time sacred is part of the process of prioritizing your own true work over that which is simply easy to sell - spend time each day creating in a way that is focused only on the work at hand, not where it is going to sell or is it time effective. Just dive in without distractions. This gets tough the more one relies on selling art as a primary source of income. 

Another difficulty artists face is that professional success in terms of either creating great work or supporting oneself financially is not a permanent pinnacle that one reaches and rests upon. We have to do it again. And again. And again. The cycle of inspiration, creation, and exhibition, thankfully and painfully, goes on and on. 

What are the best aspects of painting professionally?

I love that having an artistic practice conditions me to being awake and alert to the beauty in the world. The poet Kathleen Raine says of this awareness, "Strangest of all is the ease with which the vision is lost. Consciousness contracts. We forget over and over again until recollection is stirred by some icon of that beauty. Then we remember and wonder why we ever forgot.  For me, the best part of making art  is that every day one is tasked to define and notice beauty. And even better, this is an opportunity available to EVERYONE (which is why I love to teach art).  Sharing my work, which is perhaps what officially merits someone being recognized as an artist, gives me the chance to inspire others to notice what I find beautiful in the world.  Lastly, earning money from doing what I love, which allows me to do more of what I love, is a tremendous gift for which I am very grateful.

What is it like to be part of an artistic community?

For the introverted personality that often accompanies artistic inclinations, it is easy for artists to become isolated in the studio. It is also easy to fall into a defensive, competitive relationship with other artists or the "art world." But over the years since I've been painting full time, and especially since my move to the big town/little city of Boise, Idaho, I have realized the richness that comes with being part of a community of creative people. An artistic vision is something that can never be copied or stolen, only inspired, but sharing. And the market is big enough for us all. For every artist there is a tribe of people to whom his or her work will speak, and the success of each artist in a community The more I come to respect the process of other artists, whose work is may be both very different and similar to mine, the more I respect my own process and value what my work brings others. One more recent step I have taken is to begin purchasing artwork from other artists. Though my budget is small, this commitment to financially investing in other people's work gives me the joy and perspective of a buyer, a recipient of someone else's creative vision. One last thought - a great opportunity a community of artists offers is the working together to create group exhibitions and collaborations, which are not only fun and inspiring, but keep a fresh flow of new art-loving viewers discovering your work. The wider range of artists one can work with, the wider range of potential clients are exposed to your work. 

What do you need to do to have your work shown? 

Foremost, this goes back to the first question. Focus on creating work that is meaningful and beautiful to you. Explore the range of ways artists in your community and beyond share and sell their work and pick or create opportunities that feel suitable for you. Then, make sure you cross your T's and dot your i's. From the perspective of a gallery manager, if an artist delivers a clean product in all aspects of the presentation (digital images, communication, reliability, and of course the work itself), their job is MUCH easier. If it takes much time for you to correctly format your own digital images, how can you expect a gallery owner or art dealer to do so for 40-100 artists?  Provide these people with requested items formatted EXACTLY as they request, whether it seems important to you or not. They have their reasons. Make it as easy as possible for someone to have a professional relationship with your work they will be much more eager to represent you.

What makes artists successful?

See the question above for the nuts and bolts part of this - basically take responsibility of the quality and honesty of your work, and have your act together. But, also, define what success is to you. As my childhood hero Georgia O'Keefe said in the opening quote, "Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant - there is not such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing."(This quote came from a great speech I just read by MacArthur genius award winner Teresita Fernandez, very worth a further look).

In summary - commit to some sort of daily creative practice, keep your eyes open to opportunities where your quirks that ultimately guide your artistic vision can be appreciated and expanded, and then let go of expectations. And then do it again

Unique perspectives - 4 student paintings

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