Friday, April 21, 2006

On Artistic Integrity

We're now approaching the Albert Pinkham Ryder School of Infinite Accumulation. The agony is insupportable, which is why I'm blogging instead. The sad thing is that I have the next painting completed in my head; I think it will be fun, I think it will be easy, but I refuse to start painting it until I've solved this one. Piggish of me. I hope this is just a transition, and not The Shape of Things to Come.

Last week, I did my taxes, of course. (Well, maybe not of course--you outlaws know who you are. :-) :-P) It shocked me all over again to see how little paid work I did last year, particularly in the first half of the year. Granted, I was injured, I was shell-shocked, I was writing a business plan, and I was preparing for my first solo show in Manhattan. But the record of my blithe inattention to financial facts was still astonishing, unless you take into account the fact that at the back of my brain, there was a little voice saying "A solo show on Madison avenue--you're bound to sell something."

Or not.

The lesson has been learned--I will never again show my work anywhere unless there is a person with both a vested financial interest in promoting and selling it, and a proven track record in doing so, in charge of the exhibition. A person other than myself, that is. I'm making exceptions for BWAC and studio tours, since I did sell work that way last year, and deadlines are good for me. But Small Works Exhibitions with $40 hanging fees are Right Out; likewise competitions with jurying fees, hanging paintings in people's storefronts so that they can sell coffee and inflict their bad video art on your friends, and schlepping large paintings across town to 'alternative' spaces, such as restaurants and loading docks. It was fun while it lasted, but I can't afford it anymore.

If I've heard it once, I've heard it nine hundred times--"It's good exposure." After a decade and a half of empirical observation, I've come to the conclusion that this is false. Most people are incapable of seeing art unless they are led by the hand to The Place Where The Art Is and told, "This is art. Look closely. It's valuable." It doesn't matter whether the Art is good, bad or indifferent; if it isn't in a museum or gallery, 95% of the people looking at it will see wallpaper.

You get paid for hanging wallpaper.

Now, I don't want to sound crass, bitter and materialistic. Of course I make art for the joy of it; but part of this joy has to do with communication. If there's nobody on the receiving end of this communication, I start to get droopy, not to mention paralyzed with terror about paying next month's bills. This may be part of the reason I've been somewhat blocked in the last few months.

So I've been wondering--how do you keep working with artistic integrity, assuming that a reputable gallery will never be interested in showing you, nobody will pay for what you create, and few people will ever understand what you're communicating? Is there a way? Why not throw down the brushes and go hang wallpaper for a living? Or just blog yourself into oblivion?

The answer seems obvious; make sure that each day is complete unto itself. Get up and bike to the yoga studio. Shower. Fix an awesome breakfast while reading The New Yorker. Book and work on a couple of clients. When the studio beckons, clean it, and put on some very awesome music while the sun streams in the windows.

Most importantly--be honest with myself about what is working and what isn't. Don't quit until the painting satisfies me, because it's not guaranteed to satisfy anybody else. Don't make "small stuff to sell" if I don't feel like working small; don't avoid doing a weird big painting because I don't think anyone will 'get' it.

You'd be surprised at how often the weird one is the first to go, anyway.

8 comments:

dannynonamous said...

There are a million and one reasons to be blocked and i believe if we overcame them, we would find a million more reasons.
I have had to force myself to look at ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that gets in the way of doing/being art as an excuse. And there are really incredible excuses out there for me. But I can't get around the "fact" that the net result of being distracted by my excuses is NO ART. It is extremely easy to put art on the back burner, oh, just for a moment. Extremely difficult to ramp up the momentum to "be there". Perhaps part of the maturing process is making it work. Isn't it fortunate that we have the ability to be "creative"?
I have to keep challenging myself to use that in my "practical " life as well.

jackadandy said...

Whew... Here's hoping and suspecting that in the last few days you've gotten back on the horse and are comfortable again in the saddle, Serena. Dannyn said more than a mouthful here and is so right. The obstacles are unending---maybe the worst one being the crushing reality of no one seeing the work---and what changes is my strength to handle them on any given day. The worst of it always passes, and then I'm back in the studio again.

"Making it work", as dannyn puts it, is a challenge that never goes away. Sometimes I think I've done the right thing with the strategy I've chosen: A minimal part-time job that's both very steady and independent, so that I don't have to eat myself up with anxiety over the bills, and also so that I feel very free in the type of art I make (e.g., don't worry about making "what sells").

But maybe I'm fooling myself and this strategy is just a half-way measure that adds up to nothing but ultimate failure, and I should just take the chance, quit the job, and leap off the cliff.

It's different for everybody, and there's never going to be a single solution that sustains one through one's whole life. I end up playing the margins a lot, "making it work". But I won't give up, I don't give up, because "being art" is being alive, for me. And that extends through everything, including the way I survive and the ways I put the art into the world.

I thank you both for your thoughts here. Not to mention the work you do. I'm completely serious when I say, you help me do my own work.

serena said...

You guys are great.

Yes, JD, I HAVE finally gotten unblocked, knock on wood, which is why the blogs have been languishing. Radical simplicity seems to be the new trajectory--I was confusing myself with too many complications.

I had that steady, part-time, reliable job with insurance for five years, and it worked great until it stopped working. I have to continue re-negotiating with reality.

Both of you help me do my work, too. Communities of peers are the only thing which keeps me from despair.

dannynonamoous said...

Hi JD, Hi S,
One of my favorite things and biggest "ahha.."moments was when I was 25. I had been doing art for 1 1/2 years, got an important show in California, applied for a Guggenheim (I was a little full of myself) and of course got rejected.
The good stuff came. First being pissed; the letter said the Guggenheim grants were rarely given to artists under 35. I mean, talent is talent how how could they be so short sighted about the age thing. Totally ridiculous and disgusting. Then the window opened and fresh air blew in....oh.......
the thought was clear for me...this is not just about talent.
Every Tom Jane and Harry is talented. This fellowship is about talent that survived the onslaught of circumstances and kept going.
It is about being able to remain, and work as an artist through all the stuff both of you are familiar with and not finally give up, get a job and paint on weekends...once a year. I think that realization is still extremely active in my psyche to this date....30 years later....art first....
the difference for me is that in my thinking part of actively making art is also doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, keeping the finances together (allof which I decided to see as a part time job of 40-60 hours a week) and then going to my other part time job (art) for another 40 hours or more. I made this all up as a truth for myself, not that it is actually any more true than anything else we make up and live as a reality. But I guess one could say that that has become part of the dogma of my religion.
I like the sound of that JD. BACK IN MY STUDIO AGAIN.
And yes, what you both said, if you want to get depressed, hang out with depressed and depressing people. If you want to get inspired and work, hang out with actively working people and suck energy and give energy back...mostly by working.
Metaphor...Adam and Eve getting kicked out of eden. The "curse" was by the sweat of your brow you shall earn your bread. The hidden blessing which was the real goal....by the sweat of your brow, you shall earn your bread.
I love that.

Dannynonamous said...

PS Serena, I am glad you are working.

why said...

just stick to massage and writing-don't bother with painting,you're not talented enough to drive yourself crazy over it-sorry,but thats the truth

prettylady said...

Anonymous why--Civility is a prerequisite of being allowed to post on this blog. You have been warned.

bsch said...

Even the the most deeply felt painting may end up as someone's wallpaper. Your effect upon them wasn't the reason you made it. We make the work to fill a need we have. To fill a space that was going unfilled in the world around us. To paraphrase an old teacher, "we paint to have something to look at."
I am always pleased when I get a positive response to my work but the pleasure is moderated by the fact that what the viewer gets from the work is so different from what I see. Communication is always uncertain and visual forms are less certain than most.