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.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Looky, looky!

Danny gave me a sculpture!

He said I could "destroy it." Hmph. As if. There is a significant danger of its becoming a cat toy, but I found a nice high, inaccessible shelf for it. What a great present!

Working conditions

At this point, the Impossible Painting is getting to a place where there is so much paint piled on top of paint that the whole thing is in danger of falling off in great chunks, like an Anselm Kieffer.

This doesn't bother me at all, at the moment. I was thinking of doing a painting like this already; it just saves me the bother of having to get a new canvas.

Danny is coming for a studio visit this afternoon, which is something to look forward to. My ideal working conditions have always involved knowing that someone on the other side of the wall is working their butt off, just like me; every two or four hours we can break off, have an intense discussion about a random topic, then go back to work. This is why I didn't seem to need much sleep in art school. I don't isolate well.

However, solitude has its benefits when you are seized with a sudden need to play an obnoxious piece of music on a repeat loop for a couple of hours. It's a good thing that my downstairs neighbors are 9-to-5-ers, or I'd undoubtedly be alienating them with my sudden obsession with the one punk rock album I've acquired since 1995. I dunno, something about it just pressed my buzzer. Also I've broken out PJ Harvey's 'To Bring You My Love' for the first time since 2001. Pounding bass, crashing drums, and bad-ass women screaming things like "They love you, they want you, WHEN YOU FALL DOWN" feel oddly grounding and energizing just now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dandy kicks me in the butt...

and I am grateful.

I do think I have finally managed to crack the monster painting, after turning it sideways and having a revelation about the direction the background color needed to take. It still needs work, but I can now look at it without turning away in shame and despair. You don't get to see it till I'm done, though.

"What shall I do without you?", ink on paper, 2002

But the truth is both that I have acknowleged that I am still in a stage of creative gestation, and that I have been working my butt off for MONEY during the last week and a half. Which is tedious but at this point, seriously necessary.

Also, I am undergoing a shift of mood and consciousness, in a springlike direction.

"your eyes have their silence," ink on paper, 2002

I actually started more of those little erotic drawings that Steve the Poet likes so much, which I stopped doing completely at the end of 2002. I am shocked by how rusty the new ones are, but encouraged by the fact that I'm in the mood to do them at all.

All those 'plans' I made for the paintings I was going to do this year, last year, don't seem to make any sense anymore. The fact is that I am a different person this year, and I'm not entirely sure who that person is. The fact is that last year, I was a walking scab. Even the paintings I did then, some of them, look like scabs.

This year, every day I wake up and think, "man, I'm waking up. What I mess I was last year." Still, most of the time, I'm not present or aware. But I'm more aware of how much I'm not aware, which is a start.

Yesterday, after the snowstorm melted (!) I wandered into Manhattan, knowing that I would most likely have a hell of a day today (four clients; could have been six, if there had been enough hours and enough stamina) and just Was. Went to the Strand and snagged the first two books of Neal Stephenson's "Baroque" trilogy, which I am seriously behind on reading, and Kenzaburo Oe's "Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age" which looks dark but gripping. It's been ten years since I last read Oe and I think it's about time. Then I went and tried to spend my Gap gift certificate (this season's clothes are impossibly bland, but they have finally gotten around to making jeans that fit my figure), had dinner at Dojo, and bopped around the East Village, looking for something to either take me out of myself or put me back in. Did not succeed as such, but the moon was out, and I clocked some mileage.

Was going to write a contemplative post about the love I have for my clients, but after four of them today I am too drained to do anything but surf and sleep. God bless.