Friday, October 5, 2018

Leaving the Performance, 2018

This piece, entitled 'Leaving the Performance' was finished yesterday!  More to come...I have several ideas that are bugging me and really need to come out on the canvas. I will have a page for new work on the site just as soon as I can.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Power of Color: Conveying Emotion

'Mother's Hour' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 1998
In my view, color is the best--and the most difficult--aspect of making art. Color is such a strange thing, especially when an artist is attempting to convey a mood. Brilliant crimson can be the petal of a soft fragrant rose or the slash of a knife. An indigo blue can signal an ominous storm, or simply be the color of a shadow on a white-hot adobe wall. I guess it always boils down to context when it comes to color. A piano always has the same keys, keys that can be used in certain combinations to play a swinging jazz tune or a Mozart minuet. So much depends on loudness, quietness, the story, style, and pace in the melody, and maybe even whether the piano is located in a bar or a cathedral. I think emotional color in painting is probably a lot like that.


I have learned a lot about color over the years, but not much of it has stuck. I have a background in psychology, and part of my independent studies involved color. I was fascinated with how various hues (red, green, and the like) affect our moods. I even conducted my own experiment, where I had people describe themselves and then select their favorite color, and see if the personality and color choice correlated at all. For example, a person who saw themselves as shy might prefer subtle blues, because supposedly according to psychologists blue conveys a sense of cool quiet and privacy. However, I really didn't get significant results when it came to the people I studied--and it certainly doesn't go that way in art.

Does the painting below, done in pale, shy blues and an almost monotone color scheme seem quiet and peaceful to you?
'Predatory Blues' Cory Jaeger Kenat 1999

In one book I read, I do remember it being said that jail cells are painted in pastel colors because it is reduces aggression. And I do remember other more bizarre claims that stated that orange is a color associated with salesmen (for whatever reason I don't know) and that hot-pink is a color of repressed passion. It was all somewhat interesting, in a sort of 'fortune-telling' type of way, but I can't say that any of it helped my painting.

Artists capture life experience. And life is full of color, overflowing with it, sometimes saturated to the point of madness with it. Even the most neutral scene is filled with grays tinted with whole spectrums of color, pink-grays, green-grays, yellow-grays. Many of us in art school know the lesson where we are assigned to paint something white--such as eggs--and find ourselves using an entire paint palette to create something we think of as 'colorless'.
'Nestled' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2010
 


 And on top of that... not only is there is the boggling range our eyes observe in the outside world, but even more than that are the colors we feel inside, our feelings about what we see and absorb. This kind of complexity simply cannot be broken down into just a few random psychological 'tricks'.

 Truly, it's overcoming this major balance between inner and outer world that creates art, not just making a copy of something intriguing that we see before us. And, unless we are going to work solely in black and white, color and its challenges, are inescapable. 

The pet formulas sometimes taught about emotional color really fall flat so much of the time that they probably should be discarded...or at least left only for interior designers. It's often assumed that bright colors are always 'cheerful'. Does the painting below, loaded with candy-bright colors feel 'happy' to you?
 
'After Monet' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2009


I am reminded of how clowns are supposed to be oh-so-delightful and funny with their painted faces and rainbow-colored attire. And yet, I am certainly not alone in being quite phobic of these fiercely grinning creatures, and arguably Stephen King tapped into that collective fear with the creepy book, "It". So, although color might have a slight effect on how we view artistic expression, it is only an ingredient, but certainly not the whole enchilada. 
 
I have always been an artist interested in exploring uncomfortable emotions of isolation, anger, and repressed secrets.  Some of my paintings have sometimes made people weep, or write me long, personal letters about how they have been affected, so I imagine I must have been doing something right.

Here are a few ways that I use emotions in my work. Color choice seems to follow naturally from that.

1.) Avoid focusing solely on the physical nature of the object or scene you are painting, especially if you aren't painting strictly from your imagination and are painting from concrete objects you are observing. Of course, paying attention to what is front of you is hugely important, but if you want to tap into emotional qualities you also need to have a notion about the mood behind what you are depicting.  Is the mood behind the painting ominous, joyous, calm, furious? How is what you are seeing affecting you?  Even getting a vague idea of this will go far to direct your subconscious in the way you want to go.

'The Night Cafe' Vincent Van Gogh,1888

2.) Be confident about your vision and your process. Only you can make your work. When Van Gogh did the piece at right, entitled 'The Night Cafe', he said that he wanted to depict a place  where 'a man could go mad.' Note how he takes yellow, typically a 'sunny' color, and creates a glaring atmosphere where the light is almost an oppressive force of its own, almost like a noxious gas. I believe he is so successful at this because he believes so much in what he is doing, and this is very, very personal to him.  He really doesn't give a whit that yellow is also the color of perky little daisies.

Picasso created haunting and vaguely disturbing paintings during his Blue and Rose
'Garcon a la Pipe', Pablo Picasso, 1905
period that are done in such gentle colors they might be suitable for a baby's nursery. And yet these paintings register as pretty and sad and just a wee bit nightmare-ish. Use the colors that deeply resonate in your gut. Let the painting tell you what your next step is, and trust that. Pay attention to what is disturbing you about your work, and what is thrilling you...and don't be afraid to ask yourself why.



3.) Focus on the sensuality of the paint, the way it glistens and glides beneath your brush, the way that when two colors come together, magic happens. There are many, many films about artists where inevitably there is a scene of the camera cutting to the artist smearing lusciously passionate strokes on the canvas. Sometimes when I am particularly struggling, I try to envision one of those movie scenes or I'll even sit down and re-watch it. Below is the clip from 'Pollock' that I've probably seen twenty times and every time feel like I'm at the beginning of a rock concert. Other movies like 'Basquiat' and 'Great Expectations' (the Ethan Hawke version)  are wonderful for this, also. Note how these artists are dive-bombing into spontaneity, pushing their emotions and subconscious to direct them. I know that modern art is certainly not to everyone's taste; I think that this same process can be gleaned from movies like 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' about Michelangelo, and 'Lust for Life' about Vincent Van Gogh.


4.) Music--find some that touches your heart with a pleasure that is so keen it almost feels like pain.  It will make your brush strokes dance.

I would be interested to hear about how you handle emotions and color in your work. Fear not, the subject of color is a huge one, and there will be more posts on it in the future.








Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Stuck in the Middle

The painting above is not finished. It's in a place that I stumble on regularly and dread every time. This place is called THE MIDDLE, and it's that wasteland of working that seems to stretch forever between those first daring streaks on fresh canvas and that final triumphant stroke on a glowing painting that says 'done'.   The work looks nothing like I had in my head when I began, and I'm not sure where in the world it wants to go now. I wish this place wasn't so darned familiar, and that by now, after hundreds of paintings, there would be an easy solution, but there certainly is not.

I suppose this is part and parcel of desiring to create things from my own stream of consciousness. I am dazzled by the technical ability of realist painters who focus on the external world around them, and with such precision and heart replicate what they see. However, even though there are fairly realistic studies on my website, I have always been primarily pulled into the shadowy world of painting what is behind my eyeballs rather than in front of them. And this process demands a certain kind of letting go, of letting a work emerge on its own, independent of my conscious plans.

And so, in choosing to paint this way, it often happens that I start out with a blazing idea, sometimes fully-formed in my head. It seems, at the time, to be an idea that is gloriously singing, so easy to execute, that all I need to do is take dictation with the brush, and bam! it's done. It also seems like it is going to be the best idea I have EVER come up with. I suppose this kind of overblown optimism is crucial in order to create, much like Charlie Brown yet again contemplating kicking Lucy's football. And after charging full-steam into the work, suddenly all the pink clouds dissipate and yet again I am left, sprawled and bruised on the grass. As Dr. Eric Maisel mildly states in his book, "Fearless Creating", it's a 'time when the work is mysteriously drained of merit.' It's a time I refer to as  'the ugly duckling phase', and even though it is a hard, humbling lesson to be reminded again how clumsy my work can be, it is also a time to know that the only way out of this place is to keep on working, to keep on facing what is in front of me.    

Even though this place is always difficult, I have adopted a few major, unchangeable rules along the way.

First of all, there are two major errors I believe an artist can make while in THE MIDDLE. First of all, she can decide that the work is irredeemable, and discard it. However, if she does this, she will cheat herself out of some of the most intense triumphant creativity she can experience. She won't know what it is like to solve the dilemma in front of her, to triumph over it and make it work. She will deny the power of her subconscious, and instead, walk over to the side of the track just before hitting the finish line. One of my art professors used to say that a painting you want to throw away is at the PERFECT place to work, because you no longer have any inhibitions of perfection holding you back.  It's been 'broken in', so to speak, like a good pair of shoes, and now it's comfortable to do anything with, without worrying about screwing it up.

If you simply cannot stand to see the work another minute, stash it away in a dark corner someplace, where you no longer can see it. Take it out some time later, when you think you can bear to look at it again, and see if some new glimmers emerge. Even just tinkering with some details that you are certain about, such as refining colors and shadows,  will keep you working physically on the piece, but also keep your inner mind open to possibilities. I have often heard it said that in order to work, one must work...in other words, these things can't be solved just by imagining or wishing them away. I am really wondering about the figures in the background, what their purpose is, but right now, I plan to work on the flowers in the foreground, and also refine the castle burning on the movie screen. Those are elements I am certain about, and I hope they will serve as a bridge to get me to the far right hand corner, where the confusion is.

With that point being said, another strategy is to just intently study the piece, examining it closely in all its unfinished, muddled glory.  This kind of mental work can look like you are just sitting for hours in your studio doing nothing, when actually you are working very hard. Dr. Eric Maisel, in the book mentioned above, calls this 'hushing and holding', the idea of imagining all sorts of ideas for your artwork. It surprisingly takes a great deal of energy, but I have found that some of my best a-ha moments come when doing a manual chore like washing the dishes, or going for a long walk. My studio has always been in my living room, and thus, most of the time, I have become desensitized to the growing pains of my work, and it is advantageous because I naturally have it in my face all the time. I try to pause and look at the work as if I didn't create it. I ask myself what it is trying to say, and it helps to think someone else made it so I can embrace its 'strangeness.' This is also a time to be very, very aware of your self-talk, and to constantly remind yourself that this is something that is still unfolding and developing.


The second mistake an artist in THE MIDDLE can make is to think that because she doesn't know what else to do with it, it must be finished. I have made this mistake countless times in my art career, I think mainly because my work takes so darned long, sometimes I just get tired of it. It never pays, however, to just decide a work is 'done', just because it has temporarily worn you out. I want everything that comes out of my studio to be the very utmost I could do at that time in my life. And so, now my criteria is that the painting must stir up a powerful feeling of completion and gratitude in me. It is finished when I want to look at it and look at it and look at it some more, not in a critical way, but in a way of drinking it in. I have to feel at peace with the work, and even when I think these criteria have been met, I wait a day or so and see if I feel the same way. If I still do, the piece is officially completed and it's time to move on. 

Art isn't easy; that's why lives have been dedicated to producing it. Be gentle on yourselves, and trust that the artwork got you this far, it will see you to the end, if you will let it. I'll keep you posted on this piece, once I have finally made it to the end.



  





Friday, July 13, 2018

A Discussion of a Painting--"Expulsion from Eden"

Expulsion from Eden, acrylic on canvas 16"x 20"
When showing one's art--something I liken to walking down Broadway without a stitch of clothes on--there is going to be almost any kind of reaction imaginable. Some folks shrug their shoulders at my work, uninterested, while others, seeming to feel vaguely uncomfortable and at a loss for words tell me tactfully that 'I have quite the imagination'. Some say it is 'nice', the comment I truly detest the most, and others get huffy and offended, which really doesn't bother me at all.

But there are others, the ones who stand only an inch away, sometimes with a pensive finger tracing details as they gaze, these are the beloved ones who make my heart flutter. In fact, one of the best compliments I've ever received is that viewing my paintings is like reading a rather complicated book. THAT is exactly what I hope to achieve, and when this effect resonates with others, the painting is successful.  

My paintings seem to take mini-lifetimes because I am working hard to communicate a rather precise narrative using imprecise things like visual symbols and objects. I really am trying to tell a story, work out something in my subconscious, and also share a point of view silmultaneously, but hopefully do it in such a way that the viewer doesn't know I'm saying anything at all.

Recently, I've been reorganizing my inventory, and when I came across this piece it occurred to me that it would be fun to break it down, to reveal to you exactly what was in my head at the time it was created. If this exercise takes away mystery and depth, please let me know...I can only hope that it actually adds more questions than it answers, and that my interpretations might just make yours all the more intriguing. Often viewpoints are shared with me that I never actually thought at the time of the creation of the work, but hit me between the eyes with new revelations. Art is personal, after all, to the creator, and also--to the viewer. 

A list of the elements 
 

The suburban houses. I started this piece wanting to portray the kind of neighborhood in which I grew up. The tract houses were fresh and new and their blooming pastel colors were emblematic of the optimistic times in which they were built. In my hometown, we are partially surrounded by mountains, and I wanted to portray that dizzy, delightful feeling of looking down at dollhouse streets in miniature from a lofty place. How orderly, manicured and civilized it all seemed back then.

The little girl. The girl represents myself, mostly because my paintings are unabashedly autobiographical.  She has a 'banana seat' bicycle with a flowered plastic basket, right out of 'The Brady Bunch'. (In real life, my basket always held my treasured doll, Wendy. Yes, there once was a time that little girls played with dolls and played with them for many years.) This child is free in the way that we were back then; she is a child who has never heard of a play date, a child who is completely unsheltered and yet somehow more innocent than kids are today.

The jewelry box. This is a replica of one I begged Santa for one Christmas. In the real one, a tiny ballerina went round and round, dancing to the sweet little pings of a lullabye. In the painting, this little figure has been replaced by the 'nuclear family', two parents and two children. To me, there is so much in this section. A question of whether the nuclear family was a good or bad thing, or only a myth. But also, most importantly, the concept that the family, the most powerful and primary building block of society has been trivialized, reduced to a minute toy tucked inside a child's plaything.

The butterfly.This is meant to be a part of a collection, pinned down with yellow stick-pins, an allusion to something beautiful and free that now is stiff and dead.  A symbol that points to so many things, our society, the way our children are being raised, our desire to achieve happiness by accumulation of objects--so many things.

The black and white TV screen. While on the subject of ideals and death, this scene portrays the kind of hometown parades I knew as a child, and the patriotism that went with them. I wanted to show how strong we felt back then, and how clear our vision was about ourselves as a nation, and how faded and obscured that is today. There are many, many ways to interpret this aspect of the work, but I see sadness in the way that the world is now so complex, and so adrift from any sort of collective, bedrock truth or principle.

The birthday cake and the woodcut. The birthday cake is reminiscent of the big, fluffy cakes my mother would bake when we were kids. How many of us growing up with Baby Boomer parents have pictures or grainy film footage of us sitting in a high chair, digging our little fingers and faces into such a cake...minus candles, of course? This is again another allusion to innocence, and also perhaps a taste of hope. It is juxtaposed next to a roughly translated copy of a medieval drawing of Adam and Eve forced from the garden of Eden. The sugary sweetness of innocence is right next to the bitterness of our consequences.

The orange shooting target. For months, I labored on this piece, feeling like I was just wandering through a disjointed  mess. The range target symbol that was my true Eureka moment. This was how I could emphatically state that not only were all these treasured qualities fading away into sad memory, they were in danger of being stomped out of our consciousness forever. I also was thrilled by the double meaning of the target symbol, it's provocative and complicated nature. Not only does it point out danger, but it also could be seen as a laying down of the gauntlet, protecting something which it is worth risking life and limb.

I believe this piece took almost half a year to complete. I have a strange compulsion to drive myself crazy with difficulty, and I knew I was dealing with all sorts of crazy challenges compositionally--the diagonal line of the little girl's arm, always the difficulty of hands and fingers, but for a dyslexic like myself, attempting a vanishing point was quite the feat. There was so much I wanted to say, all without screaming it from the rooftops.

It is up to you to decide what you think of it, but I still think it says what I wanted it to say.



 


Monday, June 11, 2018

Chasing the Dream, until the Dream Caught Me



It was all such a whirlwind. One day I was a starry-eyed art student, working on my psychology degree with an art minor, all prepared to become an art therapist. I saved my art classes--like dessert--for the last of my college years, and was completely unprepared for how that first soaring line across the paper would change me. I began to squeeze fifteen minutes here and there to make art in a crowded over-achiever schedule where at times I was interning, working as a teaching assistant, and laboring on independent study projects--seemingly simultaneously.
working at a domestic violence shelter

my first solo art show, at a furniture store
To top it all off, my artistic attempts were getting attention even when I was still in school. I won first and second place in a collegiate poetry competition, and my paintings were garnering praise from my teachers and awards in student shows. I took careful notes on marketing and was researching artist buy-sell contracts while many of my fellow art students were playing hacky-sack in the quad. I did my first paid commission for another student in the midst of studying for finals and participated in a group show with super-talented artist friends that garnered front-page publicity. Within a few months of graduating with only an art minor, a local and prestigious gallery in my hometown offered representation. The work began to sell, prices began to go up, and I had the bizarre experience of having my work hanging publicly next to the work of admired mentors.
 

Two solo shows and the resulting publicity resulted in two more galleries in the state asking for my work. I quickly learned the art of packing and shipping. The phone rang with offers; I was being asked for interviews and asked to teach free-lance classes for adults and children. A significant grant from a funding organization in New York City came my way and paid for the burgeoning framing costs, because although my large paintings were commanding around $1,000, framing and sales commissions were keeping me poor, and constantly striving to stay afloat with new opportunities.  Paintings went to Switzerland, Australia, and Canada. There was even an all expense paid trip to Chicago for a one-woman show. One particularly vivid moment I remember was standing in my living room/studio gazing at a large powerful work that had just been finished, while on the phone with my gallery director, who was saying she had run out of my paintings and needed more as soon as possible. That was the moment that I thought I had truly 'made it'--whatever that is.



 I was barely out of my twenties.



I can imagine that I might sound like I'm bragging or gloating over my supposed success. I can also imagine that stories like this can provide inspiration--or provoke envy. But I tell you this only because in the end, this path is nothing to emulate. In fact, it almost killed off my creative ability--and yes, it almost killed me.

There is a reason why so many child stars wind up as freakishly troubled adults, doing designer drugs, crashing their cars and posing for mug-shots. No, I didn't go that far off the deep end. But within a year or so of all this success I hurled myself at top speed into a psychological wall that I had no idea was coming, and the impact on my psyche was as mangled as James Dean's wrecked Porche Spyder.


So many of us artists imagine the heady experience of the solo show, where all eyes are upon you and the champagne glasses are lifted in tribute to your work. Others imagine their visions mounted in gold frames on stately museum walls. Others imagine wearing ripped jeans and making sweeping billboard works in echoing enormous studios while others, like me, just imagine the warm thrill of steady, ongoing income. No one wants to admit it, but these kind of fantasies permeate the air in college art studios every bit as much as the smell of oil paint.

The problem with our quest to sell art is that so often it interferes with the very spirit that we are given to make it. That spirit is child-like, inventive, fragile, and brimming with an energy that is much like joy even when it hurts. For a little while, it can tolerate being told that it must make the same type of art that was such a sensation at last year's showings. For a little while, it can be told that the color palette has to be in earth tones rather than crimson in order to better match the furniture. For a little while, it can be told to sit politely in the niche others have placed it in, and not explore other avenues, other kinds of thought. For a little while, it can even tolerate the mind-splitting dichotomy of making something fresh--and yet the same. 

But this is only for a little while for some of us. Yes, there are some artists who manage to stay the course and somehow resolve this dilemma. But I was not one of them. 

 I had been pigeon-holed, ironically, as a rebellious, deeply vulnerable feminist artist. But I knew my art was being misinterpreted, and I also knew that I wanted to be truly shocking in today's art world and actually make some work that was, well, not shocking at all. I wanted to learn more technique, study more, and actually make some work that didn't demand a chunk of my heart and airing out my dirty laundry. I wanted to experiment and yet learn more of the fundamentals of drawing, of shadow and light. I wanted to get back to why I loved it sitting in front of an easel in the first place.

The art business/gallery world taught me many toxic lessons. The primary one was that art is only valuable if it is saleable. The lofty notion of art for art's sake is thrown out the window when there are electric bills and salaries to pay. The art biz loudly expounds on taking risks and being daring, but underneath it all you know you better make the stuff quick, and make it something 'popular.'

And conversely, if it doesn't have these qualities--the art business decrees it worthless. It is entirely possible to be hailed a genius one minute, and have your name forgotten the next. It's not a far step in this line of reasoning to think that 1.) if the work isn't saleable, 2.) and thus it is worthless, 3.)perhaps the artist is--as well. I don't have any proof of this, but I strongly believe this is the kind of thing that brings about the tragic image of the drugging, philandering, suicidal 'has-been' artist.

This art system is so impressed and compelled by big figures because, after all, it is a business.  Completely understandable. But to believe that a business should be the sole gatekeeper for our deepest human expressions has lead to a notoriously terrible record of blindness towards the truly meaningful and sublime. Remember that Vincent Van Gogh spent his entire life rejected by this system, with his nose pressed up to the glass, yearning to join a group of celebrities that we now know were just a blip in history.

No, I'm not saying that it is wrong to pursue gallery representation. It's quite okay to sell your work, but selling your worth is quite another matter. 

 What I am strongly saying that your art-making talent is something that comes from your heart; it is a precious, precious gift that I believe comes directly from the ultimate Creator. You didn't earn this; you were gifted it. It is as elusive, glorious, and tender as a butterfly's wing. 
Remember that. 














 

















 

 








Friday, May 4, 2018

A Day Trip or a Journey

'Colored Pencils'  Cory Jaeger-Kenat
  It is often said in beginning art classes that students should make piles of artworks. Some instructors ask that their students pledge to create multiple studies a week, the more the better. In the book, "Art and Fear", authors David Bayle and Ted Orland observe that students who make a greater quantity of art tend to make better art than those who labor over a few select pieces.

I agree with this, up to a point. Right now, I have four pieces in the works, all different genres that interest me. Every artist has their own process, their own speed, and I am right where I like to be.




Apples and Cups, Cory Jaeger-Kenat
Being able to whip out a variety of canvases can keep the artistic child inside me playful and fresh. Not worrying so much about creating a finished, polished work really takes the pressure off, and can help me to access motor memory in my hands and vision.  The study is all about flash and play, spontaneity and a quick unattached result.  There are artists in the 'Painting a Day' movement that are so adept at this style of quick painting that they do indeed make us see the world with whole new eyes. I am not saying studies are less than completed paintings, or vice versa.
Dance of Joy, Cory Jaeger-Kenat
A fitting metaphor for these kind of pieces are that they are a day trip out of town. This approach is much like hopping in the car with a picnic basket, seeing where the road will take you, and winding up back at home by sunset.


But sometimes an artist decides to embark on another kind of conceptual quest. This is a journey to a distant land, where you might stay for months without knowing the language. You will have to adjust yourself to the customs in this territory, and you may have times when you have fallen madly in love with the sweeping vistas, and other times when you are desperate to stow away on the nearest ship for home, but there is no turning back.

The sketch, the study, the bit of dabbled experiment suddenly becomes worthy of investing--and even risking--a bit of your life upon. It becomes a work. The study grabs the artist; there will be an idea that wraps itself around the artist's soul, and then it becomes do or die. And this is when it could take months, and sometimes, even years, of obsessive effort and yes, love. It requires commitment, a willingness to put aside your plans of what you thought the work would be, a willingness to let it grow and develop itself.  For example,the painting below, entitled 'Naomi's Prayer' took over two years to complete, because there were so many different forms it took in process...something I will elaborate on in another post. Essentially, I painted four different complete works--all on the same canvas, before I settled on what you see below.

"It as if a crowd has to walk through the damn painting and shift around before I can lock any parts into place. " Robert Birmelin


Naomi's Prayer, Cory Jaeger-Kenat
This is when the adage that no great thing is created suddenly becomes your life-line. Unlike other artists, I do not believe you can over-work a painting. Yes, there is a point where a painting has been completed, but it is always--in my view-- after a long and thoughtful process, built on mistakes and change, change undergone in the work, and change undergone in the artist.  The artist has crossed an invisible line into a more sublime sphere, a place where years can be dedicated to multiple ideas in one artwork, where layer upon layer of pigment will be painted and painted over, where shining new insights will be found just when it feels like its time to give up.

There is no art which has not had its beginnings in things full of errors. Nothing is at the same time both new and perfect. (Leon Battista Alberti)  

A painting is only done after an inner journey has been completed. It is when you sit back and know it is finished...there is absolutely nothing left you can do to this work...you look at it and marvel a little bit that this creation has been added to the world.

interviewer: How do you know when you're finished with a painting?
Jackson Pollock: How do you know when you're finished making love?

"The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through." Jackson Pollock

It is said that Leonardo da Vinci never felt truly satisfied with the Mona Lisa. I can only imagine how obsessed da Vinci must have been, a man so captivated by one lady's enigmatic smile, that it drove him to create a single small portrait that defines the very epitome of painting. The jewel of the Louvre, and he still didn't think it was done.
from Reader's Digest, CA.
So, whether your next artistic endeavor is a quick jaunt to the local Farmer's Market on a sunny day, or six months scaling the heights of Kilimanjaro, plunge in...knowing that all trips, both great and small are a worthwhile adventure. 







Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Different Reason to Make an Art Portfolio

At the risk of sounding like the little old lady talking about walking miles in the snow to school, I am going to share with you a bit of what it was like to be an artist in the 'golden era' of the 1990s. It flat-out flabbergasts me to think how much has changed in just a few decades; in fact, I do not think I exaggerate when I state that the art world is unrecognizable to what I knew back then, young whippersnapper.

Of course, the primary difference is the advance of computer technology. The 1990s were before digital cameras, before smart-phones, and the internet was mostly for computer-science majors. That meant that art works had to be photographed and converted into slides for gallery directors to pop into a slide projector and view. That meant that you needed photographic lights, a good camera, film, and you would have to drop that film off at a place that would develop it. You kept your fingers crossed the whole time praying that the slides would come out well, because it was impossible to know until after they were developed. More than once, I brought home an entire role of dark, blurry slides--this was not uncommon, and I still had to pay for them.



Not only that, but your cover letter, artist statement, resume, and brief biography all had to be typed on a type-writer on paper. This was the time of eraser ribbons and the intoxicating scent of white-out. If you were one of those cutting-edge folks, you might have a word processor, a gadget that was a glorified
state of the art word processor
typewriter-computer-wannabe. The cost of postage for sending out these bundles, that consisted of all this paper (of course everything was only printed on one side), slide sheets, some sort of note-binder and a manila envelope with return postage, was a small king's ransom. Put it this way, I spent almost as much trying to promote my work as I did framing my paintings, and I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars framing my work. I kid you not when I say that we ate bargain basement macaroni and cheese for many a dinner, just to get my art some exposure. Add to this the fact that almost every persnickety art director demanded that slides be labelled precisely to his or her specifications, and well, that meant that not only was I throwing bags of money at these things, I was also spending hours in the depths of tedium hand-writing inch-long labels that had to be exactly just so.  You expected to wait months for a response, and often, it was touch-and-go whether your materials would be returned. A rejection letter hit so hard back then, because it not only was a rejection of one's work, it was the evidence that so much time, late-nights, and resources had just gone gurgling down the drain.

For some years, I was working so hard on portfolios that I decided what the heck, I might as well see if I could make this a business in itself. Italics, which is still the name of my formal URL address for Loud Colors Studio, was born because I realized that I wasn't the only one struggling with writing all of these materials and putting together these infernal packets. And I felt that I must have figured something out along the way, since all of my toil in the salt-mines of promotion had led to steady representation in three regional galleries, and show acceptances around the nation. I greatly enjoyed helping clients reach their goals, and the earnings were nice, but it would take some sort of SuperArtist to balance all of these demands with my own studio work, and well, I found out I wasn't that super.

It's so different today. I have been out of the conventional art world for many years now--by my own choice. But one of the last formal museum shows I participated in was arranged with one email and a couple of attached jpegs. It quite literally took minutes, and I didn't spend a dime. Artists now exhibit their art on their own websites, snap dazzling images of their work on digital cameras, and are able to send pictures of their latest creations to everyone on their mailing list with a click of a button.

Ironically enough, a portfolio is much more important to me now than it was in those heavy-duty 'marketing' years. Now, I'm thinking in terms of keeping records of my work, of somehow preserving images of all of my pieces in an easily handled format. Many of them have sold over the years and I want some way to remember them, as well. It kind of saddens me a bit, that we are not taught this principle in our art classes. A portfolio has so much anxiety swirling around it; we are taught that it is a vehicle to impress others, but we don't stop and ask ourselves if we could also use it as a record, a history of where we are now, and how far we have come.  We don't think of it as a diary, a gift to ourselves.

It took me nearly a decade to get my website at www.italics.us where it is now. Most of the time spent was in learning how to actually write webcode; I wanted to know every aspect of how to run my site, and I completely geeked out. I love computer languages, but I must admit I have to study hard--they do not come naturally. But another huge chunk of time was taken because I kept completely building the site only to completely tear it down and redo it again from the ground up. Improvement is a good thing, but I was thinking too much about impressing that invisible critic 'out there', that ghost from galleries past. I was too self-conscious, and no actor is really any good if he can't forget his audience. It wasn't until I decided to think of this website as a legacy, as a statement of what I valued and what I achieved---that things finally started to come together in a lasting, satisfying way.

I am considering some possibilities in showing my work 'out there' again someday, but I know that I if I decide to go through with those ideas, I will never consider my portfolio in quite the same way. Maybe it's because I am an older lady who's grown a bit cantankerous, but I don't think my portfolio will ever again be a vehicle to get some art director to please, please, please like me or my work. It will never be put together in that spirit again. The days of twisting myself into a pretzel, hoping to get outside approval are over. It doesn't mean that I intend to be all arrogant and 'all that', expecting them to just fall all over themselves because I have asked them to view my work. No, it's more that I just want to use my portfolio as a straight-forward tool that says, "This is who I am. This is what I stand for. Maybe you'll resonate with it; maybe you won't. Thank you for looking." I plan to use this amazing technology to categorize, depict, and explain my work, to continue to expand out into a larger audience, if that is possible. There are scary consequences, however, to having everything just in a digital format, and I am also thinking that I will build something from really good quality photographs, and yes--more paper. My portfolio is something I hope will outlast me long after I am gone.

I guess what I am saying, is honor yourself as an artist. Honor your history, your future, the self that is you that is a creator. Yes, if it is a marketing tool that you are going to send around to venues, a portfolio should be somewhat edited and probably just include samples of your best work. And a smaller, more portable version can be created for that purpose. But a portfolio can also be enlarged, using a website, for example, to be more of an archive, an autobiography of your process. Make your portfolio for you, in the long run.

I love to follow Stefan Baumann on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo1OiRSBW4drYnsakd68uig.  Although we differ radically in our aesthetic passions and even some of our views, he is a fabulous art instructor and working artist, who knows how to address the heart of an artist. One thing he frequently says is that when an artist passes away, it is not the china or the jewelry that the kids fight over. No, suddenly family who had not real interest or understanding in what the artist was doing, desperately want one of their artworks. They even fight over them. They want them because the art is ultimately the most unique expression from that person. Suddenly they recognize the artwork's intrinsic personal value--value and meaning that go far beyond fame or fortune.

 A portfolio is a symbol of a life well and deeply lived.  Treat it--and yourself--with a vision that extends far beyond the next 'call for artists'.