Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Showing Our Work

'Insider Trading on the Artroom Floor, Cory Jaeger Kenat, 1999
Art--made in the twilight of the subconscious--is always destined to be exposed to the noonday glare of the callous crowd. In whatever form it takes, art is made to be expressed, to be shown, shared, and commented upon. It is a harsh fact that can drive many an artist into 'Sunday painting' hermit-hood, where paintings are made only to be stacked and hidden away in the garage. But no matter our shyness, the work will be revealed and examined--if only in the far future by those close to us.
'The Secret Garden', Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2001

I've done my fair share of hiding my work, and I wonder if you have, too. As a child, whenever footsteps would approach, I would hastily shove my drawings under the bed. My parents had praised me highly when I was drawing frilly figures of sweet sunbonneted little girls, and as I grew into more realistic imagery, they disapproved.

Many artists learn acceptance of their art in their elementary school classrooms. Kids celebrate and enjoy art, and admire those they think do it well. The designated 'class artist' is a real thing for them. Our notebook doodles and tentative sketches are fawned over by teachers and schoolmates, and often this is the first inkling we might have that we are 'artistic'. Showing our work in this environment is a giddy pleasure, and can really give us 'big fish in a small pond' syndrome.

'Escape or Embrace?' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2000
We need the support of that little soft cocoon--for once we hit college, abruptly, without warning, we hit the concrete. We are now in a room full of people who also have been told they are big fish. No one can skewer another artist quite like one of his peers, no one can spot more keenly where the critiqued work is lazy or clumsy. And no can give support quite like another student artist, because no student artist will tell you it's good unless they really mean it. From the rocky road of art critiques, fledgling artists then climb into the jungle of public receptions, rejection letters, and the merciless commentaries of gallery directors.

So, I think the stereotype of the 'prima donna', hysterically fragile artist is pretty much left to books and movies. Typically, after being in the art world for awhile, it's second nature for opinions to roll off your back. But just because you're tough doesn't mean the arrows don't stop coming.

'The Bright Pink Cup' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2012
Art naturally evokes a range of emotions, anything from shock, delight, dislike, awe, or even jealousy.  Often viewers are intimidated by the gallery atmosphere and think they must say something 'profound'. These comments tend to fall flat, coming out artificial or even silly. They think they might say the 'wrong' thing, when all the artist wants, I believe, is an honest, natural reaction. I think that there are some viewers who think that an artist will crumble if they say something critical, so they pat them on the head with a neutral 'that's nice' or 'gee, what an imagination.' I wish that viewers would understand that it is completely okay to tell an artist that they don't like the work, or they don't understand it. It's also okay for viewers to express what they see in the work, even it is contrary to what the artist intended to portray. I have been asked many questions about my paintings over the years, and I always appreciate them, even the difficult, most snarky ones. Questions have often been the catalyst for an art sale. A question, by it's very nature, implies some sort of interest, and it opens up a dialogue. But it's also okay, and I can't stress this enough, for there to be an apathetic response to the work. The work did not move that viewer. So what.

'Painter's Block' Cory Jaeger Kenat, 2012
Even though art's very nature is one of visibility, that doesn't mean that the artist creates work for the viewer. Our art always remains our own, no matter what others may think of it. Commentary can be something that we can choose to learn from or it can just be background noise. Actors and writers often go by the old maxim, "Never read your reviews." And although it is nearly impossible to avoid the interpersonal 'reviews' happening every moment during an art show, it is quite possible to put them in a proper perspective. It is indeed possible to take what is useful from them, and discard the rest.

I will conclude with a quote from Dr. Eric Maisel, from his book, "The Van Gogh Blues". This is a book that probably every artist should have in their library.
 "Your job is to live in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself, to live that way today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. If that means creating flower paintings, researching the Crusades, launching guerilla theater, or playing ancient music from your native land, that is what you will do. If you can truthfully say, "I am proud of the work I am trying to do", and "I am proud of the person I am trying to be", you are on the right path. If you can't, you must change."

So, keep on creating, but most of all, keep on sharing. The world desperately needs what you are trying to give, even though it might not know it--yet.







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