Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Mon 31 Jul 06 05:25
>Do you fight the system? Change your work to fit the mold? Expand that little piece of your work that already fits the model until its *all* youre doing? Stop trying to break into the fine art market with your work at all? Or what?< It may be useful to go into the psychology associated with dedicating your life to the muse while finding public recognition pleasant. It reminds me of the social action advocate that gets voted into office and finds that he/she eventually becomes part of the system that was objected to. There must be a longing to follow the muse, free from mundane considerations. This may be reinforced by the idea we have that this is how the "great" artists of the past lived. I tend to doubt that it was ever that way to any extent. Perhaps we are hobbled by insisting on an idealized narrative of the past.
Kindness does not require an infrastructure (chrys) Mon 31 Jul 06 08:59
Robert, I'm not sure anyone is insisting on the idealized narrative. I think we're in the difficult phases of developing a new one - musicians being the most obvious example. <It may be useful to go into the psychology associated with dedicating your life to the muse while finding public recognition pleasant. It reminds me of the social action advocate that gets voted into office and finds that he/she eventually becomes part of the system that was objected to. > Isn't this a romantic notion in itself? Why shouldn't an artist expect to be able to make a living by doing what they enjoy? Why should an engineer who enjoys their job be different from an artist?
Debbie, not on the Well (bumbaugh) Mon 31 Jul 06 09:10
Ted, I love how you raise the issue of our priorities in education. As a parent, it's a struggle to get the arts the attention they deserve despite study after study that reveals the overall benefit to ALL learning when the arts have a welcome home in the curriculum. But sadly, I see the bias against art often coming as much from parents who see their children as 'unartistic' as from the administrators. I can't imagine how we alter this trend. Debbie Zeitman
Ted Orland (tedorland) Mon 31 Jul 06 10:50
Chris raises a whole bunch of good questions in her Post #50: <If you choose to fight [the system], who/what would you fight?> Well now, thats exactly the problem, isnt it? When the problem is system-wide (or perhaps society-wide), confronting it may bring up a romantic image of David vs. Goliath, but it doesnt bring up a lot of successful strategies. Personally, my tendency is to not only avoid setting up an adversarial relationship, but to avoid any relationship at all. What if some large proportion of the artistic community simply said, Enough!? What if some large proportion of the artistic community simply didnt participate in the gallery game? Im reminded of that bumper sticker from the Vietnam era: What if they gave a war, and nobody came. (Of course that precipitates an obvious next question, but one thing at a time ) <Stop trying to break into the fine art market with your work at all? --- Or perhaps wait until the market has caught up with what one is doing.> I doubt that waiting for the market to catch up would work by the time it caught up, your work would have moved on. On the other hand, stepping off the MOMA-bound treadmill works perfectly well for some artists -- David Bayles stepped off twenty years ago and continues to make ground-breaking art that he has, over time, slowly introduced to the larger world on his own terms. (His new self-published book, Notes on a Shared Landscape, achieves a truly ground-breaking integration of images & writings about our relationship with the Western landscape.) <Change your work to fit the mold? Expand that little piece of your work that already fits the model until its *all* youre doing? --- Does this imply that all work that gets into galleries fits the mold?> In a sense, the problem is one of self-fulfilling prophecies: work that gets shown *becomes* the mold for work that gets shown. Of course the model for what-gets-shown does evolve and change over time, but for a variety of reasons -- almost all of them grounded in economics -- the needs of the artist and the content of the artwork dont necessarily rank anywhere near the top of the list as driving forces behind such change. Chris last two points are particularly provocative: <Is there a way to exploit the tension between one's muse and the market?> Now *that's* a yummy question but I cant quite get a grip on what *form* a possible answer would take. <Is there a way to sustain one's work, and serve the culture outside of the marketplace?> Yes. (What? Now you dont *want* my answers to be shorter?)
Kindness does not require an infrastructure (chrys) Mon 31 Jul 06 10:53
<<<Is there a way to sustain one's work, and serve the culture outside of the marketplace?> Yes. (What? Now you dont *want* my answers to be shorter?)>> Got any juicy examples?
Kindness does not require an infrastructure (chrys) Mon 31 Jul 06 11:13
<In a sense, the problem is one of self-fulfilling prophecies: work that gets shown *becomes* the mold for work that gets shown. Of course the model for what-gets-shown does evolve and change over time, but for a variety of reasons -- almost all of them grounded in economics -- the needs of the artist and the content of the artwork dont necessarily rank anywhere near the top of the list as driving forces behind such change.> And I think that is part of what I was seeing at PhotoSF. I think that is why that Ken Robinson quote hit me ('If you are not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with something original.')
Ted Orland (tedorland) Mon 31 Jul 06 13:24
<<<Is there a way to sustain one's work, and serve the culture outside of the marketplace?>>> <<Yes. (What? Now you dont *want* my answers to be shorter?)>> <Got any juicy examples?> Well, just to put in a shameless plug for the book whose title frames this Well interview, finding a sustainable and rewarding pathway to artmaking is the central theme of The View From The Studio Door. That book opens with a broad overview, looking at how we make sense of the world in the first place, how we make sense of art, and then -- working its way down into the day-to-day world asks just where art fits (or doesnt fit) within our culture and our educational system and the art world. From there -- and allowing for some meandering side-paths -- the text increasingly focuses in upon finding strategies that will allow us, as individual artists, to continue making art in an uncertain world. Basically, the last chapter asks, OK then, what exactly can be DONE to make this a more hospitable world for ar and artists? And while I hate to spoil the ending for you, the answer Ive found lies in the creation of thriving communities of artists. Such communities need not challenge the powers-that-be in some adversarial fashion they can simply bypass that traditional framework altogether. The Well is one such community.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Mon 31 Jul 06 16:23
If I might jump in a little late... I haven't finished the book(I've been busy writing music and painting and the day job), but to address the 'does art matter/too much math' thread as well as the current one: we are taught math(and some of us intentionally learn more than most, it was my major before switching to chemistry) because that's how you make your way in the world. Or being able to prove that you can do algebra is how you get the grades to make your way in the world, and we are, as a species, in every culture IMHO overly concerned with making money. Not every culture is as materialistic as modern America, but to a certain degree they all are. Art doesn't matter. Those Dead White Males are remembered primarily for their paintings of other DWMs and/or their women and children. Or religious iconography or other 'useful' artworks. Durer traveled around to art and craft shows selling prints and they were bought and saved because they are 'useful' as articles of the faith that the bourgois of the time hoped would assure their continued existance. I love Rothko and Miro because they(among others) stepped completely away from this paradigm. But they lived at a time and place when people with money wanted to shift paradigms. IMHO, I persist in abstraction against the overwhelming surety that I will expire before that happens again. I buy Van Gogh calendars so I can be reminded that he died utterly unknown as well and it is only freak fascination that has driven his prices so high. I choose to believe that this is an American problem largely, or at least a San Francisco one, and I am planning on moving to the UK/Eur in the next 5 or so years. I have no gaurantees that it will be better, but the last time I was in London I noticed that on the weekends artists hang their works on the northern fencing of Hyde Park, all the way down from Queensway to almost the Marble Arch. You won't see anything like that here. If I sound irritated with the situation, I am. It may be largely an American problem, but it is essentially a human problem: lack of imagination, no sense of fun and no need for beauty for beautiy's sake in their lives.
At least they had cool uniforms: (oilers1972) Mon 31 Jul 06 16:52
Hello Ted! My first question was going to be about how you deal with the economics of being an artist, but therese beat me to it. That leaves my second: I myself am a pastelist, poet, and occasional prose-writer. For the last couple of years I have felt that I am, in general, too unintelligent and not nearly well-read enough to go on being an artist and that I must pull back and spend as much time as possible reading a variety of books (poetry, literature, and 1960s-70s history to name a few) in order that I might have an improved intellectual base from which to work. I might not use such information directly in terms of subject matter but I do feel that the more knowledgable I am about various subjects, the more that will naturally come out in my work. In short, I do not want to feel that I am an artist because I am too stupid to do anything else. What are your feelings on this issue?
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Mon 31 Jul 06 17:45
Much slippage, while I was working on the answer to What makes my art MATTER? I was just paralyzed by this very question--asked from a slightly different perspectivein the photography conference here a few days ago. Seeing it here again in this context bring up such a morass of frustrations, desires, and compulsions that I hardly know where to begin. I am a visual artistalways have been, always will be. The urge to create runs strongly in my family, mostly from my father, who has painted, does photography, and now calligraphy is his foremost love. My siblings all have a creative outletquilting, sewing, photography. I probably spent more hours with a pencil in my hand growing up than in any other single pursuit except sleeping. And yet today I am a physician by profession, and rarely draw more than doodles in the margins of lecture and lab notes. What happened to that original all-consuming enthusiasm for making art? I do not want to suggest that the world is suffering from a lack of Mona Lisas I would have created if Id gone down a different path, or to make anyone feel guilty that they didnt make the world safer for my art, or to imply that I am unhappy with what I do; I just want to explore how that enthusiasm was channeled into more socially acceptable paths. One problem was that my sole subject for most of those years was horses. This was approved as an early enthusiasmwhen I was three years old and showed my siblings scribbles of horsies!, they were praised. When I was in 2nd grade, a kind teacher clipped images of horses from magazines to share with me, and directed me to horse books in the school library. By 7th grade, though, I was expected to have grown out of it. I was nicknamed Horse and teased by other students and even teachers (gently, but still, teased). When I was in high school, I observed the things that my classmates were producing in the drawing and painting classesendless cubes and globes and shadows and designsvery off-putting. I wanted to do representational art, already knew a bit about perspective and light and composition, and didnt want to take what seemed like a giant step backwards. I did get encouragement from a ceramics teacher, who was enthusiastic about my clay horses, but that wasnt enough. Dad (the engineer and art-hobbyist) reminded me that the cliché of the starving artist is more than a cliché, and said that art would lose much of its joy and spontaneity when produced on deadlines and to suit the taste of those who pay for it. And I really did enjoy biology and sciencedrawn into it by, again, the love of horses, reading about the genetics of horse breeding and the biology of veterinary medicine. In college, drawing felt isolating; Id put all those hours by myelf in the room working on in a picture, and then what to do with it? How to share it? Friends would say, Wow, thats terrific, now do you want to go see a movie? On the other hand, when I made a batch of cookies or a special soup, it could also be creative, and shared, and the positive feedback was strong and consistent. I took one figure drawing class at Berkeley, because I wanted to practice drawing faces and figures, but the professor wanted us to produce art, and my figures were criticized as isolated, not integrated into the scene, the whole picture, the canvas. It was not a happy experience. So the drawing all but stopped. By the time I was in medical school I would hide my sketches when people were glancing at my notes. I was still cooking, however, and I had discovered photography. Photographs of family, friends, flowers, Yosemitethey could be shared with others, and there was no discouragement about the wrong subjects, and slides were cheap. They could be social--I could take pictures at parties and on group outings. It was even useful--I could take ID pictures for the co-op and document events for family and friends. But even so, the feeling of now what? recurred. Id spend a lot of time shooting landscapes and macros and be very pleased and want to share the images, but even best friends would have to be bribed with a good meal before they would sit through a slideshow of the latest pictures, and the feedback would mostly be very nice, and whats for dessert, and can we go out now? Today, with the growth of the web and digital photography, suddenly its possible find lots of people interested in sharing each others images (like the photography group on the WELL), and to get critiques and feedback without having to bribe them all first. My pBase site has just ticked past 100,000 hits in 2 yearsId probably had less than 10,000 hits in 20 years of taking and sharing slides and prints. Ive spent hours critiquing and learning from other photographers on dpreviews forums, the WELL, and flickr. Im spending more time with photoshop and less time cooking, and no time drawing or sculpting. With the instant feedback of from the LCD of the digital camera, my images have gotten consistently better. I looked back at some of my first film images a few months ago, and noted great consistency of theme and sensibilityIve always wanted to capture these same things, but now I have the tools to actually do it, more predictably than ever before. But then, the question: why do we do it? why does it matter? Especially for those of us who are not making a living from this, where a financial drain rather than income. I found that question paralyzing, and left it dangling unanswered, because I didnt know whyhow could I justify this thing that I do? Why has this become such a passion that I am pursuing it to the neglect of other interests? I can only answer that I cannot *not* do it. That creative urge has been channeled from one pathdrawing and painting and sculpting horsesto anotherphotography, especially macro images of flowers and insectsby a desire for approval and social conformity and economic practicalities, but it *will* find an outlet, regardless, because it must.
Ted Orland (tedorland) Mon 31 Jul 06 17:52
<My first question was going to be about how you deal with the economics of being an artist, but therese beat me to it.> Actually, let me post a reality-check addendum to my earlier response to therese. I typically pursue a whole motley array of art-related activities simultaneously -- writing, photography, architectural graphics, digital restoration, teaching, publishing and it all looks pretty good on paper. But viewed from a slightly different perspective, its equally true that the income from all my efforts combined comes to less than what my wife brings home from her steady job as a social worker. Its *Frances* who single-handedly keeps our family afloat thru those periodic downturns that leave my high-flung Renaissance-Man artmaking visions all sitting there together on the ground like a row of lead balloons. I didnt have (and didn't *need*) that safety net when I was younger -- *that's* why the gods gave young people the gift of idealism! But later on -- maybe about the time the big Four-O rolls around -- if your ship hasn't come in, that idealism all too easily (alas) turns to bitterness. I've seen it happen to more friends than I care to admit.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Mon 31 Jul 06 18:01
"I can only answer that I cannot *not* do it." That's it. I tried not doing it for a couple or few years and I was going crazy. It's alot easier to ignore a chemistry degree than to not paint or write music. But it is stunning how little this work matters to anyone. I have been asked, "Why do you need to sell your stuff?" and, "So, you're looking for some recognition then?" Of course! and Because it caosts money and time to make this stuff that you want me to give away! It really is quite stunning this lack of depth. It's as if $30 million Klimpts have moved art even farther away from most people's understanding of what it's for and if it matters. slip
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Mon 31 Jul 06 18:05
Of course that $30M Klimpt was a painting of a rich white woman.
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Mon 31 Jul 06 18:09
Ted Orland (tedorland) Mon 31 Jul 06 20:29
Thank you, Diane, for your wonderful long contribution to this conversation! It would probably take me another three days to put together a reply that does justice to your offering, so I thought Ib best get in a quickie reply, if only to say A Real Posting Soon . One thought, though: I wonder sometimes if weve adopted entirely the wrong PREMISE for questioning our own artmaking. Its entirely natural, of course, to ask oneself, Why do I do it?, but I fear that often it only occurs to us to ask that when the work is being ignored and more specifically, when it appears to have no value in the marketplace. What if we asked, instead, Do I really need for my work to be saleable in order to feel good about making it? Remove that little worm of ambition (or guilt) from the equation, and it can free up a LOT of creative energy.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Mon 31 Jul 06 21:05
Well, not to get bogged down here, but it's not so much a question of 'saleability' but of some sense that people appreciate it enough to want to take it home, to even ask if it is for sale and at what price. This doesn't happen very often. I have had a *few* people ask about buying things but I have also spent an afternoon with no one expressing any interest at all. Even friends(as pointed out above) just don't seem to know what to say. I do remember one point in the book where you talk of relying on one's community/friends. I must admit that I probably snorted at that. I am currently writing some music for string quartet and tympani. My tympanist friend has told me he will bring together the quartet to make a performance happen and I'm happy about that, but he really has no interest in following the development of the piece. The only feedback I get is from my own ears. Luckily enough I like what I produce and that is what has kept me doing it for all these years, but if I were to rely upon some community for feedback or collaboration(such as the journals created by you and your friends), I would have given up long ago. Not because of negative commentary, but utter apathy. Of course I do occaisionally get emails like this: "Kevin Your photographs and your paintings and your music are ludicrous. Your blog is a total waste of time, as well." (from someone I don't know) Well at least they looked around enough to find the blog and the email address.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Mon 31 Jul 06 21:24
The above is to say, of course, that I wish I could find some community of like minded artists, but have been unable to do so so far. I fear that days you described above are gone. I hope not, but fear so.
putting your geek boots on (marvy) Tue 1 Aug 06 04:47
Am I an artist? I sit here, on the first of the month, terrified yet compelled to hit the Chase web page and see if I made a living this month. My main agent, Corbis, direct deposits my royalties at 8 am the first of every month. And though I, like Ted, cobble together my living from many different sources, lately stock is the main one. Sometimes it's enough for the upcoming month, sometimes not so much. Digital photography has changed my life, enabling me to shoot pictures that I later sell. Is this art? Kind of, but maybe not. I don't know, I sure don't think about it as much (or at all) as many of you around here. But I go out and take pictures every day (which I never did before I went digital) of pretty much whatever I want, and make a (vague, uncertain) living from it. But that makes it commercial photography, I suppose. So maybe the shoots that don't sell are art. Do you have to call it art to be make it art?
therese (therese) Tue 1 Aug 06 06:14
I've loved reading the stories some of you have been willing to share here. After five years of daily practice in writing and photography, in what I consider an extended graduate course of my own design, I feel like I'm just beginning. Initially, I thought five years would be the deciding time for me -- giving me enough time to see if I could make it. I was applying a business model to my efforts. The money factors are real, and they need to be addressed, but it's the work that's driving me. I'm ready to give it another five years. In reading Ted's book, I realize that my community of artists is relegated to on-line communities. That may change, though, right now, I find that I really get lost in the work and time just evaporates. I find I guard my time like it's a precious commodity, because it is. I know I will need to change hats and start thinking in terms of marketing myself. I was surprised by my deep reluctance to think of the photography in terms of dollar value. I've been lucky enough to sell some photos off the wall, but if I'm to support myself in the future, I will have to come up with a better plan. Right now, I'm not too worried about it. I have a few fallback positions that I'll take when necessary, all in an effort to continue doing what I want to do. Ultimately, it's not about selling my work or getting recognition, though those are fine goals; it's about having enough resources to buy time, so that I can spend my days doing the work that I love doing. I feel very fortunate to have had these past five years; they have gone by so quickly. Ted quoted Annie Dillard in his book, 'The View from the Studio Door.' I find her inspiring, too. This quote is from her book, 'The Writing Life' -- "There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading -- it is a good life."
Kindness does not require an infrastructure (chrys) Tue 1 Aug 06 07:06
<Ultimately, it's not about selling my work or getting recognition, though those are fine goals; it's about having enough resources to buy time, so that I can spend my days doing the work that I love doing.> I couldn't have said it better. I'm you with you! <Am I an artist? ....Do you have to call it art to make it be art? > Wow, Chris, reading that kind of blows me away. While I understand why and where the questioning comes from, I am also aware of the strong role you play in the Photography Conference here. Not just the technical chops and years of experience, but the sheer joy you take in the well-made image, whether your own or someone else's. I still remember the day I opened your website to those magical images of the local football team. And then you sealed it by your description of the day those images were made. That wasn't commerce - and that wasn't even glory - those images were made *inspite* of the odds.
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Tue 1 Aug 06 08:18
>enough resources to buy time Struck here by that phrase, which has come up over and over in my recent adventures in job hunting....if you want to do research of any kind in addition to seeing patients, you first have to write the grants that will fund your salary to *buy time* from clinical duties. That's exactly the way that people put it. When society doesn't support what you really want to do, you have to figure out how to buy your time to do it, whether by living cheaply so your time is cheap, or trying to make your time expensive enough that you can earn enough in your work time to have enough *not free* time to do what you want to do, or finding something that it will support and hoping that is enough.
Ted Orland (tedorland) Tue 1 Aug 06 10:29
Ive always loved that Oscar Wilde quote: When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money. The question I finally decided that I needed to confront (about thirty years ago) was whether Id rather complain more about not having enough time, or about not having enough money. Thats when I stepped off the 9-to5 job circuit. Well, I didnt have enough money when I was working fulltime, and I dont have enough money now one big difference, however, is that nowadays I can put everything down and walk out the door on an instants notice whenever life beckons. By my accounting, artmaking beats banking hands-down! Since adopting what I think I earlier called a life of economic levitation, theres rarely been a time when I could look at the calendar and know predictably where the next months income would materialize from. And yet, miraculously, it does. Well, usually. The real test, I suspect, is not whether you can survive a feast & famine existence, but whether you can live with the uncertainty. Ive also come to understand that its usually only when I look back -- often YEARS after the fact -- that I can see clearly how much I actually HAVE accomplished. On a day-to-day basis, for instance, writing has got to be the most monumentally unproductive endeavor conceivable! It took about eight years for David Bayles & me to write Art & Fear -- nearly a decade of work without a penny to show for it (and no assurance during all that time that there would be any return on the time once it was done). If wed been viewing that project as a business venture, it never wouldve happened. Ditto The View From The Studio Door, which has taken another eight years to see the light of day. But those two books werent money-making projects all thats just cream on top. The true test of your match with any profession -- including art -- lies in whether or not you enjoy the drudgery it involves. Or more accurately, whether you view the work it involves -- cleaning the brushes, wedging the clay, wrapping stuff for UPS, revising the text, whatever as a burden, or simply as part of the craft. I know we all grouse about many facets of our artmaking, and we all know were under-recognized (and universally underpaid) for what were doing right now today but then again, how much money would someone have to offer you in trade for your promise to never make art again?
Andrew Alden (alden) Tue 1 Aug 06 10:40
Boy, that's a good question. I have a writing sideline that makes me happy, including the maintenance and drudgery, and some money-making contracts that help make the sideline possible. When I raised my rate on one of the contracts, the client said, "Are you sure about this? In my experience a rate hike means you want to drop the client." I replied that no, the rate hike meant that I valued the client enough to make the relationship sustainable.
Kindness does not require an infrastructure (chrys) Tue 1 Aug 06 11:12
Now THAT'S a provocative response.
Kindness does not require an infrastructure (chrys) Tue 1 Aug 06 14:34
When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money. While clever, and sometimes appropriate, I think that quote misses the point. It seems to me what creative folks discuss is the need for *resources*, how to pull together what they need to support the work they wish to do. And as Diane describes, this doesn't only happen to painters, sculptors, photographers, filmakers, etc.) Even in high tech, whole companies have been formed by disgruntled employees - feeling stifled and frustrated by the limitations of whatever corporate entity they worked for - going off and starting something new.
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