JUST FOR TODAY: Try Something Different

Today’s post from Fine Art Views
Just for Today: Try Something Different
by Luann Udell

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Step outside the But-That’s-How-Other-Artists-Do-It box and see what else is possible.

I was talking with an artist I’d just met the other day. I love her engaging personality. I love her gift for creating engaging display. (She’d just set up my jewelry at a new gallery, and it looks great!) Everything about her smacks of authenticity, integrity, insight, and experience.

She told she was on fire with her newest body of work, which wasn’t on display yet. But she showed me the catalog she’d created, and pointed to her artist statement.

Which, I’m sorry, read like almost every other artist statement I’d ever read. Full of quotes about line, composition, light, color, and form. Academic, formal, and lifeless.

Absolutely nothing about the powerful, emotional circumstances that led her to explore a new process, a new dynamic. Nothing about what she hoped to achieve, nor why.

And I told her that.

This is one of those Oh-God-I-Just-Blorted-And-Put-My-Foot-In-My-Mouth moments. (I’m into titles today.) Thank heaven she took it the right way.

Artist statement. Artist bio/CV. Artist resume. We all have a notion of how they ‘should’ be written. All we have to do is look around at how other artists do it, and follow their example, right?

Wrong. Because how we all do it is simply convention. And, let’s face it, easier.

It’s easier to create a list of the galleries we’re in, the shows we jury into, the awards we win. It feels good to list the famous people and the prestigious corporations that have collected our work. And let me be the first to admit that on those days where I’m not feeling so successful, it helps to look back and see the accomplishments I’ve racked up over the years.

But what do they mean?

Yes, they can be a good reflection of our work—or at least, our work ethic. If a lot of people like our work, that’s good, right? If our work sells well for galleries, if we’re competent enough to attract the eye of a curator or a judge and garner that Best in Show award, if our work is interesting enough for a prestigious magazine to review with a two-page full-color spread, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Yes, all of these ‘measurable’ things are good. And of course, for our collectors who need to be reassured that we are indeed as good as we say we are, those milestones can be validating.

We also know that if these milestones were truly accurate measures of our worth as an artist, then the artist with the most, wins. If you are in more galleries than I am, are you really a ‘better’ artist than I? Your aesthetic may simply be more accessible to more people. If you won more awards than him, what does that mean? It means your aesthetic intrigued more judges than his. If she gets juried into more shows than you, what does that prove? Maybe her work is better. But maybe she simply applies to more shows than you do.

In my snarkier, lizard-brain moments, it’s easy for me to say, “Good lord, who let THAT into the show?!” (If you want to see wonderful examples of really bad handmade things, with hysterically snarky commentary, check out this smaller sampling from the now defunct website Regretsy.com.

But when I listen to the angels of my better nature, I know that what surely looks like bad art has a human heart and soul behind it. The work means something to the artist, something powerful enough for them to put the time, and the effort, to get it out into the world. The world’s reaction may or may not affect what the artist does next. That’s our choice. But it shouldn’t control everything.

So back to paying less attention to how we think things should be done…

Thank goodness, that artist took my words for what they were—a gentle challenge to be a little vulnerable. “You just told me that something happened to you a few years ago. You didn’t say what it was, and you don’t have to tell me. But everything changed for you. You “woke up”, you saw the world differently. It changed the way you make your art. There’s something really important you want to say. And you’re not saying it.”

Ironically, isn’t this exactly what art is supposed to do? One human being, sharing a different way to look at the world. Nothing…nothing… is more powerful than that. It’s not all about how you made that line, or how much you love color. You may use color to represent that powerful something. But what if there were a color you couldn’t see? Would you still be able to bring that powerful something into the world? (Of course you would!)

And so, just for today…

Try to write an artist statement that doesn’t include these words, especially all of them together: Line. Color. Composition. Form. Transcendant. Relationship. Synthesis. Oh, heck, go to the Arty Bollocks website and read a few of the results from their instant artist statement generator. If they smell a whiff like yours, think about what you could do differently.

Just for today…

Don’t try to impress other artists (as a profession). Try to connect with your audience (which may include other artists.)

Just for today, lose the artspeak—and speak from your heart.

Just for today, share what happened in your life that changed everything, that got you here from where you were before. If the ‘what’ is too personal, share the ‘why’.

Just for today… Try it!

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LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Voices in My Head

Holy cow, where did that last month go?? Into the land of forgotten things, apparently. And so, to get back in the swing of things, a very tiny thought for today.

I have not one, but TWO chests of printers’ type tray drawers. The second one is special to me for the main reason that my son offered to refinish it for me. He did a beautiful job, too.

This is the printers type tray chest my son Doug refinished for me. Didn't he do a good job?!

This is the printers type tray chest my son Doug refinished for me. Didn’t he do a good job?!

Except for the drawers, and I don’t blame him for not going there.

Someone had started to restore it–half the drawers have their original type dividers. But half have been removed. And although the outside looks great, the inside is dirty/dusty/oily as only a type tray drawer can get from dirty/dusty/oily metal type.

When I moved into my new, tiny studio here in Santa Rosa, I decided to use this piece to store my inventory of polymer clay beads–animal artifacts, shell and tiny bone artifacts, and all sorts of beads in different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Yep, my artifacts inspired by prehistoric fox teeth are in there. Somewhere.

Yep, my artifacts inspired by prehistoric fox teeth are in there. Somewhere.

Visitors are amazed when I tell them to open the drawers. And they love to look through all the tiny treasures, and pick them up and hold them in their hands.

The only problem is, over time, those same beads are picking up the dirty/dusty/oily crud. And it’s hard to get it off. So it really wasn’t such a great idea to store them that way.

In the 8 months I’ve been in that space, I’ve agonized about what to do. Remove the polymer clay items? But it’s such a great way to have people interact with them! Use Q-tips and gently clean each tiny little section? That would take years. I mean it. And several bushels of Q-tips, and it wouldn’t completely clean them. And I hate cleaning stuff like that, and I don’t have time, and it will therefore never get done.

I kid you thought, I’ve thought about this every single day I’ve been in that A Street studio.

So the last two days, I’ve been moving into my new NEW space, into the larger, brighter, cooler (temperature-wise, but yeah, cool cooler, too!) space just vacated by my studio mate. Exactly one week after I realized my own teeny-tiny space was a bit claustrophobic for most visitors, she announced California was too hot for her (temperature-wise) and she was going to move a thousand miles away.

I felt very sad to lose her (she’s been wonderful!), but secretly elated I could now have her space.

So this is the third studio I’ve had in 10 months.

Setting it up feels just as daunting.

“Don’t worry,” say my artist neighbors and my coffee shop neighbors. “These things take a little time. Then it all comes together.” I know this is true, and for a moment, the panic ebbs.

It ebbed a little more tonight, for a funny (funny-odd) reason.

I remembered my friends in Keene tonight.

Today I heard a woman talking, and I thought, “Oh, that’s Julie!” But it was our new neighbor Jackie, who for some reason sounds like Julie today.

A hour later, I saw a woman walking to a car, and I thought, “Oh, there’s Jennie!” But it was someone who looks like Jennie (who is three thousand miles away).

Later I smelled the coffee my husband was brewing, which happens to be Prime Roast Demon Roast coffee, and I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to get Jon more coffee from Judy today.” But Judy has already mailed us the Demon Roast. It’s sitting on the counter, waiting for me to find a jar for it. And suddenly, I could hear Judy’s voice, too.

And tonight, after taking a wall clock apart to glue on a second hand that kept falling off (don’t ask), I heard someone else’s voice, in my head. Someone who, when I told them three years ago that I loved the look of old, worn, oily-black wood boxes, but hated the smell, and what could I use to seal the wood so it wouldn’t smell yucky, said, “Luann, you can’t do that. You need to WASH those boxes first.”

So at the very end of today, I also heard Gary’s voice, giving me the good adivice on restoring wood boxes that eventually led to a six-month informal apprenticeship for me.

Gary had one place for every tool in his shop. I'm trying. But it's hard.

Gary had one place for every tool in his shop. I’m trying. But it’s hard.

Now I know how to clean those type tray drawers. It will take half a day, or perhaps just a couple of hours and some time in the dry California summer sun.

Soon those drawers will be clean and dry, and able to safely hold my precious artifacts: horses, bears, otters, birds, antlers, stones, shells, and stones.

Someday, we’ll realize we’ve made deep new friendships here in California–because we always do. Change is hard, but change is good, and eventually you learn that change becomes normal in its own good time. We will laugh and cry with new voices, and make new memories, even right now.

And visits ‘back East’, and phone calls and emails,Facebook posts and pictures, will help keep those lovely, loving voices of old friends and good memories, alive and well.