Saturday, December 15, 2012

Professional Practice for Studio Artists

Finally, the semester is ending for the two universities where I teach. I have worked hard to implement a new course, called "Professional Practice in Studio Art" and am looking forward to the winter break to do some painting.

What an eye-opener it was to teach THIS class! I'm grateful to have been asked to teach it, but part of me was dubious. How could I teach something so ambiguous, with so much variety, with no formal path, and a subject that I had so much resistance to? I took it on, because I knew I needed to understand it better, too.

I have my ideals after all. And, mainly I felt if my work was good, it would be recognized as such. Therefore, I did not have to pursue or plan out my career as a professional artist. The people who wish to exhibit my work or buy it or give credence to who I was as a professional artist, would magically appear. I would not lower myself to climbing the art career ladder by stepping on others or chasing the ones higher up in status than myself AND further more, it was distasteful to do so!

Because of teaching this class, I realized I didn't have to act like a soul-sucking, hungry, used-car salesman, whose only values were how much money and status could be garnered for my work. Lo and behold, there ARE socially acceptable, ethical and moral ways to promote oneself as an artist! And, teaching this course opened my eyes to new ways of going about that.

This newly offered class took huge amounts of time to research, plan and create a syllabus for, including weekly hand-outs on weighty topics, and self-assessment tools. Additionally, I decided to invite as many other artists in to talk to my class about their professional practice, as agreed to come.

The best part of the class was having an honest dialog on what to do, where to go, how to behave, who to talk to, and why it was necessary to do to promote oneself, with the artists who were actually doing it. I got the chance to observe first hand how other artists approach this process. The artists I invited were generous with their time and willing to discuss with me and my students, their life and work and how they grew to become professional artists. The artists who came in were Tom Hebert, Muriel Miller, Neal Parks, Afarin Rahmanifar, Richard Cutrona, Jane Rainwater, and Brad Guarino. I will give a short summary of their talks in future posts.

It was extremely productive for students and myself, to hear how others make sense out of being an artist, how to define professional, and what goes into a viable art practice. The challenge was to communicate this to students who want to make creating art their life's work, when I had so little information about doing this, myself.

I have to admit, I relied heavily on an artist run company, called GYST or (Get Your Sh*t Together) for much of the information presented in the class. The information from GYST is wonderful, insightful and invaluable for teaching this course. I didn't have to "re-invent the wheel" as artists who collectively created GYST did a comprehesive job encompassing the issues and concerns of artists. To quote from their web site, the mission is to offer "strategies, traditions and practices used by artists to fulfill their career goals". The personal and professional are wrapped up together. Issues range from myths and fears about being an artist, the artists relationship to money, power, prestige, to the physical logistics of presenting work, writing artists statements, presenting and communicating with the viewer.This is of course, on top of the whole process of actually creating the work.

Now, to put into practice my own instruction. I will be teaching this course again, so if any artists out there in the virtual world would like to share with the next generation of artists your experiences, drop me a note.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

True Value

So what is the true value of a work of art? Is it based on content, context and or technique? No it's not. Content, context and technique is not the final measure of value in a work of art, even though as an idealist, I believed it to be so.

The value of an artist or piece of work is based on perceived value a viewer brings to the work. I have no control how a person perceives my work. Who the viewer is, drives the perception of value. Status, intellectualism and materialism are more of the driver of value than content, context and technique.

An experience I had with one of my students, reveals to me why art work based on content, in the "right" context with flawless technique is ignored or meets with only minimal attention.

For example, an adult student of mine enthusiastically shared his art with me. The work was done on inexpensive paper, in pencil, colored pencil and water color of waif-like naked young women, interacting with dragons, fairies and gnomes, all expertly rendered.

The content was fantasy bordering on soft-core pornography appropriate for prepubescent boys, a la Thomas Kinkade's illustrative style. I was revolted and felt I was looking at someones emotionally stunted growth. I believe content of art work evolves, as the artist personally does. At least, it does for me.

This guy complained he showed his portfolio to a university fine art department and could not understand why he was refused entrance. The human figures were well drawn, the composition was unique and the images were creative. What was the problem?

When I delicately mentioned that it might be the subject matter, he shot back "well this stuff sells well in Europe and Asia" somehow suggesting all of America is prudish. He did not want to accept responsibility for the images he was creating and did not want to look at why they were being rejected.

It got me to think about what I was unwilling to look at in my work. I started to think about how my work might affect the viewer. Not to change my work for the viewer, but rather what was I bringing to the viewer.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I've been thinking about the word "kitsch" lately. It annoys me to hear this word applied to works of art that seek to explore beauty. I freely admit to exploring beauty in my work, does this automatically classified it as "kitsch".

I don't think Romanticism is kitsch. What is kitsch about expressive and evocative works of art? What is kitsch about developing work started from another time and/or culture? Is the only valuable work of art, one that is completely unique and different. Is it enough for a work of art to be just different? Maybe ironic or crude?

How I understand Kitsch, is that it's a derogatory term used to discuss art made easy, a simple, or unoriginal idea, a sentimental, false, shallow, and poorly crafted work. Then again, work that is kitsch might show technical ability but poor taste in subject. Kitsch purportedly parodies the aesthetic experience, or it is art work that panders commercially to the general public.

Therefore, my Northern style ink brush paintings are kitsch in a frame and postmodern ironic glued to a cash register receipt roll. Oh, I get it now...