Post from February, 2012

Yes, Education Can Help You Appreciate Art

Monday, 27. February 2012 0:53

A friend of mine teaches high school English. This past week she was teaching poetry and had a student who was rather vocal about the silliness of poetry and how it was hard to read and why would you want to anyway. She asked him to read a part of a poem aloud and then suggested that he read to the punctuation rather than to the end of the line.  He did so. She said that she could literally see the light bulb going off. His assessment? “It makes so much more sense when you read it that way.” Now he got it. Poetry had become cool. It would never have been so without that small amount of education.

Having even a small amount of education about a work of art is not absolutely necessary for appreciation. The unlettered serf during the middle ages could appreciate a cathedral because of its size and grandeur, but think how much more there is to appreciate once you have educated yourself beyond “big and impressive.” If you know something of architecture, of art, of religious iconography, the architectural work can speak to you on more levels. And if you know even more, it is likely that it can speak to you on many more levels.

But do you really have to know something about the medium itself to appreciate the work? It may not be absolutely necessary, but it doesn’t hurt. I sometimes teach a course in the development of the motion picture. More than one student has told me after they completed the course that it changed the way they look at movies. Now that they have some idea about how film is put together and some background, they have developed a different perspective that allows them an appreciation that is both deeper and broader.

And what is true for poetry and architecture and film is also true for any art. The more knowledgeable you are about cultural history and art, and perhaps aesthetics, the better able are you to appreciate a work on more than the superficial level.

And, of course, if you are an artist, the more you know, the more layered and complex you can make your work, even if that occurs on a subconscious level. Just as mastery of the techniques of your medium allow you to create more complicated, more challenging works, so general knowledge gives you more to draw from and informs your work, allowing it to have a richness of meaning and operate on multiple levels at once.

Essentially, the more you know, the more you can do and the more you can enjoy—or not: the more you know the easier it is to spot crap. And that, even though it might reduce your enjoyment of certain work, is wholly positive. Artistic value is often assigned by what the work brings at auction or in the marketplace, and many times what passes for “good art” is really just one-dimensional junk.

You don’t have to have a degree in art either to make good art or enjoy it fully. The student in the opening story didn’t need a year’s study in poesy to appreciate a poem, just a better way to approach it. Having knowledge can help you better understand a piece of art.

The next step, of course, is the development of taste.


Category:Audience, Education | Comment (0) | Author:

The Value of a Day Job

Monday, 20. February 2012 0:11

There is an idea that artists who maintain day jobs are somehow deficient. If they were really any good, they would quit their day jobs and make their living from their art. Or would they? Consider this list of accomplished artists who had day jobs: Henry Fielding, Charlotte Brontë, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Anton Chekhov, Philip Larkin, and there are many more.

Everybody knows stories of actors or musicians or dancers who wait tables between gigs, but the occupations that artists have when not pursuing their creative work are as varied as the artists themselves.

Here are just a few: receptionist, frame designer, medical professional, legal associate, diesel mechanic, web developer, farmer, gallery owner, graphic designer, office manager, editor, store manager, art therapist, home stylist, structural engineer, case manager, marketing director, audiologist, media assistant, library director, coffee bar manager, nuclear analyst, mom, real estate development, language consultant, personal trainer, teacher, personnel manager, nonprofit director, art handler, children’s writer, dance instructor.

Why would artists who sell their work, particularly those who are highly regarded, want a second job, one that takes away time and energy from the work they really want to do? Michelle Goodman in an article for ABC News entitled Memo to Artists: Keep Your Day Job cites six reasons:

1. Peace of Mind, Stability. This is the reason T.S. Eliot kept his day jobs. He had a sick wife to care for, and discovered that both he and she were healthier if he had more income. This is true of almost every artist. The starving artist is likely not to do his/her best work. And, as most of us know, making art is not inexpensive. Having an income allows you to actually make some art.

2. Scheduled Human Contact. A lot of artistic work is done in seclusion, a situation in which not everyone thrives. Most of us need to have more contact than one is likely to get in a restaurant or coffee bar. Having a job that allows or requires you to have some human interaction can make you more balanced and perhaps healthier. That it’s scheduled helps with discipline.

3. Creative Discipline. Almost everyone has time management problems. Many artists, myself included, find it necessary to schedule creative work just as we have to schedule other duties. Because most day jobs require set hours or specific responsibilities, creative work has to be scheduled around them; that structure is desirable for some, and necessary for others. Julia Cameron in Letters to a Young Artist said, “I have seen more artists damaged by unlimited time than limited time.

4. A Source of Material. The people and situations at your day job can provide a wealth of material. Regardless of the media in which you work, the workplace can provide an ongoing stream of ideas which can be adapted, adopted, and recombined for your own creative purposes.

5. Instant Patrons. In most cases, you will find that the people with whom you work are very supportive of the creative work that you do in your “off time.” Some will purchase your work or put you into contact with others who might be interested. It can be the beginning of a tribe.

6. A Day Job is the Artist’s Way. Many artists have and have had day jobs. The reason is simple economics. Except for a tiny minority, art does not pay enough to let artists live the way we might like to. According to Alia Yunis, critically acclaimed novelist, “Almost every artist lives this way — even quote-unquote successful artists.

Being an artist is not about how you make your living; it’s about how you live. As Julia Cameron said, “I don’t know where we got the idea that being a full-time artist meant no day job. Being an artist is a matter of consciousness.”

Category:Creativity, Marketing | Comments (1) | Author:

Making Your Art Accessible Is Making a Mistake

Monday, 13. February 2012 0:01

The question of art accessibility is one of those topics that are always under discussion somewhere. It came up again recently in a piece on Empty Easel. In “If Art is a Language, How Well do you Communicate?Niki Hilsabeck says that artists who “want to resonate more with the buying public should learn the buyers’ ‘language’ and adjust their artwork accordingly.”

In other words, if your potential buyers don’t get your work, perhaps you should modify your work so that it expresses your intent in a way they can understand.  This would seem to reduce the artist to either a manufacturer of commodities on one hand or little more than a teacher on the other. And perhaps some artists are both of those things, but to say that an artist is no more than that is a gross oversimplification of the art experience.

Hilsabeck asserts that art is a conversation. I disagree; art is an expression, perhaps an assertion itself, and sometimes it starts conversations, but often the artist is not involved in those, nor should he/she be; that’s not his/her job.

Hilsabeck’s rationale seems to be that since art is communication, anything you can do to aid that communication is a good thing. It’s a concept I have trouble with. Much of what art is about, much of the very complicated way that art communicates is tied up with how the work communicates. Good art is multi-layered and complex, and out of the reach for some people. Because of the interconnectedness of form and content, modifying how an artwork speaks to its audience must, in turn, modify what is communicated. So in trying to make your art more accessible, you can’t help but change your message as well.

You have to decide whether having another sale is worth changing what you are saying. It’s very much like politics: you can get the support you want if you will change your message to be what those supporters want to hear. The real question is: is what they want to hear what you want to say?

To put this whole argument into perspective, think for a minute about Jackson Pollock trying to make his mature work more accessible. It becomes completely different work. I, for one, am very glad that he did not attempt to make it easy for us.

So what is the artist to do? There is a natural desire to sell your work; at the same time you need to say what you need to say in the way you need to say it. The process is far more complex that the mere need to communicate. You don’t need to modify what you are doing; you need to connect with those who get what you do. There is really no “public” that you have to appease; rather there are people who, if they knew your work, would like it, and perhaps purchase it. The marketing part of your job is to connect with them, or facilitate their discovering you. You need to, in the terminology of Seth Godin, find your tribe.

Category:Audience, Communication, Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

You Don’t Choose Art. It Chooses You

Monday, 6. February 2012 0:57

In Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller writes, “No man wants to be an artist. He is driven to it.” This is an idea that is echoed by a number of artists. Author Paul Auster, for example, goes even further: “Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.” And it’s not just writers.

Douglas Eby writing in “The Creative Mind” discusses “An Intense Inner Pressure to Create” that is experienced by a number of people. The article concentrates on the feelings that gifted adults get from the creative process, the emotional and spiritual balance involved, and the need to create “regardless of payment or recognition.”

According to Sir Ken Robinson, the urge to create does not impact only adults, but children as well. According to Robinson, a person needs only to find the correct medium to fully develop his/her creativity. His books are full of examples of how finding the proper medium for creativity has changed people’s worlds, whether they came to their element early or late in their lives. As he points out, it is not so much about living a creative life, but of finding the proper channel for your particular creativity.

In considering this, I thought of several creative people that I know. A musician that I have known for a very long time began piano lessons around age five or six. To my knowledge, he has never done anything else as an occupation, nor has he wanted to. It is as if from that very early age, he was where he needed to be creatively, and now, many decades later, he is still enjoying sitting at the keyboard doing his work.

Another artist, a visual artist who works in photography, print-making, and sculpture has followed much the same path; he has been doing serious drawing since he was very young. His life has been a straight line of artistic development, working primarily in two dimensions until he got to art school, where he began exploring three dimensional possibilities. Today he makes and teaches art.

Another musician that I know said that he came to be a musician “late.” By late, he means during his college years. He had sung and taken music lessons since he was a young child, but had considered music a hobby until he was a college sophomore, when he finally recognized that this was really what he was about. He then took all the time and energy that he had put into pre-med studies into a vocal music and has never looked back.

Many of the students that I have encountered find a place in art, although perhaps not the one in which they started in. Occasionally, someone finds his/her place right away, like the actor I know who began performing at age 4 and never stopped, but did manage to become quite an accomplished scene painter along the way. Another drama student, however, found that she preferred less collaborative creation and switched to ceramics, then to visual art, where she has become quite successful.

My own story is much the same. I have made things for as long as I remember. And I have tried almost all of the arts, failing at some, succeeding at others. Some did not hold my interest. From all I learned; from each I took something that I still employ in my current work.

For me and, I suspect, for most of you, there was never a “decision” to go into the arts. I seem to have been born with that already decided; all that was left for me was to acknowledge that and find the best ways to engage my creativity. So it is with each of us.


Category:Creativity | Comments (8) | Author: