Post from July, 2011

Making Art is Not for the Timid

Sunday, 31. July 2011 23:59

Susan Holland, writing on Empty Easel advises artists to make paintings with “for sure” statements, not “sort of” paintings. By that she means paintings that “make a clear, unambiguous statement.”  What she says about painting applies to all arts, whether it is photography, acting, directing, dance, sculpture, or writing.

“But I love ambiguity,” you say. I do too. But the ambiguity that we love is in the material, not in the presentation of the material. So ideally we would present subject matter that is ambiguous rather than presenting subject matter in an ambiguous, wishy-washy manner. In the latter case, we would be, in the words of Holland, presenting work that “just doesn’t ‘pop.’” It may be “benign,” but it won’t “really say anything.” This is certainly not a situation we want to be in as artists.

If you are painting, or photographing, or directing, or acting, or writing a situation that is ambiguous, say so, and say so with conviction; hit the audience in the face with the ambiguity. Do not piddle around with it; that will only make it confusing for your audience. In fact, the ambiguity of the situation may be lost because of your inability to present it in a clear and robust manner.

In terms of presentation, the opposite of clear is not ambiguous, but timid. This is seen in almost every art, but it is particularly evident in acting. Many beginning actors do not understand the necessity of making firm choices, so their work tends to be tentative, lacking conviction, and not very interesting to watch. Once an actor makes a choice about his character and that character’s motivations and characteristics, his/her work immediately becomes more interesting, more watchable. Acting is not an art for the timid; actually, no art is an art for the timid if it is to be interesting, thought-provoking, or beautiful.

In my own work, whether it be stage work or photography, the work that really delivers, and thus the work that appeals most is work that is clear and clean—work that makes not only an unambiguous statement, but a strong statement. The impact of the work is stronger; the work is more interesting to the viewer; the meaning of the work is more available to the audience. It’s better work.

And if you look at the work of respected artists, you will find that in every case the work makes a definite statement, a strong statement. You may disagree with what a particular artist is saying, but there is no question that he/she is saying something definitive. The subject matter may be ambiguous, but it is presented clearly, boldly, even provocatively.

The question then is how do you do that? How do you move your work from “sort of” to definite, strong, meaningful? My first suggestion is the one that I give actors: make a choice. Don’t let your work wander around and sort of suggest something; make a choice and stick with it. You may have to change it if it doesn’t work, but making a choice will give you direction and lead you to do stronger, clearer, cleaner work.

Holland suggests that you look at your work with a critical eye and edit. Both of these things are necessary, but you have to be able to be able to separate yourself from your work in order to see it critically. In Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self, Don Hahn says that you have to “become completely detached, so that you can criticize and edit your own work.”

Additionally, Holland offers a list of concrete suggestions that an artist could use to make his/her paintings better. With a little imagination, you could modify her list to apply to almost any art.

So as you create, make strong choices, separate yourself and be critical of your own work, edit. Make strong definitive statements. You may be a shy person; many artists are, but you cannot let that carry over to your work. Making art—of any kind—is not for the timid.

Category:Audience, Communication, Presentation | Comments (2) | Author:

Go All the Way!

Sunday, 24. July 2011 23:28

The other day, a former student asked how to get a headshot and a resume back-to-back on the same piece of paper. I said, “Get them printed that way” She said, “That takes money.” Yes, I thought, but it’s your career you’re talking about. I can certainly understand the desire to be as frugal as possible, but when it’s your art on the line, maybe it’s time spend a little bit, make a sacrifice or two.

At the other end of the spectrum, a friend of mine is in the process spending all her savings, leaving friends and family, and moving 1200 miles to get into the graduate program of her dreams. When we discussed it, she said, “I’m afraid if I don’t do it now, I never will.”

In the arts, perhaps more than in other areas, it becomes about putting yourself out there. There is huge risk—particularly because your self and your art are so bound together. It’s almost impossible to put your art out there, whether it’s acting or directing or painting or sculpture or photography or writing, without risking damage to your own psyche.

Yet if you don’t do it, you remain the “undiscovered artist” who creates exclusively for him/herself, which can be, in its own way, satisfying, but which ignores the possibility of reaching an audience. And while I believe that the artistic process is important, finding an audience for your art may be equally important. And that requires exposure; it requires being willing to allow your ego to get bruised, being willing to be rejected, being willing to make sacrifices.

Nothing in the arts seems to be accomplished easily. There is almost always pain of one type or another. The question becomes, are you willing to endure that? Are you willing to risk what is necessary, give up what is necessary, devote the time, energy, and concentration that are necessary to make your art and get it to an audience?

Charles Bukowski offers the following advice in Factotum :

If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.

Part of the payoff is the feeling of exhilaration that you experience from putting it on the line.  As Sacha Lamont puts it in her blog, “Subwhite Cube:”

Remember those moments when you have felt truly and totally alive. When you felt an electric current in your veins. Remember the point of no return. Remember embarking on a trip at dawn, a heroic feeling that suffuse you with a warm glow of anticipation. You start moving and it is a bliss; you cover the ground and it feels like a road is accepting your movement, inviting it, loving it.

The rest of the payoff is, of course, successfully making your art and getting it out there. Is the risk worth it? Only you can decide. You are the one who determines how far you are willing to go to have your voice heard. But if you do have something to say, something to show, something to communicate, then by all means say it, and say it loudly! Go all the way!

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

The Seductiveness of White Walls: On Gallery Representation

Monday, 18. July 2011 0:34

One of the advantages of living in a major metropolitan area is the opportunity for viewing art. There are museums, street shows, galleries. Recently I experienced what was essentially an “open gallery day.” A friend and I managed to get to just over 20 galleries in a single day, and we were not rushing through them. Admittedly some were tiny, but others were not. And not only was the range of art extreme, but the galleries themselves were very different in nature.

The range was from the very posh with classical music playing softly in the background to the tiny brick and corrugated metal walled section of an old warehouse building, and everything in between. Although most featured the ubiquitous white wall, the arrangements were very different from each other, as were features such as windows, lighting, personality of staff, methods of display. Even the labels on the art were different.

The only thing that the 20+ galleries had in common were red dots by sold pieces, and even these were different space to space.

Some galleries were retail spaces that had been converted into art spaces with a very clean, new look. Some conversions traded on the antiquity of the buildings in which they were housed. Some were obviously built as galleries. Of those, some offered a very restrained interior personality; others were pretentious “art spaces.”

Seeing so many different spaces in one day caused me to wonder about how the nature of the gallery impacted the sales of art, since the gallery and its adjacent pieces functioned as a “wrapper” for the art on sale. Obviously the art presented was what was important, but given equivalent work, did I want to buy art from the gallery with classical music, bartender, varied choices of hors d’oeuvres, or did I want to buy from the pour-it-yourself-red-wine-only-accompanied-by-indie-rock gallery?

More to the point, which gallery did I want to sell my art work? Certainly the more sophisticated gallery might command higher prices, but that did not necessarily mean that they would sell more art.

Some artists, Hazel Dooney being foremost among them, would advise artists to avoid the gallery system entirely and sell their art directly to patrons. Some of the smaller galleries we visited were artists doing just that. Most of the galleries, however, were not artist galleries, but representatives taking a significant percentage of the sales price for the effort of displaying and doing the sales pitch.

Except for that percentage part, the appeal is very seductive. It is very easy to imagine one’s work hanging on a wall on a flawless white wall while music plays softly in the background and patrons sip wine and listen to a professional, persuasive salesperson—while you are in your studio creating more, doing the work that you really want to do.

The part that’s left out, of course, is that it is just as difficult to obtain competent gallery representation as it is to sell art directly. The difference is that you have to sell at a different level—and then depend on your representative to retail your work to the actual collector.

The truth is the gallery influences what the patron thinks of the art, just as a boutique influences what you think of a particular piece of clothing. Who do you want representing you? So the question is not just representation, but which representation, and what that will that do for your art sales.

When you walk in the door, sometimes before you walk in the door, you are forming an opinion of the place and, by extension, the art contained therein. And while it’s easy to envision your work hanging in this or that gallery, you must choose carefully. After all, it’s your livelihood we’re talking about here.


Category:Audience, Marketing | Comments (4) | Author:

Want to Sell Your Art? Invest in Yourself!

Monday, 11. July 2011 0:19

Like many artists, I am revamping my approach to getting my work out into the world. This is a multifaceted problem that seems to get bigger every day. Each facet has its own set of decisions to be made and then it has to be reconciled with the overall program.

My previous approach was to do things on the cheap and piecemeal. Each part was considered separately.  I would search for the online outlet with the lowest commissions or fees. I would do the coding for the website myself. This, of course, left me with very high-maintenance venues and very few sales.

This time out it’s different. I am determined that all of the elements should work together, so I have spent many hours researching, reading reviews and opinions, trying things out in my head and on paper.

During this research phase, I had a friend ask, “Are you interested in getting your stuff out there, or in making money?” I did not initially understand implications of the question. He said that if a financial return was the most important and immediate concern, I had the wrong product.  However, if I wanted to establish myself in the art marketplace, I should probably plan on losing money to begin with, while I made my presence known.

I listened. Even with all the commodification of art, it is hardly an impulse buy. Most people who are interested in purchasing a piece of original art are not going to drop that amount of money whimsically. They are going to look, take a business card, bookmark a web site, consider, weigh, come back, look again, talk, then purchase—much as my friend who was buying the sculpture did. (She did get the piece, by the way.)

Art has to be presented. To do that requires a continuing presence and some level of reputation; that’s really what sells art (again, we are not talking about those who are purchasing investments so much as those who are purchasing art to enjoy).

Now there are numerous ways to establish a presence and build a reputation, but one of the ways is to present your work in a way that lets your potential patrons know that your work is desirable and available. This means an easily-navigable, attractive web site. It means representation that is reliable and reputable (even if you are representing yourself). It means building a public profile that will (hopefully) precede sales. It means being willing to lose a little money at the front end in order to establish yourself. It means investing.

So this time I am not doing things on the cheap. Instead of coding myself, I have obtained some professional help. It costs more money, but the result is far easier to maintain, so the cost in terms of time and effort is actually less. I am evaluating online outlets, not so much on the basis of fees and commissions, but on the balance of those fees against probable sales, given the sites’ traffic and sales figures. I am also examining possibilities of brick-and-mortar venues. I am listening to the advice of others.

I don’t know yet that this will work, but I have learned from my past mistakes and have a much higher level of confidence in this approach than I have had in any of my other attempts.

And while I would not necessarily recommend my plan for all artists, I would recommend the approach. The art that you create comes from the most intimate part of you; you want others to see and understand your vision. You have to put some time and effort, and, yes, money, into making that happen. You have to invest in yourself.





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

Art and Patron Must Match

Monday, 4. July 2011 0:21

One of the ideas presented in Michael Cunningham’s novel By Nightfall is the idea that art must be matched to the patron. In the book, a very wealthy art collector has had a “difficult” piece of art that she has tried to like, but cannot, and “exchanges” it for a different piece that is better suited to her.

Most of us who do not deal in million-dollar objet d’art and do not have the right of exchange do this in our own way. We walk through galleries and look at a variety of pieces. Most of the time, we keep walking. Once in a while, we stop and really consider a piece. We weigh the price against our potential enjoyment of the object in our own home or office, and, of course, our budget. Then we make one of three decisions: “yes,” “no,” or “not today.”

This last decision is the one which causes us problems. We have decided that we like the piece, that we would like to live with it—at least for a while, but for some reason we cannot make the investment on this day. The problem is that often our appreciation and desire for the object continues and we go back to visit it, or view it on the internet, or think about it often, or all of the above. Sometimes we actually go back and buy it, if it is still available. Very occasionally, when we go back, it is not as appealing as it was originally.

A friend of mine has spotted a sculpture that she wants very much, but has not (yet) purchased. Recently, we talked about why she likes it so much. She said, “It describes who I am at this moment in time.” This, naturally, led to a discussion of would she like it a year from now, when her situation changed and she moved on from where she is now. She didn’t know, had no way to know, but seemed willing to take the risk, if she could manipulate her budget to bring the piece into her home. This suggests that there is more to the appeal than the immediate.

Many aestheticians agree that the object of art is contemplation. Is this a piece that you will want to contemplate for years to come? Will it continue to hold your interest? Will that interest hold long enough to justify the cost?

And that’s what it’s really about when we purchase art, regardless of the price range. Will it be a long-term match for us? Do we want to be married to it? Will it continue to fascinate us next year, next decade? Of course it’s about other things as well, but the determining factor, assuming that we can budget the piece, is whether we will like it the same dollar amount or more in the future. If so, we make the purchase; if not, we move on to the next gallery.

This is not just a matter of taste; I like many things I would never think to purchase. What causes the decision to acquire? It certainly includes where we are in our lives, how we feel emotionally, what we think is important. But it also includes our education and experience and our sense of aesthetics. In order to appeal to us strongly enough for us to part with hard-earned money, the art object must speak to us in a way that signals its value to us, both in the present and in the future.

Only when the art work speaks to you in such a way that you want to contemplate it for as long as you can, and you are willing to make the investment (which sometimes is more than financial), will you have a match. And only then, as with any deep commitment, can you look forward to a long, complex, rewarding relationship.


Category:Aesthetics, Audience | Comments (1) | Author: