Sunday, January 8, 2012

the value of Art

Last week I posted about the big change in my financial life due to the big change in the art market.  Whereas for much of 30 years I had been able to make the majority of my living as a studio artist, primarily by selling works of my fine art through galleries, in the last 3 years, since the crash,  I have had to readjust how I spend my time to be sure that my daytime, studio activity is still going to keep my boat afloat.  I still do not have what some folks call "a day job", nor do I want one!

My days are now spent more at the computer, working on designs, or making small gift type items, utilizing my ribbon or not, to sell in town as well as at some museum stores around the country.  I feel as if I am constantly juggling these identities: artist, designer, craftsperson.  I do believe all three points of view are essential in a mature artist of any persuasion, but trying to do well at all 3 in 3 different kinds of applications (as opposed to combining them in the main work of art/design/craft at hand) sometimes feels less integrated and more split than I am accustomed to feeling!

So I am trying to imbue the design and craftmaking activities with the earnest, focused vision of my fine art, while still maintaining a clear, serene and separate studio practice of meditative artmaking which responds only to my own vision, not to the demands of any market.

One of the arguments "against" craft, in the old days, was that it lacked the intellectual power of fine art.  We all know that is baloney, as is the idea that "art" appeals to the greater spiritual nature etc. etc.  Craft can be an inspiring outpouring of faith, in humanity, in creativity, in spirituality.  But the craft that I speak of above, in my case, refers more to making little gift items that people like, maybe love, and hopefully will buy.  A different motivation!  Nonetheless, I have never hesitated to call myself an artist, even a "fine" artist, and claim the status that may confer.  I live an intensely creative life with vision made manifest in my best work, which I call my "fine art". That is enough for me.

So I leave tonight with this question:
How do I begin to imbue the directed design and craft work that I do, such as my new "Eat Well" towel, with the spiritual and intellectual energy that it took to weave "Beatrice"?

Monday, January 2, 2012

quiet time

There was an editorial in Sunday's New York Times which is high on the most-emailed list, posted frequently to Facebook as well, on The Joy of Quiet.  It clearly resonates with a lot of people: in essence the article discusses the various values of going offline, not taking calls, etc.

In a sense I have been doing that, staying quiet and unconnected, in that I have not been posting on either of my blogs for months.  I mounted a (personally) important exhibition of my work this year to show in two venues, in the spring and in the fall.  The works I made to send were redolent with meaning, dripping with lush color, totally satisfactory to myself, and to those who cared to comment to me, as a strong new body of work.  I got a great writeup in Santa Fe's Pasatiempo (hard to get, they say!), 2 pages, 2 big color photos of tapestries.  Seems like I did everything right, and I sat back for a little while to rest on my laurels.

But here is the hard truth, friends: I sold exactly one piece, a small one, out of the two shows combined.  For those of you who have long since opted out of commercial galleries, proudly disdaining commercializing your art, bully for you.  I have been proud, delighted, and extraordinarily fortunate to have made a living for close to 30 years by the sale of my tapestries.  I am also proud of my work, itself, as a real expression of my thoughts and vision, as something that people clearly love and respond to.  So what happened?

Well, the economy, I guess.  I have survived a number of recessions over the years totally intact, hardly missing a beat. But life is different now.  It is shocking and jarring to realize, at the age of 57, that in a sense I have been laid off.  My artwork is an elite and -- seemingly unnecessary -- luxury few can afford.  More on that later.

Join the club, you might say.  Of course.  A lot of folks who had previously fortunate lives got their pink slips in the last few years!  And so -- like many others -- I have been spending a few months trying to reinvent my way of working.

I feel fortunate to be a creative person, to be an artist.  I actually don't feel unemployed (my mother, when speaking about the difficulties her family endured during the Great Depression, proudly maintained  "my father worked every day.  He just didn't get paid for it").  I have been as busy as ever, as optimistic as ever (something about the bottom falling out tends to rally some of us: gets the adrenaline flowing and brings out the survival mode.) I believe that creative people are in the best position to dig themselves out of problems -- as long as we can believe in the value of our ideas.

I used to wonder what in the world I might be able to do if I couldn't make art, and would conclude, nothing.  One of my more recent schticks about "the business of being an artist" classes is that I sure wish, back in art school, they had told us what else our extraordinarily creative minds might be good for, in case we needed to make a living!  So now, I am looking at what I know, what skills I have, what beliefs I want to share (the role of the artist), to find where I fit now.  I plan to re-invent my art making, though I did think about becoming a nurse.

Art has always been essential to culture.  To cut it out of budgets as a superfluous, unnecessary expense is a grave mistake.  Art-making, and living with art, makes us more human, more articulate in non-verbal modes, more sensitive to the world.  So it shouldn't be so hard to make my work essential.  That is - essentially -- what I have been musing about for the last 3 months.

I have made 3 new year's resolutions, and they are all absolutely vital, and absolutely terrifying for me to undertake.  They are


Frightening because now I must take responsibility for my thoughts -- again.

I would really welcome your comments!

more as it happens,