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August 2007

A Messy Life

I have been contemplating the big shift of my studio from the Landaker Building back into my home.  While I haven't decided 100 percent that this is what I will do, I have had many people weigh in on the subject, so I decided I should at least prepare.  This decision meant a huge reorganization job, which I tackled this past weekend.  Actually, it's only partly finished, I can't get my car into the garage yet.  But this is still August.  I don't have to panic until Thanksgiving.

In my Keep It Simple Stupid Feng Shui book -- which promises to tell me "how feng shui can change (my) life in 10 days!" -- there are frequent references to removing clutter.  I had been able to ignore the first dozen or so statements that a cluttered and messy environment equaled a cluttered and messy life, but considering my immediate future and the dire state of my home studio, I started to pay attention at mention number 32.

One of the primary principles of feng shui is that we want to restore calm, order, and thus invite prosperity.  Well, I'm all for that prosperity stuff, so I decided to tackle the clutter.  And the thought occurred to me -- if I was going to move everything home, I had to find somewhere else to put it other than my husband's side of the bed.

In my unearthing of a dozen or so portfolios from my art school days (who knew...I might have needed that example of sequential imagery someday)  I began to find some really awful stuff, but a few gems that had me laughing.  I shudder at my early figure drawing days.  I did find a cartoon I had drawn -- the sequential imagery assignment -- and since it still made me laugh I decided to post it here, even at the risk of offending all my cat loving friends.

Dsc00966_2(You will have to click on the image to enlarge it, I don't know any other way to resize the images with typepad.)

But there is another reason why I posted this cartoon, other than justifying why I had kept it for so long (ie: clutter) and that is the insight this message provided.

..............okay, by now I am assuming you have clicked on the image and laughed your heads off either because you like the humor or because you are ridiculing the drawing skills...but the concept seems to apply itself to my life right now.  What if staying at the Landaker Building was the metaphorical equivelent of sending a cat to do a dog's job?  I mean, maybe I was sending my hypothetical cat self to the Landaker Building without wanting to admit that the Landaker Building concept was better suited to the artistic dogs of the world.  The Landaker space is transforming itself into an art collective that is moving in another direction.  I don't want to get caught up in something that involves lots of meetings and organization and...gasp...responsibilities other than my own.  So maybe what had originally been a "cat's job" has somehow turned into a "dog's job" and  if I stay there I'll end up ripping anything substantial into shreds.  Anyway, it's one way to look at it.

I guess that's one advantage of being more than half a century old.  I don't have the luxury of thinking I have decades of productive time ahead of me, so it wouldn't matter that much if I indulged a little wandering off track. But time is not necessarily on my side. And since I have always admired those who could identify a clear goal, and who had the courage to make choices based on whether the idea advanced toward the goal, or diverted away from it, perhaps it's time to follow their lead.

Why Blog?

I am a relative novice at blogging, trying to figure out what I want Ancient Artist to be.  The one thing I guess that truly surprised me was the number of people actually reading these posts, besides my daughter, who is endlessly supportive and even called me today because she thought my post yesterday sounded rather sad. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked in on a blog I enjoy and found that Kirsty Hall  had actually blogged about some information I sent to her and included not only an image of my artwork, but a link back to this blog. Kirsty shares a wealth of information about why artists should blog,(great for us new-bes) and how she uses her blog to connect to others.  Kirsty is an artist curator in England doing some pretty remarkable work.  She says on her home page, "Capturing the traces left behind by events and finding ways to embody memory within objects are central concerns." (Copyright © 2007 Kirsty Hall)  I relate to this idea; in fact, it's part of the central inspiration behind the Ancient Walls Series, capturing the passage of  generations, the traces of memory found in the layered surfaces of ancient walls.   

101_0104detail, Ancient Walls - Fragments @2007

But it didn't stop there.  Katherine Tyrrell, also from England, who's excellently inspiring blog, Making a Mark,is definitely worth the read,  dropped in to comment on an earlier post.  Katherine points out the importance of developing a learning process that suits her and how her commitment to that process is a key element in her growth as an artist.  She is also a fantastic blogger, and I can highly recommend reading her post on Van Gogh.

So now, all I can say is -  wow, I had no idea that these musings about my personal frustrations, triumphs and challenges, would interest others, but I am deeply grateful that so many people are kind enough to connect.   And as I grow into what Ancient Artist is meant to be, I shall be looking at the inspiring work by both Katherine and Kirsty as a guide.

And, as Alyson Stanfield would say, no more PMWP!

Little Goals

In my last post I talked about the big goals.  Today I have had to think about the little goals.  Things as small as what name to use with my new web page, and whether or not I can afford to remain in my studio at The Loft.

Although choosing a name should be simple, I struggled with my decision.  I have established an identity in Central Oregon as Sue Smith.  Easy to remember, easy to spell.  As far as I know, I am the only Sue Smith who is also an artist, and who lives in Redmond.  But a simple Google search reveals many Sue Smiths.  It became clear to me, after a great deal of resistance on my part (but they know me) I decided to use Sue Favinger Smith as my professional name.  The motivating forces included my Art Biz Coach, Alyson Stanfield, as well as my web designer, Pat Velte.  On an intellectual level, I agree with their logic and expertize.  On an emotional level, it required a lot of unexpected letting go...of who I thought I was, of all that hard work establishing that identity, and of the meaning embodied in that identity.

I am currently reading The Van Gogh Blues by Eric Maisel (my favorite self-help author), and it is his insight about the meaning we attach to our art making that I am currently connecting to my decision on the name change, as well as my pending decision to move my studio home from its current location at The Loft. I know that there are circumstances beyond my control regarding The Loft, and changes that will make it financially difficult and unwise for me to remain there.  So coming home is like a giant step backward, and the depression is looming.  Likewise, the decision to change the name also feels like a huge risk.  Even though I tell myself that I will be marketing my art and my name outside the area, where the uniqueness of the new version will make me more memorable, emotionally, it feels like a second huge loss.

In The Van Gogh Blues,  Maisel talks about the depression that arises when the work loses meaning, and how important it is for an artist to constantly work to reestablish or retain that meaning.  So that is my small goal.  To remain aware of what is happening emotionally and why it is happening, and to gently remind myself that the meaning exists not in a place or a name, but in the process of creating the art.
One of those "easier said than done" moments to be sure, because I struggle with the belief that if the public cannot see or share in the art, then it has no purpose.  Sort of like "if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear, does it really matter" questions. 

According to Maisel, this sort of struggle between art and meaning seems to be pretty universal with artists, so I'm wondering if anyone out there has experienced similar struggles.  If you have, please leave your story in the comments section of this post. 

101_0640My two lovely daughters on our recent trip to Colorado to visit my aging parents.  That's my dad  in the red hat, and I am honoring him by my use of Favinger (my maiden name) in Sue Favinger Smith.

Big Goals

I was reading my horoscope in The Source Weekly, and it was all about stating BIG goals.  So here is at least one:  To be invited for consideration and then accepted into what was formerly known as the Oregon Biennial and is now Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, sponsored by the Portland Art Museum.  Okay, I don't expect to get there next year.  But at least before I turn 80.  By my calculations, that gives me 20 good years to make a name for myself in Portland.  Why Portland?  Well, a quick perusal of the finalists shows that the vast majority (all but 3 or 4, actually) came from Portland.  I'm not disparaging the fact that there are fantastic artists in Portland, or that the city is clearly a driving force in the arts world.  It is where the Portland Art Museum is located (because, obviously, if it wasn't that museum would have a different name.) But I do get a little tired of the provincial attitude of the movers and shakers on the other side of the big hill.   So, I'm taking my horoscope to heart here and instead of having several puny goals like establishing myself in the local neighborhood I'm putting out the big having someone in Portland actually realize that we make extraordinary art here.

101_0446Hanging at Shelley Hall Fine Art  (Click on these thumbnail photos for a larger image)

Clients and gallery director from Bend at a recent Redmond art walk

Innovative poured oil process on paper

Installation of sold piece, innovative poured oil on board

And Success is What, Exactly?

Why is it that I can be patting myself on the back one minute and then pushing myself into a hole in the next breath?  I mean, I can't even let myself bask in the glow of a painting well done before I'm beating myself up over the fact that it hasn't sold yet.  Never mind that the paint isn't dry, or that it's sitting sideways on my easel and you have to stand there with your cheek totally glued to your shoulder to even see it.  This leads me to wonder  what my definition of success actually is, not the one I give lip service to when I'm putting on my positive face, but what I really feel in the deepest recesses of you know where.

I want to believe that success is the satisfaction an artist gets when she creates something meaningful.  But what, exactly, is meaningful ?  Is it "Meaningful" as in the big "Meaning of Life" meaningful? Sounds good, but wouldn't that mean that an artist would have to compare herself to the biggest "Meaningful" names in the business?  And who stands a chance against Monet or Manet, Leonardo or Michaelangelo?  Might as well just give up now and throw away the paint tubes.

So maybe success needs to be something else.  Like money.  But then you'd have to set up some sort of chart to measure amounts of success.  A $200 sale is entry level success.  Get up to $1,600 per sale in the first year and it might be considered satisfactory success for some, but could also get you kicked out of the club for others.  So you see, using money can be a sticky proposition, fraught with all sorts of arguments and counter arguments.  Like, is it the gross sale amount that counts, or just the artist's share?  What if it's priced really really high but no one buys it?  Wouldn't that still count as de-facto monetary success, like investing in futures on the stock market?   Nope. I can see the pitfalls opening as we speak. Money can't be the marker of success.

There's always the family route.  I am successful because my mother likes my work.  Well, that's  sort of like telling the world that your art hangs on your parent's avocado refrigerator in their renovated '50's ranch house in the 'burbs.  Definitely not found on the success-o-meter.

How about getting into juried shows?  I used to think that was a success marker, but recent events have cast doubt onto this method, too.  First, there have been several articles-- well, a gigantic amount, actually -- all decrying the jury process as similar to watching cows being pushed through the chute on the way to slaughter.  The slides are loaded into carrousels and flashed on the screen at lightning speed.  In fact, one show I was "accepted" into actually accepted every entry.  It cost me over $100 to ship the paintings.  But hey, at least I got a nifty postcard, a minuscule image of my work in the catalog, and a line on the good old resume. 

So now I'm wondering if there even is something called "success."  From an existential standpoint, I mean.  Wouldn't just being alive be the proof of success?  Because if you were unsuccessful at being alive we wouldn't be having this conversation.  So who really gains in this success myth?  If I believe that I am not successful because of something I haven't obtained, but I don't really know what that is, but I know that I need it, well, at least people out there tell me I need it and that I couldn't possibly be successful without it, but they won't tell me what it is unless I give them money, or sometimes they just smirk and say they know what it is and have it but won't share...I think I'd better lie down for a minute. 

I think, perhaps, success is more like a roller coaster.  Exhilarating rushes toward the peak, then devastating plunges to the bottom. Pauses, breathing, then starting all over again.  Hanging tight.  Telling yourself "this is fun!"  when your insides are screaming "Not!"  If I could stop painting, I would.  But that's the problem.  I am obsessed by the absolute need to paint.  I would be thrilled if everything I did was met with huge applause and sold for obscene amounts of money, but the truth is that most of the work is met with mild to enthusiasitic approval,the occasional sale, and lots and lots of rejection.  So perhaps my definition of success should be that I still paint in spite of  all of this.

Well, at least that argument sounds good.

Dsc00828_copyThis is the newest poured oil piece.  It doesn't have a title yet.  Any suggestions?

It is constructed of 2 pieces that hang approximately 2 " apart.  The top is 24" wide by 32" tall, the bottom is 24" wide by 12" tall. 

101_0762copy_2This is the newest waterfall painting.  It is 40" tall and 30" wide on 2.5 in stretchers.  It is currently sitting sideways on my easel.  Just like this.