Previous month:
September 2011
Next month:
November 2011

October 2011

Sorry, But On This Fine Art Generalization You Are Flat Out Wrong


I’m a fan of Stapleton Kearns.  I enjoy his blog for the information he shares, but sometimes I just have to answer back, particularly to this post about the difference between art and craft – although probably not for the reasons you imagine. 

The discussion about art vs. craft was intended to arouse controversy, something Stape does and does quite well – part of why I like him because he gets people to think, sometimes, and generates a lively conversation.  But it was this statement – which has nothing to do with either art or craft – that was slipped in before the main event and snagged my attention:

"I had someone tell me on Facebook that it was too bad I didn't like older painters. I like em fine, and well enough not to jive em about what their chances are of achieving mastery and competing with those who have done nothing else all their lives."

So here’s the pebble in my shoe: It is human nature to interpret the world from our own viewpoint and to then extend our own reality into the lives of others with similar experiences.  But this interpretation that it takes an extended length of time (i.e. doing nothing else all your life) to reach mastery is flat out wrong from a research standpoint. 

Consider this - in my recent research into creativity and age I came away with these ideas:

  • According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, creativity is a function of our cognitive abilities as well as certain personality traits that are strengthened with age, such as the ability to persevere despite setbacks, to be less influenced by conventional wisdom or peer acceptance, and the emergence of a stronger sense of personal calling or purpose. In this post that I wrote in 2008, The Seven Characteristics That Distinguish Older Artists From Their Younger Peers you will find more information on this idea.
  • Recent brain science supports the theory that, with the development of efficient neural networks within the mature brain, mature adults have the ability to process information faster, discover unique insights due to both education and life experience, and focus more intently upon mastering a technique or subject, making it possible to condense the standard generalization of 10 years of concerted effort to attain mastery into a shorter period of time. 
  • According to research by Stephanie Z Dudek and others from the University of Quebec at Montreal, personality and the level of commitment are the most significant determinants for success in the profession of art.  In their definition, commitment comes from self-awareness and an intense identification with the work, manifesting as a “difficulty in distinguishing where the self ends and the work begins,” adding, “It is possible to work at a profession for a lifetime and never be committed to it.”
  • Early development of artistic skill is often more the result of the artist finding himself in a nurturing and supportive environment, enabling the sustained growth necessary to realize potential; but success as an artist has nothing to do with “when you started,” only that you were able to start at age twelve instead of age fifty.  There is no genuine reason why - if you have the commitment, the willingness to put in the concerted, hard effort to learn and master skills necessary, and the ability to resist conventional wisdom - that you cannot achieve some level of success in the profession of art if you want it bad enough. 

The only difference is the length of time you will have to enjoy the success before really old age takes a toll, but we are living healthy, productive lives well into our 80’s and 90’s so there’s no reason to conclude that if you start to pursue the profession of art at age fifty you cannot realize a measure of success by the time you are sixty, which allows at least two decades or more of pure enjoyment, artistic commitment and creative success. 

Those seem like good enough odds to me.   



As an aside, my painting, Chokecherry Farm, won the Cheap Joe's Award for Excellence in the 12th National American Impressionist Society's Exhibition going on right now at Mountainsong Galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  Plus, the painting sold.  I am both humbled and honored. 


Who Moved the Goal Posts - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist

            The year I turned fifty I decided to reinvent my life and become an artist.  At the time I was half of the management team in our small business, working 40 to 50 hours a week and perfectly happy, so the decision surprised almost everyone, including myself. 

            And it all started in - of all places - my garage. I found an article about painted furniture. With the help of my husband, we began to construct original Adirondack chairs in our spare time. Following traditional methods, I gessoed the wood and began painting what I thought of as *real art* on the back upright section of the seat. By the middle of July in 1998 I was kneeling on the cement in my hot garage, happily painting commissioned Adirondack chairs for $200 a pop.

            Three years later, in the middle of a hot July, I was on the second floor of the Galleria degli Uffici in Florence, Italy, standing in front of Titian’s painting, Venus of Urbino, realizing everything I had ever thought about painting was wrong.

            I think most artists can point to that moment when they change, from someone who finds art-making pleasant, into someone who discovers a deep need to create.  I now refer to my moment in terms of BT (before Titian) and AT (after Titian).  That hot afternoon in July I was overwhelmed by the power of the artist to reach out, across more than five centuries, and so profoundly affect me on an emotional level through his art.  I had walked through a door of realization that day and couldn’t go back.

            Over the AT years since, I have been following a personal journey of discovery into the nature, creation, and mystery of art.  It is a journey that is often solitary, filled with competing demands.  And as I learned and experienced and made numerous mistakes and assumptions, I began to journal – about the ways my thinking was changing, and how to maintain my passion and perseverance when the work would feel really hard.  Those journal entries, and subsequent research into curious aspects of art and brain science and age, have evolved into the book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist, the business plan (not just) for the mature artist. 

             You may be wondering why I have written a business plan when I just told you I had a profoundly changing experience about art.  My background is in business, taking a germ of an idea, nurturing it, tweaking it when things don't quite work, and bringing it into some form of reality. I also spent more than four years working in a commercial art gallery, plus managing my own open studio, being a "gallery artist" with openings and deadlines and talking about art, plus mentoring other emerging artists.  It was natural to organize my thoughts using the generic Business Plan template.  Many of you actually downloaded and read the original version of this Business Plan, and despite some of the half-formed ideas, the careless writing and some rather awkward - now - assumptions, you were enthusiastic about the content and most appreciative: for that I sincerely thank you.  Your comments, inspirations and stories motivated me to revisit what I had written and make it better.

            Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist, the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, will soon be available in book form through Amazon, plus the Kindle.  This is the new version, revised, strengthened, and written from an artist’s perspective and experience. You will find discussions about understanding your self and your art, before you move on to the real life business activities like marketing and promotion. There are sections on age and creativity, the powerful advantages of the mature artist over younger peers, and why you are never too old (or too young) to create meaningful art.  On my personal journey I've learned about self mentoring.  I believe it is the second most important thing an artist can do, so there are discussions about identifying obstacles, strengthening skills, understanding potential and accomplishing creative goals. 

            I also recommend three fine arts experts.  Through personal experience with their classes, coaching, blogs and books, I can attest to the value they offer in the development of your career.  There is a resources section, and insights from fellow artists working effectively toward their goals. The book has now expanded with 50% new content, and some of my favorite topics include how to remain passionate about your work, and how to set fear aside and focus on a curiosity about success.

            The book was conceived to be a source of encouragement and support.  I put honest, real life knowledge in this business plan, and no doubt there will be controversy over some ideas – like who and what really controls your pricing, or what constitutes creative honesty, and how difficult it can be to be original.  You may not agree with what I write.  Not everything will apply to you or your artistic experience.  But then again, it might.  The challenge in the narrative is to bring up the discussions we don’t know how to have, to start thinking about our art in new ways, and to learn how to define artistic success by our own terms. It is for artists of every age, but particularly for those who struggle with questions that have no easy answers.

             In the book Arts and the Creation of Mind, author Elliot W. Eisner writes, “The arts, when experienced in the fullness of our emotional life, are about becoming alive.”  Ultimately, each artist must find their own way.  Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist begins the conversation. Yes, you can put almost any business plan into action, and there is a wealth of information already available to you.  But if you've lost touch with your inner experience, if you've forgotten your artistic philosophy, or the ability to look at the whole of your creative experience and not just the parts, then you may never find real success. Because the artist who ventures off on his own without finding out what he wants, who wraps his accomplishments in validation from others while ignoring his inner voice, will soon find it impossible to create meaningful art.

            And in all likelihood he will give up.


            I am self publishing Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, taking advice from Barney Davey to self-publish my own work whenever possible.  And as with most adventures, this one is taking longer and filled with more formatting and proof-reading than I ever imagined.  Gremlins moving the goal posts.  But the files are in the process of turning very soon into something you can hold in your hand. 

            I hope you will follow along with me as I bring this book into reality. 

~ Sue


Two Collaborative Sites That Connect Artists to Artists - Plus MoMA

Recently, I came across two collaborative websites for artists - The Arts Map, and My Art Tutor  - that enhance the way we interact with each other.  Plus, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is offering new online courses for the Fall 2011 season.

The Arts Map was created by collage artist Robin Colodzin, and painter and collage artist Jonathan Talbot. The Arts Map connects people within the arts community through free listings that appear on the map like push pins.  Click on the push pins in your area and you can see details, such as artist or gallery name, the location, services offered, and upcoming events. I particularly like the opt-in feature for potential clients to get on the lister's mailing list and I see The Arts Map as a growing collaborative tool for making important connections.  The creators - both highly respected artists - have this to say about The Arts Map:

When we first created The Arts Map, our primary intention was to enable new connections between artists, arts organizations, galleries, museums, art schools, art materials suppliers, and the general public...The Arts Map is like a baby learning to walk. It needs help until it can stand on its own. Please tell your friends and colleagues about The Arts Map. Be sure to tell them that listings on are FREE and will remain free forever.
Robin Colodzin & Jonathan Talbot

My listing on The Arts Map was easy to create.  It features an artwork image, contact information, the type of artwork, and studio hours, workshops and lessons.  It is easy to edit, so there's no excuse not to keep your listings and events current.  This collaborative tool is one of the best I've come across for connecting people within the Fine Arts Community.

My Art Tutor introduces a unique collaborative twist to the digital workshop experience.  Created by Chief Muse, Vicki Ross, My Art Tutor currently offers on-line workshops with 6 different tutors, in a variety of genres and mediums.  Using Voice Thread technology, founders Vicki and Randy Ross have recreated the actual workshop experience with a level of interactivity and support not found in static workshop delivery systems, such as DVD's or digital lessons. 

The key benefit is that students can ask questions, either by pausing the lesson and typing the question, or posting one using a video cam. Because the workshops are stored "in the cloud," the content is constantly refreshed: tutors sign in weekly to answer questions, and the interaction is added to the workshop content. This was part of the design concept behind the workshop interactivity, as the founders believe much of the learning comes from the social interaction.

The other interesting feature is the development of a Facebook page, where students and tutors, as well as others, can ask questions, get answers, and support one another in their efforts to improve their artistic skills. Facebook is a wonderful platform for providing immediate feedback - although it is not specific to the workshop topics, but art questions in general, as well as tips and technique. 

Vicki Ross explains,
"Our plan going forward is to add more classes and tutors...watercolor, acrylic, drawing, charcoal.  We have a non-profit grant company actively pursuing educational grant monies for us to get our program in schools, especially under served populations, and we have several art educators on board as advisers."

If you would like to learn from the workshop experience, this is an innovative resource to investigate.  There are two free videos - an introduction to the concept, and a free "Sepia" portrait workshop by Leslie B. Demille - on the My Art Tutor site. All you will need is a good internet connection, and some free time to discover what this site has to offer. 

And although some of you may already be aware of MoMA's online courses, I wanted to include them in this post.  The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has always been at the forefront of innovation and education, and their new online course offering is an opportunity for people around the world to gain access to this resource and learn from the curators and educators.  Registration for the Fall 2010 classes is currently ongoing, although only the self-directed classes have available space.  The next round of classes are scheduled for the Winter/Spring 2012 session.  This is definitely a site you want to bookmark if you are interested in modern art history and the practices and techniques used by artists whose work is exhibited in the museum.  

The Quest for Beauty: Edgar Payne on Forms of Composition


This is the third post in the series on composition and features one of my favorite teachers, Edgar Payne (California Impressionist, Plein Air Artist).

Edgar Payne's book, Composition of Outdoor Painting, is often described as one of the "must haves" in every artist's library. I've learned so much about technique, color, and problem solving from this little gem that I can't imagine being without it.

Payne teaches that every artist must have a solid foundation in the principles of art, but should also develop his own thinking and viewpoint. The artist's emotional response to the subject inspires the painting, while foundational principles are the means of accomplishing a successful result. 

When I first explored plein air painting, my biggest challenge was to identify what to paint, and then hold on to that initial impression when everything seems to change. Often, we get lost in the details, or chase the moving light, creating what one instructor called the "twenty-minute tone job."



 In this photograph of Sparks Lake, where I recently attended a painting workshop, you can see the many exciting possitilities in a single view.  Where do you start?

Payne suggests that we narrow down the choices by making important decisions first.

Find the abstract pattern that excites you.

Look for ways to emphasize your pattern as you arrange the major shapes.

Make the choice to focus on one motif at a time.  There will always be multiple possibilities presented to you and confusion arises from the inability to select just one idea.



In the photo above, you can see one of the plein air studies I completed in the field. I organized my initial abstract pattern around the standard S composition.  But - following Payne's example  - once I got home I began to explore the material in a variety of ways in my sketch book. In the photo above, you can see the examples Payne offers for constructing a "form of composition."  I am using these ideas as my guide to push my painted sketch in new directions.

The top sketch is pushed more toward group mass design.

The bottom sketch is pushed toward a steelyard design and offers an entirely different possibility.

Further explorations could include color variations, other design structures, and emphasizing specific areas such as the water and reflections, or the sky.  By using my painted sketch, I have an interesting guide for color temperature, edges, and the freshness of painting in the moment.

Payne teaches that design principles, as they relate to the various approaches to composition, are part of the “means” to achieving a satisfying result.  Knowledge of these principles will strengthen your work, but originality evolves from your ability to use these principles in your personal expression, not from following a rule.

Finding new, poetic solutions to express an initial response will help you develop your personal artistic voice.  Don't limit youself by painting what you see, exactly the way you see it.