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October 2012

Why writing about your art might not be good for your art

Sometimes, what seems to be obviously good for you isn’t. 

Nearly every artist website has a section labeled Artist Statement.  Blogs abound.  Writing about your art can be highly motivating, and is universally accepted as part of the artist’s life. It's inspiring to feel part of a larger artistic world, to connect to others who create or appreciate art, and to feel the satisfaction of having your work positively accepted.  But the flip-side to all this writing is that it can stifle creativity.

Yes, what's good for you can also be bad.  There are times when I’ve tripped myself up with this dichotomy, the “yes, but…”
  • The writing about the art is really good…but the art isn’t mature enough to be written about yet.
  • I want to be innovative and creative…but if I put nebulous, fleeting ideas into formal writing, my self-censorship kicks in and the ideas die.
  • Sometimes it’s just enjoyable to think open-ended without knowing the result…but an equally effective Artist Statement, and the accompanying Artist Identity, makes it harder to take those risks.

When we think creatively, we need to be open to new ideas, images, and connections.  How often – subconsciously or not – do we remain wedded to our older ideas out of a desire for security, and its accompanying fear of failure, limiting our potential?  We know that applying a hyper-focus on a problem actually makes it more difficult to solve – just like the struggle to find the best words to communicate something insightful about your work can actually make it harder for you to understand what you are trying to achieve.  There are a few times when I’ve caught myself thinking, “I’d like to start making art like that, but how could I fit it into the portfolio I’ve built and written about?”  I realize I’m thinking too much about the audience – those people I've been writing to – and I try not to do it.  But I know that my willingness to take risks can be directly proportional to what I consider an effectively written description of what I have been doing – not where I’m interested in going.  In other words, when I'm really comfortable with an artist statement that I've written about a body of work, I'm more hesitant to move in a different direction. 

Here are a few ways I trick myself into seeing creative options, and to write effectively:

  • Write in a way that explores more questions than answers. 
  • Don’t think like a specialist, but an innovator.
  • Learn to write about craft, not output.
  • Write to explain the possibilities in the inspirations, philosophical connections, and Art History influences.
  • No Artist Statement can tell the whole story.
  • Always allow yourself to the freedom to succeed and fail – because the consequence is growth. 

 

I have always advocated writing as part of a journalistic, creative process, where existing ideas can be re-evaluated and re-combined in fresh and effective ways.  A clear understanding of the artistic process is not just associated with a formal, discerning explanation of what the artist intends, but must be combined with an ongoing engagement of thought, spontaneity, and ideas that form the imaginative experiment.  Devoting too much energy to writing about what you should be creating may actually prevent you from reaching the heights of achievement to which you aspire. And wouldn't that stiffle creativity.

So what do you think? How do you approach writing about your work? 

From deep in the weeds,

Sue

 

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"I just purchased and read your book. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the info and will be following up on your blog. I turned 50 this year. I started my art career 3 years ago. I read as many art business and marketing books as I can but yours is the first I have found addressing starting out at 50." ~ RT, Oregon

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

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Let's Talk About Bones

Since October is filled with goblins, I thought I'd talk about bones.

Artists have many words to describe it: notan, value study, underlying abstract patterns, compositional plans - a painting needs to have "good bones."  I've talked about doing small value studies before, so have a lot of artists, but I thought I could show you how I take the value study further in the development of a painting. 

Here is the underlying bone structure for my painting Walton Lake Trail:

DSC09718

 Working quickly, I used a thinned wash of dark transparents with a round brush, scrubbing the color onto the surface with light gesture movements - thinking where are the dark masses, and what did I want this painting to say. This is like working in charcoal for me, additive and reductive, putting it on and wiping it off until I'm happy with the result. 

Tip: For this painting I used a loose mixture of green umber, transparent oxide brown, and ultramarine blue.  The oxide brown (Daniel Smith) dilutes to a rich dark orange/red that is less intense than oxide red, allowing me to push the color later with the reds. You may prefer other colors, but keep to the transparents as they allow the white of the canvas to shine through, much like watercolor. 

Here is an image of the finished painting (read about it here):

DSC09986 sm copy

 Walton Lake Trail, oil on linen, 11 x 14

I've found that it's much easier to bring a painting to a good finish when I'm excited and confident about the composition.  All I have to concentrate on is defining the forms, the quality of the light, color and interesting brushwork.

Here is another example, using my newest painting Yellow Rabbitbrush:

DSC09720

For this painting I knew the challenge would be the center of interest area, where the twigs and grasses created intricate patterns of light against dark.  After using the gesture approach to get the larger mass, I wiped out/drew in the stems with a q-tip.  I knew that many of these lines would disappear in the final painting, but there would still be opportunities I could exploit.

Tip: After reading a post by Kevin Courter on Facebook, on how he uses frames to evaluate his work during the painting process, I now place my painting in a frame at this early stage. It is very helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of my design.

DSC09997 sm copy

Yellow Rabbitbrush, oil on linen, 12 x 16

 

Painting is always full of risks. This process helps you manage them with more confidence. 

* * * * *

Happy Announcement: I was recently awarded Signature Status in Women Artists of the West.  Look for a mention of the upcoming national show, WAOWing the Texas Hill Country at the HS Hanna Gallery, in the November issue of Southwest Art. I'm thrilled that my artwork was included in the Spotlight section about the show.


  _________________________________________________________________________________________

"I just purchased and read your book. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the info and will be following up on your blog. I turned 50 this year. I started my art career 3 years ago. I read as many art business and marketing books as I can but yours is the first I have found addressing starting out at 50." ~ RT, Oregon

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle US Store  - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

 


The Mentoring Gap

The best way to learn is through mentoring...if you are a novice.  With so many instructors the only question is who to pick first.

The issue is more complex once you've learned a thing or two. 

It's easy to explain about values, colors and forms.

It's difficult to communicate how they work together to achieve a higher poetic result.

It's easy to produce a simple painting at the end of class.

It's difficult to work in a semi-equal relationship with someone who might be more focused, philosophically inquisitive, or driven to raise the personal bar of achievement. 

It's no accident that in other branches of the Arts and Science the idea of Communities of Co-Creation has taken hold.  Where the emphasis is on process and not outcome, and people engage in critical review as well as shared ideas.  The result is higher creative innovation.

Fariborz Paksaresht had been quoted as saying researchers must "be wholly engaged in the process and completely detached from the outcome."  And yet most teaching is focused on outcome.

We need more artists who embrace the idea of the artistic tribe, where mutual nurturing does not interfere with, but supports individual artistic careers. 

If you can find like-minded artists, join together. 

If you can't find a mentoring relationship, then create one of your own.  Be the bridge that other artists need. 

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"I could sure hear you in the book, very upbeat and encouraging...I also loaned your book to my Tucson art teacher and she let another friend of hers read it, too..."  TB, Tuscon, AZ

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle US Store  - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist