Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy New Year, Today and Everyday!

Happy New Year!! No, I have not completely lost my marbles; it is a new year today, as it is every day. Why fall into the lemming line and have to go with Jan 1 as being the “new year”? All the good resolutions are taken and after the hangover wears off, nobody remembers what was resolved in the first place.

As a former teacher, my “year” always feels like it begins in September and ends in June. Those wonderful 3 paid months off (which exists only in fantasy land for those who teach) are spent basking in the sun eating bon-bons and telling stories out of school about who had the hardest hooligan. A nine month “year” works for pregnancies too. The extra 3 months are spent in a fog of sleeplessness so they don’t count.

Early years of marriage are counted by anniversaries with each being a “new year”. Those who go through rehab may consider a date of sobriety as being the benchmark of a “new year”. People blessed with the gift of life via an organ donor may consider their surgical date as a “new year” milestone. My point is that any date, any time, is a good time to reevaluate those requisite resolutions and start over if they are not working. For artists, the “new year” moment may be when we discover a new media or a new direction for our work. The possibilities suddenly become endless and a year is not enough time to explore them all.

There are “fashion years” as in this “this is the year of the leopard print”, which never seems to make it past one season, and there are Chinese new year’s which make no sense to me but I like to find my animal on the placemat each time. We have dog years and leap years, good vintage years, and bad investment years, but no matter what label is given, none ever add up to 365 days exactly, except for my favorite form of measurement.

The best “new year” to me begins on a birthday as the starting point of fresh ideas and better living. Friends and family remind you of that date whether you like it or not. We get cake, we make wishes on candles and we receive new things into our lives. All the good resolutions still apply, like eat better (after the cake is all gone of course), save money, exercise…you know the top contenders on the list, most of which don’t make it past the following week. And that is why every day can be your “new year”. If one falls off the wagon so to speak, just pick another event to kick off the resolution game and start over. The event does not have to be major, it could be as boring as switching the brand of detergent one uses. Any excuse will do if our personal expectations for resolutions are not met. Jan 1 is for those who need the peer pressure component or resolution righteousness. Meanwhile, I had a passing thought about those lemmings……some of them must be pretty smart and stay back in the burrow making more lemmings. We never seem to run out of them. If all their friends are jumping off a cliff and lemmings are the quintessential peer pressure rodent, we should be out of lemmings by now. But no….they keep coming so either the cliff is not all that high and the little buggers are bouncing off and going back for more, or a few are smart enough to say “hold it, I made a resolution to not always be first in line so have fun kids….I’ll be right back here in the burrow building up the next batch of bungee babies!”

Friday, November 27, 2009

Keyboards and Canvas, can they live happily ever after? Should they?

This past fall, I was asked to be the guest judge for an art show at a major Texas university. One of those all expenses paid trips which is flattering to the ego, but not all that practical for the sponsoring organization. I accepted, but also “declined”, suggesting that the money it would cost to fly me down, put me up, chauffeur me around and feed me, would best be spent on scholarships for students in the arts. Yes, it would have been nice to add that to my resume, but in this economy and with the arts suffering like everything else, other chances will come my way. With a “judge’s mindset”, I recently viewed the Annual Myers Juried Student Exhibition at the University of Akron (on view 11/16/09 – 12/5/09) to see what is happening in art schools today and what was selected by their jurors as representative of the best works. However, when I walked through the doors, my teacher’s instincts took over and rather than judge any works, I decided to learn from them. I wanted to see what is happening in the minds of art students these days and what is influencing their art education. I learned a lot.

First and foremost is the influence of the digital camera and computers to make decisions. Canvases are far larger than 30 years ago with figures at oddly angled viewpoints, rendered realistically. A camera or computer obviously cropped the images for the students as the viewpoints could not be drawn from life for any extended period of time. I see this in high school art too, way too much. Paintings of figures looking up and down and at the viewer from extreme poses are becoming more and more prevalent. No futzing of the sides to make things work or fit. All the decisions are worked out ahead of time by technical means. Sometimes I wonder, why not just show me the photo?

Oddly enough, what used to be rendered by hand is now photographed. A series of objects or a luscious surface are captured on film, not in paint like Wayne Thiebaud could do with much flair and sparkle of color. The subjects of the chosen photos (which could be based on a class assignment so I have no way of knowing), show lots of people or complete isolation which is an interesting concept when one considers this generations’ obsession with social networking. They sit isolated at a computer screen but want lots and lots of people as their “friends” as if craving a crowd but in reality, unable to deal with actual people.

Missing from the show are any more than a few examples of hand crafted works. A series of wheel thrown pots, a welded metal sculpture, a wooded sculpture, three metalsmithing pieces, one crafted book, all of which struck me as sad in their runner up status like the states nobody notices in a beauty pageant, poor Miss Idaho comes every time. They were included as if to say, we still teach this stuff too, but it is not all that important anymore. Gone is the weaving department and full scale drawings from the advanced levels of art class. Even the printmaking pieces are digitally influenced. I understand that technology is the way of the future but I fear the loss of the artists’ hand in his own work or in the development of the artist’s “eye”. When a computer can crop an image so the artist just applies it to canvas, where has the decision making gone? Where is the fun of trial and error and having to make adjustments? That being said, the show does have large canvases of works which show no digital influence that I could find. The best in show is one such piece. Could it be that the judges too have somewhat of a tinge in their soul over this development?

The one big negative peeve I have with all shows, student or otherwise, is allowing works to be hung as “untitled”. To me, that is a sign of laziness and lack of creativity. Especially for a photograph, seriously people, nothing moves you about the image enough to give it a title even though you took the time to print it and mount it? I counted 7 untitled pieces which is very annoying to me as a viewer. A title gives me a bit of insight into your thought processes. If I had fulfilled my jury duty in Texas, any piece untitled, is out. If you can’t care enough to come up with something, then why should I care about it?

Overall, it is a well hung exhibition, each piece given a fair amount of space so as to be viewed without interference. The students must have more money than we used to as the mattes and frames are sometimes professionally done. The gallery is well suited but I have to wonder how many people have fallen down those narrow twisting stairs. Stay to the outside of them or a hip replacement could be in your future. And speaking of the future, it would be interesting to see a show that has two sides, one of pieces which used cameras and technology and one that relied completely on the artist’s natural abilities. This Annual Juried Exhibition at the Emily Davis Gallery is a show worth seeing however, especially if you are a high school student deciding where to go to art school. Looking at student work will give you the best insights as to what opportunities lay ahead.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Ideas Take Flight

Ever since those stupid twisty light bulbs came to be, the “ah-ha!” moment has just not been the same. By the time one of those bulbs gets to full brightness, the idea will be long gone.

“Ah-ha” moments come at any time, mine usually while engaged in some other task like cutting the grass when stopping to write it down is not possible. Hence the need to repeat it over and over, sometimes out loud, so passing neighbors think I have completely lost my marbles. Fortunately some ideas occur under normally acceptable circumstances such as staring out a window. Never assume that a creative person who is staring out a window is looking at what is really out the window. In my case, the window frame, the way it is divided by panes or blinds, the contrast of light and dark, the shapes of what is outside in relation to the edges of the frame, the scale and perspective of…….okay, you get the idea.

One particular life altering ah-ha was the result of pigeons. It was college English class (back when we called all language arts programs “English”) and I was totally tuned out of whatever was happening because my seat was near a window. The window overlooked the corner roof of the library so the relationship of the edge of the building to the window and how the light changed each time I was there held endless fascination. One day, the edge was occupied by a row of pigeons, perfectly content to sit there and get ruffled by the wind, much like the other students in my class. All except for one bird, one stupid bird that kept flying away and coming back as if to get the other birds off their birdie butts. I watched this bird the whole class. We got to be buddies. The blonde and her birdie buddy. Weird.

The next class, there they were again, all lined up on the rooftop, sitting on the edge of possibility watching their one comrade test the winds and get more aggressive and adventurous as the winds shifted. Today that pigeon would be diagnosed ADHD and booted off the edge of Bierce (the name of the library) once and for all, destined to challenge squirrels for dropped potato chips and poop on those who do not contribute. Birdie Buddy kept trying though. Off he’d go (random gender assignment since I was not about to search for pigeon parts), back he would come; off he would go, longer each time. Those birds sat there for about a month before it probably got too cold and instinct clicked in.

One day, they were gone. I felt very sad at the loss of my “friends”. But I never forgot them. I looked around the class at the room full of pigeons and realized that my Birdie Buddy had taught me far more than the professor at the front of the room. When everybody else is content to sit on the edge and wait out the wind, those who have the most fun (and success?) are those who jump off and go with the currents, sometimes with and sometimes against, but always moving. We can try to encourage others to follow us, but when it does not work, nature proves they will move when it gets too uncomfortable to stay put. In the meantime, we will be that much further ahead, fat and happy on potato chip crumbs and pooping all over the windshields of trucks carrying those danged light bulbs to market.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sometimes three rings just aren’t enough.

Age 5 – I am running away to join the circus.

Age 16 – OMG, my life is a circus!

Age 25 – Why do I still work with these clowns?

Age 30 – Who birthed these monkeys? Get off the bookshelf!

Age 42 – Of course we like her! (…and other 500 pound gorillas)

Age 49 – Since when did I join the circus?

The answer to that last question is when I chose to become an artist. Like most of us, I have moved through the various acts to find one which fits me best. While most multi-taskers perform with the plate spinners, I feel more comfortable with the jugglers. Artists are supposed to be plate spinners however, as we are advised over and over again to focus only on one “style”, with one voice and one technique to build our name and reputation. That makes sense if one is bound for super art star land which happens to be over the rainbow from where I live. Hence the reference to spinning plates in that the projects in progress are all the same, and must be kept going or they will all crash to the ground. Constantly churning china is a lot of tension and stress with running back and forth to keep everything going smoothly. Juggling is more my speed.

As a juggler, I can wear a T-shirt with my identifiable style on it, stand still in the middle and people can see who I am what I do. However, my hands are into many different projects that get tossed around to hold my interest and keep me active in the arts especially when people are tired of looking at my T-shirt. All my projects can be different too. Some jugglers focus on one object at a time like apples, bowling pins, chainsaws (never could understand that one…..), but I can toss many different things at one time, like pastels, digital photography, illustration work, patch design, fibers….and if I drop one, I don’t cut my foot off. Granted, it is a role in the circus that must be earned over time, after walking tightropes, taming lions, and sweeping up after the elephants, but all creative people need to know it is okay to try something different and add a few objects to the rotation without losing sight of who you are. The hard part is convincing those who are buying the tickets to see you, that you are still focused on one vision and speaking with one voice and that your core creature is still the same person. So to those who speak out from the bleachers that I am no longer a professional because I have moved from spinning to tossing…..this chain saw is getting awfully heavy……

Friday, November 20, 2009

Paying it forward, giving it back, or just realizing one is older and wiser.

A few days ago, I came full circle, a journey that was 30 years around. It was one of those déjà vu moments but this time I was on the other side of the mirror. (and male so don’t be really literal about this.)

Soon I will finish the first of two college courses needed to keep my teaching certification active. Life drawing class has been wonderful, allowing me to brush up on long dormant drawing skills. The other students for the most part are about 19 years old, beginning art careers, deciding majors, finding their inner voices and developing a creative vision. 30 years ago, that was me, a graphic design major at the time, or so I thought, a direction practical in nature even if I did not feel it in my soul.

At the drawing horse next to me all those years ago, was a scruffy character in a biker jacket with long stringy hair, maybe tattoos (I don’t remember) and he scared me a bit (okay, a lot) so I avoided him and his constant glances at my drawings. One day after class he asked me my major to which I replied graphic design. He looked at me and at my drawing, and back at me and said “no, you are an artist; you should be a painting and drawing major”. My response has long since left any functioning brain cells but it was along the lines of needing to be practical and prepared. He smiled at me (which did not make him look quite so scary, but he could have used some dental work), and said “you will be unhappy for the rest of your life unless you follow what you know is inside. You should be in fine arts.” (Weird how I cannot remember a thing I said, but everything he said…) He was right. I was already unhappy with the thought of pens and grids and typesets filling my future (remember, this is 1980 so we still used a ruler, no computers). I switched my major; I wanted to be a painter.

Slipping to the other side of the mirror now, I had a young man in class next to me in a funk about his work, not feeling the poses, mentally burnt out. I offered my colorful pastels as a change of pace from the black charcoal. He drew with renewed energy and a growing sense of excitement over the possibilities of color. At the sink after class, I asked his major….it was graphic design. I pointed out his obvious talent and we started talking. It was my story all over again, I was listening to myself (with a much deeper voice and in need of a shave, but work with me here). I told him he should be a painting and drawing major. We discussed possibilities as it is a whole new and different art world now, but listening to one’s inner voice never changes. This was the first time after 9 weeks that he ever spoke to me…must have been my van-driving, long haired, wrinkle cream wearing image that scared him off to the other side of the room. I have nice teeth though.

Even more amazing is what the power of sharing will do. Whether it is a stick of colored chalk, a warm and genuine smile, a word of advice or the voice of experience, one never knows when it will make a difference in someone else’s life. That biker boy of so long ago will never know the impact his simple observation made on my life. Maybe someday this young man will think back to the old lady in his drawing class and remember the time his talent was acknowledged by someone other than an instructor and realize that sometimes the soul has to take priority over the sensible.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A League of its Own

We have a team in our troop that does what I christened, a “crash and dash” which is a quick in and out visit to a meeting for the purposes of recruitment by dropping in unannounced, filling the limited time with info and splash, then dashing back out the door before anyone can really register what just happened. So far, after three years of this, it is working pretty well for our troop. Last night at the opening of a local art show, I did my own version of a C&D since I was on my way to a troop meeting, a rather ironic sequence of events.

The show is staged in the upper atrium area of a local State College, a center of education, which is ever so fitting for the tenor of this type of exhibition. The few moments I had to view the show was not really spent viewing the works, but observing the people viewing the works. I find those stories the most interesting. The show is not “professional” by any means, which probably explains why many of the “cool kids” in town don’t sit at this particular lunch table, a situation I find irritating at best and a subject for discussion some other time. This show is art at its core purpose, to educate, to share and in some cases, to entertain. It is a local show, by local artists who may be new to the game or have played for a very long time but still like to toss the paint around on Sundays. The gems are not just in the pieces, but in the people who delighted in them. Allow me to share a few of those moments….

A young couple was studying the signature of one painter, talking about how he wrote his name, deciding what type of brush he used, and questioning how a few marks were made in one area of foliage. I heard others discussing the placement of a signature and how it affected a piece. There was an older couple sharing a funny story about what inspired a painting. The people were laughing and talking about art and the moments that can be captured by those who take the time to preserve them on canvas. Further down the row were some people with noses almost pressed to the glass wondering about how a technique was done and a fingertip just grazed the surface to see if it was dimensional before realizing that glass prevents such exploration. There were other such interactions that took place in front of various pieces. In my few moments of lurking behind the other guests, it was good to see people treating art not as something to stand back from and “look at”, but something to step closer to and “discover”. Each piece has something to offer as far as educating the viewers. I know there will be those who scoff at some of the works for one reason or another, but do so quietly unless you have one on that wall too. Artists take a risk each time we show a piece in public, we are putting a bit of our heart and soul up on a wall for others to judge. Take time to look very closely at something you may not think is all that great and ask a few questions. Take the time to discover very faint pencil marks that indicate early stages of thought, look through layers and layers of collage to find the first piece put down, count how many different materials or media are used in one work….you see, sometimes it is not the big picture that makes a show, it is the little gems and joys found in small places that make the biggest impact.

For those of you with small children, this is a good venue to see art up close without the unwritten rules of gallery etiquette. “A league of its own” is in the right place for the right purpose and congratulations to those who continue to share a piece of themselves with the rest of the community regardless of playground politics.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lets Hear It For High School Musicals!

It is unfortunate that so much press is given to teens who do wrong, or score big on a playing field, but so little is given to those who make a scene. Have you attended a local high school musical production lately? I have and the talent, dedication and professionalism of the students are stunning. The stage was filled with gifted singers, dancers and actors who obviously had put in hours and hours of practice. The pit produced live music worthy of any theater venue. The sets and backdrops, lighting and sound, were dropped, raised, moved and directed with precision and expertise that only hours of rehearsals could hone. Which school and which musical do not matter, it is the same all across town. These students work together hour after hour towards something spectacular. Someday, a few may be stars on television, in the movies or on Broadway and as well they should be! I noticed in reading the paper today that many pages had photos of kids on the playing fields with long descriptions of the game, quotes from coaches and sports writers and detailed analysis of the outcome. The local section had lots of small articles on teens caught drinking, or selling drugs, or breaking into businesses and so forth. And then towards the back, were two photos of students in elaborate costumes from their school musicals. Each school got one photo. No article about the production, no names of the stars, and no review of the show…just a single black and white photo stuck in the back after pages of color photos of yet another kid catching a ball. To me, someone along the way has dropped the ball. The paper should be giving these youth a color photo or two, encouragement for the community to attend, and as much PR for the star as any quarterback gets each week. How many people can sing, dance, and hit every cue while wearing an often cumbersome costume? Every high school musical I have seen hits a homerun and also finishes in a timely manner. No delay of game for anything that goes wrong. The students just keep on going as any good actor is trained to do. So buy a ticket, take along your good theater manners, spend a couple of hours being fully entertained and salute these rising stars, a game where everybody wins!

I’M NOT BUYING IT! (but I wanted too….)

I hate shopping, most of the time anyway. Shopping for leisure as in just something to do can’t be any more mind numbing. Shopping for something specific is fine. I consider myself a Kamikaze shopper! I know what I want, usually where it is, go in, grab it, pay for it, and leave. So this morning, I want this red dress. It sits in front of me in an ad from a major fashion magazine, current issue, with the store web site on the page several times. Major retailer too so I figure if the item is pictured, the price and brand listed, how much easier can it get? I’m thinking great! I can sit here in my jammies, jump online, type in the info or browse the other dresses, order, click and be done with it. Wrong.

I get on the website…major retailer mind you, go to dresses…..scroll down under brands….nada. That brand is not listed. Are you kidding me? Okay, maybe it is a department and not a brand. So I use the finder service since I know the color, the length, the style and the fabric which should eliminate about 90% of what else is in the dress department and there it should be! Wrong.

No listing. Okay fine, off to “contact us” which gives 2 pages of questions and a link for each one. None fit my question. Go to the “if you don’t find your answer here, contact us”. Okay, click that link and I get a page of FAQ’s….now if my question were frequently asked; do you think this company would still be in business? Let’s advertise an item all over the country in full color, tell you how much it costs, then not really carry it. Sounds like a smart business plan to me, but I am an art major so what do I know. I dutifully click on another “contact us” and get back to the other page mentioned. Fine, guess it is time to ruin somebody’s day. I click on a random question, skip all the “how do you rate…” questions because “you s**k” is not on there, and proceed to type a rant into the box about false advertising. Now mind you, I still want this dress. So I go online to type it into a search engine. Guess the engine blew a gasket because NO dress like this one exists online that I can find.

Now I don’t intend to search on page 104 as I am a three pager when it comes to search engine findings. If something I want is not on the first three pages of a search, I can’t be bothered. That is my equivalent to rack rooting. If an item is too far back on the rack, forget it (unless all the small sizes are gone and one must look to the rear of the rack to see if someone hid one there so they can come back later….yeah I’ve done that, it works.)

Going back to the red dress issue for which I am now seeing red, I will give this Major retailer, whose store name begins with the same letter that stands out in this sentence, about 24 hours to get back to me. Of course, I will probably find it somewhere somehow, try it on, hate it, and return it. You see, I still wear clothes from when I taught school in the 1980’s, things that still fit from the 1990’s and whatever treasures can be unearthed at the local Salvation Army to which I hold a frequent shopper card. The only down side to thrift store shopping is coming across items that I already own. Oh well, the dress was rather pricey anyway.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Remember that song “I’m in the money”? We all know the tune, so sing this with me….
I’m in the paper,
I’m in the paper,
They even spelled my name right
After all these years!
Yes, I made the paper today. (Friday 11/13/09) I do check it every day starting in the obits and then moving to the crime reports. Finding nothing, I can move on to the other possible locations. Today, it was a drawing of mine in the arts announcement section. But today is a special day as my husband also made the paper. He is in an article about his profession too. What are the odds of that? (Us being in the paper on the same day, not his being in an article related to his job.) Actually, he got mentioned in 2 papers, but they are owned by the same parent company so I guess it counts for 2 points because the bills go to 2 different names which is really stupid as it is the same address. But I got a picture of my work in one paper so do photos count as 2 points? But then he got a long quote in one of the papers so that adds another point. Not that I am keeping score or anything. His story was much more endearing. But my name was spelled right and after 17 years I am glad it finally sunk in. I used to collect misspellings of my name, all 8 letters of it, which got to be rather amusing.
Being mentioned in the paper is always an interesting event. One waits to see how many emails arrive saying “I saw you in the paper!” If have a photo of me, that is a true statement, in this most recent case, the response should be “Do you like my mustache?” in hopes that the writer will realize the grammatical faux pas that it was not ME in the paper, it was some guy I drew for a portrait study. Speaking of which, the title is not his real name as I needed an “R” name to work with the word “robe” and I could not even remember the model’s name, which is a whole other essay on something or other if I can remember to write it.
Long essay short, hopefully people will see the show in which this piece is going to appear. (Stark State College, 2nd floor through Dec.) It is a new direction for me though I am not abandoning my ladies. The girls are just off shopping and going to the spa. I will catch up with them again next fall (Sept 2010).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Welcome to SnarkyArt where you may discover something fun and fabulous!

Welcome to SnarkyArt! I finally got so frustrated with traditional art reviews that I felt a need to add my own $1 (adjusted for inflation of course) to the list of writers who tell others what they think. I can’t tell you how many times I have avoided going to an art show because it sounded so boring! Art critics often do just that, criticize, analyze and pick apart a show so much so that who would want to go see it? On the flip side, (does anyone under 40 know where that phrase comes from?) when there are kind words or praise for pieces rendered, then I have to go get a thesaurus (a book with definitions in it, much like a dictionary, that can be lovingly held in one’s hands) to figure out if a compliment is back-handed, upper-handed or heavy-handed.
On this blog site, I will offer my own reviews (and/or impressions, observations, annoyances, complaints, compliments…..) in simple, easy to digest, fiber free servings of personal opinion. If I see a great show, I want you to see it too. If it really bites, well, you will learn that too without having to consult any reference books.
This won’t be all about art all of the time however, as lots of things ruffle me enough to say something. Usually I resort to canvas to do my dirty work, but here, the laundry will be hung out in the open. Speaking of which, in my neighborhood we are not allowed to hang our laundry outside because it could detract from the ambiance of our garbage can free curbs and matching mailboxes. Consequently, I also encounter many good things being done by good people that go completely unnoticed; I want to alter that situation as well.
So please join me here at the clothesline every so often while I lay things on the line and air out my observations.