Sunday, January 31, 2010

FIBERNATION is no "Fabric-ation"

2nd April Galerie in Canton is currently showing “Fibernation”, an invitational fibers exhibit featuring the work of select regional fiber artists (a phrase I copied right off the postcard in case there is some copyright thing involved.) Textiles in both their decorative and functional forms are usually not shown together which makes for an educational as well as a visually exciting viewing experience. Some of the pieces are purely impractical and others are made to be pulled off the wall and worn. Some appear to be both at once, calling out to those who may be brave enough. Make time to stop in and decide which you dare to be! Therein lies the dilemma of one aspect of the art world. 2nd April is a commercial / retail gallery and studios complex that is hosting an “exhibition”. It is a lively and colorful one clustered to the front of the space and interspersed with other works of art for sale. The fiber pieces are for sale too, and several were purchased at last night’s opening. So what is the dilemma? It is one of semantics.

A commercial / retail space for art is often associated with having “shows” whereas museums and some la de da galleries have “exhibitions”. The former term lends itself more to a sales oriented perception whereas the latter term leans towards the “look but don’t touch” (and prices aren’t listed on the tags) concept. It is a minor thing in a way, but a big difference to those who do not inhabit the art world on a daily basis OR to those who are into it just a bit too much and get water-boarded every time it rains.

“Fibernation” is hung to allow people to touch the pieces whether one should or not, but if one is going to purchase a piece, being able to feel it (it IS fiber after all) is rather important. Because of the other gallery offerings being in such proximity, the “exhibition” term may be a bit misplaced, but since it is a collection of pieces with many by the same artists (often found in a “show case” situation), the concept behind this invitational is one of being an exhibition. That is the dilemma, how to showcase a specially curated collection in a space devoted to retail sales of art while doing justice to both. If the pieces are put into their own section, off from the other items, they become more museum-like because of the isolation and people may not be as inclined to consider purchasing them. If they are tossed into the mix of other assorted types of artworks, do the fiber pieces take on the persona of craft rather than art and the inclination is to see them not as “works of art”? It is a Catch 22 of the classic kind and for which I have no solution. In case one does not know what an invitational situation means, the artists were asked by the curator to be a part of the exhibition collection either by the curator being familiar with their work or, having researched the database of artists who work in that media, sought out cohesive pieces or, the showing has a theme and the pieces selected fit into the collective point of view. In the case of “Fibernation” I am guessing it was the first criteria used as the artists are close by (same regional part of the state). Nothing wrong with that at all, and in the case of a retail gallery, good for both the artist and the retailer in that patrons can find these exhibitors in the future without too much difficulty.

2nd April is constantly evolving in regards to how it looks and how it is laid out which is good for a space that hosts so many different activities and is a cornerstone of Canton’s Arts District. Nothing worse than a stale space that never changes its layout or its offerings. I hope Brennis and Todd continue to have such specially curated collections in the future. My one word of advice would be to call it a “showcase” so as to keep both the retail aspect up front (as in get your wallet in here and buy some of this fabulous art, available for this time only) and yet gives the work its due as a featured item to be seen by those who appreciate art. Leave the local museum to have “exhibitions”, and galleries that have one focus to have different “shows”. All that being said, go down and see the fiber works or as I prefer to call them, textile arts. How refreshing to see a presentation devoted to both aspects of textiles, wearable and decorative. A few special pieces of note, the jacket made from rag rugs and the every more sophisticated works by Gail Wetherall-Sack (and buy one before you leave!).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Case for Class

Artists are like dancers, musicians and actors, in that we must continually take “class” in order to keep our skills sharp. Or at least we should. I have learned that over this past year as I have gone back to taking classes to hone my drawing skills. Too many years away from the classroom left my eye numb to the nuances of the human figure and my hands too rote in their response to perception.

Musicians take lessons with other musicians in order to keep sharp at playing in a group (pun intended). Dancers must continuously work their muscles and stretch their bodies to keep fit enough to perform. Actors work with coaches and directors to develop new characters, voices, and emotions. We all know that athletes maintain a regimen of training whether in season or not. So too should visual artists be as disciplined and realize that our voices and visions need as much nurturing as others in the arts.

Drawing is the foundation of visual arts, or so it should be. Some will beg to differ in that classical drawing ability is a hindrance to expression and abstraction. I suppose an argument can be made for that point of view, but successful non-representational art still needs good bones or it will fall flat. Outsider art or folk art as it was once known is a good category for those who are not trained artists in the classical sense. Having had to teach that aspect of art to children, they are quick to point out that “that person can’t draw!” which is often true, but the artist’s voice is still fresh and worthwhile for others to hear (or see). Sometimes trained artists can’t draw either. I see that right now in my current class at a local university. Surrounded by 18 or so young aspiring art students, only a handful really have any actual drawing ability. Most will move on to photography and digital media majors where one’s ability to render is not required. I look back to my own years in their shoes (before any digital media) and realize how valuable my drawing classes were and that we paid a lot more attention than these kids do. No headphones (subject for another essay), no left handed texting while right hand drawing and so forth.

Before I get into another essay here, I shall stop and make my point. We should never get too comfortable with our “style”, our technique or our signature work. We need the camaraderie and the input of others who play in the same sandbox. It is okay to stay true to a calling (I am still working on the Women Series, the contents of my next solo show in 2011), but it is also important to keep developing the skills which got us there in the first place. A little beneficial cross breeding may take place, as it has for me, that will make my signature work stronger, and my purpose in the arts more rewarding.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Are you a Twit, saving Face or invading my space?

It happened again Saturday night. I walk into a public restroom to hear someone chatting away in full conversation at normal volume while completing the task at hand. Seriously people, have we gotten that addicted to staying in touch that we won’t even put the dang device down to care for personal issues? This addiction (fascination, obsession, compulsion) to electronic friendships truly disgusts me.

A number of things have happened over the last week that finally ticked me off enough to complete an essay that I have started many times. One of them was an email announcement by an artist regarding all the latest updates to her career. Let’s see….these included, 2 (or was it 3) Facebook pages and fan club pages, 2 websites, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a sales site. My first thought was when do you actually make any art? Those sites take a lot of time to maintain and update. Which adds to the question, who is getting on them all the time to follow you? Are these really “friends”? I find that aspect strange as well, this fascination with accumulating “friends”.

Those people are not friends. I don’t know who they are but could you call them at 3am in an emergency and they would say “I am on my way”? No, real friends to do that. Online friends only feed egos. Has our society gotten so insecure that it needs constant reinforcement from unknowns to make us feel important and wanted? Growing up, we had maybe 3 or four friends. That was enough. We called on land lines then met to talk. We talked at the bus stop, at lunch, maybe afterschool, but no calls in the evening, there was homework to do. Today, people seem to be in constant touch. Does what you do have to be so important to someone else that it must be shared immediately? We did not have this “self esteem” BS either. I think that whole concept stems from too much contact with others all the time. We used to make stuff, or do stuff or go places, and only a few people knew about it. Those who really mattered to us, and we took pride in doing something well, and took our lumps when it failed. But hundreds of our “friends” did not know about it. We did not take a photo of ourselves at every location in the nation and send it to the rest of the world. All this constant connection seems to feed the “look at me! I am somebody…really, look what I did, here is what I like, this is what I am doing right now…look at me, pay attention!!” To which I say who cares? I am a bit busy over here doing something worthwhile, not sitting on my butt in front of the computer (okay, I am right now….shush!) following you or occupying my thumbs with a palm sized pile of electronics to let you know that I am sitting here being a twit. Does it not all seem like a vicious circle?

Unfortunately, this is the way of our future and I best get used to it. I don’t have to like it, and I don’t have to embrace it, and I do have to understand that I will never be as successful as I would like because I don’t have “friends” that need constant care and feeding on the internet. I do know that I will not sit in a public restroom and discuss my life with you, or stand in a grocery line taking out loud and looking like a lunatic (yes, you blue toothers look pretty stupid talking to machines, gas pumps and dead space, plus I know your business dealings, that your kid is a disappointment, and your wife is getting fat). I don’t want to buy into the addiction of the constant connection. Yes, it has its place where safety is concerned, or families that are apart for various reasons, or even to market ourselves nowadays, but newsflash, what you are doing every second, of every day is not all that exciting. You may think so, and others want you to think so about them. But think about it…are you more interested in getting the word out about yourself to others, than you are about following up with others who contact you? Are you that interested in your fellow man or are you more interested in your fellow man knowing all about you? If somebody is really your friend, then meet them for lunch, know their birthday and send a card, listen to their concerns without sharing your own….

Just call me a dinosaur. I think of electronic media like cars. When the car was invented, it changed the world; it has exploded as an industry over the years and become an essential part of our existance as a nation and as a civilization. But they have only gone so far….cars still have 4 wheels and need fuel to go. So too is the electronic device industry. It has exploded, changed our world and defined our civilization on this planet, but it can only go so far. Then it becomes a matter of just getting newer versions of the same thing that has fancier accessories, exactly like a car, newer versions of the same thing with fancier accessories, but still comes with 4 wheels for the most part. I like my old van (email) and its trailer (website) and its new heated seat (blog) but that is all I need for now.

If you need the emotional support of imaginary friends, then by all means stay involved in that support group. My plea is to please don’t share your lives with me in the restroom, at the store, in line, at a movie, on a plane, in the waiting room, and so forth. I don’t need to know all about your boyfriend problems, your rash, your twitter stalker from another state, your Facebook follower who sends inappropriate photos and also take note, your space is invading my space and I don’t mean on the internet. And just for the record, I hope the rash was not related to the boyfriend issue, I wanted to hear the rest of the story, but somebody needed to wash their hands.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Teach Art?

I found an interesting article yesterday in the Canton Repository (1/19/10), the Arts in Stark report card for SmArts programs in the various school districts. Only the Jackson results are of special interest to me as my children went through the district, and I spent maybe 4 if not 5 years volunteering my time as an “art cart” teacher for one of the elementary schools. Why? Because Jackson has no elementary school (grades K-5) art teachers! The district did implement a Jackson School for the Arts program in the High School several years ago, allowing creative kids to follow an arts related track of classes (theater, dance, art, and music). The Middle School (grades 6-9) does have 2 art teachers and the kids take one semester of art in grades 7 and 8 which means up until the 7th grade, no formal programming exists. I don’t know if volunteers still give time to do art lessons like I did, or if the curriculum I wrote for the 5th grade is still in use, but suffice to say, no professionally certified K-12 Visual Arts licensed teachers are in the elementary schools with their own rooms full of supplies.

This is why I found the article interesting. Seems they used an Arts in Stark grant to run a special art program for 6th graders who were then compared to a non-art group to see who did better as far as reading test scores. Any guesses who won? The art kids did by a 95% better performance. Hmmmm….even my limited statistical sense tells me that art is a good idea for early childhood development. Just because I have a masters degree in art education, state certification to teach K-12 visual arts, and a thesis on early brain development and the visual arts, doesn’t mean my opinion (observation) should count for anything….but maybe Jackson should add some elementary art teachers? Seems we have coaches up the whazoo and specialty sports all over the map, so… no brainer people. Music starts in grade 5 and even that should be dropped to lower grades. I will never forget trudging down the hall to Mr. Marinak’s music room for flute lesson in the 4th grade. I can remember my first dress for my first band concert in elementary school in which I wore panty hose for the first time. Lucky for all of you that I found art a lot more fun!

It is unfortunate that some teachers consider a poster for a history lesson for example to also qualify as an art project. The copy paper turkey with traced hand feathers does not count either. Not all skies are blue and grass green, nor should some holiday be the reason behind taking time away from spelling to make some “art” for door decorations. I must say though that a little more time on spelling lessons would be a good idea. Qualified art teachers know how to intertwine the classroom with the art room. The report cards for Massillon and Canton Local School districts also showed double digit improvements. My point with this is to encourage schools to stop getting rid of art, music or gym in favor of academics. I can only speak professionally about visual arts, but it is as important in brain development as math and reading although I know that music and gym have proven benefits as well. Is it any wonder that art therapy is used for the treatment of stress and other ailments?

I know districts may not have the money to fund more teachers. How about giving the little kids a bucket of chalks, locate some blacktop (if any still exists near a school building) put up a few safety cones and let them scribble outside for half an hour? That being said, I have my own art to go make right now so here is my report card for Jackson. A+ on taking advantage of the grant and proving to yourself how important art education can be to the development of a child, F for not having any formal elementary art education.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Upcoming events.....

Tommy and I will be signing books at Peliggi's on 1/21/10 from 6 - 9pm. We will also be doing an event at Fishers on Fulton from 10am - 4pm on Saturday 2/13/10, just in time for Valentine's Day. What better gift than "Sex and the Salad"?

My next solo show will be in February 2011 at a new gallery in Cleveland. My website will have the details when all is finalized. The title will be "Just for Laughs, Grins and Giggles are Good for the Soul" which will be new paintings from the Women Series of acrylics.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stark County Artists' Exhibition

Where do I begin with this one? I just got back from the opening night of the Stark County Artist’s Exhibition on view at the Massillon Museum. (Jan. 16 – Feb. 28, 2010). It was wall to wall people which is wonderful for the art world. There were young people (those I classify as 16 to 25), there were couples with very small children, there were the regulars in town, artists of all kinds, and the friends and relatives of the entrants. Quite the party and place to be for sure! Because I am in the show, I don’t want to comment on it as far as winners, losers, entries and so forth, go see it yourself and make your own judgments. I was surprised to find my piece with a rope around it, though nice, it is rather funny because the item on display is made of plastic bags for gosh sakes, and I just know some of those guys wanted to give it a squeeze to see if they really were that big. You will have to wonder what I am talking about right now because I won’t rise to the occasion and toast my own luck at being included.

I learned a valuable and lifelong lesson from one of my early mentors. As an art teacher, when a project needs “help”, one has to be careful how to go about making suggestions. A teacher should never, ever touch a student’s work. Nor can we criticize or judge, which is really hard to do when something is in dire need of some good advice. His approach (and one I completely stole from him) is to stand there and say….”now if it were mine, I would ____________” and off he’d go with much needed input that never felt personal or negative. So with that premise in mind….allow me to say, “If I were in charge of the show….”

1) Split the show into two categories. I counted 18 of the 53 entries that were photographs or so darn close to digital media that they should be in their own show. Only 35 were of “traditional” media meaning paint, sculpture, drawing and so forth. By the way, where are the clay pieces in town? Don’t we have a potter’s guild? Don’t you all participate? Two shows would pull in the strongest of both media and give many deserving artists a better chance to exhibit.

2) When selecting multiple entries from one artist, hang them together. Better yet, don’t take two from the same person. Hanging all of one artist’s work in one spot allows us to see the differences in the images and appreciate how style remains the same, but subject and compositional solutions may change. Does a department store put its one designer’s dresses in three different places? No, because you need to compare them, see the selections. Art is no different. But preferably, one by each artist is fine. When a judge picks two or more it says to me…”dang it, most of this stuff is crap so let’s take two or three of this person’s stuff because we like it already and we need to fill the space….”. A juried show is not a showcase of the select few; it is a representation of all who are worthy. Think of it as chocolates (sorry Forest), one is good; two are good, but not always good for you, so savior the one selected.

3) Framing should be part of the composition and overall presentation (like Carol Mendenhall’s work) or not noticeable at all (like Karen Hemsley). Frames that are just plain ugly, overwhelming, don’t match the work or even damaged, should not be used. The higher end juried shows will explicitly tell entrants that frames are to be simple and are subject to rejection of the piece upon arrival. Sell the art, not the frame. Make the buyer go to a local frame shop (like Cyrus) and pay him the big bucks to get it done to your liking. Stimulate that economy! Something that looks like it came out of my Grandma’s living room is not doing your work any justice at all, trust me on that okay?

4) Work by students and work done under supervision should not be allowed. Again, the higher end shows don’t accept it, why? Because student and class work have had someone else help with the judgment process. The pieces may have been subject to critique, able to be redone, had help in making them better via outside advice and so forth. The “professional” artist or those who work alone don’t have such luxury of judgment unless a friend is nearby to tell you it stinks. Soloists must rely on their own instincts, training, judgment and eye to decide if a piece is worthy of submission. Establish a student division of entries and let us see what is coming out of our art schools and how the next generation is looking at life.

5) Beware of the digital submission process, especially where realism is concerned. Some pieces can look a whole lot better on a CD than they do in person. It is both a good and bad thing to happen in the art world. Back in the day of the dinosaurs, slides were the only way to enter a show and one could not enhance them. Now, with digital media, (and I am as guilty as the next guy so this applies to me too) we can perform a bit of plastic surgery via the adobe doctor and make images just a bit prettier than they really are. Again, the top juried shows hold a second round selection process for this very reason. Once the work arrives, if it is not as good as the submitted entry, bye-bye baby.

6) Paint the walls of the gallery a flattering color for the art. I was saddened to see that some of the pieces were not well presented due to the color of walls upon which they were displayed. Case in point, the textile by Catherine Theodore. It was a gorgeous work, very subtle and difficult to do on a loom, but it looked awful on the teal wall. Also, Carole Mendenhall’s work in reds, blacks and grey was not done any justice by hanging on a purple wall. Artists work hard on their color selections, so the venue should not overwhelm the work. Stay neutral and let the art make a statement.

7) Always include a juror's statement. Tell us what you were thinking during the selection process and what you were looking for while making choices. What are your overall impressions of the show and what words of advice do you have those not selected? As artists, we give over our visions to your judgments, the least you can do is provide some feedback. In a way, we are paying for that with our entry fees along with the award money passed out to the winners. All I know about you is your name and your job title. This time around, the show allowed us to submit statements to assist the jurors in understanding our work, then give me something back so as to understand yours.

Okay, I am getting far too long on this entry. But I do have one more word of advice for judges. If you accept the job to judge (and you work for a gallery) then the top prize should also include a solo show for the Best in Show winner (Congrats Michele, you are a visionary) and a dual show for second and third place. If the pieces are good enough for you to put on top in our museum, then they should be good enough for yours too. My husband has a theory about this aspect of shows, and perhaps I will share that another time.

Finally, words for a few of my fellow artists: Jennie Lambert, “Awakening” is a great photo for us nature lovers and looks like it could be a scene from the SyFy channel, good job!; Brian Robinson, the rainbow was a joy, thanks for putting it in there. I am learning pastels and I learned from you this evening; and Diane Belfiglio, you don’t know this, but I have followed your work since your days at Akron U, I am glad you stay true to your vision even though your media of choice has changed.

BLIND DATE (S) – which should be in red marker.

If you are old enough to remember the board game “Mystery Date”, then you won’t have to be afraid to open this door and see your options. Rest assured it won’t be the “dud” under that cardboard flap.

I made it a point to get downtown and see the Blind Date show which everybody is talking about. Only had a dime for the meter so good thing nobody was checking as I needed more than 8 minutes to enjoy the show. Anderson Creative is the host venue, Kevin Anderson is the proud babysitter, and Craig Joseph gets credit as the friend who set up his other friends on this blind date. We all know how those can turn out so he was wise to test the idea on his known circle of supporters lest it failed. He can breathe a sigh of relief as the pairings seemed to have worked out well in most cases. Will all of them be lasting matches made in heaven? No, but so what, those few mismatches had a good time and good conversation anyway and we all get to eavesdrop on their date.

At first, I was not too sure I liked the thumbtack idea holding up the papers, but as I progressed through the space, it grew on me and eventually I found myself wishing for some papers and thumbtacks of my own so as to add a comment or two beside a few of the works. The red marker corrections on the text portions of the show are brilliant. According to Kevin, they were an afterthought to correct some errors, but I found them pleasantly interactive and as a former teacher, delighted to know someone cared enough to proofread the writings and possibly damage some poor soul’s self esteem (red pens aren’t allowed in some schools anymore for fear it looks “bad”.)

I should mention here that I am not going to review the show piece by piece or do any of that type of commentary. Others have done that already. Google the gallery, it will connect you at the following: My focus is more of what did I notice and why, as well as why you should go see it too (take more change than I did if you go during the week). Okay, I will admit it, I have a short attention span for reading things on a wall, partly due to weak eyesight on my part and it doesn’t matter the size of type used. That being said, when I could make a quick connection between a visual work and it’s writing, I made it a point to read every word. If I had to work at it, I moved on. My behavior is typical of the GP whether we like it or not. Rather ironic because I include long text stories for each of my own pieces in a show and expect people to read them, so I should be more respectful of others in that regard. But I am not, I know, shame on me. Okay fine.

Ashley Barlow’s work needs it own solo show, however explanations of the imagery would be a good idea. Sarah Shumaker deserves one too; only her work can stand on its own as imagery that needs time to appreciate all the layers and materials. Some artists are starting to show signs of artistic cohabitation which may or may not be a good thing for either one of them. Like I said, there are some dates that did not work out well, but that is my personal opinion. In some cases the text was mentally superior to the imagery which did not even capture the thought process I got from the words. Other times, the two forms seemed to have been done as a collaborative effort as if the two partners snuck off on a secret liaison before the show was mounted.

I will highlight one piece as a way of explanation. “New Orleans” by Dawn Dettmann and the construction (furniture) piece that went with it by Kevin Anderson (not selected here just because he is a nice guy and happened to be there…..). I just got back from New Orleans and a tour of the lower 9th ward. Like I said, I didn’t read all the words, and in this case, I only read the last word of each line ala my speed reading technique from long ago. Those simple rhyming words are all it took for me as the connection between written word and visual creation is immediate. The open drawers with the little houses in them, disappearing if you will or sinking into a hue of bloody brown, captures the devastation of New Orleans or it can be viewed in reverse as they step up and rebuild. There are several additional metaphors to this piece which if you have been there (in Katrina’s wake), will strike you as well.

I can see a couple of marriages in the future, Van Misheff and McNulty for one. Several others should at least get engaged and see what happens. I think Craig’s idea is a clever one and well worth trying again. Like a new recipe, sometimes it takes a bit of tweaking to get the best taste and I look forward to his next round of pairings. My only criticism is that I would have liked to have known the city of origin for the writers and artists. Sometimes their location gives a bit of insight to the writings or the imagery. For now, all we have to go on is the show’s statement as to who these people are. I know the local artists but others’ don’t. Overall though, kudos to Kevin and I wish him continued growth and success with his space downtown and to Craig, you have good friends young man, but can’t one of them loan you a spare bedroom?

Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography

When I first walked in to the Saxton Gallery, I thought “this is Canton?” What a wonderful space! Stephen McNulty greeted me with an introductory overview as to how to best view the exhibition along with an orientation to the space itself. To me, the best way to see a show is when a gallery is empty of other patrons. Photographs such as those displayed here can be moving as well as educational. Stephen told me to allow an hour….my first reaction was that I don’t have an hour, but he was right, and I ended taking even longer than that. Good thing the meters aren’t checked on Saturdays.

There are things to be learned here, beyond about photography itself. For younger people (those 15 to 25 I suppose) is to see what can be done with images not enhanced via photo-shop or other digital manipulation. Photographers used to capture moments in time, not set up situations then alter them. The look of anguish in Jackie Kennedy’s eyes cannot be created. It was a real event at the second a finger pressed the shutter button. The black and whites of long ago days were hazier, more subtle, more atmospheric. Newer images are higher in contrast, sharper, and more focused in on something. Older photos seem more open in space and to other people being part of the scene. I digress for one moment, but have you ever wondered how many vacation photos you are in that were taken by other people? Sitting pool side while someone takes shot after shot of junior jumping off the edge and there you are, fat and happy on the lounge chair for all their relatives to see for the rest of their scrapbooking lives. Kinda creepy isn’t it! Okay, back to the gallery…. Many images have people in the “background” whose expressions and movements are all part of the captured moment. Did they know it?

I like to look into the eyes of the people in the photos, especially if they are looking back at the camera. Of course most, if not all of the subjects, are dead now and so I wonder who they were. Who loved them? What were they doing that day? Did they talk to the person taking the photo? Does your soul know that your earthly image is hanging in a gallery in Ohio? Along with some very famous images, are ones of just people or places or moments with no reference to whom, when or where the shot was taken. What a great starting point for a conversation with a child. I could go on and on about this image or that picture, but you would be best to spend an hour (or more) there yourself.

The back gallery space has a special exhibition by Stephen (officially the Gallery Manager) from his recent trip to New Zealand. I probably should call him Mr. McNulty as a show of respect in reviewing him as the artist, but sorry kid. I am twice your age and could be your mother, so you get the first name treatment. We are a blessed town to have such a talent living and working here. It is bit hard to get him to admit he is a locally grown commodity, but though roots may extend rather far, they start someplace and still hold firm. The specifics of his work have been reviewed by others already and I am in full agreement with them so no sense hearing it from me again. My enjoyment came from viewing the images as an active participant in the process. By that I mean asking myself such questions as to “where was he standing to take that?”, “is that the path way leading in or out?”, and “how many frames were shot to get that bird to look right at you?”, same principle as viewing photos of people, only the image gets the mental questions this time. The labels with their short story and small reference photo were most helpful and greatly appreciated. It makes the image more relevant to the viewer on a personal level with a bit of insight as to how he got (or did not get) that particular shot. You can see the gleam in his eye when he talks about the experience of a photo shoot and feel his enthusiasm about the gallery and its mission. I think his nest will be here, but his heart and his wings will take him away on a regular basis, and best it should. His eye for images would be wasted here in the grey Midwestern skies.

I was also given a private tour of the upstairs renovations going on under the supervision of Tim Belden. As a lover of all things old and with a deep appreciation for the past, this walk through was a treat for me as the work of artisans is as important as the work of artists. Such pride went into the carving of a newel post and the welding of an elaborate light fixture. The key to making these items live again is to combine them with modern amenities. What is happening over the Saxton Gallery is just as exciting as what is in it on the main floor. Pride just seems to ooze out of this space every where you look. Good for them…but more importantly, good for us. This is a true gem in our little corner of the county, if not in the country.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baby's Busy Day

My favorite children’s book was called “Baby’s Busy Day”. That kid had it made. He patted a few bunnies, drank some juice, watched raindrops….wow, I know I’d be exhausted after all of that! Poor thing even got a nappie and more juice after the whole storm cloud scene. Good thing it was one of those cardboard chunky books so I could leave son #1 to chew on it while momma got herself some “juice” too (as nappies were not part of the real life growing up process in my house). Somehow my life never got past that book. Every day is a busy day even though bunnies and raindrops are not a part of them anymore…..”juice” however is a requirement for better health. That being said……

I was asked recently if I would be reviewing a new show in town and had I seen it, and why I was not a part of it. The answers were maybe, no, and I don’t know. The inquisitor was incredulous and requested clarification. (Pretty good sentence there if I say so myself.)

So to elaborate….would I review it (and had I seen it because one needs to see it first right?). Maybe I will and maybe I won’t, because I need to make time to go there during the limited hours of viewing. That is one big problem for small, local venues. Owner operated galleries have to make a choice between being a full service retail venue open during “business hours” as defined by the American standard of time, and a working studio so the owner operator can make stuff to sell in the said location. Now some places do this extremely well such as Don Drumm’s empire in Akron. Limited hours means I have to check the family calendar, my work schedule, appointments and so forth, then carve out a block of time to drive down there, pay for parking, hide my notebook, then get out before the meter runs out. This circumstance is partly the reason why the answer to question three is “I don’t’ know”, even though I suspect I do. I got criticized for not making it a priority to get my behind downtown and write about it. Did my blog just get hijacked? Well excuse me person of interest, but do you want to do the laundry, the ironing, the grocery shopping, the recycles, make dinner, attend my classes and all that jazz while I wander off with pen (okay, sharpie) in hand?

The last part of that paragraph seems to be a sticking point with some people. “You are too busy to be a part of anything”…really? Seriously? Being too busy is a bad thing? What part of anything am I not a part of? I know the answer to that one too….seems this is the essay of rhetorical questions so far. Darn right I am busy. Making art is not a public thing in most cases. There is a whole subterranean world of which non-artists are unaware. Follow me into the cave for just a bit….

Okay, first of all, we need supplies (read the essay before this one) so shopping or ordering takes time. Once we have some stuff, we need an idea so as to make something meaningful out of it. Creativity is either a deep mind altering experience or a shallow smack on the head of inspiration, either way; it just does not show up at the studio door saying “make me!” The process of creation takes a bit of time (just ask God about that one), the more time spent, sometimes the better it is….and sometimes not, so putting a deadline on an unpaid project is impossible. Now if money is involved, oh yeah, we can make that deadline just fine. Once we have a “piece”, it has to be documented and marketed. Marketing means anything from submitting to shows or finding a venue for consignment to lining up a solo exhibition. In my case, pieces are shipped hither and yon which is time consuming as well.

Down another dark passage in the personal cave of creativity lie the obstacles of middle aged motherhood which can detour even the best spelunking lunatic. Male artists are at an advantage in this department as sexual stereotypes still hold true….sorry Gloria. Not many men stay home doing the chores, raising the kids, buying the presents, making the meals, and keeping logs on the home fire. Car needs repaired? Guess who is grounded. Somebody in the family gets sick? Guess who plays nursemaid. Somebody wants a commissioned piece of their cats? I’m all over that one because a check is involved so go sideline yourself my current canvas of comedy. My point is this, don’t criticize me for not having both feet in the flames at all times. Can I do it all? Eventually. Can I do it all well? Not likely. Do I like doing it? You betcha. Should my lack of involvement bother you? Only if you miss me that much. And if you miss me, ask me, I bet I would say yes.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Right Fit for the Right Brain

I had to make a return yesterday because the item did not fit. Nope, not clothing from Christmas or anything like that. It was an easel. I had wanted a newer portable easel for on location drawing. Art supplies are like clothing, they have to feel right and fit right to be of any use. The easel I tried was too short.

Considering the variety of easels on the market (French, folding, tripod, quad pod, double bar, display, table top etc…) finding the right one for the job is important. I am a bit tall, so I need one that can hold a canvas or drawing board at eye level. Without an extender, most can’t do that. I sit on the floor when I paint since that process is more time consuming and requires closer vision so easel height is irrelevant. When drawing, I prefer to stand up since my marking is more physical. So too does the easel need to be sturdy to take the jiggle and wiggle of the board as I attack the paper. French easels have fallen over in the past so stable extended legs are a necessity. Now the darn things even come with carry bags and in a variety of colors. Sorry but not even I will work on a pink easel. Then one has to consider the material from which it is made, aluminum, wood, steel, or plastic composite, which is where weight and transportability come into consideration. Dress shopping is easier.

Supplies are the same way. Brushes for example can make any person dizzy. First one must consider the type of paint to be used….watercolor, acrylic or oil, as each has its own type of suitable brush. Then comes the question of real hair or synthetic. If one chooses real, there is squirrel, horse, ox, camel, and sable hair plus probably a variety of others new on the market. Once we have those two down, move on to the cut of the brush itself, round, flat, filbert, wedge and so on, for the type of marks you wish to make. Finally comes the length and balance of the brush handle. I need a long handled brush probably more out of habit and learned technique than anything else, but there are short ones out there too which are more common and cheaper. Oh, I forgot about size. Brushes have sizes too that determine the width of the stroke. I think finding a pair of shoes would be comparable.

Materials are a whole other adventure. Paints alone can drive one crazy in finding just the right fit. Tube colors or pan colors, student grade or professional grade, domestic or imported, dry or wet, large or small, every yellow or just a warm and cool….the cost can add up. Sure there are designer brands on the market, but are they worth the price? I like tube colors. Pan colors are annoying in that I can’t tell when I am getting near the bottom. With tube paint, it is like toothpaste, one can twist and bend and squeeze it for every last drop, then cut the other end open to force out the stubborn residual. Okay, so I am a bit miserly.

Shall I even venture into the world of papers and canvases? The sizes, weights, surface textures, tones and so forth? Or erasers, pencils, inks, pastels……by the time one finds all the right materials, in the right sizes, weight, color, purpose etc…one could be too tired to make any art. Darn if that studio doesn’t look fabulous however! What happens with me is that I still use the same 10 brushes from many years ago even though I have jars and jars of them lined up on the shelf. Like old friends, I know how they will work, the pressure needed, the amount of paint each will hold, and that I can make them work for me with little effort. I am sure all you artists out there can relate to what I am saying. I suppose we lovingly pour over catalogues of supplies the way a gardener awaits the yearly seed selections or sportsmen drool over Cabela’s bible.

Want to talk about sketchbook choices? That is like buying underwear, best done alone because the intimate connection between an artist and their sketchbook is more personal than one can imagine. TMI as the kids would say, TMI.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I swear these four letter words are bad!

Four letter words often stop us in our tracks, or they used to anyway. There are three four-letter words that are so common nowadays that we do not realize how often they stop us completely. Caution….I am going to print them here…..the three words are:”don’t”, “can’t” and “won’t”. Okay, I know they are contractions so probably do not count at real four-letter words, but the use of them is just as bad, right?

Spoken four-letter words are not a good thing, texted four-letter words are not even four letters, reduced to two or three letters (so if your initials are WTF, I feel sorry for you), and written four-letter words just look awkward. I am referring to those words most thought of when someone says “four-letter” word. The three words I mentioned above however can be just as demeaning, detrimental and offensive to creative people.

For example….”I don’t want to do that; it may ruin the good part”. We sometimes save the precious part of a drawing at the expense of making the whole drawing better by not trying something different and risking the outcome. “It won’t work, I have tried it before.” Good thing that philosophy did not affect our greatest inventors or we would still be cave drawing right now. “I can’t do that, I am not good at it.” I hear this one in the classroom. The mystery to me is why the connection is not made between doing something a lot so you can get better at it. Students relate that concept to their personal lives rather well, (insert innuendo here) but when it comes to developing artistic skills, some kind of roadblock shows up. We are all guilty of such phrases though, swearing we will do better next time.

On the contrary, negatives can be combined to make a positive as in “don’t say that, we can’t air it, the FCC won’t allow it”. So when judgment is properly applied, there are some good things to be found in the bad words as well. Bottom line, toss out those four letter words anytime you enter the studio, be it mentally or physically. Swear an oath (4) to draw (4) upon (4) your (4) soul (4) for an idea (4) every time the creative process strikes. Give (4) back (4) to others, the world we as artists see inside, a place that can be shared only through our tangible creations.