Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rejection or Creative Injection?

The original "selfie", using an oatmeal box pinhole camera 1977
     Like Tom W over at Artwach, I too received the email about rejection, referring specifically to this year’s NCLAG May Show.  I wanted to write about this topic immediately while thoughts were fresh but alas, life intervened once again, and I had to sit on this one awhile. Perhaps that is a good thing. Being a Sag (if you believe in such things) we are known for speaking bluntly and often without thinking as we figure most people want the truth no matter how much it stings. As I get older (and more jaded, cynical and perhaps even disillusioned with the art scene) I realize that honesty does not matter. Not just in the arts, but in all aspects of life. The proverbial “every kid gets a trophy”, the “trigger warnings” for college reading material (oh Lord don’t even get me started on THAT one), and the “we must move our entire graduation ceremony because one person is not happy” caving that is happening daily is turning me into a grumpy old lady. I fear we have become a nation of weenies with skin so thin that a whisper of negativity can burn lasting scars onto our psyche.

     So I was glad to get this artist’s email that expressed his true feelings that yes, rejection stung and it was personal. He went on to say what he learned from the experience. Bravo! Isn’t that what rejection is supposed to do? Teach us lessons and build our character and make us try even harder to either understand and/or to make something else? Buddy, I have been right there with you in the rejected checked box more times than I can even count. 32 years’ worth (I kept them all) have already filled several expandable folders and been moved to storage. The acceptances are also numerous but do not elicit the same excitement as they once did because I get it….I get the game that is played in the jury room and know that every entry, every show is a crapshoot.  It is not personal anymore, it is business.

     Yes, we work our butts off pouring heart and soul and time and technique into a piece, only to have it put up for judgment and deemed unworthy. By who....two or three people who have most likely been rejected themselves in the past? Ever notice that the judges and juries are older folks? They have “experience” and “credentials” and “gravitas” so therefore they know their stuff. They have the authority to decide who is worthy of hanging and who is not….. Goodness, I just had a flashing image of the Salem witch trials…. How refreshing it would be to have a show on the caliber of say the Stark County show, juried by some HS kids.  Toss out gravitas for gut instincts and reaction. After all, who do we make this stuff for anyway? It is not the hoity-toity buying our work, it is the general public. The hoity-toities go to agents and to other cities because “real” art isn’t local.  (Oh Lord don’t get me started on the use of that word, especially in capital letters, because my Sag mouth will get me in soooo much trouble). 

     Yes, we work our butts off pouring heart and soul and time and love into a piece, only to have if put up for judgment and deemed unworthy. Now think children, our kids, not our artwork. Same thing to many of us is it not? Our kids are rejected quite often too…cut from sports teams, not voted the homecoming queen, no ivy league diploma, and yet we (and they) keep going. Tears are wiped and the game face put on to move ahead and override the negative. As I have said in the past, one show’s rejected work may earn top honors the next time it goes in front of the judges.  

     I used to think that as the art scene changed, I needed to change with it. Nope. Wisdom comes with age and experience (as experience from lack of wisdom as the saying goes).  I recently sold a piece painted in 2001. Now that work is 13 years old and I thought for sure she would be a spinster in the series but it took the right buyer at the right location to fall in love with it. The painting in question had been submitted to 15 juried shows during the 4 years it was eligible (anything older than 5 years should not be considered “new” work…oh Lord don’t get me started on the date fudging issue….) and accepted into 4 of them. I could have given up after the first four rejections, but I knew she had potential. Then three acceptances in a row, 2 rejections, another acceptance and then 5 rejections until retirement in 2005. Here we are in 2014 and she has new home.  It is about not giving up. Not accepting someone else’s opinion as the final decree on the value of what you make.  Your work is judged and juried against what else has been submitted to a particular show, and only those pieces. Your work is judged and juried under the influence of personal preferences by the people asked to take on the task. Could be a judge just put their dog to sleep that week and is not up to seeing anything with a dog in it.  Could be the judge is an atheist and anything remotely religious is out. Maybe the judge got a speeding ticket on way to the gallery and is not in the mood to be doing the job to the best of their professional and impartial ability. Point being, you just don’t know. One can read all the credentials and degrees in a bio and it does not mean jack-squat. A mounted exhibition is a result of what was submitted to choose from, how much space is available, what categories are accepted and how the awards are divided up, and the personal opinions of those who are making the decisions on any given day. If you want to survive in this business we call art, then thick skin and a depersonalization from your work is essential for not letting it eat you alive. But so too, one must realize that everything you make is not great. It may be okay, it may be good, but it is not awesome. Just because we make it (and we call ourselves an artist) does not mean what we make is art. (Oh Lord that is for another day, and please edit the nasty comments most likely headed my way….).

     You may hate my stuff, and many do, and I in turn am not a fan of some things I see, but that does not mean I don’t respect it. Liking something and respecting something are entirely different. I see tremendous talent and skills and over the top creativity in many of our little band of merry persons (oh Lord, if you are still listening, don’t get me started on the PC thing….) we call the local (grrr) art scene, but that does not mean I want to put it in my house.  The artwork produced in Canton is often incredible, but so too often not given the credit due. (Oh Lord…Please don’t let me …..Oh never mind….)

     Bottom line to the initial concept about rejection of our work by a jury…..the thumbs up or thumbs down has to be put into context. One also has to ask themselves, why am I submitting this to a juried show in the first place?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

72nd May Show North Canton Little Art Gallery

Found in a garden in the desert...good question!

(Full disclosure, I have a piece in the show which won an honorable mention in the category of acrylic paintings.)

Like several other folks, I stopped by the Little Art Gallery to pick up my rejected entry. Unable to make the opening due to a wedding weekend at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend (awesome I must say), I did not know about who won what awards or any of the details regarding the jurors or number of entries.  The gallery was empty when I arrived, but after making my first pass, I sat on the bench to reflect and in walked three teens, two girls and a boy. They ignored me but I certainly latched on to them and their conversation. They apologized for disturbing me but I jumped at the chance to talk with them and we ended up discussing the show and the pieces for 45 minutes. The teacher in me could not resist. The young man who had professed to disliking art became my target. Once he understood how to view the pieces, he was hooked. I don’t think he liked “art” any better, but he could appreciate it and genuinely seemed to enjoy himself.

At first I was hard pressed to find what I wanted to write about in this show, but their reactions to pieces now makes my job easier. We started with Robert Gallik’s first place piece, River Marker #5. To the clueless, it is a pile of rocks and some wood and some wire. The teens made fun of it, much like they would an odd classmate, more out of ignorance than to be mean. And so it began…how is wire screening like water? It has mass and strength, yet is easily passed through. The gravel is the river bed, it rises into the wire water, but also settles below. The corners of bent wire are like ripples and waves, the tall wooden spikes, burnt on top, are the river grasses reaching tall to the sun. Once they read the title and walked around the piece, it became a favorite.

We discussed how and why an artist would choose a certain frame such as the light wood on Dan Chrzanowski’s best in show graphite drawing. Again, it was a piece dismissed until the difficulties of technique were explained, how some surfaces are hard to achieve, smooth yet showing the artists hand and how that process differs from the smooth surface of a painting that does not. I asked them to show me which pieces showed evidence of risk and thought and chance and which ones did not. On what did they base their choices? Interesting answers from a generation raised on computers and technical media overload. 

We looked at the overall room and decided why certain pieces are placed where they are so as not to detract from or overwhelm another, giving each one its due. How sometimes a piece next to another one will make the weaker of the two look better than it really is. I asked why “that one” (pointing out mine, but they did not know it) was hanging by itself, alone on a wall…the answer, by the more savvy of the three, was that it is “like a punch in the face”. I kept mine straight. I guess that beats being a kick in the pants.

Having watched their first circle around the room, the one with the cigar, Breaking Through by Mike Uhren, was not noticed. I walked them back and we read the title. Then they saw it…the hands coming through the paper, figuratively of course because he drew it that way. This ah-ha moment lead to their roaming the room again reading titles. Looking for Truth from across the room does not work, but once challenged, they got it. They asked my favorite and I asked theirs. The girls based their choices on what they could live with forever and enjoy…a good reason. The young man was more about what the prices which once clarified that most works, if broken down, would be less than minimum wage earnings, did garner a new appreciation for the bottom line.

I chose two pieces, both by Lisa Vincenzo. Rain Cloud/Sea Green Ocean is a classic “page from a sketchbook” style piece. The raw yet delicate drawings, artist notes and again, that hand of the artist feel, are captivating to me. Maybe I am too old school from my own good, but direct observation and artist to surface contact right from the soul will win my heart every time. Her other work, Muddy Water with Beach Ball is just as fresh and sparkles with spontaneity.

The jurors’ statements were very helpful in that they explained their process of selection. No names, genders, titles or other baggage.  It seems that every year I see new names and wonder when I will encounter their work again. The occasional repeat entry shows up as well and some longtime established talents are missing in action. Overall, I think the patrons of the library will enjoy the show without filing any complaints to management this time.