I am not arguing against selling one’s art to make a living at all. This is a valid return on the energy and makes perfect sense on some levels.

I am challenging the undervalued and exploited position of the arts in the present society.  I am challenging the prevailing thought that the arts are entertainment for a few by a few and are no more significant than that. I am challenging the marginalisation of everything the arts stand for which is culture and our essential humanness.
The arts are not seen as essential, therefore artists are put in aposition where we need to argue and convince, compete with other artists and profile ourselves to get the attention of people to buy what is seen as a fringe or luxury product anyway.
I know I am not going to change this by myself, but I do know that my voice is one voice in a ground swell of other creatives who are seeking to create positive changes  in the way the arts are seen in a society based on commercial  rather than social/spiritual values.   

Making beautiful products available for people to buy is just one way to bring the energies artists work with into the world.  Creative expression is a powerful healing force for the person practicing it and for the people touched by the end result of the creative expression.  I want to see more room for this, more acknowledgement of it in the mainstream. This means a fundamental change, a society moving toward more spiritual values rather than just material ones. There needs to be a balance, there needs to be an emphasis on right brained functioning as well as left brained. 

This would mean that beauty would become as important as function when designing a building. It would mean that values would change to be able to once more be able to pay artisans to decorate architecture with stained glass, wood carvings, frescos, murals, tapestries and other embellishments which lift the heart and spirit. 

Public spaces would become more friendly to people, cars would be limited to certain areas, children would be able to play outside in safe green spaces.   Neighborhoods would plan festivals and celebrations, people would eat together regularly and share each others cultures through story telling exchanges, theater and dance.  Workplaces would be designed for the health and well-being of those who work there, and there would be less separation between creativity and work.  Hospital environments would be warm, homey gentle places, full of silence, or music, living green spaces, rooms for contemplation and recovery. Rather than the hypertechnical super efficient noisy madhouses they often are, (incidentally with forests of GSM masts on the rooves, sending radiation throughout an environment that is meant to be for healing.. )!

There would be respect for values besides commercial ones. Objects would be valued primarily for their aesthetic and enchantment quality and their ability to contain stories and cultures, not for whether they could be bought and sold.  People would be treasured for their eccentric differences rather than forced to conform, and would have more freedom to create their own means of livelihood rather than fitting a certain job description. 

Thousands of grass roots creative initiatives would thrive and contribute to the diversity of life.  

All of these trends are already present in the society to some degree, they are fragile though and  need to be recognized, nurtured and strengthened.

This post is a continuation of, “Shaun McNiff and ‘Trusting the Process”.

Shaun says,’Creation is a circulation of energy’. 

So selling our work is just a miniscule fraction of doing that.  He continues’:

It [creation] is always putting things into new relationships within a continuously interactive process. We [could] promote creativity in work environments by introducing varied sources of energy and letting them find their way to solving a problem.

He imagines a workplace infused with the arts:

For years I’ve imagined what a large company would be like if it provided studios for art, dance, voice, music, and creative writing on the premesis. Why not give workers a chance to exercise the creative spirit in the place where many of their tensions and conflicts are located? Imagine the implications of transforming stress at the job instead of taking it home or discharging it somewhere else….. Creative expression will infuse the workplace with imagination, new perceptions, and different ways of interacting.

In my own vision for what art could be when moved out tf the periphery into the center of life, the first change would be for everyone to embrace their creative side and use it for personal expression in all areas of life. This is already happening, there is a democratisation of art underway.

Obviously there is a difference between this kind of practice and the life of someone who has committed deeply to art as their life’s calling. But we need to challenge the prevailing opinion that those anointed few are the only ones with the  ‘licence to create’.

We need to expand our ideas of what constitutes a creative act. McNiff goes into this issue in detail, but I am giong to move on with my own thread now.

So, next to ordinary citizens reclaiming their right to create (through the help of artists) , I see professional artists being supported and integrated into mainstream society in entirely new ways. I see a paradigm where artists are as valued in their communities as computer repair people are today. They would still create some of their work in the needed solitude of their studios, but there would be much more outward movement, and it would be easy and supported by the society.  The artist would be invited as a treasured professional resource to share the workings of the creative process in businesses, community centers, schools, hospitals etc. They would be paid well and provided with social support like any employee, such as medical and unemployment insurance.

I see artists helping non-artists to discover their own latent creativity so that this can be engaged for the individual’s own healing, balance and creation of a meaningful and connected life.  Workplaces, buildings, neighborhoods, city environments would be enriched by people coming  together to create , beautify, and reconcile. I want to add, and ‘pray’ but I mean this in a universal way, where people acknowledge that there is a deeper mystery to life than what we see and they form a relationship to it to honor its movement in their lives.

 All this is already happening in small grass roots movements. New gestures such as Look up, or High five, or free hugs (look these up on YouTube). We just need to be conscious of it  and contribute to it in our own small way.



This post refers to the previous one, ‘I Protest’.

One of the most insightful and succinctly written books on the creative process I’ve read to date is, ‘Trust the Process’, by Shaun Mc Niff.  He’s provided me with some clear insights on creating as well as some welcome support for my unpopular view that selling my work is NOT my SOLE PURPOSE or my SOUL purpose on earth.

 For instance, at one point he compares the discipline of contemplation and meditation with art making:

Can you imagine people feeling that their prayers, spiritual exercises, and meditation must be exhibited in a gallery or commercially published? This simple distinction between spiritual exercise and commercial production describes the most fundamental values of my approach to art.


As I get older, public or external recognition for my p intings feels increasingly secondary. The primary emphasis is creative exercise and the  intrinsic enjoyment of the act.

In his book there isn’t one word referring to selling as in any way related to the creative process. And there is  lots of support for stepping outside the current paradigm of what art is and what artists do. He challenges many longheld views, such as that art needs to be made by an individual isolated from the rest of the society. Here he speaks about infusing more creativity into the everyday work environment:

The work environment offers yet another paradox of creative expression. We are overwhlemed with demands and things that have to be done, and we react by longing for more free time to create. We assume that we will be more creative when we are dislodged from the daily regimens that ask so much from us. I find that creativity is generally viewed through the lens of romantic isolation from the world rather from the more realistic perspective of romantic immersion. We still see creativity as something that exists exclusively with ourselves rather than within the activity of our environments.

So what is the new paradigm then? Well, surprise, it is what all of us who are seriously questioning these issues and trying out other paths are making together.  I’ll put forth some visions for how it could be  in the next post.







I protest!

March 28, 2009

I recently read a list of things you can do to make it easier to sell your art online.  Of course it started with BE VISIBLE, hang out on Twitter, FaceBook, network, start an Etsy shop, etc etc.

I wondered why my heart didn’t start beating faster with anticipation of doing all these things and why my imagination wasn’t engaged.

And I realized that it is simply same old same old, but this time online.

In our present society, if you want to sell, you have to work at it constantly.  Whether you are carting your work around to galleries and getting newspapers to cover your opening, or whether you are trying to get noticed on the latest online craft depot you need to attract people to your work and convince them to buy it.

One online artist friend mentioned her aversion to ‘raising my profile online’ and her resignation to having to do it. 

I feel the same way and regularly beat myself up for not being more consistently entreprenurial. But instead of feeling like I am a failed salesperson or that my art isn’t up to snuff,  I wonder if some of us shouldn’t listen more closely to those feelings of resistance. They may have something important to tell us.

People blithely say artists are habitually  not good at selling.  I see it another way. Art and artists  exist in another context  than the marketplace.  Art is more, goes way beyond being a product in the consumer chain.

Some people, mostly a younger group, are perfectly suited to making work with the object of selling it online. I think that is just wonderful. It is valid, and interesting and sometimes inspiring.

These musings, however,  are for the rest of us, the ones who are asking some difficult questions about what art really means in their lives and the life of the community. 

 I want to argue from outside the paradigm that we all seem to be caught in, that if you make things, this automatically means that you need to put them to work to earn an income for you.


More in the next post.

What Evert taught me

March 22, 2009


Book inscription from Dutch calligrapher, Evert van Dijk

One of my oldest and dearest friends here in Holland is an impassioned calligrapher and retired teacher of handicapped children.

My encounter with him when I first came to live here changed my life as an artist irrevocably.  Evert saw my dilemma clearly. I was no longer growing artistically because I was caught in the prison of the  prevailing aesthetic in the middleclass American  milieu where I grew up. I’d  learned that art had to be ‘beautiful’ and that my calligraphy had to be as close to perfection as the human hand would allow.

Evert, with his wonderfully ebullient personality and outspoken views, blasted through that shell of pretense and released my authenticity. I think this is the task of all true teachers and mentors.

This altered view is also what releases calligraphy from craft and lifts it to art. My letters and mark making became much more expressive of who I was, and this had a ripple effect throughout my life; one I am only truly coming to understand about 20 years later.

In the article I am writing about art and dementia care, this theme of authenticity keeps reappearing.
Artists accept people with dementia as completely whole, viable, interesting human beings, and therefore often elicit lucid repsonses where trained staff have failed.   In an art session, the person ‘s markmaking is seen in the context of authenticity rather than conventional aesthetics.  I am not after a pretty picture (this would expose the person and me to the potential of ‘failure’)  instead, I look for interaction and engagement.  The rules change, a person’s  raw and spontaneous line becomes the new context for  ‘beautiful’.  The Japanese have a philosphy of aesthetics based on this called Wabi Sabi*.  

It is the ability to see the worth in something or someone just as they are without requiring that they fit a preconceived ideal.


*Wabi Sabi is an asethetic of the fragile, weathered and transient. It is the opposite of the Western tendency to aspire to the imposing, large and powerful. We idealize a perfect rose in bloom, Wabi Sabi cherishes the rose past its prime:  a chipped flea market wooden table with flaking paint as opposed to the latest design statement in glass and chrome.

Serious procrastination

March 10, 2009

There are 20 other things I should be doing this morning, but I realized that for my well-being, I needed to get out my materials before doing anything else.

I recently bought some sumptuous colours to add to my collection of Caran d’ache neocolour, water soluble  paint sticks. The above collage, a bit smaller than an A4, was done by first cutting up a ‘nearly made it’ previous oil pastel of mine. Then I added colour using watercolour sticks around the shapes, then went in with water on a fairly stiff brush to blend some of the colours. I’d started out with a piece of  bright orange  Cansons Ingres pastel paper 160 g. and I love how the orange shines through in places. 

I just needed to feel colours sing this morning before obediently planting myself in front of the computer to make myself write a brilliant article on creativity and dementia care, or finally wrap up the folder design for my summer calligraphy courses or get some more of my book printed out for my reader friend, or write some more on my book, or do the administration, or work on the volunteer design job for the local municipal commission, or renovate the house or get my webshop up and running or update my website or or or……….

Yesterday I counselled a dear friend who is going through a rough patch with her health to stop worrying about what society and so-called ‘friends’ thought, to not let her self be pressured to conform to outer demands, to be happy and do what she does best, which is be an artist and make beautiful true things.  

Sometimes I need to take that advice myself.

Woodwork and photo Rende Zoutewelle, painting,  by me

Making this chair was our first official commission and we got burned on it.

A smooth talking entrepreneur had been to Mexico where he saw so-called, ‘Portrait Chairs’.  They were big in the American Southwest at the time and he thought he would begin a trend here in Holland. Via a mutual acquaintance, he found his way to us and we made two chairs for him- a Frida Kahlo one and one portraying Pancho Villa.  Eventually we were paid for Pancho, who was also featured in the European version of ‘Elle’ ,(with no mention of the makers, by the way), but the guy skipped town and left us sitting with Frida.

We have entered her in different exhibitions and had her in our show window for years.  Cars used to screech to a halt and back up for another look as they passed by, because she was so life like. A friend in the US was serious about buying her, but the shipping proved to be impossible.  I thought she would sell for sure when the movie about Frida Kahlo’s life came out, but the timing ust didn’t seem to be right.

I feel that she will eventually find the right home, but meanwhile we like having her around.

Incidentally, despite the fact that  we were never paid for this chair, we were paid for Pancho Villa, and it was this commission that launched Rende’s wordworking business and our eventual financial independence.