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I recently received a link to an article which contained some useful information but the underlying assumptions were disturbing to me.

The article is basically a long pep talk for artists and designers whom, the author cites, seem to regularly get taken advantage of by their clients, and rarely make serious money.

There is good advice in there, but I have a real problem with the basic tone, which is so aggressive, it comes close to cancelling out any of the useful points.  What disturbs me about this is the arena in which this young man has chosen to operate. It frames business as war where only the powerful can win and the weak (or good soldiers as he calls them) always get taken advantage of. The business concepts on which the arguments are based assume the worst about human nature so that all the tactics presented are about self-preservation and intimidating others before they get a chance to intimidate you.

The author spends a lot of time explaining how to force others to meet your needs, and how to demand respect.

Well, respect can’t be ‘demanded’, it needs to be earned. And nowhere in his 15 page article did I find a word about respecting your client- her intelligence, his creativity, her ability and desire to create a good working situation for you.

Words such as fight, attack and escalate are used regularly throughout the article.
Business as self-preservation and getting ahead at all costs, and being able to dropping the right influential names, and mentioning one’s 5-6 figure monthly salary, are presented as The definition of success. It is a paradigm which is unfortunately so widespread that most people can’t even see that this is a choice.

My experience is that if you live in a world defined by these parameters, this is exactly what you will get; you’ll feel pressured to always maintain a warrior stance in order to survive. And you won’t be able to see kindness and generosity, even when it is right under your nose, because you won’t be looking for it.

There were a few things I did like about the article, scroll down to see next post.

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Catching up

November 26, 2011

Decorative letters and packaging workshop

I haven’t posted in awhile because of uncharacteristic busyness as well as being away for a week.

The photo shows the last session of my recent series of creativity workshops here locally. We’d just decorated some tissue paper with mixed media and were puzzling over a complicated 6 piece triangular origami box.
The next course is a wild adventure (I hope) disguised as  7 week (1x/week) beginners drawing course. Participants will get basic drawing skills while being exposed to a lot of other media and techniques. They ‘ll be encouraged to let go of  ‘getting it right’ and let go a bit to discover their secret talents. For any local people (Northern Holland, de Marne area) the course begins on January 11. Keep on the lookout for a possible free introductory lesson.
I’m recently back from Glasgow where I had a project with Alicia Devine shooting film clips for an internet course we are working on for caregivers on the topic of dementia. This was under the benign and inspired direction of David Ramsay, one of the world’s rare artist friends and enablers.
I’ll keep this one short because I ‘ve got more to share here about my recent trip to Scotland as well as some of my pet themes such as painting, art and money, creativity as a binding element in community, and craft as a potent political force.

Late yesterday night, not quite ready to turn in,  I came across a talk on TED by Jonathan Harris. An hour later I was still riveted to the screen having followed a link to one of his other projects.

The initial TED talk is about how we are increasingly expressing ourselves through websites, blogs and social media, and thereby leaving behind footprints. ‘Footprints that tell stories of …moments of self-expression’.

Jonathan writes computer programs which collect and study these expressions of feelings on the web, then organises them into dazzling visual displays which are actually complex data bases. It is a brilliant talk and concept, but it is not what brought the instant of insight and recognition to me at 2 AM.

One of Harris’s recent projects was, starting with his 30th birthday, to take a photo a day for a year, write a short story about it, then post it every night before going to bed. Watching the short film about it on his site is an amazing experience, they are great photos and each photo is shown for a second only, compacting a year’s worth of impressions into a few minutes.

It started out straightforward enough, but towards the end Jonathan had some important insights which exactly correspond with some real reservations I’ve been having about living life so publicly on the internet. And which have time and again prevented me from joining Facebook or Twitter. Read the rest of this entry »

Current projects

October 29, 2011

Last Monday, October 24th, my buddy Jan Krol and I gave 3 workshops at the 2nd Art and Dementia conference in Eindhoven, Holland. For Dutch readers here is the link . It was a wonderful, well attended event and the responses to our workshop were very positive. We did a hands-on art exercise, role play, small group work, had a creative approach discussion, and sewed the handouts (excerpts from Chocolate Rain) into a pamphlet book. This all had to fit in exactly 60 minutes. There were 25 people in each group and we had three groups in the course of the day.

People especially responded to the role play that Jan (in Holland Jan is a man’s name pronounced, Yan)  and I did. Jan played a person with dementia, and I, an overactive pushy activity organiser. I barge into the room talking on my cell phone, don’t greet Jan, and more less push the activity I’ve been preparing for him for days under his nose. He isn’t having any of it and sits apathetically at one point picking his nose quite explicitly. I get more and more frustrated, and though there were a lot of laughs, and this was an exaggerated depiction, people recognized the situation. Then we invite participants to come up and act out a better way to engage the person.

Home again, recovering from a cold, I now have less than 2 weeks before I leave for Scotland to get illustrations ready for a DVD I’m working on with my friend Alicia from Glasgow. It is an e-learning course on dementia for social workers and caregivers. We’re supporting the lesson material with quirky cartoons and several video clips written by Alicia, in which she and I will be acting. This time I will have the part of Mary, a 67 year old lady in various stages of dementia.

After I come back from Scotland, hopefully I’ll have a few weeks to rest before the harpsichord case is delivered from Germany. Then it will be a feast of flower painting which I will record and post here as it progresses. Johan Hofmann (Dutch language site), my client for this project has some fresh ideas about the painting and colour scheme, so this instrument, while staying within the tradition of 17th century Flemish Ruckers harpsichords will also be gently declaring its own modern identity. The craftsman in me doesn’t mind doing one after another of the same kind of paintings, but the artist wants growth and exploration. So both will be fed with this commission.

I hadn’t had time to get to my oil painting in the last week, but am looking forward to getting back in the studio.

Latest craft attack

October 7, 2011

Blue arch with beads

I have uploaded images of all my felt brooches (created during my latest craft attack) onto my Flickr site .  Someone has just taken an option on Happy Blues Medallion and Purple beaded shiboru.

Now, I have commissioned work coming in requiring writing and organising skills, so my felts, wools, silks and beads are all sleeping in their baskets waiting until I have the frame of mind to get to them again. I tried knitting because you can pick it up and do a few rows in between, but it somehow aggravates a problem in my right shoulder, so it will have to be no handwork for now.

(Cool, I just found out how to color text in this program!)

In the commerce of gifts

September 30, 2011

This is the 4th post inspired by Lewis Hyde’s book,’The Gift’

When artists work to serve the demands of the market, they make commodities. Even though these products are made with the hands, because they are purely products of commerce, they carry no (or limited) spiritual and emotional worth, and serve no bonding function for the community.

When artists work to serve their gifts, they create gifts that flow back into society and transform it.

The artist receives an inspiration and as he labors to bring that vision into reality, he enters what Hyde calls a ‘gifted state’. This could be compared to ‘flow’, and is a condition where you go beyond your own ego and feel as if something larger than your self were helping birth the work.

‘Out of what the soul has offered him, the artist makes the work.   And the finished work is a return gift carried back into the world’s (or community’s or tribe’s) soul’.

A work of art that enters us to feed the soul lets us experience that gifted state. We feel gifted for awhile, and depending on our own abilities, we respond by creating new work (it doesn’t have to be art,  but inspired by the artist we may find we can suddenly make sense of our own experience). The greatest art offers us fresh images that light up our imaginations and open up alternatives for our own lives.

I’ve finished reading ‘The Gift’, and Hyde ends with the thought that perhaps gift – and market commerce are not as irreconcilable as he first thought. In his Afterword to the 25th anniversary edition of the book, he says that perhaps they can coexist if artists carefully interact with the market while still serving their gifts. Scroll down for the next post which deals with 3 ways modern artists have resolved the problem of livelihood.

Nicholas Roerich

This is the 3rd post based on Lewis Hyde’s book, ‘The Gift’.

Another insight brought by reading Hyde’s ‘The Gift’ is that we artists, by identifying solely with the market limit the circulation of the gift. I mean, that by painting with the idea of selling that painting solely in order to make an income we are limiting the nourishment and gifts that painting could bring us.

In Hyde’s discussion of gift exchange in tribal societies, there is always a greater force involved in the cycle of giving and receiving of gifts, it might be the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of the forest or rivers,  or the greater community.

He then makes the connection to an artist ‘labouring ‘with a gift. When we are deeply into our work, something happens- time evaporates, problems recede, all that exists is this sense of being at one with the work and with the world. This state is known in modern times as ‘flow’. At those times art reaches beyond the personal ego and touches something universal which is then embodied in the artwork.

For anyone who has experienced this, there seems to be a magic to it, as if ‘it wasn’t me who did the work’. The feeling is as if we have opened and received a gift.

What Hyde has made me think about is this: if, through my art making I have been blessed to touch on such a gift, then there is something bigger than me at work here. That means that if I work consciously with this gift element and am grateful and humble in its presence, I let this all expand beyond my own personal ego boundaries. It isn’t mine alone, and it doesn’t need to nourish me any more beyond the experience of the making.

If I don’t demand from my creative gift work that it also earn my living, I am not limiting it to being a mere product.I release it into the larger domain, and from that domain I will in turn be nourished.

I have experienced this countless times, when working on non remunerative art, suddenly a windfall will appear from an entirely unrelated area.  As if by putting clear and true energy out there in one form it almost always comes back in another.

Russian artists Nicholas Roerich said something to the effect of , ‘Create, create, create, and don’t worry about the bread for the morrow, in creating you will nourish and be nourished’.

I’m not saying it is easy or instant. It is never easy. But by using this philosophy as a point of departure for making art, I come into a state of trust rather than one of worry, stress, scarcity and competition.