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continued from previous post,     The arts have a crucial role to play   Part 1    Between Grace and Fear

Recently my plea for valuing arts as essential tools for healing and positive change has been strengthened significantly by the book, Between Grace and Fear, the role of the arts in a time of change, by William Cleveland and Patricia Shifferd.
This series of posts attempts to present the main themes running through the book.

Expanding the definition of ‘artist’

Art schools are preparing artists for a world that no longer exists- ie the independent artist living exclusively from her work.

1% of artists in the Netherlands are able to survive financially from their work.

1%.

Not only schools, but artists need to think more broadly about how professional arts training can be applied. There is a new definition of ‘artist’ emerging exemplified mainly though not exclusively by many 20-40 year olds working now- the hybrid artist worker who combines many skills in order to enable others to source their own creativity.

Young artists are gravitating toward an art that matters- a more socially engaged application of their creative skills. Jonathan Harris is my favourite example of this. His TED talks on emotions and the web is also worth seeing.

In a recent round table I attended on arts and dementia care, my colleague healthcare artists also commented how being an artist isn’t enough these days. To do our work within the healthcare system we need more skills, those of : diplomat, administrator, group leader, organiser, etc.

In this new way of thinking about artists, artists are appreciated as professionals of the creative process who can bring these skills into other disciplines to help energise and renew them.

In a larger context, as professionals of culture, artists are meaning creators. Through their stories, dance, music, painting, theatre etc. , they create new and hopeful narratives to help people move forward positively in times of change. I’ll leave it here for now, but for concrete examples of projects read the book.  Or see my blog posts on Lily Yeh or Milenko Matanovic.

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photo Hannah Hess

SZ  Milenko, I’ve done a lot of work in the community as a healthcare artist and workshop leader. I find that after these excursions out to the community I need to draw back into the private world of my studio and create art to refresh my inspiration so I can go out again.
Do you feel a similar need? If so what do you do to recharge your batteries?
Or is the work itself energizing enough for you?

MM  I could do better with refueling. Having a small nonprofit means hustling for grants, giving talks, doing business development, participating in the larger network of volunteers and non-profits, and, of course, doing projects.

In the last year alone we built six gathering places and, in addition, led community engagement processes in several more neighborhoods. Last year’s work created copious stress; now we are taking steps to slow down and pace ourselves a little better.

For me personally, that means spending time with family and friends. I also bicycle and walk, and I disengage my brain by playing and watching soccer. I also do watercolors and ink drawings—quick art making that can be squeezed into my tiny periods of free time.

SZ How do you see the relationship (if any) between ‘art as calling’- passionately devoted mature artists working to high standards, vs the democratization of art where everyone is an artist?

MM Both modalities are important; in my work I practice both. The goal of my community work is to create shared ownership and for that to happen I do not present myself as an artist. I do not want people to feel they are my assistants. Rather I treat them as colleagues whose artistry may be different from mine, but is equally important and valuable. I invite their input at every stage of the process and together we figure out things faster.

I define success by how much we can accomplish with the limitations of each project: budget, site, available time, volunteers, contributions, and talents. Within that larger process, my artistic skills are called forth and I engage with that process deeply and passionately just as any artist would. So I don’t see that ‘art as calling’ and ‘everybody getting to be creative’ are in conflict.
Although many artists work in solitude, I work with many people in situations that are often chaotic and require constant adjustments and flexibility. But in the end, we are all artists.

I strive for conditions where the best of each of us can coexist, where people are talented together. When I can, I gladly draw on the talents and expertise of others.

photo Hannah Hess

SZ The art academies I‘m familiar with are oriented to producing star artists, and the students have that goal too. They are learning about competing and entrepreneurship. What should art education look like in our changing times?

MM In the Seattle area, where I live and work, this isn’t the case. The design schools at which I give occasional talks are all about community and sustainability.

I think the age of egomaniac artists, just like the age of political tyrants, is winding to a close. Collaborative practices will gradually become the norm, and schools will teach collaboration.

Collaboration’s purpose is to relate to each other in such a way that typically irritating differences can be transformed into valuable gifts.

To turn differences into gifts requires strength and flexibility. It involves the confidence to express ideas and the humility to adjust them to those of others’. This requires us to stand in one’s center while falling into the unknown-a demanding circus act.

I feel the hands and bodies are getting neglected in art training. Kids in the United States spend eight or nine hours a day staring at screens – computer, phones, TV – that ultimately function as a buffer through which life is perceived. This creates a more virtual brain circuitry, and the delusion of the familiar, meaning that if I read about something I’ve done my part about the issue.

Art is not about information, it is about meaning, about taking intuitions and information and making internal sense of them.

This is hard and courageous work, and demands that our whole beings are involved. Artistic work should produce three results: a new artwork honoring a new insight, a new artist who uses the process of creation to ‘incarnate’ this new insight into her enriched being, and a community renewed by the artwork. This, in essence, is the purpose of any creative act and hands must be an integral part of the work – something different happens in the brain when the hands, heart, and brain work together.

I feel myself to be less the artist leading a project and more the chef at a community feast: the ingredients are brought to the table by many participants and someone needs to figure out the recipe, one that won’t poison people, one that will be tasty and nutritious. It comes down to synthesizing the gifts of a lot of people.

Continued in Interview part 2

Hands-on and happy

July 22, 2012

I’ve had some time this summer to play with materials and do a small wall painting I’d been planning.

After painting all those flowers on harpsichords, I thought our home deserved a little bit of that decorative cheer. More on that further down.

First, though, here is a sheepy button I found at a textile fair: the little feet dangle free on tiny ropes.

Happy sheep button

Actually, I couldn’t resist making him wearable, so I made a brooch:

Needle-felted hill with embroidered heather, and a needle felted cloud on a wool felt blue sky

I like to think of someone smiling as they put this on and discover the flower on the back

Next I decided to tackle two ugly oil stains on a favorite pair of workpants. Ok they are work pants, but still.
I’d bought a scarf for 50 cents at a rummage sale and cut out some designs from it. I sewed them on, wrong side up, which made the colours more muted and matched the faded trousers better.

Cutting up the scarf

Patched

Happy black drawstrings

And finally, there was a small, neglected bit of wall just inside our back door, outside the bathroom (WC for our UK readers).  I’d been wanting to jazz it up for a long while.

Unjazzed

Voila, a piece of summer garden to welcome

Sweet pea detail

This was done with tempera on wall paint, which worked like watercolours.  I was ok with it when I stopped trying to get the deep rich colours of tempera on beautifully prepared sound board wood.

The work, by the way, was back-breaking, it took about 8 sittings, painting over parts several times where I didn’t like the curves.

I’ll choose a wall where I can stand and sit normally next time.

For photos of a mural I did years ago, on a slightly different scale, see below and click here .

Starting the waterfall for Jeroen’s Jungle

Accountable art

July 14, 2012

Making art was always my calling; but making art to sell never made sense to me as a life path.

From an early stage in my career as an artist, I knew things could be different. The givens for being an artist in this society felt out of synch with who I was inside and what I aspired to, yet there were no alternatives at the time.

For years I’ve been an advocate of transformative, healing art. Standing for these ideals in today’s hard sell art milieu, one is seen as a lesser artist, as someone unwilling or unable to do what’s needed to sell one’s art, or simply as a harmless crank, irrrelevant to the ‘important’ things at hand like promoting one’s work and getting more hits and followers.

Lily Yeh in front of a mosaic mural made with volunteers in one of her community art projects (pasted from this site )

But a change is a comin’, surely it is! I recently ordered a book by a long-time art heroine of mine, Lily Yeh. She founded the Village of Art and Humanities in Philadelphia.
The book I ordered, ‘Awakening Creativity, Dandelion School blossoms’,  is about a school for migrant children in China.  Over a period of several years she developed a creative program which transformed not only the physical environment of the school but the lives of the teachers, students and their families. What lifted my heart yesterday was reading the words of the foreword by Robert Shetterly. He confirms everything I’ve known deep in my heart about where art is and where it should be going.

Many people choose careers in art seduced by the notion that art is all about self-expression and that an artist’s success depends on becoming a cultural icon. An artist tries to discover a style or a niche that separates herself from other artists and promotes her career and commercial success. This is not necessarily a bad model for an artist, but it can lead to elitism, gimmickry, and an acceptance of art being primarily valued for its ability to generate money and fame- like so much in our culture. It’s a model that pits artist against artist in a heirarchy of value…

One word we never hear used to measure art’s value is accountability. What does it do for the welfare of the community?…did it promote ssocial, economic, and environmental justice and equality? …

Lily Yeh has rejected the model of artist vying with artist for gallery space and recognition. Instead she uses her talents to elicit art from distressed, depressed, and broken people in order to rebuild community. Her art is for communal self-esteem and hope, for affirmation of the spirit rather than for commodity…  Accountable art.

We’ll be talking more about community building art and accountable art in the next months here. I have a great new ‘Artists who care’ interview lined up. And I’ll be talking about new books and insights concerning art in service of social and transformative goals.

Charcoal drawing on acrylic background

This is a really big guy- 50 x 70 cm (about 20″x 28″), the biggest painting I’ve yet attempted (aside from murals).

I don’t use a projector, so I did this drawing (from a photo of Rende’s) by drawing a grid on a low quality print of the photo and a corresponding grid on the painting ( you can just make out the central axis lines) , then transferred the shapes by eye.

Blocking in some of the first areas

I really enjoyed this stage of the painting, it felt free and sketchy, and the contours of the drawing are strong enough to hold it together.

Starting to take form

This was the result of about an hour’s session.

Interim result of painting sessions over several weeks

I could have perhaps stopped here. But what I loved about the original photo of Rende’s (we took all the bottles outside in full summer sunlight for a photo session), was the watery, sunshot quality of all the glass together and their reflections bouncing off each other and the surface they were on. So I wanted to work with it until it contained more of that liquidy light.

A final stage, lots more lights brought up

I thought I was done, but when I looked at it this morning there were still a couple of things I wanted to tweak.

Sunshots 1 Sarah’s bottle series

Done. What’s changed?

– more light added in the left hand jar, rim defined better
-whitish reflection in the middle of the glass in the foregound better defined
-on same glass, bent the blue reflection to follow the curve of the glass better (inside of glass, middle right toward the lower rim of the oval opening).
-highlight added to lefthand dark part of green bottle
-extended black line on left through back of reddish purple bottle

Well one could go on tweaking forever, but there is nothing more that I feel I have to correct or adjust, which is usually the best way to find out if a painting is finished. Don’t forget this is big, the bottles are all about 1 1/2 times life-size, the enlargement gives it an extra impact.

A friend asked if I just copied R’s photo’s literally. The answer is not exactly. I choose the photo because it inspires me at some level, it has a quality I wish I could paint. There is longing there an a feeling of excitement and challenge. In this case it was the wonderful clarity of the reflected light. I wanted to see if I could let opaque oil colours shine in a similar way to the glass.  Rende feels so far, that the paintings really go beyond the photos, and I think this is true. They expand on a quality already there as well as adding their own. I’m not a fan of working from photos usually, but that seems to be the flow I’m in right now and there is a lot to discover.

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This is an answer to Kristina’s comment on Oil pastels and oil painting

Do have a go.
I work only on coloured charcoal paper, mostly dark- Cansons or Ingres about 200-300g weight. Lighter paper won’t hold up as well under strong application of colour or scraping.
And the colours completely die on white paper in my experience. I want them to glow.

Actually, I received a gift of a basic Sennelier set not long ago and it isn’t bad. Here is a link for a photo of the box http://www.dickblick.com/products/sennelier-oil-pastel-sets/#photos

There are some colours I can’t live without, though. You could choose from these depending on your own needs:
88 Sap Green- (a cool sagey bluegreen)
46 Olive green- (muted dusty green)
206 Moss Green- (a bright yellowy green, lights up on the page)
207 Ash blue- (very very light, I use it to lighten other colours to soft grey tints)
219 Celestial blue (Close to the light blue in the set, but more body)
40 Barite green (my favourite greeny turquoise)
82 Bright turquoise

8 Bordeaux (lovely rich aubergine, couldn’t do without it for shadows and depth)
27 Purple (nice magenta)
216 Perma violet (good basic purple)
202 Geranium lake light (good deep rosy pink)

232 Terra cotta (warm brick colour)
240 Light English Red (lighter versio of terra cotta)
20 Yellow deep (cadmium deep)

And I’ve always loved using their irridescent Red Copper 115. Those are usually stumps in my set. Their metallics are so good and this one just shines on a dark blue background. It also adds wonderful light flecks when used over other colours- see Gerard loved all flowers,  and Moon Music.

You’ve got me all inspired to do some tutorials on oil pastels, because they are the medium I’m really at home in. And there are so many ways to use them.

Don’t let all this info overwhelm you.

Here’s another suggestion for a basic set to put together yourself:
1 White
220 Permanent intense red
22 Gold yellow
20 Yellow Deep
200 Mandarin
213 Veridian Green
206 Moss Green
46 Olive green
219 Celestial Blue
237 French Ultramarine
203 Delft Blue
216 Perma violet
8 Bordeaux
202 Geranuim Lake
34 Burnt umber
23 Black

Living Tree, Oil pastel on Cansons pastel paper (SOLD)

This is an older work of mine. I’m including it to show the different textures one can get with oil pastels, and also because working this way-  ie more fantasy-like, is very close to me and is what I am missing with the more realistic oil paintings.

Trying to keep an open student mind/beginners mind I did a looser crop of my bottles, then let it dry a bit and worked into it with oil bars and oil paints, keeping in mind my oil pastel techniques. I’m happy with the direction, it has promise.

My bottles, close crop, first stage, oil paint on canvas board

My bottles, close crop, later stage, oil paint on canvas board