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An artist I respect recently thought of a scheme to get  people to buy her work. She sells inexpensive sweepstake tickets and has a draw, giving away several artworks a year this way.

It is clever. Artists need to be as creative in their promotion techniques as their work these days.

I am still enmeshed in an ongoing moral dilemma about doing the promotion needed to sell my art or not. Early in my career, selling went without effort. I had a show, I sold work. People came to visit, they saw something they liked they bought it. I had a stand at a quality juried art fair and sold work easily.

For some reason that all changed when I moved to another culture. Here in Holland, it was years before I created a good social network, but even then it couldn’t compare to being naturally embedded in my home town, Pittsburgh, where the people I and my parents knew, loved and valued art.

Here in the Netherlands, the shows I had sold little, people walked past my stands at the various mediocre standard fairs I did attempt to do (and then mercifully stopped with) , and there is only one friend of ours who, every few years, sees my work and falls hard for a piece and actually buys it.

Because I’ve known a modest degree of professional recognition and success, I refuse to take the low sales figures personally. My work, if anything is growing in quality and depth. The factors have more to do with a different mentality here in northern Holland about art, and buying art. And many artists I know are fighting an uphill battle with this and the fallout from an ongoing financial crisis here.

In the last years, I’ve argued that the path of selling  art was not for me, but it never really feels resolved. I hear about my friend and her sweepstakes tickets, putting in everything she has to be able to make her art, and I feel doubt about my own stubbornness in refusing to use the social media, in promoting my work more actively etc. One main difference is that strictly speaking, I don’t have to live from my art anymore. People who have chosen to survive from their art have harder decisions to make. But I do miss the feeling of having something the society values and will pay for. And it would certainly make my day if my work were to start selling again. Unlike most socially engaged artists, I still seriously paint and draw. And this creative work is the source I draw on to move out into the society and share my skills, and knowledge of the creative process. It is fundamental to it.

Yet writing this makes me realise that I’ve made a healthy decision for me-  I’ve stopped doing things which weren’t working, and which didn’t make my heart sing. But doing so also has severed me in some ways from my old tribe of struggling artists. It landed me in ‘the place between’- when the old wasn’t working and the new hasn’t yet materialised. But I think each of us who rejects a path that no longer fits us is forging a new way, for ourselves and for others to follow at some point. Each step on the invisible path creates a new way forward. But on days like today, it is lonely and uncomfortable.

Luckily there are artist friends I can still toss these dilemmas around with. And also people who have arrived in a similar place to me like Milenko Matanovic who says,

Long ago I decided that making art for galleries and museums was not going to serve my notion of making communities and society more meaningful, liveable, and beautiful.

 

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I’ve been working on a book for the past years on and off. It is about why art is important and what its worth is outside of an economic one. Lots of the posts in this blog have been exploring this topic (see, for example the categories art and the market or art and healing).

The deeper I go into it, the more I see that it is not an isolated issue, that the changes needed and indeed happening in the arts are changes happening in every sector and will shake this whole society to its roots.

That is why it feels on topic to talk about an amazing TV program I saw here in Holland this week. Here is a link if you are Dutch. It was called ‘Transitions’ and addressed the present crisis and the creative initiatives happening at grass roots level to come out of it. Actually the projects in the program were not about ‘coming out of a crisis’ but creating a new way of living in society.

The main focus was on Jan Rotmans, professor of Transition studies in Rotterdam. He says that in Holland there are maybe 10,000 creative people who are thinking and acting in a completely new way,, outside the existing paradigm. They are the tippers (ie causing the society to tip into a new way of being),  and the thinkers so far outside of the box that the box doesn’t even exist.

Rotmans says we are in a crisis that is different from any before, that this sort of crisis happens once every 100-150 years, and

it isn’t that we’re living in an era of change, but in a change of eras.

Briefly, this is a deep  and far reaching systems crisis- we are in a transition period between a consumer society and a sharing society.

The program focused on 5 different projects each in a different sector- healthcare, energy, urban design, building, and mobility.  For example, the neighbourhood care project (Buurtzorg) now in every city in Holland and soon to be picked up by the US, Sweden, and Japan. Jos de Blok’s simple idea is to put the responsibility for care and the organisation of care  back into the hands of the professionals who do it,and cut out managers and middle managers. It is based on small local groups of nurses and social workers who hire and fire, manage their schedules, and pay system etc. This saves money and  improves care. And it works.

Another project brings people who want transport together with those who are offering it – a new kind of carpooling, but via internet. Poeple make a profile, there is a feedback system, the payment goes via the site. (Toogethr.nl  – founder Martin Voorzanger) Voorzanger says,

the trend is toward trust not only being a condition for a sharing economy, but the new currency as well.

If people increasingly barter, trade, rent- they take their consuming into their own hands instead of buying from big companies. then this will be the real economy and we’ll stop measuring in terms of economic growth.

The new values emerging in all these initiatives are trust, connection, community building, self sufficiency, sustainability.

So yes, it is crisis, and at the same time it is an incredible opportunity to build new ways of relating to each other, using energy, living in neighborhoods, taking care of each other, and getting what we need in terms of objects and services.

The arts too have a role to play in this transition-  as tools to assist and catalyse transformation in times of change.

So I’ll be writing more about this topic in future posts, and hopefully one day gather it all together in a book to give hope and inspiration to everyone whose heart has been touched by music, painting or other arts. And whose heart, like mine,  is breaking when they see how marginalised and commercialized the arts have become in this soulless society we’ve all created together.

We are capable of better, I know it.

The longer I do Tai Chi the more I value it.  I love that you can keep going deeper and deeper, forever discovering new things.

In the beginning, 15 years ago,  the focus was on externals, mastering the basic  movements in the form (I do Yang form)  and being concerned about how good they looked-  how good I looked doing them!

But eventually you get over that and Tai Chi becomes your discipline, something private and priceless, and it is down to you and your practice and no one else, except maybe your teacher.

The 15 minutes a day I devote to my practice are precious because they focus me on essential things that tend to get lost in the everyday rush. Maybe I’m impatient before I start because I want to get going with my lists, plans, tasks.  But just the act of stopping, consecrating the space and time needed to go through the slow, meditative movements already calms me down.

I become aware of my breathing, my body, my feet standing on the ground. I move the energy down to my legs and feet and breathe deeper down in my belly. I come into my body and get out of my head. I am aware of how I am standing, how my weight is distributed, I feel the soles of my feet on this holy earth, anchored here, receiving. And I feel my upper body opening to energies coming from the sun and other cosmic forces.

As I start on the familiar, graceful sequence of movements, I feel whether my body is in balance or not, I sense my connection to the space and place around me, I feel my joints, I feel tension flow away as I take steps and move my arms in slow circular arc and dips.  I feel this moment of being in a body, in life, on earth  under the sky and concentrate on how the weight shifts, how a single movement can be a strain or effortless depending on your awareness. How some movements torque my body into uncomfortable poses, and how the next move releases the twist in a powerful but controlled counter movement.

Gathering energy, releasing it, dancing and fighting in slow motion. Tai Chi has its basis in martial arts. So while it looks like a gentle prayer in motion, engaging with a well executed movement could throw an opponent across the room.

I emerge from the continuous undulating rhythm of movements, come to rest and breathe.

I am in a completely new ‘place’ physically and mentally, ready to start the day rooted in the things that count. Hoping to bring that quietness and powerful intention of internals into the external world of things and doing.

Why website?

May 26, 2012

I would like to ask you, the small group of regular readers, or anyone who happens to drop by this blog for suggestions on the following:

My present website, ArtWell was created 5 years ago, and reflected my activities then. It also represented what I thought a website should do. It was my first site and has not been fundamentally changed since it was made. I don’t speak fluent HTML and though I can manage the text, structural stuff like adding pages and slide shows is beyond me. So it is very much out of synch with where I am now; for example, I don’t offer the whole range of dementia services outlined in that category. And the shop isn’t effective at all.

I have been working on a replacement site on Weebly for awhile, and it is OK. It obediently shows an overview of my main work areas with short texts to go with them.

And it totally bores me.

So, what questions would you like me to answer on a website? What can a website add to this blog, which is an up-to-the-minute log of my thoughts, activities, and work in progress?

At the moment I just don’t see the point, yet at the same time it might be an opportunity for something new. I know it might be nice for people to be able to easily navigate through my several portfolios, ie.- harpsichord soundboard painting, oil paintings and oil pastels, and letter work. I guess that would be the reason to maintain a site. But so far it doesn’t really get my bells ringing.

Thoughts appreciated.

Creating community

May 24, 2012

Group dining together (Source)

The issue of community has been up for me recently, it is always a concern of mine, but something has changed.

Our international online artist’s group is doing a joint project called Space, Place and Story. We were all asked to answer several questions about what ‘home’ meant to us, and how the place we lived in affected our art.

In answering these questions my usual story surfaced, of feeling displaced here as an internationally oriented American in provincial northern Holland. And the feeling of loss I carry around with me having left several communities behind in the states and in Scotland, so far not being able to recreate an intimate sense of community locally.

It turned out that many in our group were dealing with similar feelings of being an outsider.

As my contribution to the project grew, primarily through some compassionate and perceptive questioning by one of the project leaders, Sibylle, my ‘usual’ story began to change. I saw how, though it had been uncomfortable, the breaking down of my professional identity here in Holland had made way for a deeper, more inclusive kind of art sensibility. I’ve been infinitely enriched by being here in another culture.

In a little book called, ‘The Community of Kindness’ from Conari Press, there is a story of how a woman always used to spend her childhood summers at a lake where other families would come year after year.  That ended when she reached adulthood.

‘The experience of being part of a community can be so powerful that iits absence feels like a deep wound. That’s useful because the pain reminds us that it is important to be connected to others. But at the same time, we can get stuck looking backward, mourning what is lost or even  trying to reconstruct something that cannot be put back together again.’

This, and the project with my artist’s group are opening new perceptions for me of what community could mean if I stop trying to recreate what I’ve lost, but look instead to what is here. The truth is, that in searching for my fixed idea of a close knit community of like minded people, I may have overlooked some of the many chances for connection that I have closeby.

Realizing this has also opened up a question about how my art could relate more to the issue of community and connection, and I’m asking myself, ‘Is there a way to enhance this?’

It is difficult to be a professional, and even more difficult to profile as a professional, and still keep a beginner’s mind.

The term ‘beginner’s mind’ comes from Shunryu Suzuki’s classic book,’ Zen mind beginner’s mind’, and it refers to the open mindedness needed to experience life anew each moment. It is also about the humility needed to refrain from the, ‘I know this already’ attitude, and to keep learning.

In the most recent period of my ongoing oil painting journey I reached the point where I have some handle on the technique. And I’m at a cross roads as to where to go after the last’ bottle series’ painting.

I could keep repeating more or less successful bottle paintings, but that doesn’t light my lights. And I was already beginning to feel restrained by the realism. My original inspiration to paint again was Elizabeth Blackadder”s oil paintings, and they play with simultaneously touching realism lightly and letting it go.

Blackadder painting, ‘Still life with Chalice’

Blackadder still life

I really miss that student state of mind I had at art college. We’d get an assignment and just leap in to see where it would take us, experimenting all the way.

So I am trying to retrieve that and break away from what I’m already doing to see what I can do.

OK, now the hard part. Do I show my process here? As a professional who certainly intends to sell some paintings further on down the line, do I risk creating an image of myself as an amateur by showing my failures along the way? Or do I put all that aside and share my journey honestly, trusting that when I settle on a direction, it will be strong and convincing enough to attract serious buyers?

I like sharing my process, that is how we inspire and learn from each other. So this morning’s experiment is in the post above, ‘Dirty painting’.

Friends at decor-artuk recently posted a helpful entry on marketing for artists. A short exchange between us followed, and I’d like to continue my  bit here – everyone is welcome to join in, of course.

As my oil paintings mount up here (and they are the first work in several years which I feel are worthy of exhibiting), I will soon be re-entering the marketing fray in some way or another.

So just a reminder that my ‘anti-marketing’ posts aren’t about not selling one’s work, they are about the other sides of art which are getting lost in the marketing discussion. These facets of art/the arts are essential to human spiritual and cultural life, I feel. So I’ll continute to write about them here, perhaps reminding us why we chose to be artists in the first place.

When a work of art, piece of music, phrase of literature, etc  connects straight to my soul I get launched out of my small life with its everyday cares. I get reconnected to the best in myself, and reminded of why I am here- even if I can’t express it in words. It is just a profound reassurance that life is fine as it is, warts and all, the larger wheel is turning in a beauty and order which is unfathomable to a human mind, and my small life is somehow held and counted in it. Those mysteries are what art touches.
A past post, Art’s worth, explores the issue further, with Rob Riemen, a Dutch publisher and writer who spoke eloquently of how art was a solace to him after a series of devastating personal losses.

In Kristina’s (decor-artuk) reply to me she says, ‘… it does seem that art has lost a lot of it’s true characteristics; it has become like everything around us – you can sell it and you can buy it, it’s that simple’. (See the full comment here. )

Yes, Kristina I think , you are perfectly right. This made me feel my age, because being part of an earlier generation than most of the avidly marketing 30 somethings, I feel that loss keenly.

For one instant I even wondered whether in advocating a more ethical, and connected art I was becoming dated, an art veteran holding on to a disappearing age. But actually I think what we see emerging in all kinds of wonderful quirky forms outside the established art world -this is the future of art.
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