Once upon a tombstone
I read an epitaph
whose sentiments ridiculous
were prone to make me laugh;
the information set thereon
gave me to ridicule
the marker and the makings of
some great exquisite fool;
now lest you think me callous and
a soulless Frankenstein,
you ought to know the coup de grâce:
the epitaph was mine.
Would that I had the blithe wit and urbane persona of a Noël Coward, but alas, I operate on a lower and more plebeian plane. And for those who are keeping score, yes, I am a big chicken, if that’s what you were reading in today’s title. Still and all, I think of myself as being less than hideously fearful when it comes to self-exposure as an artist.Though the upshot of all this may be that my audiences become unwitting consumers of drivel and bilge at least part of the time, I also remind myself that there is some credible evidence, historically speaking, that the greatest masters of the many forms of art are represented in the present age only by those portions of their respective oeuvres that they or others chose to retain. Long have I wished that I might gain access to, if you will, the Rubbish Bins of the Old Masters to see something more accurately representing the whole of the bodies of work that led to the known and treasured glories. So here I am, letting all and sundry look into the underwear drawer of my art closet, so to speak. After all, I think that I’m merely admitting to what my betters may have left to the imagination.So I’ll keep showing off process and behind-the-curtain action from time to time, knowing as I do that not only are folk wonderfully gracious and patient with me even when critiquing but also , and more importantly, that I appreciate those of my fellow artists who are willing to share the same access to their gifts with me. We all have our weaknesses. But when it comes to showing off my work, I’m no coward.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I, as proprietress and perpetrator of this site, THANK YOU all from the bottom of my humble heart for your kind and gracious and astonishingly friendly support here. It’s a joy to meet with you here and share our lives and loves so happily. May each and every one of you be gifted with a sweet, magically wonderful 2013!
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 35,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 8 Film Festivals
There have been a few occasions in the past when I thought I would go out into the wide world, metaphorically speaking, and seek my (however tiny) fortune on the strength of my artwork. I happen to think I’m a pretty good artist. Even other, seemingly sentient and sane, people have given me reason to think I’m a pretty good artist in somebody’s eyes besides my own. Not that I would be in the least biased.
So I’ve looked into various ways to ‘put it out there’ [Ed: don't be ridiculous. NOT THAT!], from looking at DIY publishing, either online or on-demand, of prints of my artworks or of books–I’ve got a whole stack of book pages laid out with my art and writing on a whole slew of topics and themes, all stashed away digitally for Maybe Someday use–to sending hard copy prototypes of said books and artworks to various publishers, galleries, shops and the like to see if they’d be interested in aiding me with their resources. The answer, always, has been No. All who respond with anything other than simple form responses indicate that they, too, think my work is good stuff. But the other universal response is: I’m too hard to ‘package’. After whatever amount of hemming and hawing is required in the instance, the clarification is that my work (usually referring to the visual parts, but written forms have been included as well) varies too much. I’m not same-same-same enough to be marketable, apparently.
I consider this high praise. But it’s rotten for business, as you can imagine. Yes, I’ve sold both speculative and commissioned artworks, but only privately and by word of mouth and for very modest sums and, frankly, none in quite a long time. I’ve had a number of gallery showings, but virtually all ones that I organized myself, paid for from start to finish, framed and installed and lit and removed myself (though as my family and close friends will attest, not entirely without enslaving some of them for some of the schlepping and heavy lifting)–and nearly all of these also garnering me good reviews, when I could get any critics to attend, and lots of enthusiastic appreciation from attendees, but no sales. I’m actually beginning to think they might be onto something, those crazies who sell high-end mansion properties and deal with slow sales by jacking the prices higher and higher until equally crazy buyers consider the places posh enough to capture their highfalutin imaginings and plunk down megamillions of dollars or Euros or what-have-you. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here on my little paper and digital treasure trove of creative wonders and selling occasional copies of them for pennies at Zazzle.com.
The other aspect of the critiques I’ve sought that always seem to end with ‘gosh, you’re wonderful, buuuuuuut . . . ‘ is that the same people who tell me I’m too diversified (if not wholly a dilettante and a flighty fool) for my marketable good often tell me in the same conversations that I have a very recognizable style, so no matter how much my subjects and media and moods vary, they find my work fairly easy to identify. And they say this as though they, too, think that’s a good thing. Can’t say I can untangle how the good seems to be perpetually the enemy of the moneymaking; clearly a puzzle I haven’t solved. Yet.
Until then, I keep doing-what-I-do, plodding along and enjoying the process because if it isn’t making me (or my patient partner) any income, it should at the very least be fun to do it! And I do find that no matter how much my attention wanders or my themes hop around from light to dark, from complex to childlike, from crudely handmade to semi-seamlessly digital, I see more and more the marks of my own nature and personality and style peering out at me from each work. I may draw characters that are as far from my own ‘type’ and experience and even beliefs or prior interests as can be imagined (by me), but each of them ends up being somehow a child of my own making or a member of the larger family of my creative spirit, and that’s pretty good, too, I’d say.
Though bleary, psychedelic and portentous dreams had haunted him into a knot by daylight it was neither dark nor stormy that morning. Tarryble Slye was in such a grim and grimy mood when he finally wrestled awake that he decided not to get out of bed until it was darker, for his business with Methden Gartinen was ugly enough to require at the very least a whiff of midnight, better yet a night gripped by a walloping storm. Whether the requisite pelting of rain and blasts of lightning came or not, Slye was determined to drag himself out of bed as late as he possibly could, and put off tonight’s assigned meeting as late as he could get away with it too. That rat Gartinen had made the whole thing sound as innocuous as he could and even offered to pick up the dinner tab beforehand, but there was no mistaking that once he was out of bed Slye was going to be sorely sorry he’d ever crawled out at all. He was already sorry he’d committed to showing up, and backing out of it wasn’t an option; maybe he ought to accept the proffered payoff: a paper-wrapped catch of fish and chips was probably the best thing he could hope to get out of this lousy, evil-tinged day.
Man, how he hated doing taxes.
I’m rather pleased with myself, but then that’s hardly a new thing, as anybody can tell. At the moment, part of my self-congratulation stems from passing the 500 posts mark on my blog, almost all of those posts at the rate of one a day. Yes, this blog is my multivitamin! I get so much affirmation, yes, but also so much practice writing, drawing, working out topical ideas, cooking, photographing and all sorts of other things that it’s beneficial in more ways than I can count.
I also continue to gain enormous amounts from the fellowship I find here with blogging friends and readers, where we share our thoughts and inspirations, and often, our hearts on a regular basis. This is a world that, considering I didn’t even know of its existence very few years ago and even then, had no idea of its potential influence on my life and others’, has become a remarkably important part of my every day as well as a challenge and quite frequently a great pleasure.
It doesn’t hurt that the kindness of previous strangers in my circle of blogging friends has also included cheering me on in the form of blogging award recognitions, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say, with a deep bow, Thank You to them once again for the gracious support and encouragement that make me feel happy to be here far beyond the initial drive that found purpose merely in enforcing my need to practice and to be accountable for doing so regularly. I am in fact trying rather hard these days to apply the same sort of discipline to getting back some seriousness about both useful physical exercise and some degree of greater mindfulness about my eating, both of which I know from experience serve to make any intellectual and artistic practice more feasible and more enjoyable too.
So to my generous and gracious co-bloggers Subhan Zein (passing along the Sunshine Award, though he himself is one of the brightest rays of light in the blogosphere!), Kate Kresse (she is so amazing she knows how to make me feel Illuminating, Versatile and Lovely whether she’s flying by to grant me awards or not!), and the London Flower Lover (whose land of peace-love-and-joy compels me and delights me at every visit!), I say that however slow my public acknowledgement of their sweet open-handedness is, it is truly sincere and grateful. Along with all of you dear people who have cheered me on with awards and readership and, especially, your constant comments and conversations with me, this has been a richly rewarding place to be for this last year and a half, and I will gladly keep ‘living here’ for the foreseeable future in your marvelous company if you let me! Your popping by this ‘daily diary’ of my thoughts, artworks and adventures makes every second of it a worthwhile treasure, and I thank you all. Bouquets to each and every one of you.
Fall and Winter have a stealthy benefit that’s often overlooked. They lend themselves, more than the ebullience and exuberance of Spring and Summer, to a sort of calming melancholia, to meditation and contemplative times. In Autumn and wintertime, the chaos of the world can be lessened and untangled without the palisade thrown up by the warmer seasons interfering with the endeavor.
In part, it’s simply that we are increasingly encouraged by colder and often less amenable weather to stay indoors. Indoors, where the hearth beckons, where our books lie in wait, where our writing tools stay safe from the tempests outside. Indoors, where it’s easy to keep a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa hot and handy while we spend the hours tending to those tasks of repair and renovation that have lain unnoticed when the longer days of sunlight kept pulling us away. The birds flit south and abandon their choir-lofts around the house and the other creatures begin to line their dens and curl up under porches with greater urgency, leaving the airwaves to the less inviting, darker sounds of passing traffic on wet pavement and wind whistling down the fence lines, sounds that urge us to follow our instincts and the local wildlife to seek shelter and keep quiet while the forbidding cold and darkness of the ‘off seasons’ roar through town.
But there’s another great appeal to Fall and Winter, another aspect that captures the gentler and more introspective angles of the imagination, and that is the way that these seasons strip away their frills and wash out any fripperies that might distract us from the most basic parts of our existence. It’s the way this time of year seems to contract not just the length of its daylight hours so that we see things dimly, palely and in lengthening shade and shadows, but even the spectrum of visible color, which becomes thin and subdued in the leanness of winter light. The water recedes from the fruits and flowers and stems of summer’s abundance and leaves them slightly parched and leads them to bend and fall. The slightest breeze, now colder, finds us clutching at our lapels and jamming our raw hands as far into pockets as they can go.
In this beautiful world, with the color rapidly draining out of memory, the stillness of hiding and hibernation weighing us into lassitudinous introversion, and the brisk chill of frost settling around our ears and shoulders like lead, we can at last let go of the impetus to run and shout and do, if only for the joy of rediscovering what waits in the seasons of shadow. We can see the world in a sort of refined simplicity if we let ourselves. We can take these moments of clean-slate clarity to listen to our innermost selves for a bit and sort out what does and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of our lives. And we can go to sleep knowing that when the glad excesses of Spring and Summer return we will see them through new and more appreciative eyes and perhaps, yes just maybe, even find that in the midst of all that bloom and warmth and celebration we may long for the stringent joys of Fall and Winter once again.
Back on that old topic of whimpering: of all the [wonderfully dire and woefully valid] reasons I can’t possibly do the enormous amount of work required by this assignment, there’s none simpler or more honest than Number 11:
11 BUT I DON’T WANT TO _______________ (you fill in the blank)!
Boo Hoo. It’s not always optional, is it. Just keep firmly in mind that sometimes doing the required thing leads to unexpected delights in the end product. Not to mention the thoroughly predictable delight of having it done, finished, off the To Do list and out of nagging territory. Just get it out of the way now and you’ll be ever so relieved. Maybe even pleased with yourself!
12 ALL CREATIVE PEOPLE ARE (take your pick):
Eccentric; loose; savants; savages; radical; anti-intellectual; uncontrollable; fluff-headed; egocentric; snobbish; smelly…
Everybody is one or more of the above at some point; look at all of our pop-culture idols who get hung out to dry on a daily basis, not to mention all of the religious, educational and political Saints who irk the multitudes so regularly. So imperfection is hardly a reasonable excuse for avoiding being (or being in the company of) an art maker.
13 IT’S SELFISH &/OR IRRESPONSIBLE TO BE AN ARTIST.
How about how selfish and irresponsible it is to be good at something that enriches lives and shapes culture and to refuse to exercise, to share, those gifts. How unkind it is to stifle your true self and passions (and spend your life unfulfilled or with a chip on your shoulder) so that you live a half life and cheat your friends and loved ones out of your rich complexity. How about that for selfish and irresponsible, huh? Choosing a ‘safe’ path never guaranteed anyone’s actually being safe, anyway.
14 NOBODY (read: Not Everybody in the Universe) WILL LIKE IT.
If you find anything that everybody likes, let me know. For that matter, if you find anything NOBODY likes, I’ll be mighty surprised. So, isn’t it good enough for you if you think your work has some value? It may not make you a market mogul, but it’s amazingly fulfilling to be an artist, and (other than food, which is admittedly desirable) practically no other wealth compares.
15 THE GREATEST!!!
Who says? There is no single Greatest of anything that everyone will agree on yet, and the odds are pretty good that they won’t all agree anything you do is the Greatest—or worst—ever, so why lose sleep over an untried concept. Do your best and be done with it.
16 IF YOU CAN’T SAY (do) ANYTHING NICE (or well), DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL.
A half-baked effort is usually better than no effort at all; no effort guarantees a lack of (or negative) result, and misguided or incomplete efforts can occasionally be rescued or luck into a better-than-deserved result.
17 IT ISN’T AS GOOD AS _________________’S.
Probably nothing anybody else ever does will be as good as my work, but aside from that impossibly high standard, you have as good a chance as any of doing work better than somebody’s, at least occasionally, as long as you do work.
18 ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT.
But they don’t come to all of the specific people who desire them, or ‘on time,’ or in the desired form. Your dream might end up in someone else’s stash of prizes if you don’t put up a fight for it.
19 I CAN’T DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE.
No, but a computer can do it for you, or you can use a straightedge, or you can hire a stand-in to draw your straight lines. Don’t tell me your whole oeuvre as an artist/designer is going to be straight lines. Sheesh.
20 CREATIVITY = INTUITION.
Intuition is an indefinable sense or sensation that can bring soul and emotional depth to the work (both process and product), but true creativity takes that nebulous touchy-feely power and combines it with study, effort, logic, research, skill and courage and synthesizes all of the elements of an artist’s knowledge and experience and passions into a concrete Work of Art (process and/or product).
21 THERE’S NOT ENOUGH TIME.
True. We’ll never be given enough time for everything that’s important. So it’s up to us to TAKE the time. And MAKE the time. There’s no real alternative. It’s called Making Choices (and living with them).
22 YOU CAN’T FAKE INSPIRATION.
Maybe you can’t, but I can. Seriously, folks, most people won’t know the difference if you substitute delirious hard work and enthusiasm and use all of your know-how to its limits. If that isn’t quite Inspiration, at least it’s mighty inspirational. When in doubt, review Item Number 10 in Tuesday’s post (linked above).
In another lifetime I was a teacher. Not a fabulous one, mind you, but one who took what I did seriously and did my best to give my students, if not the actual practice that would make them more productive and skillful and happy in their making of art, at least the idea of what might be possible for them and perhaps the instigation of the will to develop over the longer term. Like every other teacher in history, I knew that most of the burden of improvement fell on my students and had surprisingly little to do with what I could or couldn’t, would or wouldn’t, should or shouldn’t give them. And like every other teacher, I heard from my students every excuse in the book about why they would inevitably fail to accomplish any of this, how they were powerless against the forces that conspired to keep them from making the assigned efforts or finishing their work. Having used most of the excuses myself, I had plenty of fuel to argue my case after spending the intervening years (or minutes) rethinking it all as I moved from student status to teacher. And I knew too that I would have to keep re-learning it all as long as I lived, since every teacher is only a different breed of student and Life is the biggest, craziest, toughest and most creatively optimal classroom of all.
So I made up a little page of possible excuses and a smidgen of food-for-thought responses to them–perhaps mostly for my own enlightenment and prodding–that I shared from time to time with my students if they happened to be getting a little too enamored of creating excuses to spend their creativity on drawing, design, writing, painting, studying, researching, making mixed media installations, critiquing or any of the other topics I was attempting to encourage them to learn. Here are a few items from my little list, because I am well aware that I still need to remember them myself and keep trying to blow past them with determination and, I hope, a pinch of wit.
1 GREAT THINKERS THINK ONLY GREAT THOUGHTS
(and I’m not a great thinker).
If this is true, explain why the Old Masters painted over or destroyed canvases, Einstein was virtually dismissed as a pea-brain by some in his school days and our early experts on astronomy believed the earth was flat.
2 GENIUS IS BORN, NOT MADE.
This may actually be so, but untended and un-exercised, genius has no value whatsoever, and many a great achiever has acknowledged beginning an illustrious career ignominiously and becoming expert through sheer will and work.
3 EXCELLENT IS GOOD, GOOD IS AVERAGE &
AVERAGE IS TERRIBLE.
(Corollary: Good is excellent, average is good, terrible is average!)
Creative and inventive people often have a penchant for self-disparagement and perfectionism that leads them (and often others) to devalue work of quality; it’s also a common temptation to simply fall back on the platitude of ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and accept mediocrity because one is too fearful or lazy to be honestly critical and opinionated. Accept it and get on with things.
4 IT DIDN’T TURN OUT THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSED TO.
Oh, come on. Almost nothing does. Sometimes it just isn’t finished yet when it seems to have Not Turned Out. And more often than not, the real result is an improvement on the original plan anyway.
5 IT CAN’T BE DONE.
It’s better to go down in flames of glory, for having tried, than to prove only that you couldn’t (or just wouldn’t) do it. And what if it does work?! Don’t you just love those rare chances to say I Told You So, anyway?
6 ALL THE GOOD IDEAS ARE TAKEN.
All of the good ones haven’t been invented yet, Silly.
7 I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING.
You don’t have to. Steal ideas all over the place. Just remember to cite sources, give references, and wherever possible, to thoroughly revise and synthesize things into your own particular combination or version of them.
8 WHY SLAVE TO HAVE IT ALL WHEN YOU CAN SETTLE FOR LESS.
Perhaps because apathy is as dangerous to existence as the threat of annihilation.
9 IT COSTS TOO MUCH.
Some of the same people who whimper over buying a five-dollar sketch pad and two ninety-nine-cent pencils (two weeks’ supply, say) think nothing of adding four dollars’ worth of popcorn and soft drinks to their seven-dollar movie tickets: that’s Whiners’ Math. But most art supplies can be hideously expensive, especially for those productive enough to use masses of them. So it’s a necessary and healthy part of the solution-oriented artist’s life that analogs and alternatives be a constant study. What can legitimately serve as a substitute for the too-expensive? Often the product of such inventiveness proves more exciting than the work as first conceived. Sometimes it’s important to make the commitment to spend the real money for the real thing, too: how serious are you?
10 I’M NOT INSPIRED!
Genuine inspiration occurs ZERO times in the average artist’s life. WHAT!!! Heresy! But truly, if we’re talking spiritual/mystical magic, most must instead rely on a painstaking and passionate process of trial, error, adventure and eventual coalescence to allow artistic completion and quality to arise. Don’t wait around to be inspired, in case it’s not in the cards: deadlines and opportunities wait for no one. If you’re the incredibly lucky one inspiration smiles upon, have conspicuous spasms of joy, make feverish use of the favor while it lasts, and get ready to work hard on the next thing when you become a mere mortal again. We’re lucky enough just to be able to be the real thing, Working Humans. Don’t knock it. There’s joy enough in that.
Stay tuned . . .