WRITING + art, people, life

 

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A couple Thursdays ago I gave a talk at ETSU about art writing, which was also my first time doing anything like that. Thankfully I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this subject so I had plenty to say and organization of the overall lecture came fairly easily.

In my own experience as a writer and an artist, I have noticed there are a lot of overlapping characteristics between the two roles. To make the prospect of writing about art more approachable, I thought using a known frenemy for illumination would be helpful. 

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1. There’s no substitution for doing the work — Exactly how it sounds. If you’re not in your studio working, you can’t hope to make improvements as an artist and the same goes for writing.
2. Self-motivation is necessary — No one cares if you stop writing or making art once you graduate, except for maybe a handful of people who love you. It takes time and diligence to keep yourself going.
3. Seemingly unrelated assignments can get you closer to your goals / interests — I like how Neil Gaiman described this necessity when talking about the early part of his career:

Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.

4. Opportunities are sought, but also created — Opportunities exist for artists in a lot of different forms, such as juried exhibitions, exhibition proposals, grant proposals, etc. but there is also some creative problem solving required. Once we’ve made the work, how do we share it with people? How can we take steps toward our respective mountains?

I used Vision magazine, a student-run independent art publication in existence between 2007-2010 at ETSU, as an example. Robert Prowse, at the time a communications major who was friends with a lot of art students, recognized a deficit in art writing and exposure. Since he had experience selling advertisements for the East Tennessean, had taken some journalism courses and had connections with writers as well as artists, he was able to pull together strengths in various individuals (especially Ben Townsend Hamm, the art director of the magazine) to create a product that benefited many.

I wrote a few feature articles on students that they later used when applying to grad schools, which I also used when applying for writing jobs. When Jennifer Culp took over as editor, she was later able to use that experience for editorial and writing jobs. Some students learned about interviewing or reviewing subjects, other students learned about being interviewed and seeing their work discussed publicly in print.  It was a support structure that was needed and created within the community. No one gave them permission to do it or handed them the tools.

5. Communication with a known and (hopefully) unknown audience — Bouncing off of the above point, well, even good things that people love can fall apart. One of the primary reasons that Vision didn’t survive was because it kept speaking to and pooling resources from it’s known audience. Students are by default a transient demographic. Narrower still are the fine or studio art students.

During my talk I quoted Scott Contreras-Koterbay’s article, Elephants As Free Radicals, on Dennis McNett’s visit to ETSU  —

“I find myself often thinking at art world events that the only people who are there already approve of what’s being done; rarely do outsiders find their way into an art event, intimidated by the cliquishness of the community. Art that is for the art community merely speaks to the converted…”

Something I did not anticipate needing to do in regard to this talk was tricking artists and art students into caring about it. If we cannot stand to communicate or see ourselves translated for an audience, how can we possibly hope for anyone else to care? And if we only intend to speak to ourselves, to the converted, then what exactly is the point?

6. Engagement = Growth

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I ended my talk with two examples of how intentional and unintentional engagement with my community, which always involves some degree of willful vulnerability, stimulated questions, discussion, and growth. One worked out really well and the other did not.

When you’re writing about art and allowing it to exist within a larger context, it’s complexity and connections within vast territories grows. When you’re writing about art, you should be writing about people and life.

To caress my day

Discovering and re-discovering neighborhoods.

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We had a few days of warmth so people were out mowing their lawns, sitting and chatting on porches, smoking on stoops, hanging hammocks, and happily walking their dogs instead of merely tolerating the ritual. As it often does in northeast Tennessee, temperatures dipped down to freezing overnight and a lot of flowers died. In early spring everyone is hopeful for new growth, but we all walk around knowing the flowers and buds may die tomorrow. I have sometimes tried to coax the vibrant green beginnings of daffodils back into the ground. Just wait a bit longer. But they are just as eager as we are to feel the sun’s rays.

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I don’t think I understood before that there’s a difference between knowing you could lose what you have and being afraid you could lose what you have. When you know something could interrupt your life and remove people or things you value, it’s easier to feel the weight of a moment, even a very small one. You can appreciate it. When you’re afraid you’re going to lose a loved one or your home or your hair, etc. then you’re just collecting moments to enhance the melodrama of potential loss. You’re not present with those things.

As much as it hurts, that fear is a buffer between me and the real thing. It’s a safety net between me and the ferocity of my love, the vulnerability of existing in the universe.

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My work these days is both enriching of the present and of the preparatory kind. I am starting to feel really restless and I cannot bring myself to say, Just wait a bit longer.

Overdue

I’m not a very good blogger. There. I said it.

My intentions are always good in the beginning with occasional moments of rejuvenation, but then I fall flat the moment I am distracted by something shiny or tired of my own endless spewing of words, words, words. For someone that has such a shaky relationship with words, I am terribly verbose.

Explanations aside, I’d like to move onto something (hopefully) more interesting: my work in progress.

Aside from writing articles, I’ve also been putting together a proposal for a group exhibition and working on an upcoming exhibition with Liz Layton. And by “upcoming”, I mean in a little less than three weeks.

Here are this details from the Facebook event page:

Moderna Blondin is an exhibition of work by Liz Layton and Jaime Santos-Prowse containing paintings, installation, and performance. This new work is inspired by “The Magician’s Cape”, a Swedish fairy tale written by Anna Wahlenberg with John Bauer’s illustrations. It’s also inspired by Manichaeism, Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring“, Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides“, the obsession and idolatry of adolescence, and glittery sparkling things. 

The opening reception will take place on Friday, March 1st (First Friday), 7 – 9 PM at Nelson Fine Art Center in downtown Johnson City. The performance art piece begins promptly at 7:30 PM.
Live music before & after art performance (bands TBA). 

The reception will be catered with sweets and treats. Prints of the artists’ original art work will also be available for sale at this time. The paintings and installation will remain in the gallery until the end of March (specific date TBA). The reception is free and open to the public, though the artists and musicians would greatly appreciate donations.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Cue sudden stress baking. Chocolate chip coconut or blueberry anise scones, anyone? How about tomato rosemary? Cranberry orange?

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By the end of the month, I may very well bake every variation of scone imaginable. My pants agree with my husband, that this is perhaps an unhealthy development. I’ve recently acquired three new literary / art magazines so maybe I can make myself read in the tub the next I feel an overwhelming desire to bake.

Sunday Morning: Slocumb Holiday Art Sale

No reading in bed this morning. I had to set up my table at the Slocumb Galleries Holiday Art Sale + Silent Auction, which features the work of many local artists and art student organizations on ETSU campus. The sale is up from December 3rd – 13th, with a reception occurring on December 6th, I believe.

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My table has an assortment of Christmas cards, gift tags, gift bags, prints, and paintings. I still have a lot to learn and refine, obviously, but this has been a definite improvement. I have signs! And everything is clearly priced! And there’s kind of a display! As long as I look semi-human instead of like some weird muppet trying to sell cards with baby Jesus on them, I’m doing well in my mind.

People often ask me what the cards and prints/paintings are to me, as in, “Is this your artwork now? Or are you just doing this for money?”

First of all, I like working in a lot of different mediums and there are a lot of different aesthetic sensibilities that appeal to me. I enjoy really graphic, bold prints as well as delicate, hand-stitched embroidery pieces. Aggressive, rough mixed media paintings and finely rendered, tight paintings. If I try to confine myself, I start to feel like that awful girl in The Exorcist. (I won’t even link to it. Will not.) If making posters and flyers and so forth was good enough for Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Picabia, and many, many other great artists, it’s good enough for me.

Although I do make these items with selling them in mind (unlike my other work), I don’t believe they are less a product of my personality, interests, and training than that other more “serious” work. It’s not as easy as it may sound to design and print a really good card. Designing things according to a certain set of values and aesthetic for an audience is a challenge every time you attempt it. Literally every time I make some new items available, I learn something valuable about the exchange. For example, I recently had a sale in which no one bought anything, and I think that’s because I failed to really consider my audience’s sensibilities. The work was good, but it didn’t fit well enough into the audience’s sense of themselves. They weren’t interested. Put the work in another environment and it sells really well.

If nothing else, making these printed materials and quick paintings and stencils keeps me working and anyone that has stopped working for any significant duration of time has thought, ‘If only I had been working on something!’ But I always come away with more than that.

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