For the past year or so, I have attended several symposiums, a handful of seminars and the occasional workshop on public art, art production and art entrepreneurship. There has been a resounding sentiment amongst contemporary artists of all types that galleries, museums and art establishments have historically been stuffy, elitist and unapproachable by the general public. Joe Blow who has little knowledge of art history, compositions styles, whatever whatever, may still enjoy walking in a museum or gallery and browsing a collection. “ART is for EVERYONE,” is the message we preach. Recently the Dallas Museum of Art (which I am lucky enough to say is one of my neighborhood attractions) has been offering free general admission to all permanent collections with a small fee for special or traveling collections. There are programs and apps browsers can join to keep track of viewing habits, earn points for discounts on food or even admission to the special collections. I think it’s great! The more the art community allows access outsiders, the more support we as artists can garner from them. I could be worth 9.3 billion dollars but couldn’t paint myself out of a cardboard box…this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the works of others who can…and possibly want to share some of my 9.3 billion with them. There is the middle class working American who can discover painting, sculpture, classical music, modern dance, etc… and truly come to appreciate it thus adding a culturally significant facet to their existence. There are many communities and organizations who are actively pursuing these ideas and succeeding, however, the point of my tirade is an instance that is quite the opposite. Leave it to my hometown to digress! I just read an article about my lovely hometown’s largest art museum who boasts a gorgeous and quite well-known azalea and water garden on their grounds which is a hotspot for local photographers as a setting for wedding and family portraits. This organization does offer free admission (mind you, you will be stalked excessively by the ancient gallery docents ) but recently released a statement stating they will no longer allow commercial photography on their grounds. They also indicated there will be fencing and gates constructed around the garden areas. As far as I know from my connection to local law enforcement (Hi Dad!) there has not been any vandalism, no sex crimes or property theft in the garden areas. The gallery itself is tucked away in the heart of one of the most expensive, upper-class areas of the city. I am puzzled as to the motivation behind the decision. Must the gallery directors keep the ner-do-well photographers away from their prized azaleas? The gallery goes on the say that after the barracades are finished (lets call them what they are), they will no longer allow private photography on the grounds. So- if I want to take a photo of a butterfly with my own cell phone, I will be asked to leave? Legally, if my research is correct, they have every right to do this because it is private property at a private gallery, funded by private donations. It just seems wrong somehow. All the forward progression to take fifty steps backward… I’m sure it boils down to some liability issue; the restrictions of modern world all seem born from lawsuits but it doesn’t mean I have to like or agree with it.
Lately, on the evening news, anchors have thrown at us these menacing terms like “fiscal cliff”, “sequester” and my all-time favorite “inflation.” Basically, the economy is not at its best. This forces me to reevaluate things like my spending habits, travel, and luxury items like meat and new socks. This thinking trend, which I’m sure many other Americans engage in, can force art, music and other culturally-based activities on the back burner until things improve. It seems logical at first and I admitted to myself that the economy just isn’t up for big public art installations and art purchases. UNTIL- I was fortunate enough to meet with a former chairman of the Nation Endowment of the Arts who described art as a viable economic product. For example; I complete a painting… that painting is not a result of spontaneous combustion. There is a company who makes the paint and brushes and a retail establishment who sells these items along with other art supplies. There is a factory who produces the canvas I used and another who manufactures the varnish I used to seal the painting. There is a web server who hosts the website I post my painting on. Each painting, photograph, sculpture, etc is a myriad of smaller products created by someone earning a wage and then in turn spending it somewhere else on other products made by other wage-earners. WE as artists are active participants in our global economy. Art can be as much a necessity as many other products the world sees as commonplace. This changed every thought I ever had about what it is that I do. Not to mention, the world would be an awfully boring place without the arts. Public art can increase tourism and also entice folks to move to certain cities or communities. A recent study showed one of the top attributes a person looks at when relocating is aesthetic. Murals, sculptures, parks, architecture…these all require art and increase the attractiveness of a community. Artists are not luxuries, they are necessities…the pragmatics of the world may argue that accounting, medicine, science, blah, blah are more important. My argument is not based on who is more important but rather the fact that we all have a unique roll to play in making the world a healthy, culturally enriching, happy, peaceful and beautiful place to live.
Sifting through snippets of conversations past; conversations with friends, acquaintances, perfect strangers, I find the threads of my memory getting snagged on a repeating trend. There are things I need to try, places I need to be for awhile and questions I need to ask. Occasionally I will share my misguided plans with others only to be met with attempts to dissuade me and keep my feet securely anchored in whichever port I currently reside. I’ve never been much for the words of critics; they can tear a film apart but if it peaks my interest, I will go see it regardless. Some of the most highly regarded “whatevers” I have ever heard others gush on have been the most meaningless and irrelevant experiences of my life. So-if YOU (being society-at-large) don’t particularly care for something, should I promptly dismiss it? I’m just not buying into it. Some things you just have to see for yourself.
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Taken at Asiana Gardens, Shreveport, LA
Taken at Moody Gardens Rainforest Biome, Galveston,TX
Lately, I have been reading artist statements from fellowship recipients, residency recipients, prize winners, etc… I see this theme, a common thread amongst them and I start to think…no wonder folks don’t want to talk to us. I keep seeing this language, this verbage used, a plethora of “catch words” that grasp at some pretentious end result. “Transcendental, metamorphosis, blah, blah, blah…” Is that what juries and academicians want to hear? I would be exhausted of these art and academic buzz words. How can an artist statement stand out in a see of multi-syllable words? I vow that my artist statement will not look like an eye chart! I am a believer that the art, in whatever medium, should speak for itself. If my paintings can command your attention, then my mission is satisfied, regardless of what mumbo jumbo my artist statement spouts off. I’m speculating that the jury needs to know why I painted the man pink and what drives me to, basically, do what I do. I don’t have a sob story. My parents fed me pretty well, my clothes were clean, my dad coached my t-ball team, gave me the Heimlich when I was choking on a butterscotch, and I had perfect attendance in both the 3rd and 4th grades. I never slept in a subway station and don’t have a debilitating illness. I was a cheerleader (please don’t tell anyone!). I don’t know what I have transcended, hurdled, morphed into…..I just know that there is no place for me except in front of an easel. When I paint, my soul is full and when I am finished, I can smile at the end result knowing that my brain and my brush created it ( or I can make a mad dash for the jug of gesso to erase it from history before Ryan sees). I did not go to graduate school because I am tired of owing people money to tell me things I already know (or could see on youtube) and I have worked as many other things for paint money BUT above all else, I AM AN ARTIST. Enough said.
There are many things in this life that don’t make much sense to me. Upon further analyzation, I’ve come to the conclusion that when something seems blatantly nonsensical, money is usually to blame. So- I am a public artist as well as a painter. Public art affords large budgeted projects, grants that can help grow your studio and can be responsible for community revitalization. I subscribe to several databases that give me all the public art calls from subscribing entities. As I peruse them, I’ve noticed an unsettling trend. Ninety percent of public are calls are for sculpture. Sculpture is great and lasts for centuries (see the Romans…) but I think the lay public (government employees and business-owners) see sculpture as the only available means to a public display of creativity. There are many types of public art. Ryan and I specialize in murals. Though the shelf-life of murals is limited they, can be great attention-getters and be updated or preserved every few decades. Public art can be functional and include seating, traveling installations like photographs on vinyl banners, light displays, mosaics and landscape installations. I truly hope the trend turns toward diversity as to discourage isolation of public art as a solely sculptural-based medium. My second unsettling discovery…I peruse job openings locally just make sure there isn’t something fabulous I’m missing. I have a degree in both studio art and graphic design so if one is unyielding at the time, I can rely on the other. I notice all the job openings for graphic designers fit Ryan’s and my experience to a T…until you reach the bottom of the list where the employer sneaks in “web designer.” I don’t claim to be an expert on graphic design qualifications or , by any means, anything web-related BUT I did not have to complete web design courses to graduate. I always assumed that a graphic designer and a web designer were two different animals. I understand that many folks may crossover and learn both- just for an extra punch on the resume. What I don’t care for is that employers are beginning to lump the two together into some hybrid super-techie, graphic beast. “Well, you have some fantastic package designs and promotional designs, you’re hired….wait, you’ve never designed a web page? Never mind…” So, the question is raised…she employers recognize the difference or should schools start requiring web design as a course to graduate? In the end though, I’m sure it all comes down to one less person to pay and provide health insurance for…
Taken at Moody Gardens rainforest biome (2011)
I recently read a blog written by an “art publicist.” I’m guessing she is like the pharmaceutical rep of the art world, introducing collectors and galleries to her contracted “product.” She writes epistolary-styled posts (in the form of letters to artists). This particular one urged artists to remember that they are, in fact, artists despite what jobs they do earn “paint money.” She told us that we are not waitresses, sandwich-makers or construction workers, we are artists and challenged us to get off work, pick up the brush, or whatever medium appropriate, and create. This is all well and good in the world of theory but in practice, it is not as easy. I know for many in my chosen creative field, the jobs they work for paint money take too much from them. When it comes to painting, there isn’t much left behind to fuel the creative fire. This travelled along a tangent to another pressing issue that Ryan and I discuss frequently, freedom. Why are we, as human beings, forced to work at jobs we hate just to survive? I saw an interview with a successful fellow last night who lived in a Volkswagen Bus for several years in Hawaii because it seemed like the thing to do. Steve Jobs packed a bag and travelled through India after dropping out of college. Why do most of stick to the rat race? Does it take a truly revolutionary individual to just say “F&*k it!” and do exactly what they want? So we work, we punch someone else’s clock; we make money, essentially, for some suit we never meet and get up the next morning to do it all over again. We do this to pay the mortgage, rent, water, Dr. Pepper, ibuytoomanyshoes.com, car-i-can’t-afford, insurance in case someone slams into us (or vice versa)… the list is long and ominous. Have we chained ourselves to this fate of always wishing we were somewhere else, doing anything else, creating? I am just as guilty as the next person. I love STUFF. When I learn to NOT love stuff, I think I will be free. Then there is the number I feel at some point we will be forced to tattoo on our foreheads, the credit score. So, I’m in an apartment in a city I hate AND OHHH, I can’t leave because I’ve got another 9 months on my lease. I bought a car to help me feel like like less of a loser and now I would really rather pack my backpack and head off to Europe. I surely can’t take that overpriced SUV back to car dealership X and say,” Here, you can have it back.” In the real word, we call that “REPO” which leads to big drops in the credit score ( a golden number that subsequently determines your self-worth and right to exist). So, I work in a job I hate to pay for the crap I thought I needed but can’t afford, have no time or energy to paint and dream of better days when I can paint, in a studio, uninterrupted by stupidity in a place I love. Where is the answer? I think it lies in our priorities…which most definitely need some rearranging.