If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed the onslaught of notifications regarding SF Open Studios from me. Well, now it’s over- at least for me, but there is one more week left of #SFOS next weekend. *Plug: If you want to see some art, let me know. I’ll take you around, personally. The talent in this City is just too good to waste by not seeing it for yourself.
That said, if you read my last post here, you will know that I had conflicting emotions about opening up my private space to the public, selling my work, etc, etc. Well, I’m happy to report that that specific issue is now over, and since artists make it their business to collect observations, here are mine:
- Part of the job of an artist is never to be satisfied, perhaps with anything- ever. This goes with your own work, other’s work, other’s perception of your work, the nature of the business, the list goes on. I’m fairly certain that the crippling, heartbreaking sadness of never quite being happy is somehow an integral of your creative growth. Knowing this can make you feel like severely depressed, an awful ingrate, or just annoying to be around, because you know you might never be actually happy- even if you’re wildly famous and enormously wealthy. As for me, I choose to compartmentalize and ignore it 99.1% of the time because I’m good at doing that.
- People get it. One of the coolest, mind-blowing, and most humbling moments are when people become emotional in front of your work. This happened three separate times with three strangers, in response to three different paintings. I was stunned. One woman teared up when telling me what she saw in “Regrets Only.” Another man told me about his guilt when he saw “Lilac Wine.” When I finally asked them to explain what they saw in the painting, they fucking NAILED it. I’m not kidding, those emotions were real, and we shared it. Except that mine was outside of my body, and theirs was, well–within. From this, I gathered one of two things: 1. Maybe my art is too heavy-handed, or 2–STOP over-analyzing it already, your work actually matters to somebody. Also, don’t ever underestimate how much people understand.
- Dualities exist, and that’s the beauty of it. Being an “artist” is both simultaneously liberating as well as stifling, and the art world is frustratingly small, yet crazy intimidatingly vast. Maybe that’s why we keep coming back to it. Because in that moment where you see a piece that is so amazing and genius that you tell yourself that you might as well pack up your shit and go home because you’ll never get to that point–you realize that you’re also doing the same thing they are; that maybe you’re at the same point on a different continuum or on a different point, but holy shit–you’re all in it together. And the next time you see their work, you’ll feel infinitesimally small again, but your ego might grow ten sizes larger: because you are getting that close to something brilliant.
I’m not there yet, and I may never be completely satisfied if I ever were– but collecting these observations makes me feel like it’s getting me closer. Thanks to all that came to support me and my work last weekend, I had a blast.
The typo would be ‘paining.’
–From, Robert Hass, “Time and Materials”
I have a signed copy of this poem up in my house, and revisit it from time to time when I need the inspiration. Poetry can be pretentious, as art can be: I think, mostly because people make it loftier than it really needs to be; its really as human as playing basketball (to borrow from Hass again). Too bad I can’t do either of those very well.
I haven’t written in awhile, possibly because I haven’t quite had the physical capacity for insomnia these days–it’s been quite busy. This month is Open Studios in SF, which means every artist opens up their working space for one weekend out of the month- our protected little creative worlds on display to the public. It’s a vulnerable place to put one’s pain(t) on display, but it is also necessary to make a living.
To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.
“Action painting,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.
The layers upon layers of decisions, thought, and time we lay out for everyone to see. Sometimes I go to shows of other artists and see only beauty from pain, something I once told a friend that I felt was an artist’s superpower. It made me feel impervious to pain: Invincible, because I can spin it into beauty for the world. Well, at least I can try.
That same friend told me she never realized I was ever sad, which means I’m doing well being me, I guess. I guess I also can’t really afford to be sad these days–it doesn’t motivate me anymore. Perhaps in another time, when I’m not trying to fulfill commissions, plan lessons, train, keep drawing, teach two gigs, order prints, frame, paint, and figure out how to make ends meet.
I’m not complaining, this is the life I’ve chosen to take since I jumped off the deep-end of the grid. It helps to re-read what I wrote a few years back, about the Lonely Work. And that it is–it’s a constant push and pull of isolation and being on display, ups and downs of trying to fulfill a life’s value with something as cheap as the paper symbol of currency. What a crazy thing to want to do with one’s intellect and potential. It’s easy to make fun of myself.
What is hard, is putting on that passion aside to say, “Come see this! Here are some pieces of canvas you can buy for $___ because!” Truth is, art will never be a necessity, but it adds something inexplicable to a space. I promise. You’re not buying a defined measurement of oil on canvas: it’s a battery of human life, charged with boundless energy confined within a space.
OK, I can stop being corny now. It’s 5am, past the time to be melodramatic and time to go kick some ass. Come to my Open Studios the weekend of October 25th and 26th, or come drink with me at the preview party on Friday, the 24th from 6-9.
1360 Mission Street, San Francisco
Let’s hang out.
Sometimes people ask me, how long does it take for you to do a piece? They always seem surprised when I tell them, on average it takes about 20 hours. But typically one piece takes anywhere between 6 and 35 hours. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. It’s also what makes it so transformative/existential/lonely/awesome/frustrating. You’ll probably go through ten iterations of change, badassery, and self-doubt by the end of it, but you finish with something you’re proud of. And that’s all there is to it.
I found a picture I took of the draft version of this piece I posted recently, and wanted to share what 10+ hours will get you if you keep going. I can’t tell you how many times I probably erased, smudged, marked this piece before I got it to something satisfactory. And who knows? Maybe I could have put in another 10 more hours. Who knows what it would look like then? I guess we’ll never really know. That’s kind how life works, too I think.
Anyway, I hope that’s a source of inspiration to you, in an era of instant gratification: Put time into the things you love. Sadly, when it comes to selling my pieces, I severely underestimate how much time I put into the process, how much I love it, and my need to have it go to a good home overrides my need to make a living. That’s life too.
I’ll leave you with these two quotes:
The longer you spend working on something – loving it into being, almost – the more you get attached. It’s silly, but you do hope they go to good homes. (Anne Desmet)
Artists want their work to have a good home because it makes their creative process worthwhile. Most artists put a lot of themselves into each piece they create. Your purchase reflects a subtle link between you and that artist. (Beverly Leesman)
So much to say these days, I don’t even know what will come out as I write this. All I know is that these are the times I need to sit down and write, because I have no idea what I’m thinking until it comes out on the page.
Updates on Me, in case you care: the “underCurrents” show ended, I got into another one called “Shifting the Body,” opening in Pacifica, in July (hooray!). Spring semester classes just ended, I’m got some fun live painting and teaching gigs, I’m continuing to consult with artists and work in social media, and I’m selling work and commissions. With all this, I sat alone last week and thought to myself, “This is fucking amazing. I’m doing the art that I care about, I’ve grown to the point emotionally, that I can finally not be embarrassed to call myself an Artist. I’m an Artist. (Holy shit!)”
Then I thought: this is exactly what I wanted, and I’m about a hundred times happier now that I ever was, sitting in meetings and responding to emails for the purported, Best Company to Work For. But, um, what now?
Sidebar: I’ve never been one to congratulate myself. But here, in the Art universe, you have to learn to pat yourself on the back– because that’s all you’re gonna get. No one is going to hand you a check for showing up every day, or give you a bonus because you put in 20 more hours of work a week. That’s expected. And for better or worse, you’re gonna have to be your own cheerleader and your own critic.
That said, I knew I had to figure out a way to pat myself on the back for coming this far, and simultaneously kick myself in the ass to keep going. I recognize that having only spent a year doing this full-time, getting into seven juried shows, seeing my work evolve and get better, and making some money doing it isn’t anything to shrug at. All that is good and dandy, but what now? I need to keep doing this, and the reality is, I’ll need money to do it.
So, I’m standing at the crossroads– on one hand, I see the need for the funds to do more art, but the defensive, egotistic side of me refuses to see money as a reward for all the accomplishments I’ve made. Putting a monetary value on my personal growth as an artist just doesn’t seem right. It cheapens all the gain I thought I achieved. But that– that, right there is the seed of Elitism. I see it, I acknowledge it, but I can’t keep myself from preventing it from happening.
I hear it all the time, Art is inherently elitist and exclusionary. Yes, but the irony of it all is that Art is also the only thing that unites us all as humans. (Sidebar: read that article by Leon Wieseltier, it’s provocative and important.) We need art because our society is quickly starting to confuse money with wealth, and information/data with knowledge.
We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work.
But I digress.
In a lot of ways, I see that Elitism comes from the artist’s need for self-preservation. Observing the artist trajectory, I see this happening a lot (sorry for the shitty flowchart):
I’m good at painting/drawing/sculpture/writing/etc, and I want to do this more, but I don’t know if I can be called an artist. —-> Fuck what people think anymore, I’m an Artist. —-> Oh, crap, this is vulnerable and not always fun. Plus dumb people don’t like/understand my work…
This is where the fork splits for the first time in an artist’s career. We all want credibility above all else, and when we don’t get the reward we want, it goes in two directions:
1. Everyone is stupid. I’m an artist, I do what I want. Or,
2. OK, I’m missing something. How do I get through to people? (Does that mean I’m compromising the integrity of my work? What else do you have but integrity?)
At this point, Elitism is born. It’s not that artists don’t want to put in the work– artists are far from shy when it comes to doing the work, but here’s where self-preservation starts to limit you, and limits who you share your work with. And isn’t sharing your art the whole point? Furthermore, if it’s not, why would you expect anyone would pay you to do it?
I suppose at this point I should say that I don’t believe democratization equals monetary reward, because that’s more of a secondary result… but the thing I have to remember, is Money is our society’s way of rewarding for value, and value is determined by others. Sure, I can quote Patti Smith and say that with enough integrity and good work, “your name becomes Currency,” but what about making a living so that you can even get to that point (if you ever get there)?
Believe me, if I had it my way, I would never have to think/talk/worry about money, and I spend most of my life avoiding it like the plague, but don’t we all secretly wish people would throw handfuls of money at us for just doing anything we want? Patti Smith might be there now, but she could have just as easily faded to complete obscurity– or worse, Quit. Nothing wrong with that, but when artists quit, they become jaded, and they retreat to being the victim.
At this moment, I’m aware of my own talent–enough to keep trying, and naive enough to believe that I can do more. But the more I progress, the more detached I become, and the more I want to retreat into the little, isolated, “elitist” bubble I feel comfortable with, so I don’t have to explain myself in anyone else’s terms, or worry about money. This is much easier to do. But Guess What? Not having to worry about money is inherently elitist, even if you don’t HAVE any of it! But this is precisely when I have to remind myself of something I wrote a bit over a year ago:
I need to make this last.
You have to take some risks when you’re a kid to find out who you are. You just have to learn which risks are safe and which are self-destructive. Everybody does weird stuff. As you get older, I believe if you’ve never been allowed to do all that weird shit, then you make it into some kind of obsession that you’re too old to have!
There’s actually a whole collection of priceless quotes from that guy, but that one was relevant to how I’ve been feeling these days. A couple of affirming, yet unrelated events happened this past month:
- The opening for the AAWAA group show my artwork was featured in
- Helping an artist friend (Eva) digitalize and re-make her old punk band records from 31 years ago
- My parents wanting to know my future “plans”… “As an Artist.”
Related or not, all these things made me slow down and consider where my life has been, and where it’s headed. I’ve always considered myself to be a simple person. Like, I’ve never wanted to be a rich, and whenever people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d always say “happy.” When that wasn’t satisfactory, I’d make up a title or a position they’d be happy with, or to fuck with them, like, “Oh, I’d want to be a paralegal.” I remember one time I told a teacher that, and she said, “Why a paralegal? Why not shoot to be a lawyer?” I said, “Nah, I hate public speaking.” I think I was 12 years old at the time.
As I grew older, I started to realize that being a simple person was actually quite complicated to everyone else. Wanting to be a simple person meant having to answer a lot of questions about “where you want to be in 5 years,” and “what do you want to with your life?” I found that I got really good at answering these inane questions, even though I had absolutely no interest in them whatsoever.
But here’s the thing: I also thought (and still think) angst is trite and pointless. Even when I was 13, I never thought raging against the establishment was anything to be proud of. I felt like it was worthless and frankly kind of overdone. Or maybe that’s just in hindsight. Maybe I subconsciously just wanted to fit in, like everyone else… and I did. Actually, I found I did amazingly well fitting in, even in Kindergarten, when i didn’t speak English. My grandma asked me how I wanted to tell the teacher when I needed to go to the bathroom, and I told her I’d hold up a peace sign. Yeah, a peace sign meant I had to go to the bathroom. (Consider this when I you see people throwing up peace signs in pictures.)
Anyway, I realized that’s who I’ve grown to be. I’ve gotten REALLY good at looking normal. I even confuse myself sometimes… until I’m reminded what “normal” is. I don’t even mean to say that in a condescending way, I say it to remind myself that it’s okay not to be what everyone else wants you to be. Sometimes, in conversation with my artist friends, they’ll look at me wide eyed and say,
“Holy shit, you look so normal, but you’re actually really weird!” I smile and say, “How do you think I got a job at Google?”
So here what I’ve learned about me, that may or may not apply to you: Sometimes you have to input your life into these little Facebook profile fields, like “School,” “Company,” “Relationship Status,” just so other people can make sense of you. I’m fine with that. I’m also fine playing the part of a complicated “Artist” but I’d rather just be a simple person, wearing a plain, non-crazy, non “artist” clothes and haircut, living my life happily floating along. You can make sense of that as you will, but I’ll call it my own way of rebelling against normalcy. I call it “Art.”