Some artworks defy the passing of long ages not only as physical objects but also as ideas and images that transcend trends and tastes. One that captured my imagination long ago and has never grown dull or fallen from my affections is a carved stone portrait of a child, created in the fifteenth century by a sculptor mellifluously named Desiderio da Settignano (de Bartolomeo di Francesco detto Ferro). My computer wishes that I would change the unknown word “Desiderio” to “Desire,” and indeed, it is as though the artist had infused the marble of his sculpture with such mystical attraction, a heightened, time-proof version of the natural affection for a child’s inner beauty that can surpass the strength of his individual name or origins or place in time.
Despite its title, this post isn’t about my marvelous spouse. But it could be. After all, like the actual topic of the day, marrying him is one of the most meaningful, fun and satisfying achievements in my life, and an act I intend to perform exactly one time ever.
But don’t we all have those? There are certain life experiences that we are so glad happened or are so pleased we did, yet there’s no intention whatsoever of our repeating the episode. Whether it, like my marriage, simply cannot be replicated in all of its fabulous fantastic-ositude-inous-ness, or it’s too expensive or difficult or ephemeral to do more than once in a lifetime, there are just things that will only occur once in our lives.
Making a stone sculpture is one such thing, for me. It was a required project somewhere along the course of my art studies, and I am glad it was required, because I doubt I’d ever have attempted it if the materials hadn’t been put right into my hands, the techniques taught to me on the spot, and the work necessary for me to fulfill the requirements of the class. I’m old enough by now to have figured out that there are a whole lot of activities and things in life I’d never have dared try, let alone figured out how happy I was to pursue them, if I hadn’t had to do them. Stone sculpting is one of those things that fell into the been-there-done-that category, finally, but besides having a decent little piece of art to show for it I am glad there was that one chance in the beginning.Luck and happenstance, of course, have their own parts to play in the determination of whether any new experience becomes a one-off or a lifelong passion. Or, like my marriage, a one-time event that turns into a lifelong passion.
In the case of the rock sculpting, there were a few particulars that [ahem] shaped my attitude about the experience. One was that when the pile of alabaster hunks appeared on the table in front of my sculpture class, I chose a piece, lone among the heap as far as I remember, that had no major, unavoidable fissures in it. This allowed me to make a piece that was not a lot smaller than the original stone without having large parts of it crack and fall off. And my bit of alabaster had some nice coloration, attractive pale veining, and a natural overall shape that guided my sculpting choices. So all I did was refine the existing form and exaggerated it, and that led to the abstraction I made in the end. I just aimed for a sort of rounded Henry Moore-ish sculptural curvaceousness to showcase the silky, milky beauty of the alabaster as best I could. It was a slow and fussy process to chisel out an alabaster sculpture, and it made me ever so much more appreciative of and awestruck regarding the accomplishments of all real stone sculptors throughout the ages. Also, glad not to put my perpetual laziness into extended servitude to stone carving.
So, yeah. I made an alabaster sculpture, and I kind of like the result. And I’m happy that I did it, that I had the experience and learned a deeper appreciation of that art form. And yes, I am also pleased that I don’t ever have to make another alabaster sculpture, with the possible exception of the if-and-when instance of my deciding someday to have another go at it. Meanwhile, I have a decent memento of the experience. And if I get tired of it as a decorative object, it’s big and heavy enough to make a decent doorstop. If not beauty, then utility: that’s kind of how those once-or-more decisions can go.
I catch a glimpse of myself in a window or mirror as I pass, and I am astonished to realize that the person I see is Me. It’s not so much that I’m horrified or amused by my rapid slide into aging’s odd forms of pseudo-disguise, by my generally slovenly dishevelment after rigorous housecleaning or gardening, or by my bizarre thoughtlessness about what I left the house wearing (though any of those might conceivably play a role from time to time); mostly, it’s just that I don’t really think that much in general about what I look like and so it always catches me very slightly off guard. My spouse tells me he finds me attractive, and that’s all I care much about, as my appearance goes, short of anyone finding me visually repellant, and thus far, no one has admitted that one to me.Fortunately, the same spouse who is stuck looking at me more than any other person has also acted as my barber and general appropriate-dress consultant for the last eighteen years or so, so if he doesn’t like what he sees, he’s free to recommend a different outfit or cut my hair in a new way. This last summer’s road trip, while it didn’t make it impossible to cut my hair, made it inconvenient enough that we decided to just experiment with growing it out longer than two or three weeks’ worth as has been the norm for all these years. It was mostly just a laziness-motivated decision on my part, but after a couple of extra weeks I started to like the idea of just seeing how my hair grew out after having been so uniformly short for a couple of decades.Turns out, there’s some slight wave to my hair, an unexpected–ahem–turn after the last number of years having had pretty much straight hair, short as it was. I kind of like that what white hairs I have show up better with the slightly longer look too–an accent I like much better than my naturally bland brownette color. Hey, maybe the streaks of white will further highlight my pasty-pale complexion. Ha! Not for nothing that my Thai college roommate and her friends from home called me Princess Snow White!
I decided to celebrate my new/old (wink-wink) look by trying my hand at jewelry assembly last week, and concocted a necklace out of jewelry findings and parts plus a couple of items I already had among my collected miniature sculptural found-object goodies. While I’m obviously a neophyte at the whole practice of concocting jewelry, I was rather pleased with my little semi-Steampunk necklace, perhaps the more so because the first person who saw me wearing it the first time I did so was very complimentary. Given all of the new bits of image-tweaking, and having been asked by a couple of friends to update my Gravatar now that I have a tad more hair to show, it seems apropos to get around to it. In another slightly surprising event, I managed to take a photo in which my eyes remained open, I did not decapitate my self-portrait or get my usual wildly wiggly motion blur, and most amazingly of all, I don’t mind the picture terribly much. So here we go. Never know what I’ll surprise myself with next.
It shouldn’t surprise me, as little sense of direction as I have and as seldom as I have an inkling where my path is leading, that I end up in some weird and completely unpredictable spots at times. Take the time I was at a luncheon with the queen and king of Norway. It’s entirely safe to say that they forgot the occasion right about the minute their motorcade zipped off with its Secret Service escort to ship them back to the White House for their next performance. Having lunch with a bunch of foreign academics, even if it’s coupled with getting a doctoral degree (Queen Sonja was receiving an honorary doctorate for her humanitarian work) and having a permanent outdoor sculpture dedicated in your honor is so yesterday. Like that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to royals every day of the week. I, on the other hand, don’t have that sort of thing occur very regularly in my life and found the events of the day pretty memorable.
It was amusing to take part in the bizarre hoopla that takes place when an assembled group of citizens in a country that takes itself far too seriously as being above such things as royal-worship (erm, Have you not looked into the mirror, O nation of celebrity-slavish fools?) gets a chance to suck up to the high and mighty of another nation. To experience the hilariously artificial and probably pointless stiltedness of security instruction from our friends the Feds; to shake hands with other humans who have been designated super-important and wonder why they would bother to shake hands with me–or, admittedly, I with them–and to hear all of the earnest speech-making and watch the well-meaning maneuvers; all of this was really educational indeed. That it was so for me in the context of the university where I taught was certainly not lost on me. I almost felt like I should get some undergraduate credit in sociology or anthropology for being involved in my little way.
But I’ll admit that most of all, it was entertaining to realize that through no particular virtue of my own I had once again stood in a spot that others might envy and reaped unearned rewards that would remain in my memory-book for a long time to come. Just call me Lucky.
Being Crafty is something other people do. I admire the feats of those who can crochet spectacular Afghan blankets seemingly out of thin air or decorate their homes for the holidays with recycled coat hangers and tuna tins and somehow make them look like a magazine cover. People who have the know-how, skill and patience to embroider babies’ bonnets, build palatial birdhouses out of scavenged fence pickets and carve perfect portraits of great historical figures out of turnips impress me greatly.
I, on the other hand, have been known to abandon ship mid-craft, or at the very least change directions radically when I feel I haven’t a hope of getting the hang of what my project was initially intended to be. My youthful embroidery days were ended when I spent a lengthy evening working on the details of some would-be floral tea towel‘s featured bouquet, stood up to gather my sewing and head off to bed, and discovered I’d embroidered through both the tea towel and the lap of my nightgown. My candle-making artistry had only its propensities for melting and burning (and thus, quickly, disappearing) to recommend it. Unlike those who are able to make fabulous sand mandalas with the grains arranged perfectly meditatively into millions of delicate otherworldly patterns would be, if not appalled, then at least mystified and probably saddened, by the strange mud-pies that would be the only produce of my efforts in that direction.
Pretty well any craft that takes any real focus and attention, let alone proficient control of the medium, is likely to remain out of my reach.
There are, however, certain tools, materials and proficiencies in the land of Craft that I can and do manage. One of the media I have enjoyed manipulating for playful, if not crafty, purposes at times is lightweight spackling compound. This stuff, made initially for repair of wounded wallboard and the filling of trim gaps by builders and handy-persons, resembles cheap bake-shop frosting so strongly in texture (and, I daresay, probably in taste, though that’s moot here) that it goes through an icing bag and tip wonderfully well. So it’s great for not only creating faux frosty baked goods but also all sorts of the same kind of detail work that plaster and woodcarving and metalworking artisans have used to create architectural accents and furniture details for eons, especially in combination with other small sculptural elements. Thinning the spackle just enough with water to go through a pastry icing tip and retain its proper density and texture and shape while drying is virtually the only difference. In fact, the spackle can be tinted in many of the same ways as frosting, too, though it may be painted and colored in many ways after the fact.In any event, I’ve had fun with this magical past on occasion. I’ve made customized and personalized ceiling medallions with it. I made a nice big window valance that had all kinds of pieces and parts–food and cookery gadgets and the like–blending its own form and meaning with the rest of the dining room in which it hung. I’ve used it to create baroque picture frames and mirror frames. Probably the most fun project with it so far was making a couple of very rococo side chairs by upholstering them with tapestry-like fabrics and then building equally over-the-top sculptural frames and backs out of small objects, some pre-made and some of my own making from plasticine or wood, bone or clay or metal, and then faithfully infilled with spackle ‘frosting’ before I gilded it all with metallic paints.What’s next? Who knows. But there are boxes full of fun waiting for me to make them into something new, and that little yet persistent itch returns from time to time, so undoubtedly there will be a next thing. Just you wait and see.
There’s been an interesting, if hardly new, thread of conversation taking place in one iteration via LinkedIn, where a Mr. Duane Bronson posed the eternal question thus: “Does an artist have to have a recognizable ‘STYLE’ or a cohesive body of work to be of interest to a gallery and marketable?” My short answer would be a resounding Yes, but I couldn’t resist expanding on what is for me a perpetual problem. I said:
A good, thought-provoking read here! I have experienced much of what is discussed by the various commenters who precede me and think that all have some valid points for our consideration. My own answer to Mr. Bronson’s original question is that I might state it a little differently: ‘to be of interest to a gallery as what it/they would consider marketable‘. Anything is marketable, if you put the right seller and buyer together under the right circumstances, but galleries, no matter how much they might pride themselves on being ‘in it for the love of art’, are businesses, and (logically enough) are not particularly interested in anything they don’t think is a relatively easy sell. [Commenters] Messrs. Bruland and Moore are absolutely right in recognizing that art does sell–at the confluence of the right forces. Figuring out what those are and how to orchestrate their intersection is the big magic trick that few of us can perform.I was approached by gallery owners when I was finishing my undergraduate art degree; one of them (the more successful in business, not surprisingly) met with me mainly to encourage me to produce a larger body of the same kind of work so that he could later represent me; the other, being a fledgling in the business, was willing to take what little I had already produced at my young age and give it a go. Of course I was inexperienced and had no concrete plans or prospects, so I opted for the latter, with the predictable result that that gallerist, with such limited experience and connections, was too busy simply trying to work out the logistics of her own business to actually represent any of the artists she hoped to promote. Thankfully, I’d only agreed to half the proposed trial period as part of that ‘stable’ of artists and retrieved my entirely unsold (and as far as I could ascertain, also virtually unseen) work and go forward at the end of it. [And only a year or two before it was also the end of that particular gallery, as far as I could ascertain.]It wasn’t until many years later, after working in construction for a few years to save up for grad school (I suspect I’m of the same vintage as Ms. Senn, having had many similar experiences 30 years ago in that field of work) and then going through the grad program and then teaching for a couple of decades, that I could afford the luxury of devoting real time to focused practice and larger productivity of my own artwork. Along the way, however, I had continued to produce smaller quantities of work. As I’m quite sure many of the artists commenting above have experienced, what pleases me most in my own practice is to do what inspires me at the moment, to experiment, and to follow the serendipitous occurrences that happen along the way, resulting in a recognizable character in the works but not a whole lot of terribly similar subjects, media, and techniques. So I, too, have been told by many a gallerist that he or she thinks my work is terrific but, no thank you, they don’t see how they can possibly ‘package’ and market me.The upshot of all this is that I can only echo what others have already said or intimated here: keep doing and being what is right for you, but know that you’ll likely continue to labor in obscurity unless you simply find that combination of luck and resources and persistence coming into perfect confluence. I must assume that all of us are here because making art of whatever sort matters enough that we will do it endlessly, whether it profits us in any way other than inwardly or not. Hurray to being successful, financially of course if we can, but if not that, then as wildly successful in satisfying the artistic urge as we can manage to be.I will add to this that I am no more going to stop making art because I don’t come close to making a living at it than any of the millions of others who can’t ‘get by’ doing what they love best would quit their passions. You might, just possibly, have noticed that I’ve been hanging out here in the blogosphere for some time just churning out art of the visual and written kinds and handing them out daily like free candy. But like many others, I also keep the business side of art on my radar, looking around me to see if there are any connections and opportunities I have overlooked or ways to introduce my work to others who may find something in it that speaks to them as well and (miraculously!) be willing to pay me for it. I guess this is simply my love letter to any other unsung heroes reading this, saying that we’re all in this together and yes indeed, also that I have no plans to leave off pursuing my dreams any more than you have. Might see you at the bar later, though. Everybody needs an outlet, whether it’s on LinkedIn or in the studio or somewhere else entirely. Cheers!
GPS is generally a generous gift to a diva of disorientation like me. With my myriad forms of dyslexia all interlocking magically to make it virtually impossible for me to find my way practically anywhere past my own mailbox, it’s nice to have a personal assistant, albeit a computerized one, telling me how to get from Point A to Point B and beyond. And I do love a good road trip, when the opportunity arises.
But even our GPS (sometimes fondly called Peggy Sue after the lady who first helped us find our way around our new home, town and state) in all her digital wisdom can’t find everything. Sometimes, as on the above-pictured occasion, she has no more clue where her driver and passengers are than they do. And you know, it’s kind of amusing to me. Not only does it amuse me to look at the GPS screen and see it telling me that I am a little red arrow flying through the air in the vastness of uncharted space, but it’s weirdly reassuring to me that my lack of omniscience is far from unique in this world. All the same, I do appreciate Peggy Sue’s selfless assistance when it’s needed and available.On the other hand, there’s plenty to be said for going forward without knowing what comes next. In life, it’s just plain inevitable–prescience of any sort is in mighty short supply. On holiday, going with the flow is often the perfect way to have a rich and full adventure, and even the occasional mishaps stand a chance of being fodder for both present delight and reminiscent hilarity. On the pictured ‘flight’ across uncharted Texas territory, my spouse and I were so happily absorbed in relishing the sights along the unknown way that we both failed to notice one of our other digital auto-assistants signaling us that the supply of petrol was diminishing, until it was seriously questionable whether we’d make it to a gas station before the tank ran dry. We knew we were in the vicinity of Seguin (a place we’d been through a few weeks ago) and crossed our fingers that following the intermittent signs to town would get us to a refilled tank in time. Not only did we make it in time, we had a trip in a time machine on the strength of that refueling. The little bit we’ve seen of Seguin has a remarkably somnolent sense of being stuck in time, and not even strictly one single point in time but rather as though everyone in the whole town has dragged his or her weathered boots every step of the way through its history, and everyone in turn has stopped off at a different spot in the past before picking up speed and rejoining the flow of time. Past and present meander in and out of each other and the buildings and land around Seguin and beckon us, in our turn, to slow down and enjoy the oddity of being off the map and off the tow rope of time simultaneously.
We didn’t stop quite long enough to buy wrestling tickets, mind you, but the lure of the unique and the mystery of moving ahead without any inkling of what might lie ahead kept us rolling along all the happier when we were securely back on a full tank (once we found one of those vintage petrol pumps that was fully functional and deciphered the toothless ramblings of the guy sitting in his lawn chair ‘instructing’ us through our transaction from across the lot). If we hadn’t been to Seguin, we’d never have experienced its time-capsule marvels, potted around wondering how on earth a town that size could survive with so few gas stations, or gotten to see the World’s Largest Pecan, a sculpture on the lawn of City Hall that is probably really about the second or third largest representation of said nut in the US and possibly about the second or third least decorative sculpture (sorry, Seguin!) upon which any town proudly bases a promotional motto. Strange? A tad. Stuff I could easily have lived a long and healthy life without seeing or experiencing? Perhaps. But I’ve no regrets that our particular turns in the road took us there and led us to all of that fun, plenty entertaining even without wrestling tickets.
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.