Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

It was only after speaking truth and listening for a few decades that I realized a couple of things; first, that you have to repeat yourself a lot, matching your actions to your words, before anyone believes you about certain things. And second, the reason the dull and the ignorant are dull and ignorant is that they don't listen back.

Truthful statements with which I tested these propositions: "I'm an artist." "I'm moving to Mexico." "I'm moving to New York." "I love you."

It was a full decade before my nuclear family stopped tacitly expecting me to get over this 'artist' delusion and go to medical school. I had lived in Mexico for three years, and Brooklyn for two, before people stopped sending me invitations to events in Northern California with 'RSVP' on them. And some people I just stopped loving.

One thing I've learned, from running doggedly against the wind of other people's expectations for years, is that 'individualism' is a myth. Success requires community support. Look at the 'acknowledgments' on any CD, film, flyleaf, or program; the more financially and artistically successful the creation, the longer the thank-yous. The visual arts are no exception, except that visual artists tend to be even more bashful and egoistic than the average actor. Thus we have trouble asking for help, and resist acknowledging the help we get.

Moreover, the institutions which are allegedly in place for 'supporting' visual artists, such as schools, museums, galleries, and non-profit organizations, act as parasitic forces on the vast majority of artists. The art school I attended sucked its students financially dry while sabotaging their careers. Most juried exhibitions are funded by the application fees of rejected artists; grants and residencies are often awarded for political reasons rather than artistic ones; museum collections are still heavily weighted toward the white, the male and the wealthy.

It's easy to say that all of this shouldn't matter. A Real Artist will transcend all of that. And this is, to a certain extent, true. Creative people will find ways to survive, albeit not always comfortably.

But I drove myself to the verge of exhaustion, bankruptcy and despair by believing that people believed me, and now I'm wondering if it's worth it. Because if 'art' is not assessed according to the values with which it is created, it might as well not exist.

To be continued.


Spatula said...

You know, Pretty Lady, I relate to your frustration and despair as an unsupported artist very much, and that's why it fills me with such dismay to hear the discouragement in what you write about this experience. I wish I could help you feel differently than "was it/is it worth being an artist when no one cares and no one cares." What can I do to lift your spirits?

The way that I found new life as a professional artist is by seeking independence from the art world instead of its acceptance. If a gallery approached me now, I would have to think hard about whether I even want to deal with them. The truth is that the world hungers for paintings and drawings, very much, and the galleries don't feed the soul in the way they should - which leaves the playground very much open for artists who want to reach an audience.

What also helped me is that I realized I had an affinity for an emerging art movement - the revival of realism and painting that addresses contemporary life instead of the artist's navel. That helps enormously - every time I go to the Women Painting Women blog, I see hundreds of kin spirits.

This may sound crazy, but come visit Toronto once Little Lady is a little bigger. There is an outdoor art show that attracts MAD HORDES of people, and they come ready to buy stuff. I am going to make a point of participating every year. It's an event the whole city LOVES, completely unpretentious, and the artists and fine craftspeople do financially well in it. Come do it too! Among other things, it's a buttload of fun.

Pretty Lady said...

You're right, Spatula, that 'seeking independence from the art world' is the only way to go. The trouble is, I've already tried a number of those paths, and haven't yet found one that was a good fit. Additionally, I'm just bone exhausted. Inspiration, for the moment, has deserted me.

The problem with doing outdoor art shows, for me, is one of both content and scale. My paintings aren't the size of airplane hangars, but they're too big to ship or carry cross-country and set up outdoors, just on the chance. Plus that kind of environment does them no favors. Art that sells well on the street, or in a large outdoor show, tends to be in a recognizable, established genre--still lifes, landscapes, figure paintings, Cubist or Impressionist knockoffs.

That's not what I, perhaps hubristically, am trying to do. I'm trying to push some boundaries. Not in the way that 'conceptual artists' do it--setting up conceits that don't involve any particular skill with object-making--but playing with the limits of what a painting can do.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that I may be failing. I also admit that it might do me a lot of good to churn out a pile of pretty, salable objects for awhile, to clear the pipeline, boost my chops and dispense with that pernicious tendency toward preciousness in what I do.

But right now I have not got the space, the supplies or the time to do so. So I wallow, and scheme, and wait for a more auspicious moment.

Spatula said...

"Art that sells well on the street, or in a large outdoor show, tends to be in a recognizable, established genre--still lifes, landscapes, figure paintings, Cubist or Impressionist knockoffs."

Well, that's what I thought too, until people bought my art, which is none of those things, and they paid a very decent price point for it.

Anyway, if you change your mind, my invitation definitely stands! For ever and ever and ever!

Meanwhile, I wish you a recuperative, regenerative time. There was something in the Ecclesiastes about the time to this and the time to that - when someone is tired, it's probably the time to rest :-D

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks, it's good to know I've got a friend in Toronto again!

Anonymous said...

Hey Pretty Lady. Been meaning to visit for a long time but.....
Just a mention of the cavemen(women?) who drew on cave walls with no audience and no takers and no ...... ( I don't know....I wasn't there)..... but I imagine that they did what they did because they were driven to paint images on walls. The ultimate reason (for me) to do it is.... because I want to. The rest is pretty distracting.
Danny Diamonds

Pretty Lady said...

Yes, Danny, of course.

I want to, too. At least, I used to want to, when I wasn't too tired and drained to think clearly.

I also have a family to support. We're in debt. A lot of debt. Right now I'm working a poorly-paid job, continuing to freelance, and trying to milk my blog for every penny in ad revenue and donations. We're still not making our minimum monthly expenses, let alone paying down the debt.

Also, all of my art supplies are densely packed and stored behind a crib, piles of toys, and baby clothes in the cluttered space that used to be my studio.

You may not have noticed, but silly people sometimes throw obscene amounts of money around at stuff they call 'art.' This is something I have usually, in good times, been able to ignore, so that I don't get distracted.

I'm having a hard time ignoring it right now. That's all. Eventually I will be able to ignore it again.

Anonymous said...

I love your friend Spatula's elegant mention of that bit of Ecclesiastes. I hope that helps; it sounds so reasonable. I believe you'll come back at it with a renewed energy when the situation changes, which it surely will. A famous artist bought a place down the block from me, and she's had a vast number of men renovating it inside and out for months. When I passed the other day, I thought again about how I never connected with her art, and even actively disliked it when I was an art student. And then I felt, wow, cool, she is an artist, not a corporate job-holder, and has all this dough... and this was dashed, remembering she played the game. I never wanted to play the game. I just want to paint these weird thickly layered pictures that I don't show many people. Except when I want to quit painting entirely! But there I was yesterday performing my completely solitaire obsessive investigation into what paint does. But that's just me. I'm not helping you, I see, but I was moved by this post. Anyway, I believe you must paint. When you're re-energized. But again, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I meant to sign that. It's Chris.

Pretty Lady said...

Chris who? Chris Rywalt was never an art student, and doesn't paint thickly, and shows his paintings to anybody who will look. Chris Evans doesn't paint thickly, either. Chris K., as far as I remember, does collage-like stuff.

I'm plumping for Chris K. Regardless, thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah... was busy painting! I missed this. Yes, plump Chris K. it is! Cheers!

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