Feeling Catty

Sometimes (as now) a blog is a good place to gripe.  Imagine me on the other side of your fence.  You ask me how I’m doing, so I decide to give you an earful.  (Nice weather we’re having, though.)

Yesterday I saw a spread in a North Carolina newspaper (I’m still here, but should be getting home soon I hope).  Anyway, it was a whole page devoted to art events.  It consisted almost entirely of photographs.  One particularly caught my attention, and if it didn’t bring out the nicest side of my personality — well, perhaps I can be forgiven.

A fashionably dressed young man was posed sitting in a wingback chair.  Behind him stood his even more elegantly dressed and very attractive wife.  The two were pictured inside the premises of what the paper said was a “cutting edge” gallery in town.  And to one side, one could partly make out portions of the young man’s “art.” 

My first thought was “congratulations to him for what must obviously be some exceptional marketing skills.”  My second less kind thought bubble was: “too bad he can’t paint worth a damn.” 

It grates on my nerves (might as well be honest over here at the fence) that I feel an unseemly bit of disgust at a young artist-in-quotes getting this kind of attention when quite clearly (to me at least) his “work” doesn’t merit it.  Work.  Geeze.  It was the old cliche of “I could do that” and then some.  Anyone could do what he does.  Take heart all ye beginners!  That’s assuming his “work” has anything in it worth emulating.

Few of us get our pictures in the papers. (Didn’t I just moments ago say artists are shy?)  I’ve been in the newspaper once, but in my case, thank goodness, I actually had to compete with my painting for attention.  We were posed together like sisters.  But even then, it was the subject matter of my painting that got the attention not the art of my painting.  I’m still waiting on the art thing … I’ll let you guys be the first to know when my ideas are getting the publicity.

So, why does one feel a grudge?  Sour grapes?  I don’t think so.  It bugs me not because the young man is doing well.  It bugs me that he is doing well when so many more deserving artists are being ignored.  It bugs me his not having to pay any dues.  More than that — it bugs me that he evidently has no interest in the dues.  I would never have consented to have myself and my painting prominently displayed in a newspaper if my paintings looked like his.  Sometimes it is meet to be demure.

The whole point of art is the art.  The artist is the first and chief beneficiary of that, let’s be honest.  What you learn in looking at the world, what you learn in making the true attempt to record life (regardless what your level of ability), what you get from the act of seeing and drawing, all those things become products of your mind, parts of your soul.  They compose the memories you will carry around with you in life.  They are hardly trivial!

But what, I ask you, is the point of anyone’s striving when the trivial attempts are trumpeted abroad? 

Well, what you see is what you get.  Quite literally.  Though the papers be filled with the cheap and easy products of fake effort, no one who really loves art should ever lose heart.  What you see is what you get.  And the seeing of it — that’s life — that’s the living of it.  In art you can live ideas.

Art is not for the faint of heart.  If it matters to you, go blindly down the road.  Just do it.  (Not like a shoe commercial, but for real.)

Meanwhile, here at the fence, do you think we’re likely to get any rain?

Second Resume Bullet:  I griped to my neighbor and drew a picture of an annoyed cat.


Ugh! Writing a Resume

Writing a resume always throws me for a loop.  I suppose it affects most people that way.  But I think artists have an especially hard time of it.  For starters, it’s been my experience that artists like to talk up their work in inverse proportion to its merits.  The best artists I know are mostly shy, and the prospect of self-promotion is almost painful.  They are perfectly comfortable, mind you, discussing art in general terms — or even in explaining the narratives behind their own pictures — or their opinions about various art related topics.  The best artists I know are experts in art and have quite a lot to say about it and share their expertise generously.

But that’s a lot different from writing a resume or doing other kinds of promotions.  Whenever I do promotion, it’s like slipping out of my skin and becoming another person.  I try to pretend that I’m someone else looking at the paintings, and I try to “hype them up” a little based upon what various audiences seem to want or believe.  (Hope my target audiences aren’t listening.)

Perhaps “hype” is not the right word.  Let’s just say that I’ve come to recognize that my pictures may have different uses to people than what I originally intended, and I’ve learned to respect those other points of view as having equal validity — that art is “in the eyes of the beholder” as a practical matter.  So I inject humor into my advertising in regard to pictures that were never intended to be humorous.  Or I point out the fact that the pictures make bold design statements, although “interior design” was never a passing thought in my mind.

Mostly (as here) I try to help people enter the realm of visual meaning and metaphor — which goes much more truly to the heart of what I intend when I paint.  But sometimes the more serious message is not the most effective one.

I find that there’s an enormous difference between marketing paintings and marketing the artist.  My resume problems belong to the latter category.  Actually when it comes to the paintings themselves, I’ve never had a collector once ask me where I went to school or what grants I may have received.  They want to know things about the subject matter of the painting.  Their attention is fastened entirely upon what they see and how it makes them feel, and they don’t seem to have the least idle curiosity about my background — which is wonderful.  That’s as it should be.

However, all the things that the collector could care less about are exactly the things that one needs to address in a resume —  with dates, places, and details.  Half the time, I cannot even remember when I worked on a painting, not merely in regard to ones I painted years ago, but even as concerns ones I have painted recently.  Often I forget what I’ve worked on in any given year.  Often I work on certain pictures over the course of several years — for perhaps as long as five years.

  My “real” resume is a lot like Cezanne’s.  I’ve exhibited about 5 times in shows that were beautiful but unknown.  And, yeah, it’s okay to toss around the names of the big guys.  Cezanne’s resume when he was living is the one to have.  It’s all about working.  His life and his work were of one piece, and he just got up each morning and did it.

But, us — we gotta have resumes.  Alas!

New Resume Bullet:  During the last five minutes, I drew a little vase that sits on my table with a pen.  Took a digital photo of it.  Posted it to my blog.