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. 

Anne Sophie Mutter and her Opposite

There’s an episode of Seinfeld called “The Understudy” where one of Jerry’s many girl friends gets her big break in a Broadway musical only to flub her opening number.  The very whiny girl friend turns to the audience and pleads with them to let her start over.  Violinist Anne Sophie Mutter would be the opposite of that.  I had a chance to watch Mutter perform once at the Kennedy Center in Washington thanks to the generosity of a friend (artists are way too poor to afford tickets to Mutter’s recitals).  Anne Sophie Mutter’s performance was so perfect, it’s hard to believe she’s human.  She is angelic or something. Oddly enough, she gets a certain amount of flak for her virtuosity.  Her performance is so perfect that people imagine her music lacks emotion.  The music is full of emotion!  It’s just that we’ve almost come to equate emotion with imperfection!

I have a violin and started “fiddling around” with it some years ago, and when I’m very well warmed up I can play some jazz by ear that’s not too shabby.  (It helps if all the planets are perfectly aligned.)  I doubt I could ever have been a performer even if, like Mutter, I had begun at age four.  In that area of life where I have the most freedom and fluency, I make mistakes all the time.  Big ones!

Maybe artists are just clumsy people.  One artist here at wordpress has the picture of a Julian easel toppling over in a stream as a kind of logo.  And I’ll bet that WR Jones has some stories he could tell you.  I have painted things en plein air, thought my picture magnificient, stood back for the better view, and watched the whole thing go SMACK face down in the dirt by an ill-timed gust of wind.  I cannot count the unfortunate bugs I’ve picked out of other en plein air productions.  And I’m always dropping stuff, brushes and whatnot.  Or losing things (the precise photo, drawing, whatever, that I need for the project at hand).

What I absolutely love about painting, the reason why I know it was meant for me, is that painting is a performance that takes place in utter secrecy and the only notes that count are the ones visible on the top layer.  You can make a tangled mess of the bottom, you can change your mind a thousand times, you can miss your cue, falter on the first note, sing out of key, forget the words — as long as you recover in that thin top layer — you win!

[Top of the post:  First layers (learning the riff) of the latest project, by Aletha Kuschan, oil on canvas]

Tree Cartoon, the School of Fish

Every once in a while here, I post a collage or a “cartoon.”  This cartoon (large compositional study for a painting) belongs to the Big Tree idea that I posted in mid-June.

Other collages I’ve posted include this abstract image, this idea for a child’s mural, and this study of a detail of a painting.  It’s fun to organize them so that they can be compared.  I’ve never seen them together except here on line.

For almost every subject I undertake, I do studies.  Some of these studies take the form of collage. Collage is such a free and expressive media.  You can organize large areas of a picture in one swoop.

I like to explore the possibilities and details of the images I design.  Often these studies vary enough from the original to suggest new projects.  This particular collage was supposed to help me figure out the tree idea, but became more about the fish.  It takes on a new interest for me now as I embark on a new round of paintings of fish swimming.  Meanwhile the fish in this collage have found themselves quite a nice little pond where they bob up and down like corks.

[Top of the post: Cartoon for the painting “Big Tree,” by Aletha Kuschan, Xeroxed pictures glued to paper with crayon drawing]

Dream Fishing

When artists go fishing, it’s a little different sort of thing than when most people fish.  I’ve begun a series of koi paintings that occupy most my time.   Of course, the fish in the drawing are obviously not koi.  They are just fish.  They’re friends.   My generic fish that swim in the notebook in search of a fine blue stream.   They are rambling fish of imagination and dreams.  They come to cheer me on in my larger project that I’m just now beginning.Come visit my store on CafePress!

[Top of the post:  Swift Swimming Fish of Dreams, by Aletha Kuschan, drawing in a notebook]

Magisterial Me

One might ask, “if you combined Richard Diebenkorn with J.A.D. Ingres, what would you get?”  My answer was — this.  Well, actually there’s a few more items in this stew.  Roman fresco imagery, as for example the image that Ingres referred to in designing Mme Moitessier (see previous post) as well as some branches pruned from the Garden of Livia at Primaporta and transplanted here (that I wrote about in a post called Heirloom Apples).  Actually, I guess that’s closer to gardening than cooking.  Of course, I’d like to think I contributed something here, too.  Me as chief cook and bottle washer, gardener and all around person.

I painted this rather large picture over top of another image, one that was originally destined for a large commission.  And it’s also got a painting on the verso … so whoever buys it will get a strange two-fer.  I think I’ve basically invented a new thing: the monumental, reversible painting.

[Top of the post:  Woman in White, by Aletha Kuschan, approx 80 x 80 inches, acrylic on canvas]

Feeling Arboreal (finding the inner tree)

If anyone recognizes what this is:  congratulations!  You might have a fine career ahead of you in psychology!

I made this drawing to obsessively reinterate an idea I’ve been working on — relative to a large mural sized painting whose subject I’m frankly at a loss to explain.  However, I’ve been around the art block enough times now to trust my instincts and to believe that a picture, whose meaning is baffling even to me, its author, may well hold ideas that can matter to the larger audience of my fellow human beings, 3 billion or so of my closest friends. (You gotta think big.)

It’s a tree.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to portray it this way, rather than to make it more conventionally tree-like.  But there it is.  And let me tell you, your subconscious mind is a fabulous, truly wonderful and remarkable thing!  I have stalled on this idea for well over a year, working on other things, and forgeting about this picture. 

However, last night as I was driving, I turned a corner and saw a large tractor trailer stopped at a light perpendicular to me at a street onto which I was making a right turn.  In the general darkness, as I turned, I noted the enormous shadow of a tree cast onto the side of the trailer.  Imagine that huge flat surface being like a canvas, here was the image I’ve wanted to portray in ridiculously large scale, here it was on the side of this truck as on a great, crazy moving canvas!  Sometimes you feel as though the great loving God and nature and your own mind are all meeting at the same intersection.   It’s a great shot in the arm, let me tell you!

Comments, explanations, psycho-analysis are all welcome.

[Top of the post:  the author’s small compositional drawing for a very large enigmatic painting.  By Aletha Kuschan]

Beginner’s Luck

Certain kinds of beauty come when the artist is a raw beginner.  I’ve pulled out old drawings and appreciate anew the memories they evoke.  I wish I had drawn more.  Would that I had drawn tirelessly.  Lack of confidence trips up too many young artists.  But the drawings I made when I  knew comparatively nothing have a raw, innocent candour.  And now I find I reseek the beginner’s mind.

I began drawing some years ago using my left hand (I’m right handed).  I wanted to get the awkwardness back, wanted it to slow me down and trip me up, and make me think harder about where my hand’s lines would go.  I have loved the wavy line that is the consequence.  The two kinds of drawings, right and left, seem to have slightly different personalities.  It’s like finding your alter ego.  There you are, long lost twin!

Do not have preconceived ideas about what drawing should be or how it should look.  Sometimes be an explorer of the uncharted world. 

You are living your life for the first time.  It’s all new.  Even when one is old, one has never been old before. 

[Top of the post:  the author’s high school drypoint of her Momma, scratched on plexiglass plate, based on a photograph from the 1940s.  Aletha Kuschan]

A beautiful body

I’ve been thinking I should paint her.  She’s so sleek and cool.  A Rhapsody in Blue.  I just wonder: could I really get a true life-likeness?  Too beautiful for art?  Oh, Matisse where are you when we need you?  Here’s a subject you would have loved.

Not seeing the tree for the branches

     Through different subjects and media, through thick and thin,  I find that much of what has continually interested me is perception.  Perception is a tricky thing.  I first realized this when I was young girl in high school.  I was sitting in front of a sugar maple happily drawing its linear forms, which reached out toward me like welcoming arms. I found that maple to be so very beautiful and complicated to draw.

Struggling with it, however, I couldn’t comprehend one particularly murky passage and paused totally stuck, in head-scratching confusion. Then I realized that I was not drawing “what I saw” — not a bit — for right smack in front of me was a limb, looming into the foreground, practically tickling my nose, that had been until that moment completely invisible. It actually obscured parts of the area I was struggling to see.  No wonder I couldn’t see those other details! I thought with Mr. Magoo-like clarity.

For many people life’s problems consist in not seeing “the forest for the trees.”  In my case, I was stumped by not seeing the tree for the branches. 

            I had looked at, had seen, had attended to those things that I insisted to myself were there.  Well, sometimes what you see is what you get! I insisted upon my reality to such a degree, wishing to see what I thought I saw so much — that I managed not to see what was right there in fact.  Ah, a moment of disclosure I shall never forget.  It’s like a story with a moral.  Only true.


 [Top of the post:  my drawing of crepe myrtles blooming.  Aletha Kuschan]


To Mike

          I’m glad my comments were helpful.  Commenting on your drawings helps me as well, since it prompts me to consider how and why I draw.  I guess I want to teach drawing.  I’ve thought about it certainly, but I cannot do so in a traditional studio setting for various logistical reasons, my schedule, family obligations and so on.  But through writing, perhaps I can find an outlet for teaching the ideas that I wish to share. I see drawing as being a wonderful tool for observing life, and through observing things I also see a path to knowledge about life, even to wisdom. 
How perfectly lovely to have a wife who encourages you. Listen to your wife.  (I’ve already written about marriage here, so isn’t that apropos?)  Her advice to keep your drawings, heed it well.  Okay, maybe not every single scrap.  But certainly the ones she tells you to keep!

I know the feeling of being dissatisfied, but you can learn a lot from past drawings.  People think “yes, I’ll learn to recognize my mistakes.”  That’s not what I mean.  If the drawings bother you, stick them in a drawer and get some distance from them.  Later after you gain skill, you’ll gain confidence and then the drawings may prove helpful.  I had ideas from my earliest inkling that I wanted to be an artist — a beautiful shifting mirage of things I saw that held great meaning for me.  I tried to draw them, but lacked the skill.  I was dissatified with those drawings, but I kept them anyway.  Looking back at old drawings now, ah, how  revealing!  To find ideas that I had forgotten — oh, some of them good ideas!  I have the skills now to pursue these thoughts, and because I kept the drawings, I have the reminders of these perceptions, these appearances, that I once wanted to do.

At the time of their making, you may not have recognized that these things you sought even were ideas.  Time of itself provides a means of observing life.  Seeing events through the perspective of time, we see differently than when events are actually taking place.  Time is not just a theme for the novelist.  It has meaning in the visual arts too. 

Well, anyway, you want to spend some of your regular working hours — your art hours — drawing from life.  Even though it’s far more difficult than copying, drawing from life is incomparable because in this direct perception of things, you have no intermediary.  You copy drawings to learn different ways of thinking visually, and you draw from life to learn to carve your own path. 

I liken it to target shooting.  You aim your pencil, point and shoot.  Sometimes you miss.  You try again.  But it involves you in a very precise way of thinking and also a personal one.  If you draw what you notice then the drawing becomes a map of your attention and perception.  And that can be really marvelous, and again also provides reasons for keeping the old things — because you may lack the skill to record all that you notice, but even the imperfect attempt gets at parts of it — so, you see, by keeping old drawings you get to bump into your past self.  Another form of time travel.
Getting a job as an artist — that is very tricky, I won’t kid you. If you get one, put in a word for me too!  How good are you at self-promotion?  If you’re a strong self-promoter you might find employment as an artist before you’re really “ready” in which case you can (hurray!) learn on the job.  Being unsatisfied with what you do, of course, makes self-promotion complicated.  So, some employment related soul searching is wise.
As a hobby, art is a fabulous thing.  Winston Churchill painted to relax so you’d be among quite dignified good company. Perhaps you cannot be an artist full time, but have you considered becoming prime minister?  As to formal training, I was in lots of classes in my youth, but honestly everything I know about art I learned by trial and error and by very careful study of old masters’ pictures. The best art is personal, and the lessons that really count come from inside your head.
Well, I’m glad to be able to give advice and especially where your wife’s concerned.  Listen to her.  A man always does well to heed his wife’s wise counsels.  Don’t be “super” critical, just self-critical enough to move forward.  Let your love of drawing guide you.  Love is a good teacher.

[Top of the post:  Winston Churchill painting in 1946.]