Monday, July 05, 2010
Painting Events...and the "X- Factor!"
My third day home now, exhausted and recovering from a full week painting event...plein air, with about 160 other artists, followed by Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois (574 acres, 60,000 people camping over 5-6 days, 300 bands, 30 stages) with my wife...staying with my son Jason in his trailer...then running home to play and perform two consecutive days myself musically.
Responding to emails, now reflecting...and a stupid heavy handedness on a Droid's virtual keypad losing all I just attempted to write to one artist, thought I'd share here.
The photo above was my location reference in the plein air event I just participated in. The excitement of the light on the awning, the mysterious darks was for me quite alluring. An hour into this painting, a 14"x 18"...and the floodlights apparently on a timer suddenly shut off. Dang!
So, out came the paint knife and scraped it all off...crawling into bed around 1am feeling defeated and tired. Went back the next day and painted over my support that which you can see in the post previous to this.
Paint events can be quite exhilarating...a breath of fresh air for so many of us working in isolation, meeting other artists, meeting patrons and volunteers so supportive of the arts and artists. Imagine...well over 1500 paintings were potentially executed by the painters over a week's time, each choosing their best two for jurying and exhibition.
I'm admittedly upfront going to get a bit long winded here...or type maniacal. I hope you'll stick thru it because I hope to challenge my thinking and mindset as well as prick or kick start yours.
Years ago...I had built a reputation in the wildlife art genre or biz...had a rep, my routine shows and competitions to attend to. My work had become recognized but that also leads to becoming categorized. Publishers grew their established artists, so you didn't want to all of a sudden change your style and interrupt the momentum.
Thing is...after 17 years of that...laboring over my easel, seeing the liberating work of Richard Schmid and others painting outdoors...it had come to me that I was spending 16 hours a day or more INdoors painting about what I loved about being outdoors. Why it took so many years for that dichotomy to level me, I don't know. Once it did however...my brush began to weigh 500 pounds to lift it in studio. Taking my paints outdoors...the brush was as light as a feather. So...I more or less bid my adieu to my rep and my more secure reputation. What I was becoming...and didn't know it at the time, was a painter.
Going off into these ideas sometimes gets me in trouble having to do a lot of backpedaling with artist/friends who remind me they have to pay bills and painting is more preferrable than say a regular 9am-5pm job... but, I do believe there is a shift and difference between painting as an artist...or a painter. I will speak as that which is important to ME...and if that strikes a chord with you, very well.
We all fantasize about the day we can quit our regular jobs and paint full time, framed works flying off the walls. Makes sense...it is something we love, but to make such a reality you have to equally love the business side of it, and work tenaciously at that. I'll tell you upfront...that after 17 years of such struggle...now some 14-15 years later...I don't paint because I love doing business. I love to paint!
That to me...is what I call the complete "artist"...one who creates a demand for his/her work...and then delivers"...but, as I learned years ago very easily...and for the most part undetected, the artist soon loses control. No longer owning the gift...but the gift begins to own...
We have our painter moments where we shift back and forth...artist/painter...the delights of encountering the set up and location with paint from a pure heart...but becoming a "painter" endures beyond that. It is developing a relationship, a romance of that sought with paint; the integrity of intimacy bound by trust and faith. That somehow...just giving yourself over to paint your heart, ends will yet themselves make...your needs to meet responsibilities, debts all met.
It is like a prize fighter. Out in the ring...if you are thinking about and concerned with contract disputes and settlements, marketing and promotion...you are going to get your head leveled. You better be 110% in the game, and in top shape. You get yourself a manager to worry about the rest.
As artists, most have to be manager and fighter. The problem is when managing gets in the way of painting. The painter would rather do without, starve, struggle, work an unrelated job than undermine the integrity that comes to bear at the paintbox.
Can one be both artist and painter? Absolutely, and I think artists need to be cognizant of making that mental and spiritual shift.
I think though that it is easier for the painter to take time to be the artist, than it is for the artist to enter into the mindset of the painter. I'm hoping my rambling of thoughts here can help entering that mindset important to you, and an aim.
Its all excitement when getting one's work finished and framed up in a timed event such as a quick paint, and the atmosphere is electric and tense. Patrons and jurors looking over the work.
One can lose a bit of their nature and sense participating in such events, but isn't necessary. That loss comes when seeing everyone set up...here, there...driving all about you begin to believe you must find that one ideal spot that painted well will "best" all the others. You get that knot...that sense of urgency in your gut that this time, you've got to get it right.
Its all about winning recognition for one...and the mistake can be made to believe your legitimacy of what it is you do will by week's end be proven or faulted. That mindset entering from one year to the next...looks at the style of work that tends routinely to win. Ahh...now, here's where it gets difficult. Paintings work...for reasons that paintings work. Style is inescapable, like your fingerprints. Hearing one master painter put it after asking him "how do I develop a style?" he said, "do 500 paintings, and you'll have a style!"
Events cause you to calculate, anticipate, then wage risk and intent but very often outside your soul's purpose for painting or the desire the heart cries out for.
Let me explain this way...as an educator, something I am well and painfully aware of. A lot of public schools are hurting right now. They require federal assistance quite often to operate as the tax payer/property owner is already maxed out with what can be afforded. The assistance comes with strings attached, that specialized tests must show a percentage of students excelling as the government decides. The end result...is that very often teachers are omitting and glossing over material content finding out what will be tested, thus are teaching to the test! So important is receiving that federal assistance...that criteria in content is given second place.
I call it the missing "X-Factors"...and the phrase comes from diet, supplementation...in nutrition. Some think that by skipping meals...and just taking vitamin/mineral supplements they can lose weight and maintain health. The problem put forth by scientists...is that they do not understand or know the full benefits of a complete balanced diet. They skim...or find some of the tangibles, but the missing knowledge...that not understood eludes them. The benefits of missing factors, or "X- Factors"
After near twenty years living as an artist meeting demands, commissions, building reputation (Wis Wildlife Artist of the Year in 1984...our state's Inland Trout Stamp design winner...on and on) my heart was coming to exist in a vacuum. My purpose, my meaning as a person was being driven and defined by the business, and one has to predispose that achieving success at the top of that business results in purpose and meaning found. Not so...
I had one advantage over many artists...a pinnacle moment that jolted me to reality, for one- about smiling best intentioned people there to help your progress. Thru such art directors, agents, galleries came a point in time, a critical junction where I was ripped off over a quarter million dollars. It brought me to a cynical questioning of "what's the point of it all, anyway" ...and while the business end delivered such pain, I yet had this hungering...this insatiable need to paint!
My salvation was two fold...one, to get away from the biz and engage the pureness of just setting up outdoors and painting, to reconnect with what I was seeing and experiencing; and secondly...to open my heart and spirit to my Lord, my Creator...that master Artist and hope to find reason to legitimize and justify my continuation with painting?
I couldn't trust what lay behind a man's smile or extended hand to shake, but I could trust that moment where nature yields its secrets and the cause and effect of what was happening on my canvas/support.
Those years are long behind me now. With humility...I enter into moments of success once more...books selling, paintings doing reasonably well for what little effort I bring to the table to peddle my wares...but, I am very sensitive to whatever hidden motivation of the heart suddenly springs up to delight in "winning"...for that easily leads to subjugation and surrender of one's vision and need to paint to exchange it for whatever promise of satisfaction the attention of winning purports to deliver. I try to keep my heart and spirit in check on such things.
So much so...that my internationally recognized and award winning artist son so lovingly encourages me to embrace the status and opportunity that yet waits potentially before me; in return, I bring to his remembrance that which we have learned can happen in this business. So...I carefully...gingerly find my pace picking up once more.
Unfortunately...that reminder, that caution to own the gift, and not again let the gift come to own me...comes by way of seeing the great disappointment and measure of frustration in my artist friends. A reason I labor I guess to put my thoughts together here.
By week's end...many have a ton load of money invested from travel/mileage, meals...lodging, investing in framing...so the expectation and anticipated in what is needed to recover becomes a factor. In that...comes the self-condemning inner whisperings of whether or not such time justifies participation. Often...discouragement causes a lot of second guessing, and that is where I feel most frustration for folks.
First and foremost, I believe painting is a gift from the Creator/God to us as artists. Not as a means to make a living, least not first and foremost, but to complete who we by nature are. When we own the gift...and the gift does not own us...when we enter the ring to fight fully engaged, not entertaining the what-if's(?) of failing to produce a work that "wins"...we enter a world suited to who we as painters are. One of an intimate seeking. A romance where light, shadows and color kiss our souls. Where nature gives up secrets to those that insist on seeing more.
These provide the "X-Factors" and ironically I have come to conclude there are patrons seeking the evidence of such things in the work of the painters who themselves trapped in their own day in day out routine hope to find solace; a champion to their wish to put wings to dreams and fly. Seeking to do work that sells, to win...the artist may find only great discouragement and often disillusionment when things don't go one's way.
Thing is...one cannot escape oneself, and to intend to do what is needed to "win" even if a short term contract...one is attempting to paint as though one were someone else.
That is not to say one doesn't learn from others such as books, workshops and such...but such teaching should expound and expand your gift, not trade it for someone elses! When you truly really love another's work...it very often speaks to you because they have touched on something you've been making effort to grow into naturally...intune with your aesthetic visual voice. Learning is important. Foundations important. Again...paintings work for reasons paintings work. Excellence is NOT an accident...and then again, who and what God has intended you to be was no accident either. We lose our integrity when the desire to win at all costs substitutes doing so by our own terms.
I've seen again and again the results of judging suggest there is a work that represents the true "spirit of plein air!"
Now dang...how subjective is that!
The spirit of plein air is not stylized. It is not loosey goosey applied paint for the sake of style...or winning. In fact...the aim to "win"...is not the true "spirit of plein air"
Painting on location with the mindset of the artist, is a pure focus on the end result for the sake of an alterior desired end, such as sale or winning. There is joy in painting well, but greater satisfaction in the attention of such having been gained.
Painting on location as a painter is approaching the moment as a lover. Aiming for what comes later...is like spending all kinds of money on dining and entertainment with anticipation that by nights end, the one dated owes you something in return. So, for myself...the what comes later as a concern is intentionally given over to God since He promises to meet my needs. That frees me up to be unconcerned with such. Approaching the moment with 110% focus on the act of painting itself...with only the expectation that complete joy and satisfaction is at hand. If nothing else comes...it was a privilege to have experienced the moment. Painting as means to celebrate life; living...
It seems so many of us do what we do for the express purpose that it will lead to the promise of something else...but there is great joy and blessing that the end of painting as a process of time and engagement was if anything, payment in full. A delight and wholly a justification in and of itself.
It is my opinion...one that the art world need not recognize, but to understand me is to know this is what drives me...that to paint with motivations of what is to come later...is to skip the meal. It is the popping of some mind bending egotistical begging supplementation that delivers on only some of the knowns...but is missing the important "X-Factors" leading to spiritual health as an artist.
Winning is fun...and very often opens doors. However, remember the world doesn't need your interpretation or impression of the artist you don't happen to be, one that already exists. No one else can be you for you. You are the one most qualified to hold that position. Paint YOUR heart out! Excellence is not an accident...but is defined by the integrity to hold to your uniqueness and vision.
But...while you are out there, set up...its just you, the moment you are embracing, the paints on your palette...and the world of secrets and mysteries waiting to be first revealed to you, then unveiled. Celebrate in that. Look for no further justification or legitimacy than that! This is your moment...
One last thought...
Life...is such a unique and precious thing. With all the money we have spent thus far exploring space...speculating the possibility of life elsewhere, thus far the only tangible evidence we have to work with is dust, dirt, rocks, gasses.
Think of the most mundane simplest thing...and when speaking to young people I'll use humor and bring this point up right after someone has passed gas. Where else in all the universe, at such a point and time as now...has a living breathing flesh and blood creature done what you at this time, right now are doing? Have you really chewed on and reflected on the uniqueness of standing out there with a paintbox, before nature...painting in light of this? All the universe is standing by, amazed...and you should never doubt your significance, for in the universe this is no small matter!
Be encouraged. Celebrate...