Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hug Your Local Artist

I’ve had three lovely things happen to me lately that have served to keep me going through the dreary days of not-quite-spring. These small events encouraged me when I needed a boost, and got me to thinking.

I have the pleasure of claiming a delightful woman in her 90’s as my friend. For fun I gave her a package containing 4 greeting cards with images of my work on them. Several weeks later I happened to see them carefully laid out on her table, unused. “I’m waiting for frames for them”, she said. “I could never actually use them, they’re too beautiful for that!” For that sweet comment I carefully matted and framed them, and now they’re hanging over her couch in an artful display.

©2008 Patricia Scarborough  Spruce Ridge Greeting Card.  Original 11x9 pastel
Long long ago I painted a mural above the fireplace in a woman’s home at her request. It was a simple painting of her homestead long since destroyed by water from a reclamation project. She passed away years ago, and honestly, I’d forgotten about it. Just recently I was visiting with the young woman whose family moved into that house and she said to me, “The mural is still there, and we love it. We’re thrilled to have your painting in our home. Our 4-year old makes up stories about the family who used to live in the house.”

And just last week an artist whose work I’ve always admired called me on the phone. She said, “I wanted to let you know I’ve just spent a lovely afternoon looking at your artwork on the web. Thank you for making the afternoon so pleasant.”

©2008 Patricia Scarborough Indian Summer Greeting Card  Original 24x18 pastel
And here's what I got to thinking about.

There’s a lot of talk out there about Advocating For The Arts. Usually the conversation turns to dollar amounts in the millions, federal funding, public art projects and the like. Support is not just voting for a bill or waiting for a donor to build a theater.What we forget is that supporting the Arts can - and should - begin at a very basic level.

Embracing the Arts is as simple as a conversation between you and someone else. It’s appreciating what another person does, and communicating that feeling. It’s a simple “thank you” or “nice job”.

Its signing your kid up for a dance class and letting them learn the joy of movement no matter how clumsy they are. It’s learning how to let that kid play with pipe cleaners and paint and not worry about whether they’re gifted or not. It's learning to ask questions about what you see, learning to wonder about how something came to be, whether it’s three-year old’s tempera paint blob or the Eiffel Tower.

It’s Handsome Husband listening to his wife struggling to get the idea out.

It’s not complicated, really. Think about it. What do you do to support the Arts?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tribute to the Beauty of Fire

Each week I pontificate about some fascinating aspect of my fascinating life. Every now and then, however, I'm smart enough to step aside and let you in on something great.

Recently, Handsome Husband and I stood slack-jawed before the large charcoal drawings of Marlene Mueller, Wayne State College Art Professor. Beautiful in their terrifying depiction of death by fire of an old farm building, these drawings had us mesmerized, so much so that a month after we first saw them at the Norfolk Arts Center in Norfolk, Ne., we're still talking about them.

©2008  Marlene Mueller Apocalypse 32x44 Charcoal

"Into the Ashes" is a visual record of Mueller’s experience as a volunteer firefighter. Rather than glamorize the heroic efforts of men and women in the act of saving, she uses charcoal to render stinging smoke, crackling heat and the hissing of evaporating water as flames eat a structure down to its ashes.

       ©2008 Marlene Mueller  Cumulus  32x44 Charcoal

These drawings are beautiful. Charcoal, a remnant of the burning process, is used here to create moments of power and grace, the balance between what fire and water will do to, and for, each other.

        ©2007 Marlene Mueller Roar 44x32 Charcoal

Looking for beauty in the destructive forces of heat and flame is not something we’re used to. And yet, there we were, HH and I, moving back and forth from image to image, following the fire as it ate at the timbers of a once useful structure. And as I write this, I realize we weren’t following fire at all. We were taken in by Mueller’s expert weaving of charcoal into textures and rhythms and smudges, calling us into and away from each piece before we felt heat or absorbed the acrid smell of smoke into our clothes.  That's something too for an artist to reach across time and experience and exact a toll on the memories our senses have of a too-close experience with fire.

©2007 Marlene Mueller Simmer 32x44 Charcoal

My knee-jerk reaction to defining beauty would most likely include rich color, a calming sense of rhythm or texture, a perception of atmosphere to be breathed in deeply. In a daring mood maybe I would include tension, asymmetry, maybe even dissonance if carried out in a harmonious way. Something to hang above my couch and make me feel good.

Mueller has done what all proper artists should do.  She has called us to look more closely, to consider more consciously the world around us.  Not just the lovely, the soft or precious, but every aspect of the cycle of what exists, or ceases to exist.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sandhill Crane Story

Greetings All-

The earth has a rhythm of her own.  This blue orb we inhabit for such a small moment has been hanging in space for time untold, and will be here long after the most educated, advanced and civilized human has turned to dust.
There is power in these rhythms, both the power to destroy and the power to sustain life.

Handsome Husband and I, along with all of you, were astounded and deeply touched by the re-shaping of Japan by earthquake and tsunami.

Platte River south of Kearney, Nebraska, March 2011

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we were astounded and touched as well by the return of the Sandhill Cranes through central Nebraska.
This ancient rhythm of life has occurred through centuries of time, yet it never ceases to amaze.
HH and I took time out from the routine and spent an afternoon following the Platte River west to the place where half a million cranes will stop for a short time to re-fuel on their way north to Canada and Siberia. 

To witness this ancient ritual and hear their constant strange vocalizing brought calm and assurance that the rhythm of life would go on, and helped put our shallow worries and needs into historic perspective.

As evening rose on the river and cranes began to settle into the shallow waters for safe-keeping, HH and I felt comforted by the strength and unwavering determination of these truly magnificent creatures.

We are reminded that time passes methodically, spasmodically, unfairly or momentously. The earth heaves and adjusts.  Sandhill Cranes and other creatures will migrate thousands of miles north and south, unaware of the moods or accomplishments of their human counterparts. 
I am put in my place and find that comforting somehow.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Interview with Karine (Ka-ree-nah)

Greetings All-
Handsome Husband and I are taking the day to hang out with family and celebrate my Best of Show honor from the Norfolk Arts Center 4th Juried Exhibition.  Why yes, thankyew, I am very honored.

The following is an interview with my dear friend, California artist Karine M Swenson.  Karine is an experienced gallerist, artist and businesswoman whose talents and grace I admire a great deal.
©2009 Karine Swenson Once Over 10 x 8 inches monotype

Karine, you've both owned a gallery and been an artist represented by a gallery. What do you wish artists knew, and what do you wish galleries knew?
I wish artists would try to learn more about the gallery before they waltzed in, art under their arm, and asked for a show. Running a gallery is a lot of work, and most galleries have a specific vision in mind as to what kind of art/artists they show. Another no-no: going to an opening, when the gallery is having a show for someone ELSE, and start talking about getting your work shown and seen. This shows a total lack of respect for the time and money a gallery has put out to draw people in to see the art and make contacts and sales. Not to mention inconsiderate of the artist being shown. This is their show, not yours. Galleries have expenses, too. Working with a gallery requires mutual respect and appreciation. If you don't have that with a gallery, it's best not to show there.

I wish more galleries knew more about art, art history and selling art. I have encountered too many galleries with little or no experience in art, who expect to make lots of money. Is it too much to ask that a gallery owner does a little homework? I am sure there are many galleries out there who aren't like this. Unfortunately, I have run into a startlingly large number of galleries who are JUST like this. Selling art is about finding out what the customer is really drawn to, asking questions, and then showing art that might fit the bill. Buying almost anything is an emotional decision, and buying art is even more that way. A good gallery is willing to get to know their artists and their work so that they can talk intelligently about the art and the person who created it. This way, they will draw people into the experience of the art. They aren't just looking for the next superstar. They understand that the professional artist works on her craft and continues to get better and better, with the help and support of collectors.

How do you keep motivated?
I once read on a box of tea a quote about how creativity demands everything you have to give it; talent alone is not enough. I wish I could remember the exact quote. I think about that a lot when I feel down or frustrated. I also find it helpful to read about other artists, because you realize how hard they worked at their art. I look at my paintings and see what they have yet to become and think, "I just need to keep painting, and then these paintings will be everything I think they should be." I just want to become really good at painting. Of course, every now and then a painting will turn out better than I expected, and that always keeps me going. It is so exciting when that happens.

Many artists live in sparsely populated areas or don't have a commun ity of artists to rely on. Is there a book that you would recommend?
There are several that I like to read and re-read. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a favorite of mine. If I am having trouble getting into the studio, I can pick that book up, read one chapter or even two lines, and I am ready to go. I also love The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

Is the art world different from state to state, east coast to west coast?
I have never lived back east, but the art world doesn't really vary that much from state to state that I have seen. When we lived on Maui, I found the art world there to be extremely difficult to crack into. The rents were so high, most galleries would only show internationally known artists. They wanted the artists who had a proven track record already. The galleries that did show local artists were packed full, and I had to be pretty aggressive to get them to show my work. I am not sure it is different anywhere else. An artist who is just beginning their career has to look for galleries that cater to local artists, or emerging artists. Be persistent! I went back to one gallery every month for about 6 months before the owner finally took some work. Every month when I visited her, I had photos of brand new work. It took me another 6 months before I had a piece of my art hanging on the wall.

How do you balance the need for solitude with the need for artistic companionship?
 I have learned that studio time is something one must fight for. It is too easy to allow social commitments (or any other commitment, for that matter) to take away from that time in the studio. The studio comes first, and then when I have had good studio time, I reward myself with social visits. I am fortunate to have found friends who are also artists, so most of them understand the need for studio time. I am learning to be selective about who I spend time with. There are some people who do not respect my choice to be an artist and my commitment to my art. Those kind of people I keep at a distance. We are still friends, but not people I necessarily seek out when I want social time.

Has an artistic companionship changed the way you create?
 I wouldn't necessarily say artistic companionship has changed the way I create, but I will say that having a close artist friend who I trust has been a huge benefit in my artistic journey. Sometimes, you get too close to your own work and can't see it clearly anymore. It is so helpful to have a fresh perspective. It is also helpful to know another artist who understands the joys, the triumphs, the frustrations and even the devastation of being an artist. Makes me feel a little less alone and nutty.

Any advice you'd give someone just starting out?
Decide what you really want art to be for you. Is it a hobby? Something you do for relaxation? Or is it more? I think everyone should have some kind of creativity in their life, but being a professional artist is not for everyone. Or maybe I should say, being a life-long artist. I am a life-long artist. If you know what you expect from your art, or what you think art is for you, you will be doing yourself a huge favor. I spent 10 years of my life trying to pretend I wasn't an artist. When I realized I had sabotaged my ability to have any kind of career so I could paint, it was a wake up call. It still took me about 5 more years to finally have the courage to do art full time. I may have to get another job, but at least now I know I am an artist, and always will be, no matter what.

Take a moment to visit her web site here:
and here:
and read her charming blog here:
 ©2010kswenson  Beginnings, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches