I think a lot about what it means to be an artist. I think we tend to think of artists as those people who practice their art full time, and live off of art sales. Usually we picture big lofty studios, slightly crazy artists, swanky galleries, and all that. Money, booze, unintelligible performance pieces, huge paintings. I envy those artists, living in the city, making art. Most artists are not like that at all. Almost no artists can make a living off their artwork, and most can’t even make a reasonable portion of their income from art sales. Many artists have no venue at all to show or sell their work in a physical environment.
The advent of the internet changed the show and sell dynamic — anyone with access to the internet can set up a free blog or tumbler or instagram or whatever to show off their work. Sales can happen over email or be managed within low-cost storefront sites that don’t require technical skills to manage (but suck out some of your earnings). So there is a new image of the artist now — the PR machine, social-media whipping, constant content churning artist/illustrator/crafter who gets stuff out there. I suspect that the average person can relate more to this kind of artists than they can to the New York studio gallery artist. Often, the work available for sale online is reasonably priced, priced for normal people to buy. But even among these artists, most don’t sell much. And those who do sell a lot spend more time running their small business (because it is a business) than they do making art.
Regardless of which type of artist someone is, the idea is still focused on showing and selling. Emphasis on selling. The IRS doesn’t consider someone an artist unless they are making a fair amount of their income from art sales. So it is hard for the other 75% of artists (I am making that number up, because I am not sure if data exists that can provide a real number), who either don’t sell or all or sell a couple of cheap pieces a year mostly to people they know. We struggle with calling ourselves artists. We struggle with finding a purpose in what we do. We struggle with finding a way to value ourselves and our work. We struggle with the piles and piles of artwork that we amass and can’t do anything with. I’d like to think that if one of your problems in life is that you have too much artwork piled up, then you can go ahead and call yourself an artist.
I used this image to make some business cards. Which are really more like some tags to put on things, but can also be used as business cards. I am not sure if people even use business cards any more. I use the ones from my day job as tiny canvases for doodling on while at work, because I have maybe given out 3 of them in the nineteen years I have had that job.
…which is actually a really silly saying, since I wasn’t in a saddle to begin with and I really don’t like horses. I’ve been on a horse before — a fourth grade field trip, a girl scout trip, and one strange spring break in college where we spent five days on a farm in Missouri — but I think they are big and scary.
I keep reading about how blogs are dead and artists use things like Tumblr (which I don’t quite get how it works, although I have one) and Instagram (which I like very much). So it’s odd to resurrect a dead blog, but somehow it just seems like the right choice. I’m looking for more structure for posting my work, and I need a site to have on online profiles. And business cards, as old-fashioned as they are. Originally, I set this site up in a fully anonymous way, so that I could use OL8D as a graffiti tag without getting caught immediately. I live in a small town. But the reality is that I have never once gone out and tagged a wall, so why waste such a good name. I also set this site up more anonymously because it combines artwork and writing, and I am self-conscious about writing. I’m seeing more and more artists do this — post both their artwork and their poetry/fiction/non-fiction — so it’s not weird and I should get over the adolescent self-consciousness.
I just finished Nell Painter’s memoir of art school Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. There are plenty of good reviews of the book, and discussions of the issues that the author covers, and you can Google them. I was worried that reading this book would make me seriously look at dropping everything and going to art school. Reader, it did not. Her experiences — or, at least, her description of her experiences — made it clear that art school with a capitol A would not serve any purpose for me. It did for Nell Painter — her goal was to embrace what it would take to considered a “serious” artist in the 21st century. She wants to be a serious artist — one that not only sells work, but finds her way into national dialogue and, at the very least, a footnote in the art history of the future. Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton Emerita, is a serious historian, accomplished by all measures both disciplinary and in the popular eye. She wanted that for herself as an artist, and the only way to get there is through an MFA from a “good” art school or program. I get that, and good for her. But not not not my cup of tea. I want the focus and the community that art school would bring. I want the art school library and the communal studios thriving with energy. I do not want the critical theory BS and the hyper competitive drama. MFA students are competing with each other and with their teachers — many of whom teach for the money and do not want to be there and do not want their students to outshine them. The politics — art tastes, race, gender, and age (art school and the art world caters to young white males) — and the expression of the dark side of those politics would make it a horrible experience for me. So I learned a lot from that book, and enjoyed it very much. And I know that my own travels as an older artist will take a very different path.
This one is small – 6″ by 6″, on paper (I’m mounting it on a wood panel). Starting the first Friday in May, I’ll have a show up at Waldo’s here in Gettysburg. Many of the things I have posted here will be on the walls.
One of these days, I’ll get better at taking photos of my artwork. This is another dragonfly on canvas (18×24). Slightly different approach than the other one — more layered, and the wings are a little bit translucent.
A small acrylic on paper (10″ x 10″, mounted on a wood panel). I’m sort of into these bugs lately. Probably time for a cricket. Or maybe switch over to small household appliances.
Small oil painting (I think maybe 12 by 16, so perhaps that’s more like medium-small). The flash on my phone camera washes out the center of any painting I photograph, but I never bother to improve the lighting in my studio or use a better camera.