Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sidebar: All Joking About Composition Aside

"Sidebar" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 30" x 22" 

In The Center From The Beginning...

The center is the hottest spot on the canvas. That is, your eye is going to go there and stay there for a while. I often refer to it as the "hitting the audience over the head with a bat" spot. Might as well also shout, "Do you get it? Do you see? It is about these 3 figures!"

The "abstract start" for this painting was especially intriguing because the most luscious part of it was in the center of the paper, and warning flags plagued me throughout the process of carving out first one, then two, then three overlapping figures in the center of the painting. Despite the rule that says "don't put anything in the center of the paper," I just couldn't help myself. I had to do it.

Yes. This is the start!  Makes you wonder, doesn't it!

It is fine to warn about "the center" of the paper. It is a good guideline, but sometimes the center of the paper, just like the center of the stage, is not only ok, it can also be perfectly perfect. The "in your face" spot is the perfect spot for Dolly to take in the big showstopper "Hello Dolly." It's perfectly ok to put anything there you want to put there as long as you feel the subject warrants it.  
That doesn't mean though that I was not concerned about these figures being in the hot spot. I just decided to allow it and deal with the results later.

I also found myself once again dipping into my bag of "staging the scene" tidbits as I worked with the three central figures.  The differences in height, gesture, and costume are all elements of the unspoken narrative and character development inherent in dramatic text. The story is told and character is revealed not just with words but also with position, gesture, physique, and costume.
 And so, a story - however you want to spin it - begins to develop around those three figures.  One might think that it's all about them.  On the other hand, maybe it is not.  

The Key Distraction

Ok, yes, it would seem that this painting is all about the three authoritative figures, who stand together robed and in conference smack dab in the middle of the canvas.  But then there is the nondescript figure off to the left side of the paper that keeps pulling my eye over there.  Why is that figure there?

I will admit that I was concerned (at first) that I had a figure there. Once again, I couldn't help myself. That is, I liked and wanted that figure there despite the fact that I could hear the critics in my head saying "my eye keeps being pulled off to the left by this nondescript figure, clearly distant and not the obvious focus of the painting. It is a distraction." So I took it out.

Then I put it back in because the painting seemed to fall apart without it. But then I thought about the eye being pulled and so I took it out again. It was not until I thought about the importance of trusting my instincts - of acknowledging that I wanted that distraction there - that I was able to put it in and leave it in. The distraction was the key that unlocked the meaning of the painting and led to the title, "Sidebar." 

Acknowledge The Distraction: There's Always More To The Story 

Without the nondescript figure to the left, the image on the canvas offered only one melodramatic note - three figures in conference.  With the little figure to the left creating tension - pulling the eye back and forth - the image offers the possibilities of a larger, more complex, narrative. Who is that figure? What is the figure's interest in the action taking place between the three central figures? What is that figure's relationship to the three in robes? And if this were a play, who would the play be about? 

In my imagination the play would be about the figure that I keep having to look at, the figure whose presence I am not allowed to forget, even when there are three robed figures in the hot spot with a big moon-like circle marking their activity. The sweeping symbolic text swirling around all the figures suggests a cosmic narrative that lifts this image to something more allegorical than literal.

If I take anything away from the experience of making this painting it might be to have more courage when it comes to listening to my own voice.  And to look to my own history of creative expression before negating it.  Trust the muse that is leading you to do those things you think you are not supposed to be doing.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Art and Business: Looking For Peace of Mind

"Figuration" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Paper, 9.25" x 17" 

Push - Pull 

I find myself weighed down by the business of art. I describe my own creative process as a "push pull" between what is on the paper and what I am adding and subtracting. I might just as easily assign "push pull" to what "the business of art" does to my physical (and my spiritual) guts.

Perhaps it would be better to call this the "push pull" between making art and being in business, because that is really where the tension lies for me right now. And the tension is all of my own making. For me the most important thing really is making art, and getting better at it. 

A Push For Business

In 2012 I decided it was time to invest in some art business training. I had invested heavily in learning how to paint, and thought it was about time I learned something more about moving some of the paintings out of the studio. I found a great coach and became part of a community of artists who are striving to make their art a successful business. Many of them are quite successful at marketing and at selling their work. I have learned a lot of best practices and have implemented many of them, but my art is not paying for itself. 

Ironically, sales have actually taken a nose dive while my success rate of getting juried into national and international art competitions has climbed. What is that all about?  My last two exhibits have left me in debt, sales not coming anywhere close to covering the cost of framing, let alone the other smaller items. On the one hand, because the most recent show "Degrees of Separation" felt like an artistic benchmark to me, I don't regret the investment one bit. On the other hand, as far as "business" is concerned... well, I had just one sale. I am grateful for that sale, but let's be honest: I  cannot reasonably consider my art a "business" unless I want to add the word "failure" to my art making.  And I do not want to do that.

So maybe I just need to stop thinking about business and think again about why I make art.

The Pull of Art

I paint because I love the creative process, and the way I paint now always promises me discovery and surprise. I paint from an intuitive place, and the images that appear in my paintings arise from ... well, I honestly cannot tell you where they come from. I just see them in the chaos that I create on the paper. When I finish a painting I always think about how impossible it would have been for me to have imagined it in advance. I don't even know if I imagine it while I'm making it. Talk about mystery!  

I can only write about my paintings after they are done, because I don't know in advance what they will be.  That seems pretty odd even to me. Yes, I always know what I am doing - it is not like I am in a trance or anything - it is just that instinct takes over when I am working and only after it is finished do I attempt to add a layer of rationale on top of it. Am I trying to explain myself?

But no matter where these paintings come from, I have to attend to the phenomenon that some viewers are intrigued by them, some are brought to tears by them. So, when that happens fairly consistently, I trust that I must be doing something meaningful and that the paintings are successful, at least in the eyes and minds and hearts of some. And that feels good. And I am encouraged.

Nagging Business of Pushing and Pulling

And then the "art business" demon raises its ugly head and says: "You must be doing something wrong, because you are not selling."  Then I try to figure out why my paintings are not selling. The most disturbing reasons are those that come back to subject matter and medium.

I begin to wonder: Should I raise my prices or lower them? Should I move to a metropolitan area? Should I stop painting on paper and switch to canvas? Should I paint landscapes and flowers on canvas? Should I paint large abstracts in Pantone's most popular colors? Should I paint images of pears? Should I stop painting altogether?

See where this is going? Crazy, huh. 

There is nothing wrong with any of these questions. They are just a pain in the neck, a distraction from making art.

Who Really Knows? 

The correct answer to each of them depends on the person asking the question. One artist may decide to paint pears. Another may decide to switch to canvas. And any number of artists and coaches and teachers might offer me an answer to consider. But the truth is, I am the only one who can determine what kind of artist I will be, what kind of art I will make, and how much energy and money I want to invest in it.  I am the one who gets to determine what is satisfactory and what is not in terms of what art-making returns to me.

Unlike many of my friends, I don't have to depend on my art to pay the rent. And I keep forgetting that. I have the luxury of painting because I want to paint, not because I have to paint to put bread on the table. 

Answering Back: Recon-Figuration

When I retired from teaching and started painting full time 11 years ago, I never imagined that I would sign and frame a painting, let alone sell one.  And now it seems I need to find some of that innocence again. Because the truth is, I paint because I love the creative process. I paint on paper because I love paper. I paint with acrylic because it allows me a certain freedom of expression. I paint figures because... I see them in the paper.

I am putting a price on "Figuration" just in case someone sees it and loves it so much they absolutely must own it (something I learned to do in my art business class - put a price on it!). Free shipping to US and Canada. Just click on the price and see where it takes you!