Explaining the Abstract, Part 4

Final post in a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

Scenario Three: the diplomatic audience member. This member sincerely wants to understand what your work is about, but she is fearful of insulting you by saying something that you will perceive as unintelligent or uninformed. Or, this member may dislike your work, but she has an emotional connection to you by being a friend, family member, or co-worker, and she does not wish to make her true feelings known for fear of damaging your relationship. She may respond with comments that seem generic or disingenuous such as, “I really like the colors in this one. It would match well with the décor of my living room.”

Coping Strategies: This member may be the most open-minded as a result of her interest in your work and/or her personal connection to you. Do not miss this opportunity to bring her into your world. As with the previous example, describing your work in a manner that is unintimidating is a good start. For the diplomat who initially finds your art unappealing, this explanation may be enough to persuade her to give your piece a second look, especially if she can see the connection between your work and your commentary.

Internationally renowned artist Xu Bing has spoken on the importance of bringing art to people of all levels of understanding, and he has expressed his hope that “my work will reach the broadest spectrum of people possible.” In my experience, when I can describe my work in a manner that my audience understands, they become excited with their newfound level of comprehension. This ability to understand is often what gives abstraction validity in their previously skeptical minds. In most circumstances you must be that connection which facilitates such understanding within your audience. A stronger support network is often the result.

Need help with communicating about your own work? OVAC, in partnership with Creative Capital, is hosting the “Verbal Communications” workshop for artists on August 7. Space for this workshop is limited so an application is required. Applications are due June 30. Visit www.ArtistSurvivalKit.org for details.

Explaining the Abstract, Part 3

Part 3 of a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

Scenario Two: the defensive audience member. He often views art as a puzzle of sorts. He assumes that a piece of art has only one distinct theme or meaning, but because it is not overly apparent to him, he becomes disconcerted. He feels left out of an inside joke. Consequently, he rationalizes that your expressive brush strokes are a sign of laziness, and that your omission of realistic content denotes a lack of technical skill. Insecure about what he believes is his personal inability to understand, he protects his ego by arriving at the conclusion that he is not missing something at all, it is just bad art. This audience member, if agitated enough, will most probably say something mildly insulting to you, “Did you mean to do that? Do you really like this stuff?” and the proverbial favorite, “I could have painted that.”

Coping Strategies: After that offense, your initial impulse may be to defend yourself by diving headfirst into all of the philosophical underpinnings surrounding your work, adding liberal dashes of “art-speak” along the way. If he cannot appreciate your work, clearly he will not understand your theory of deconstructed situationism as one defining element of the post-modern zeitgeist. However, this approach may make him increasingly defensive since he perceives your work as an attack on his intelligence. Arguably, this audience member is the most difficult to deal with. If you know him fairly well, or if he seems slightly open minded, you might try to explain what your work is about in non-threatening terms. Assure him that art does not necessarily have one direct meaning and understanding abstract art can become easier with study and practice. However, if he seems significantly hostile, your best response may be to walk away. Unfortunately, you cannot convince everyone.

Need help with communicating about your own work? OVAC, in partnership with Creative Capital, is hosting the “Verbal Communications” workshop for artists on August 7. Space for this workshop is limited so an application is required. Applications are due June 30. Visit www.ArtistSurvivalKit.org for details.

Explaining the Abstract, Part 2

Part 2 of a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

Scenario One: the puzzled audience member. She wonders why your work does not have any recognizable elements, and in a flurry of misguided helpfulness, she attempts to find some. “I think that I see a lion in this one. This one looks somewhat like a bull terrier, or maybe a shih tzu.” In my experience, an entire menagerie of animals can suddenly materialize within a piece that I saw as nothing more than brushstrokes and color on canvas. If nothing that is overtly recognizable can be found within your composition, she may wonder aloud if she is missing something. “It is supposed to be anything?”

Coping Strategies:
Try not to become frustrated and immediately shoot down everything that she says. You may want to ask her to point out the animal, vegetable, or mineral that she believes is in the work and try to see her perspective. Being careful to avoid a tone that is brusque or condescending, you can explain that you were not trying to represent an animal, and try to describe to her what your work is about. Furthermore, I find that analogies can be helpful because they can provide a concrete comparison. If your work is emotion and mood based, explain how instrumental music, despite lacking concrete lyrics, can generate feelings through elements such as the tempo and arrangement of notes. Similarly, abstract art can give off certain emotions by color choices, compositional arrangement, and so forth. Actual creatures or other realistic entities are not always necessary to communicate meaning.

Need help with communicating about your own work? OVAC, in partnership with Creative Capital, is hosting the “Verbal Communications” workshop for artists on August 7. Space for this workshop is limited so an application is required. Applications are due June 30. Visit www.ArtistSurvivalKit.org for details.

Explaining the Abstract, Part 1

Part 1 of a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

As artists, we undergo transitions in style and technique within our work. Through periods of artistic development, numerous artists make the transition into some form of abstraction, if only for a brief period. I made this shift over two years ago after having worked for three years in a highly detailed and realistic manner. I soon discovered that making non-representational art is fraught with difficulties: What colors will best represent my concept? Is this piece overworked? What is lacking in the composition? Beyond the actual process of art making, abstraction presents some of its headiest challenges in the multifarious, and often negative, reactions from your audience and support network. Abstract painter David Reed has said, “It’s wonderful for an artist to have the sense that their work is important to someone…a lot of [artists] are fragile and without some kind of support it’s hard to keep it going.” What does an artist do to survive when support diminishes as a result of stylistic evolution?

Upon focusing on abstraction, I experienced disapproval from friends and family members who felt that that I was failing to fully develop my artistic abilities. In my sophomore year as an undergraduate student, I sculpted a realistic human head as part of an introductory course. Despite spending the rest of my time in art school focusing almost exclusively on abstraction, friends and family members still point to the amateurish bust and say, “Why don’t you continue making things like that? That is so good!” Many artists have experienced similar scenarios with the friend, family, or audience member who passionately believes that the best artist is a copy machine. When confronted with similar comments, you may find it helpful to quote Picasso, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

In future posts, I will discuss common negative reactions and scenarios abstract artists often face when showing their work, as well as responses that can help a skeptical audience see your point of view.

Need help with communicating about your own work? OVAC, in partnership with Creative Capital, is hosting the “Verbal Communications” workshop for artists on August 7. Space for this workshop is limited so an application is required. Applications are due June 30. Visit www.ArtistSurvivalKit.org for details.

House of Clay: 60 Years in Business

Guest author: Erin Kozakiewicz, OVAC intern 

A quaint, mod, white building tucked on the side of Western across from the cemetery, beckons you with its large picture-window and flashback 60s letter-font. You know the place. You’ve driven by once or twice and wondered why you had never heard anything about it. The House of Clay has been a part of Oklahoma’s landscape for over 60 years.
The House of Clay recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its purchase by the Meriweather family. Today, Judith Meriwether manages, owns and operates the shop.  Every month or two they hold sculpting classes taught by Bob Willis.  They sell many supplies including potter wheels, kilns, clays, glazes, brushes, books and pre-made pottery and ceramics. You can come in at any time during the hours of operation and use their firing tools as well. They often have “paint-ins, where customers choose their ceramic piece, paint in the ceramic shop alone or with friends, and create a masterpiece.”

When Judith’s father, Norman, purchased the business, he selected Frank Wallace, architectural designer for the Oral Roberts’ University, to design the shop. The picture window contains a bunch of old photos and ribbons.  “We decorate every year for the 4th of July,” she explained.

The House of Clay is a place is for anyone who wants to take up a new or revisit an old hobby.  Working in ceramics has been touted as being therapeutic (and is indeed much less expensive than therapy).  For more information on The House of Clay, you can visit their website at www.thehouseofclay.com or call them (405) 524-5610.  

Plot points from @OVAC Twitter Feed:

Behind the Art Scenes:
Wow! RT @the99percent: “Nobody ever changes when they do things they like.” Marina Abramović post- MOMA exhib http://cot.ag/bnm33a

Helpful article about how to improve the messy “creative by committee” process http://ow.ly/1WL04

new Okie artist video! RT @midwestmedia: our latest artist profile. introducing Erin Shaw. see you friday @liveontheplaza http://bit.ly/bi9JAG

Fun & substantive art book tips RT: @artcalendar Check out summer reading recs from Art Calendar’s writers & editors. http://ow.ly/1qytJH

Detailed festival artist tips RT @abstanfield: RT @buschiniart: – great blog, discusses tents, art festivals – http://bit.ly/9ITXCX

Hear publisher’s perspective on photo books RT @heyhotshot: Juror Darius Himes tells you exactly what he’s looking for: http://bit.ly/9Qxh6Z

Handy tips for getting most out of feedback RT @FractionMag: Preparing for Portfolio Review http://bit.ly/9cofmI

Opportunities for artists & volunteers:
Midwest City Library seeking Native American artists to show in Nov, >10K visitors through gallery monthly, contact ltemple@metrolibrary.org

We’ll pass it on. Call to artists for Aug show, The Mission, to benefit Youth & Fam Services. http://bit.ly/bgTAL8

RT @vcase: Looking for photogs near/in Alva, OK, to volunteer to teach other photogs during wkshop July 23-24. http://bit.ly/diDcj5

free guide for visual artist estate planning. We know, you don’t want to think about, but… you should http://ow.ly/1V6pR

stay informed & advocate for funding & arts education. Super helpful info. http://www.artsactionfund.org/

NY-based @FracturedAtlas now offering online business of art courses FREE of charge. http://www.fracturedatlas.org/u/

OVAC News:
yes, OVAC Grants go to artists statewide, here’s the last 3 years on map! Next deadline July 15 http://ow.ly/1MbgR

Wow! @AlliedArtsOKC surpassed goal of $2.85 million to support 20 cultural orgs in central OK! Thanks to donors, leaders & staff! Indebted

Fellowship & Student Awards of Excellence Announced

Glenn Herbert Davis, Track aNd trolley, installation detail, 12’x24’x54′
The Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition is pleased to announce the Visual Arts Fellowship recipients for 2010 are Glenn Herbert Davis and Cedar Marie.  Student Awards of Excellence were given to Sarah Engel and Sherwin Tibayan.  Guest curator Liza Statton selected the awardees after reviewing artistic samples, resumes and artist statements. Her curatorial statement is below.
Cedar Marie, Old Man Jenkins, Mixed Media, 17’x5’x2″
The public can learn more about Fellowship recipients Davis and Marie when they give a free lecture this fall.  A feature article in the September/October issue of Art Focus Magazine will highlight all awardees. 43 artists applied for the $5,000 unrestricted Oklahoma Visual Arts Fellowships and 27 artists submitted applications for the $500 Student Awards of Excellence. 
Sherwin Tibayan, Off the Strip, Las Vegas, Archival Pigment Print, 24″x36″
These awards are intended to reward qualified artists with outstanding vision. Through the funds, OVAC recognizes past achievement and future promise, encouraging Oklahoma artists to keep making excellent work. OVAC has given a total of $122,000 to support artists through this program since 1989. To learn more about the Fellowship and Awards program and see information about past recipients, visit OVAC’s website.
Sarah Engel, Of Moss and Men, digital photograph, 8″x10″

Fellowship & Award Guest Curator Statement:

Liza Statton, 

Curator, ArtSpaceNew HavenCT

The four artists selected make compelling works that offer singular, yet collective views on our rapidly changing environment.  Each attempts to reclaim, re-contextualize, and re-imagine different parts of Oklahoma¹s physical and cultural landscape in ways that connect them to the broader social and environmental issues of our time. In their multi-media, performance-based practices, Sarah Engel and Glenn Herbert Davis stage interventions in rural and urban settings that challenge viewers’ perceptions of themselves in the context of the post-industrial society that we inhabit.  Both artists use irony and humor to critique notions of authenticity and consumption. Themes of alienation and displacement underscore the works of Cedar Marie and Sherwin Tibayan.  In her installations and photographs, Cedar Marie uses familiar objects to address notions of otherness and loss. Sherwin Tibayan’s photographs similarly speak to notions of loss. His photographs of blank billboards that populate our automotive-based landscape subtly question the disappearance of old media in a new media age. Through their individual artistic practices, each of these artists offers an alternative view to the problems and issues that we confront in our increasingly technologically determined age.

Work of Art: Watch Carefully and Learn

I hesitantly admit that I was looking forward to watching “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” Bravo’s new reality TV show about visual artists.  Whatever hopes I had for the show helping our country’s appreciation of visual artists or understand better their relevance in society were shrank quickly in the first episode.  Certainly the show follows the conventional storylines for reality shows and reinforces assorted stereotypes about artists (too many to detail). 

Despite the typecasting, I found the show’s value in the definitions of and arguments for the artwork.  As the artists’ defended their work and the judges (a strange grouping of commercial gallerists, an outspoken art critic and a collector) questioned the artists, I heard numerous types of arguments for the relevance of art. 
In addition, artists watching the show can learn from the career steps and missteps represented bluntly.  Some of the contestants are quite experienced in the art world.  They speak confidently about their work.  Others show the ordeals of emerging artists, with all the associated fears, audacity and mini triumphs. 
Judges focused on the artists’ intentions, in this case the challenge to make a portrait of one of their fellow contestants.  Artists defended their methods, talked about their objectives, and mused about what the viewer might experience in their art. 

Why Is That Art?: Aesthetics and Criticism of Contemporary ArtTwo books I have been reading echoed in my head as they spoke.  Judges questioned the quality of the work using arguments based in philosophy as ancient as Plato.  These philosophical viewpoints are outlined in “Why is That Art” by Terry Barrett, who examines ways of analyzing the quality and definitions of art.  Similarly, “The Social Impact of the Arts: An Intellectual History” by Eleonora Belfiore looks at reasoning on the importance of art.  Conversations from the show directly addressed questions about the effect of the artwork on the general public. I think to balance the banality of the show; I will give myself reading assignments to connect the attitudes to philosophy. Well, maybe I will just follow the sassy conversations about the show on Twitter.

I wonder whether the voice of the informed critic is really represented in the snippets actually quoted from the judges. And I wonder if the thumbs up-thumbs down judgments will deepen the perceptions of the general viewer. While the “Work of Art” may further trivialize visual artists (will Sarah Jessica Parker appear on each episode?), at least we can learn from the discussions, representations and myths. Watch carefully. 

Did you watch?  What do you think?  What story would you tell if you produced the show?

P. S. Reminder that contestant Jaimie Lynn Henderson is a native Oklahoman, University of Oklahoma grad and former Momentum artist.  Can’t help but root!  

Artist Survival Kit Recap: Career Paths

The Artist Survival Kit Career Paths workshop on May 22 was attended by 24 artists who spent the day deep in self assessment and exploring career aspirations. This is a hard workshop to boil down because the participants openly discussed their artwork and professional lives, adding much depth to the topic. That network of other dedicated artists seems a pretty important part of career assessment (so be sure you have trusted colleagues for this conversation!). 
A few notes, though, that may give you a sense of the workshop content.
  1. Where am I?
Relieve yourself of preconceived notions and judgments of success as an artist and spend time assessing.  Consider your aspirations and values.  Success may mean different things based on your financial, psychological, and artistic expectations. Are your decisions about your artwork (creation and public exhibiting) aligning with your real hopes and ideals?  Consider your skills, challenges, and preferences. What are challenges you face that you should be more patient about or that you should tackle head on? 
  1. Commitment level
Participant Eric Wright said, “Being an artist is not for the faint of heart.”  If you desire an art career that includes high-quality venues, critical acclaim, and/or clarity about your work, it’s not a casual endeavor.  It’s not just about time.  Consider the amount of emotional and intellectual commitment you are willing to dedicate to your artistic life.  Be patient with yourself based on the commitment you are willing to make.  For instance, don’t expect improvements in drawing skill, if you do not want to practice drawing regularly.
  1. Peers, colleagues, and cultural climate
Presenter Sunni Mercer repeated several times, “Artists do not make work in a vacuum.” Even if you spend a lot of time alone in your studio, your work and success is influenced by your community and peers.  Workshop participants outlined contemporary issues like technology and media saturation, changes in social norms, and recession economics.  What are the opportunities and challenges of our contemporary cultural climate? As far as community, who are you looking to as artistic peers and how do you seek feedback for your work?
Thanks to Sunni Mercer for presenting with me and to all the participants for digging in! 
The next Artist Survival Kit workshop is “Verbal Communications,” offered in partnership with Creative Capital.  Apply by June 30 to participate.   

Contemporary Art on Wheels: Tulsa ArtCar

The weekend of May 14th, Tulsans may have been surprised to see some unusual cars winding through the streets of downtown. Living Arts’ ArtCar weekend may seem a little wacky to ordinary Tulsans, but people in the Oklahoma art community may just need to know what the ArtCar weekend is and where it falls on the artistic spectrum. I spoke with Steve Liggett of Living Arts about how the event got started. Liggett found out about the event from George Kravis, who had seen the largest art car event in Houston and suggested that the event would work well in Tulsa. Liggett said he was skeptical at first; he wasn’t sure how art cars fit in with contemporary art and Living Arts’ mission of “presenting and developing contemporary art forms in Tulsa.”

The key element in the justification for art cars was the attraction that art cars had for people who were unfamiliar with the world of contemporary art. The ArtCar weekend was particularly designed to reach people whom Liggett refers to as “people of the trades,” who are skilled workers such as mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and others. These people may work with their hands, but are typically unable to express creativity during their working hours. While this demographic may not frequent museums or galleries, the idea of art, when expressed in the medium of a car, becomes more accessible. The gallery becomes mobile. The event is essentially a parade, which showcases the art cars by driving through downtown Tulsa, lower-income neighborhoods, local schools, and stopping along the way at various points of interest such as the Admiral Twin drive in and Whole Foods. Liggett wrote, “We have seen a much broader audience relate to the art cars than inside Living Arts because the car is so omnipresent in our society.”

According to Liggett, the art car event marries public art with performance art. He cited some of the highlights of the last six years as Ooja, a green, fleshy vehicle with a line of monster-like faces peering from the top, and Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, a blue car covered in animatronic fish, lobsters, and sharks, who dance in coordination with various songs ranging from pop to opera.

The ArtCar weekend has been drawing Tulsans together for six years now, and although it may seem odd to some, it literally brings contemporary art into the streets. ArtCars are a national phenomenon and their presence in Tulsa links our state with what is happening now in the American contemporary art world. The next ArtCar parade will be May 12-15th, 2011. Watch www.LivingArts.org for more information.

Guest Author: Shelby Woods, Intern

Images courtesy of Living Arts:
Top- Oolah
Middle- Sashimi
Bottom: Whirlibird