Friday, May 22, 2015

A Sense of the Possible

We just concluded a long weekend of an open studio event that attracts thousands of people to the arts district. I speak with many people about my work and the topics with which it engages. Many of the people who come through have come before and one asked about getting a print of a painting that she had liked on her prior visit. She said she hoped someday she could afford original artwork. It took me back in time to when I first made that promise to myself. I was in my twenties and visited the home of a coworker who I admired. She seemed so much more poised and polished than my awkward young self and I was struck by the original art that hung on her walls. It seemed so grown up, perhaps symbolic of that poise and polish to which I aspired. Someday I'll have original art I vowed. Well I have the original work, not so sure about the poise and polish.

That got me thinking of how we get a sense of the possible and how it affects the course of our life. During the same arts event our grandson and his girlfriend stopped in and I was chatting with his girlfriend about career paths. It too made me reflect on how little I knew of the options that were available when I was her age. The career paths open to women were less apparent in those days and there were fewer female role models to create that sense of the possible.

And yet, I had one tremendous advantage growing up. My parents loved their work so my expectation was that was the norm. I knew it was possible. My father was skilled at creating something new where nothing had existed. That too entered my world of possibilities and was reflected throughout my career. I came to my artwork later in life, at least in a focused way and I brought a career history that informed my sense of the possible. Just as my father, I had learned to create something from nothing and I trusted my abilities to create concepts that turned into carefully executed projects. And yet a career as an artist was new territory to imagine.

Many years ago I knew a man who was an accomplished artist who created large scale projects filled with symbols. I used to research thematic material for him to include and worked with him in developing marketing. And I filed away a sense of the possible. How do you create a concept with legs and how do you communicate it to the larger world? I was learning how to do that even though I hadn't yet claimed that as my possibility.

When I met my husband, he had a more established sense of himself as an artist. He decided to get a studio back when I would have still been dithering about the cost. Working in his studio I began to experiment, to work larger and finally to explore larger themes that spoke to me. I began with a small corner in his studio and gradually expanded until we finally got a studio next door and put a door between them. My own studio, a possibility that I had grown into.

Over time I have felt my way and occasionally I meet an artist whose approach arouses a sense of the possible in me and helps me to envision the possibilities that lie ahead. Often the artists I admire are those who create broader projects around themes, who speak with ease about their work and its meaning to them. It is no coincidence that is a path I too have pursued.

Admiration is a tap on the shoulder, reminding us to pay attention. Long ago I went to a psychic who told me that she interpreted images and thoughts, but their meaning wasn't always clear to her. If I felt a click with something she said, I should pay attention. I think the universe is full of those pay attention moments and admiration is a tip off to help us find our way.

We shape our work, our life and ourselves each time we watch and learn- incorporating what we admire into the framework of our life. Sometimes it is real art on our walls and sometimes a studio of our own with space and walls to support our own creations.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Be Strong and Resolute

Recently I shared my work on memory at a caregiver conference within the Jewish community. My husband built three moveable walls for me to hang my work on and we put them to the test with six paintings. They worked quite well in a space that didn't lend itself to hanging work on the walls.

I also tried an experiment with a memory jar, inviting attendees to jot a memory they once shared with a loved one who has lost memory. I had a few paintings that grew out of the theme of a memory jar I had once given my mother as a gift back when her memory was strong. Within it were memories that I cherished of our times together. After her memory began to fail, we have often sat together recalling the memories I put into that jar. It is a way to help her remember her past if only for a brief time. Building on that concept I invited others to share their memories, some of which are below:

Singing together as a duet, "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler.

Family vacations.

The weekly Shabbat Kiddish recited by Dad.

My mom loved to bake chocolate chip chocolate bundt cake. I can still taste it.

For a non-cuddler, Mom wanted to cuddle at the end.

When I was 15 my step-father wrote me a long letter about how he would always be good to me and my mom. He took me skiing, talked to me about Herman Hesse books, helped me with math... He was/is patient, gentle, smart. He was our rock. I miss him even though he's still alive.

I am struck by how many of the memories engage our senses, singing, reciting, tasting, touching, doing things together. We shape memories every day, but the ones that stay with us involve engagement and interaction. I am going to put the jar out for our open studio event next week and see if I can build on my memory collection and ultimately use the memories in a creative project.

I have a painting called Into the Wilderness and have written in this blog about Alzheimer's as a journey into the wilderness, not unlike that of Moses. The conference did a video of people speaking about their experience with a loved one with Alzheimer's. I was interviewed about both my experience and my artwork on memory and spoke of my mother speaking of her world as a wilderness.

Oddly enough the two rabbis who kicked off the conference also used the metaphor of a wilderness, evoking Moses' journey into the wilderness, drawing the parallel of entering the unknown of Alzheimer's. They developed the metaphor quite beautifully. We are confronted with an unknown destination, vulnerable, unable to go back to what we knew and uncertain about what lays ahead. They spoke of those first steps into the Red Sea, when the Israelites were offered the reassurance of Moses, "Al tira'u -Do Not be Afraid" and of how those who came to this gathering sought a similar reassurance. In the midst of the wilderness filled with perils, they also found moments of beauty and power. I have witnessed that as well In my mother's ability to live in the moment. She takes joy in so many things, sometimes over and over.

The rabbis also spoke of loss and the loss of one's humanity that often faces one with Alzheimer's. So often one is treated as a child or ignored. In the desert the Israelites were guided by pillars of cloud and fire. They reminded us that the pillars that guide us in this journey are love, respect and tenderness. They spoke of the isolation of Alzheimer's and how communities such as this gathering helped to respond to that. And they spoke of the manna that would sustain each person on the journey with their loved one. They both opened and closed the conference with the words of Moses when he realized that he would not accompany the Israelites on their ultimate journey. Hazak V'ematz - Be strong and resolute, and fear not, for God is walking with you. (Dt. 31:6)


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Creation and Dialogue

It has been a busy few months, filled with talks and shows. Art a Whirl, a huge open studio event still looms ahead and it always makes me consider why I create artwork.

When one decides to be an artist no one tells you the job description. It is so much more than just creating artwork although that is of course where it starts. Let's assume that you've created a body of work that you are pleased with, no small feat. Now what?

And even more important, why?

When I first began to focus on my artwork I did something that I suspect many artists don't. I wrote a strategic plan. Coming from a business background this was a familiar exercise, albeit with a totally different subject. I began with my objectives. Why was I doing this?

Now most business plans are focused on an effort that involves making money and I realized that was not my objective at all. Now mind you, I am not opposed to making money, but I realized very clearly that it was quite ancillary to what I was doing and sometimes diametrically opposed. And frankly, if I wanted to make money, creating artwork was not the most lucrative tool in my toolkit. I had worked in finance for years and it had taken some time to unhook psychologically from getting that nice paycheck. If that was my objective I knew where I could meet it.

Different artists have different objectives and they are not all financial. Much depends on where someone is in their life and those who have come to their artwork after a career in another discipline may bring a different focus. I am in an artist building and many of the artists are in fact trying to cobble together a living from their artwork. That may mean selling through galleries and often teaching or graphic design to supplement the unsteady income of an artist. If that is your objective you have to ask what the buying public wants and what galleries want and that of necessity influences what you create. You want to create what you can sell. Historically many artists have done two lines of work, what would sell and what engaged them personally.

I realized that I was focused on the latter. I wanted to examine those difficult subjects that I am trying to better understand and engage others in dialogue about them. And my subjects have been gnarly, the Holocaust, identity and loss of memory. Not the warm fuzzy subjects you may want hanging over your sofa.

Once I was able to state why I was doing this, my approach became clear. I tell stories and each painting is like a chapter. That means I need to work in series. It also means I want to show work as a series. It is not especially meaningful to me to enter one piece in a show as it loses its broader context. I also want to talk about my work because I want a platform from which to tell stories and create dialogue. And so I've become a public speaker, something I never imagined I would seek out and enjoy.

When I sell paintings from a series it is as if I've ripped a few chapters from a book. It leaves a hole. More recently I've begun to sell work after I've shown a series widely and often I make a print so I can continue to exhibit my work. In fact the last two paintings I sold were committed for sale a year before I shipped them as I had exhibitions pending.

After a big open studio event well-meaning friends often ask,"Did you sell anything?" It sounds a little strange to say, "That isn't my objective". When I was painting with a different purpose, selling something offered a certain validation. Someone liked what I had created, but validation comes through other channels. During Art-a-Whirl I spend the long weekend telling stories and hearing the stories of others on the topics I address. It is satisfying and pleasantly exhausting. I feel a real connection with the many people who come through my studio. We have conversations about real topics that touch their lives and I realize that we share many points of connection. I test my stories, learning how to construct them for an audience and that carries over to my talks. I see the circuit burning with energy, creation and dialogue feeding each other. And I know why I do what I do.