"Nobody reads an artist's statement" and other practical tips on being an artist

 

The above speech, titled “On Amnesia, Broken Pottery, and the Inside of a Form,” is a 2013 keynote address to the graduating class of artist Teresita Fernández's alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts. Here ten practical tips on being an artist are listed below.

 

  1. Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studio practice. Contrary to popular belief, moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn, this summer does not make you an artist. If in order to do this you have to share a space with five roommates and wait on tables, you will probably not make much art. What worked for me was spending five years building a body of work in a city where it was cheapest for me to live, and that allowed me the precious time and space I needed after grad school.
  2. Learn to write well and get into the habit of systematically applying for every grant you can find. If you don’t get it, keep applying. I lived from grant money for four years when I first graduated.
  3. Nobody reads artist’s statements. Learn to tell an interesting story about your work that people can relate to on a personal level.
  4. Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.
  5. Edit privately. As much as I believe in stumbling, I also think nobody else needs to watch you do it.
  6. When people say your work is good do two things. First, don’t believe them. Second, ask them, “Why”? If they can convince you of why they think your work is good, accept the compliment. If they can’t convince you (and most people can’t) dismiss it as superficial and recognize that most bad consensus is made by people simply repeating that they “like” something.
  7. Don’t ever feel like you have to give anything up in order to be an artist. I had babies and made art and traveled and still have a million things I’d like to do.
  8. You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.
  9. Remind yourself to be gracious to everyone, whether they can help you or not. It will draw people to you over and over again and help build trust in professional relationships.
  10. And lastly, when other things in life get tough, when you’re going through family troubles, when you’re heartbroken, when you’re frustrated with money problems, focus on your work. It has saved me through every single difficult thing I have ever had to do, like a scaffolding that goes far beyond any traditional notions of a career.

Art is hard

Pointless legitimacy: "Art is Hard", 2016, 11"x14", spray paint on paper.

Pointless legitimacy: "Art is Hard", 2016, 11"x14", spray paint on paper.

This is not a complaint. Merely and acknowledgment on a Monday. Also I wanted to smell paint while I was working on a client project.

This image popped in my head the other day as something I wanted to say to someone, after hearing them talk about a struggle with a new set of pieces they were working on. I literally pictured it as tossed-off spray paint on paper or a wall. Deliberately non-art, as most blunt communication is.

I made this today, before I started work. One of the best things about a dedicated workspace is the narrowing of time between idea and execution. Even if it's a silly mental image you need to get out of your brain, so you can move on with your day. 

 

Op-ed piece gets a shout out on Hyperallergic.com

A few weeks back I wrote an op-ed piece for our local weekly newspaper. Hyperallergic.com just posted an article by one of Eugene's own writers, Suzi Steffen, covering the current drama surrounding the latest gallery closure in Eugene. The mention of my piece kicks off Steffen's article.

Of course I wish I was getting covered on one of the biggest art blogs in the country for artistic reasons. Ha. My opinion's flow a lot easier than the artwork however. 

I was also interviewed, along with several others involved in Eugene's art scene, for a big piece in this week's Eugene Weekly. While the author raised questions regarding, and advocated for, a city funded arts center, the best thing about this piece was letting people know the Public Art Committee (of which I'm a member) is not taking in as much funding as other cities our size, and our "1% for art" revenue could be increased. 

Hopefully by this time next year, our city will be getting national arts coverage because of some as-of-yet undiscovered arts funding innovation or cultural break-through.

Here's to hoping.  

Op-ed piece for Eugene Weekly - No money for the arts

Op-ed piece for Eugene Weekly - No money for the arts

Last week I wrote a post over on ECA's blog in response to comments I was seeing online regarding the closing of yet another gallery. The Eugene Weekly asked me to expand the post into an op-ed piece and I was happy to oblige. The entire text is featured here, or you can read it on the Weekly's site. Check out the original post on eugenecontemporaryart.com.

 

Guess what? There's no money.

Seven steps to make the Jacobs Gallery closing not matter at all

Arts funding is important. Without it, even our longest-running institutions close. The Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center is the most recent in a string of examples.  

People wring their hands when yet another art venue closes in Eugene, and the standard frustrations are conveyed: “There’s not enough funding!"; “I can’t survive as an artist in Eugene!”; “Nobody buys art!”; “Someone should step up and donate!” 

All of those statements may be true, but they don’t get to the heart of the issue. The art-going public in Eugene has made it clear for years that the experience of supporting art is not worth the time or money. If people don’t show up to see it, if they don’t make their end-of-the-year donation, or purchase work for their collection, it’s because they aren’t compelled to do so. Plain and simple. 

The voters don’t show up to the polls if they already think it’s an ineffectual process. 

Our art scene sucks.

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David Salle on his own work

I recently came across this great lecture by painter David Salle from 2010, speaking at AFA Christie's.

In opposition to most critical writing on the contemporary art coming out of NYC in the 80's, he asserts that while critics saw a distinct divide between the Neo-expressionist painters and the culturally and politically critical conceptual artists, these artists not only knew and worked along side each other, but didn't view their own work to be at odds with each other at all. 

He makes his points by talking about an exhibition he co-curated that put the work in mention alongside each other for the first time. He also argues that successful painting, in his mind, blend pictorialism and presentationalism.

As someone who studied art history, but pursues painting, I find this really refreshing to hear. It's easy for critics and theorists to separate conceptual thinking and the practice of painting, but hard to reconcile in painting. Salle is a prolific writer and critic himself, so his ability to articulate his thoughts will be helpful for anyone who thinks about the critical value of their own work. Especially if they are a painter. He understands the theory, but it is a painter down to his core. 

Recent work - "For certain undamaged lemons II"

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"For certain undamaged lemons II" 2015, 38"x40", mixed media on canvas.

This one is new, and the first completed in the studio space (I've moved my painting out of the garage). Some different moves here that came as a surprise. There is definitely an affect that comes from working in a new space, let alone one that is more open and comfortable. I've also added some new materials to my kit, namely spray paint and graffiti pens.  These have little to do with street art, but I have always perceived my canvases as a space to collect the markings of "a passerby". This is always me. The way the surface can collect the debris of working, and the building up and tearing down of layers has been a consistent theme since I began painting in earnest in the early 2000's.

Detail of 3 of my own skateboards from the 80's and 90's.

Detail of 3 of my own skateboards from the 80's and 90's.

Recently I found myself describing my love of the way a skateboard collects the markings of it's own activity. A once pristine graphic illustration, most likely silk-screened or heat transfered on, meant to instill the identity of the pro rider who's name is on the board, quickly gets taken over my the insistence of the boards rider. His stickers have been added, and scared by curbs and pool coping. It becomes something new, merely by becoming a mediator between the rider and surface.

I might hate it tomorrow. Right now I still like it. 

We are what we purchase

"Our Motivated Demographic" by Courtney Stubbert, 11"x14", graphite, market and collage on paper.  

"Our Motivated Demographic" by Courtney Stubbert, 11"x14", graphite, market and collage on paper.  

Finally getting my studio back together after hosting a couple pop-up events in my space. New collages, drawings and paintings are on the way.  

Two recent paintings

"Rememberment plan", 18"x24", acrylic, graphite, collage on canvas, 2015.

"Rememberment plan", 18"x24", acrylic, graphite, collage on canvas, 2015.

 "Bring that beat back (Clear the way)", 18"x24", acrylic, graphite, collage on canvas, 2015.

 "Bring that beat back (Clear the way)", 18"x24", acrylic, graphite, collage on canvas, 2015.

I've been struggling with the studio practice this year. I've started dozens of pieces, covered most of them over with white more than once, and started over. These two have left me curious. They were untouched in these states for weeks. I expected to come to some kind of sudden conclusion as to what the next move in paint should be. As I walked into my painting space over this past weekend, the "sudden conclusion" was that they were done. 

Most of the pieces I've worked on lately have been a mix of old visual language elements, and an inability to just stop making more marks or layers. I've been dissatisfied in feeling like I was pointlessly trying to get to a place where the work needed to be settled and compositionally complete. I could blame this on my day job as a graphic designer, where everything must have visual harmony that creates a better experience for the user.  I've been wanting, and working, towards surfaces that challenge and unsettle what I want them to be.

It's not that the image shouldn't resolve or have composition, so much as it had to leave me feeling they were at the edge, where comfort is just out of reach. If it's possible to be satisfied with tension and discomfort, then these do it.

On making a studio

A recent interview on the Unit Editions blog on how two, well known, UK design studios got their start. 

AS: So it seems that the motivation in all cases was not money, but a desire for autonomy, wanting to be in charge of your own destiny. And that’s more important than money.
All: Definitely.

That pretty much sums it up for me as well.