Game of Interpretation: Denver Art Museum’s Audacious Interpretive Beads

[Art: Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock]

Perhaps you’re familiar with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, the ones that art critic Craig Brown (a contemporary of Pollock) called “decorative ‘wallpaper.’” My own reaction to one of Pollock’s abstract works, on a first viewing, was disgust – couldn’t a five-year-old do an accurate impression? What made a splattered canvas so noteworthy that a curator hung it on a stark museum wall for millions of people to view on class field trips or high-brow vacations? Why was one of these paintings valued and sold at auction ten years ago for $140 million, setting records at the time for the most expensive painting in the world? (Not to mention the fact that even a fake Pollock painting can sell for 3.1 million dollars.)

The challenge of viewing and enjoying Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings exemplifies the issue that many outside the art world take toward museum art: viewers want to know, what does it mean? And if the meaning can’t be determined at a glance, is it really “art” at all?

Pollock himself responded to the issue of interpretation in a radio interview with William Wright in 1950 by saying, “I think they [the public] should not look for, but look passively — and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for… I think the unconsciousness drives do mean a lot in looking at paintings… I think it should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed — after a while you may like it or you may not —

…at least give it a chance.”

The Denver Art Museum’s recent effort at addressing this question of interpretation is noteworthy. In an email, Danielle St. Peter, the Interpretive Specialist for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum, described to me that she had wanted to implement a similar method for the current (and still ongoing) Audacious: Contemporary Artists Speak Out exhibition, as curators hope the exhibit will cultivate conversation amongst viewers.

St. Peter elaborates: “We were hopeful that visitors would recognize…multiple perspectives… and experience the exhibition as a safe space to explore and discuss difficult, emotionally charged issues that relate to our contemporary world.”

The question St. Peter and the curators of DAM asked themselves was, how do we encourage viewers to give the art the time of day required to engage it thoughtfully?

St. Peter continues: “To me, [viewing contemporary art] is about spending time with an object. At the museum, we often see people stop for three seconds and move on, but art really demands more of your time. I think the trap [of] contemporary art…is that it doesn’t always have a recognizable subject matter that you can relate to or doesn’t look like it took a lot of artistic skill to make (some of the age-old criteria for appreciating art). Maybe it looks too simple, maybe it doesn’t look like art at all. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself not wanting to spend time with a work of art, that is exactly the work that you should be spending time with. As artist John Cage so aptly put [it],

‘If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not that boring at all.’”

She and the DAM’s graphic designer (Matt Rue of McGinty Co.) came up with their own version (based on something St. Peter had seen at the Columbus Museum of Art): dropping colored acrylic cubes into test tubes beside the artwork.

audacious_gallery_hero2

[Photo from Denver Art Museum blog]

They introduced it to visitors with a display that explained, “The artworks in Audacious deal with emotionally charged issues. We invite you to share how the work makes you feel. Here’s how: 1) Each of the colored blocks represents an emotion. Select a few to take with you through the exhibition. 2) When you see an artwork with a test tube, drop in the color block that best represents how the work makes you feel. 3) Look at how others have responded. Does seeing this alter your perspective?”

audacious_blocks_0

[Photo from Denver Art Museum blog]

The cubes were either blue or pink, ranging in shade from light to dark, and each signified a different emotion: either empathetic (royal blue), optimistic (teal), empowered (light blue), hopeless (magenta), angry (pink), or confused (light pink).

And just like that, viewers were handed a framework for interpretation: start with your own emotion. Then examine other’s emotions, as displayed in the test tube. Ask yourself, why might someone else see this differently?


I myself participated, a handful of plastic beads clutched in my palm as I walked from piece to piece, drawn to spend more time at the artworks where clear test tubes had been fastened to the wall beside the work. (Initially, only 9 works of art had accompanying test tubes; but within three weeks of the exhibit’s opening, the museum staff added more). It felt like a game. I had permission to decide what each piece meant; the power of meaning-making had flipped from artist to viewer.

St. Peter agrees: “By choosing both positive and negative reactions for the cubes, we are giving visitors permission to feel confused or angry about what they are seeing. I sometimes worry that visitors think they need to like everything that we install in the galleries, that they have to ‘get it.’ That certainly is not the case. Some of my [own] most powerful art experiences have been with objects or installations that I didn’t understand at first, or ones that made me angry.”

unnamed-3

[Photo from Instagram, provided by Danielle St. Peter of the Denver Art Museum]

Their hunch has paid off: the public has loved this game of interpretation. While DAM has not performed a formal study, visitors enthusiastically shared photos of the activity on social media. Visitors also requested that more test tubes be placed by art works in the show (even pointing out particular pieces that elicited strong responses in them). And in the interim, before more test tubes were placed, museum goers stacked cubes on the floor, below the installations without test tubes, so eager were they to share their responses to the artworks.

unnamed-2

[Photo from Instagram, provided by Danielle St. Peter of the Denver Art Museum]

The gallery hosts also had stories to share, like the story relayed to St. Peter about the group of middle schoolers on a class field trip who viewed Marc Quinn’s Jamie Gillespie, 1999, a marble Greek-style sculpture of an amputee. The sculpture made the students “angry” (pink cube), but their gallery host asked them to look closely: how had others responded to this piece?

marc-quinns-jamie-gillespie-1999

[Art: Jamie Gillespie, 1999 by Marc Quinn, from the artist’s website]

But the test tube rattled with teal and light blue cubes (“optimistic” and “empowered”). The students felt perplexed –  hadn’t a terrible thing happened to this man with one leg? Their gallery host facilitated a discussion with the students then and there, reminding them to read the placard nearby, which discribed how the man had participated in the paralympic games. This figure represented an athlete at the height of his physical abilities, even missing one limb.

Perhaps this story alone makes the DAM’s interpretive experiment a success: an entire class of students middle school students, hormone-ridden and self-conscious, suddenly stopped in their tracks and passionately discussing a work of art, a piece that the same viewers might ordinarily have spent a glance on before continuing through the museum. Those walking the halls beside us usually remain anonymous, and their differening perspectives stay private; but here, a different read became obvious, unignorable. Perhaps a test tube full of acrylic beads provides an anathema to the casual or even dismissive art viewing culture that Pollock responded to over 60 years ago, a culture that still persists today –

maybe it can teach us to give the art a chance.

Advertisements

Contemporary Sculpture Roundup: Part IV

The relaunch of Art in Love wouldn’t be complete without a new Contemporary Sculpture Roundup. I (Jeremy) haven’t stopped discovering talented artists who are producing mind-blowing work and I’m excited to share my findings with you in the coming weeks.

Marela Zacarias

sculpture_m1First up, I’m very excited to feature Marela Zacarias, whose work feels super fresh while somehow being rooted in her Mexican heritage. Personally, I have a visceral response to the work, the movement and color is arresting. My initial attention is rewarded by the pattern and shape play in the painting which is rich with detail and, because of the undulating surface area, seems to change when seen from different angles. There’s a really great balance between what I’m precieving as historically Mexican pottery designs and contemporary geometric abstraction. From Zacarias’ statement, this seems to be her intention: “her work combines painting and sculpture and is characterized by an interest in site specificity, the history contained in objects, and current events.”

See more of her work here.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 12.24.56 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 12.25.05 PM

Andrew Tirado

Tirado

 

It’s easy to see that Andrew Ramiro Tirado is mildly obsessed with hands. Working in a variety of mediums (wood and metal sculpture, painting and drawing, even kinetic sculpture) his works are keenly focused on the elegant complexity of the human hand. His large scale sculptures range from 6′ to 20′ long and are often displayed suspended from the ceiling. Tirado’s background in woodworking, custom fabrication and set design feed in to his large scale, fully in-the-round works and workable kinetic sculptures. And I can see his experience as a studio assistant with the legendary Chuck Close in the large scale painting and drawing works Tirado creates as studies for his sculptural work.

Personally, I love the balance and restraint Tirado shows in not overworking his materials. While some areas of his sculptures are taken to a uniform finish, completely “rendered” – other areas are allowed to show the raw wood blocking and rough ends of the reclaimed wood with which he is working. To me, this is magic in the vein of Rodin. The potential of the raw material is clearly manifest, the sculpture allowed to freeze mid-transformation from pile of salvaged boards to life-like giant hand.

See more of Tirado’s work here.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 12.57.55 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 12.59.09 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 1.00.07 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 1.01.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-16 at 1.01.20 PM

Gabriele Beveridge

Gabriele_Beveridge-3What I love about Gabriele Beveridge’s work is the juxtaposition of materials and conceptual frameworks. Beveridge is using found imagery from what appear to be fashion or makeup ads; they look sun-bleached and aged as if they were taped to a south-facing salon window for a year before being replaced with the new crop of makeup advertising. There’s an overall cleanliness and simplicity to her work that feels like Scandinavian minimalism, but when paired with the color tones of faded advertising and overlays of hand-blown glass, marble and crystals the viewer is left with a surrealist dream-like impression. It’s a compelling balance of mystery and minimalism.

From Beveridge’s statement: “My work is a kind of estrangement of nostalgia, constructing environments or redundant imagery that construe something familiar and yet uncanny, removing the context with which they were originally associated.”

See more of her work here.

found_object_art_sculpture_gabriele-beveridge-02

Bonding With Whoever_ artist frames, bamboo, feathers, found poster, found sun-faded poster_105x72cm_2015

_DSC9955-EditHR

 

Lee Jae Hyo

2034418964_dqvZL16k_03051Korean born artist Lee Jae Hyo has crafted a unique process that is as compelling as it is original. The craftsmanship and innovation clearly shine here, and the mysterious nature of the finished product evokes a near irresistible curiosity about the sculptural objects (I wish I could touch these pieces).

Lee Jae Hyo’ process starts with creating a wood form that is precisely the shape of the desired finished piece, the wood form is covered in a maze of nails partially driven into the wood and then bent down to fit the contours of the wood form. The nail-covered piece is then ground to a smooth surface, polishing and unifying the nails into a perfect exterior. Jae Hyo then burns away the surface of the wood to expose the roots of the nails, when the charred wood is removed there is a halo of nails seemingly in orbit around the contour of the wood. The final result is evocative of microbes, symbols, constellations and lettering. The lettering connotation in particular Jae Hyo takes advantage of with a series of rune-like pieces.

See more in this series and other incredible work here.

2034418964_kD49tyi0_09103-2

2034418964_MnhYfNlr_141213

2034418964_pmkNO18z_090611

2034418964_zp46LZYN_process

How do you like the Contemporary Sculpture Roundups? I’d love to hear your suggestions and feedback, leave me a note in the comments. That’s all for now. Plenty more to come.

Other installments of this series can be found here: PART I, PART II, PART III
Unless otherwise noted, all photos come from the artist’s websites.

 

 

Common Humanity: Ben Rasmussen’s Photography

Ben Rasmussen and I knew each other loosely in college. We recently ran into each other in Denver, after which I stalked him on the internet. Instead of digging up all kinds of dirt however, I found his incredible photography portfolio, which I now share with you. Ben has an eye for shots that tells stories. His photographs are artful without being “artsy,” they’re beautiful, humanizing and sometimes haunting. Ben graciously consented to being interviewed, and that hard-hitting exposé follows.

(All images © Ben Rasmussen. You can click on the photos if you’re curious about them, they will link to Ben’s website where you can read about his current projects. It’s definitely worth a look, and a read. In particular check out his Home series.)

Why are you a photographer?

I grew up in the Philippines, with an American mom and a dad from the Faroe Islands, a small protectorate of Denmark in the North Atlantic. And then I married a woman from rural Wyoming. I became a photographer because I loved the idea that through images, I could connect these different worlds to each other.

Growing up between those separate cultures, I learned how there is a common humanity shared between people, regardless of race or culture. And when I began pursing photography, I saw that it had the power to create emotional and aesthetic connections between viewer and subject, and communicate that common humanity.

How do you make a living at this? Do you work on commissions, personal projects, selling prints or books?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure that one out. Right now, I make a living doing a combination of advertising and magazine/newspaper commissions. But a lot of my time is spent on producing personal work and book making, which I lose money on directly, but which end up getting me more work in the long run. And it is setting a foundation for the future, when gallery sales and books will hopefully be a larger part of my business.

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself?

I used to set goals for myself that were concrete and very much based on the industry’s response to my work. Things like winning this competition, being included in that annual, working for this client or getting a write up in that magazine. But the more of those goals that I have met, the less fulfilling they are. And when your goals depend on other people, there is only so much you can do to meet them.

So I have changed my goals and separated them into two categories: promotional and personal.

The promotional goals are the things like winning contests, getting new clients and having my name out there. They are things that I think of in marketing terms, but do not have an emotional investment in.

My personal goals are about where I want my work to go. I know what I want my photography to be and I know the area in which it falls flat. I know what stories I want to tell and what aesthetic tools I want to use and that is where I focus.

What are some goals you’ve met?

I…start[ed] a large project focusing on my personal history that is called “Home.” It explores the meaning of home by looking at the connection people have to place in the three worlds I am connected to.

I [have also] created a series of promo books that both communicate my vision and separate me from the crowd. I started this last spring with my Wanderlust books, which are handmade artist’s book that focus on one body of work created in the last six months and then are sent out twice a year. It has forced me to keep creating work I am proud of and has taught me about what makes books work.

What motivates you to keep shooting?

…I want to see the projects I am pursing develop and grow. They are like children, and my role is to invest in them and nurture them until they are ready to be sent out into the world.

Also, I am motivated to keep growing as a photographer. And this happens through hard work, reading and looking at work, and good conversation. I developed so slowly as a photographer in my early 20s because of not working hard and not surrounding myself with other people and work that inspired me.

What do you fear?

Reaching a creative plateau. Being a young photographer is great, because you are constantly growing and developing. I end each year with work that is so much better than the year before, and so much closer to what I want it to be. But I am terrified of that ending.

That is one of the reasons that I do my Wanderlust books twice a year. It forces me to produce two bodies of work a year that I believe in enough to print, bind, and send out to dozens of people that I admire professionally.

Do you have like ten thousand pounds of gear when you’re shooting? What is the bare minimum you would take on a shoot?

When I shot digital, I used to shoot with just one camera and a couple of lenses. But now that I am shooting more and more medium and large format film, the gear has ballooned. I was just in the Philippines in January and had a huge backpack with a 4×5, medium format, and digital camera, and tons of film and film holders. And added to that was a big tripod and a light with a battery pack, a stand, and an umbrella. This way of working definitely slows me down, but that’s a good thing. I want to make slow pictures.

From the look of some of your shoots (in particular the Faroe Islands and Afghanistan), you’ve met some interesting people. Do you ever write about your experiences?

Nah, I am terrible at writing. I am a bit dyslexic and am much more visual than verbal. Making pictures feels like a very natural and fluid process, but writing is so slow and stilted for me. I ended up in photography because I realized after a year of studying journalism that I hated writing.

How do you choose your subjects (both in a larger sense and also shot by shot)?

I am really drawn to stories about people’s connection to place. It is something that I explored in the whale kill and Afghanistan work, and even more directly in my “Home” project.

Within those stories, I am drawn to people whom I feel an aesthetic connection to. This can be based on they way they look, act, or carry themselves, and is very immediate. When I see someone I want to photograph, I know it immediately. But I am quite introverted, so the real process is not choosing to photograph them, but instead taking the leap and asking if I can photograph them.

Have you shown your work in any galleries? Is that something you’re interested in?

I have done several group shows, which is not something I am very excited about. At its best, it feels like an expression of the curator’s vision more than my own. And at its worst, it seems like just a ploy to get the friends and family of the photographers to go to the gallery.

But I have my first solo show coming up in Washington DC in 2013, which I am excited about. It will be work from my “Home” project, so that is pushing me to finish that work this year.

Who are your heroes?

I am really inspired by people who are creating interesting work and doing it their own way. For photographers, that would include Rob Hornstra, Alec Soth and Richard Mosse. They are all people who are creating powerful and important work, and taking ownership of the process, whether that is through self publishing or creative funding.

Another huge influence is Tom Waits. His music has completely changed the way I think about beauty and place.

Do you ever try to make a point with your images? Or are you concentrating more on documenting events, places, and people?

I definitely want my images to make a point, but it is a really simplistic one. I want them to make viewers feel connected to and gain a value for people and places they have not interacted with. Basically, I want them to make the world a smaller place.

Thanks Ben. Love the work!

RECKONING: Terry Maker Interview

One of my favorite shows of this year is currently at the Fine Art Center, downtown Colorado Springs. Boulder based artist Terry Maker‘s awe-inspiring body of work “RECKONING” is on display now through June 3rd. Maker’s show is full of intentionality, packed with meaning and metaphor and each of the 50 pieces will reward careful inspection yielding surprise, insight and emotion.

I emailed Terry, and she was gracious enough to answer a few questions which I’m sharing with you here.

“Ship in a Bottle,”2011, resin, rope and hand made bottle
12 x 20 x 34 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

Jeremy: Where do theme and process overlap for you?

Terry: I generally have a theme or direction that I am taking and am on the look out for materials that will support this path. Of course, I am sensitive to the the happenstance of the upexpected material discovery that may take me on a totally new thematic course or may be a related off-shoot of that direction.

Jeremy: How/when did you start using resin and casting techniques? Is there a particular significance to the resin?

Terry: I’ve been interested in casting methods and resin for over 10 years now…the resin in particular, has a very appealing, seductive surface and color – this plays into the theme of want and desire that has interested me for some time now.

Jeremy: I’ve read that you keep poems, and excerpts of literature around your studio as inspiration. How else to you stay inspired in art-making?

Terry: My art making is integrated into my entire life and is not a separate activity. This co-mingling makes me aware of every step of the day and how each step can be necessary and integral to this calling.

Jeremy: I immediately noticed an archeological element in many of your works (and later read Tracy Mobley-Martinez’s article where you mention an “intellectual archeology” ) Where does that come from? have you studied archeology, or are you just inspired by it?

Terry: My work is all about the layers – both literal and conceptual. This embedding, unearthing, digging, scraping has been a necessary part of the message. I am very interested in what lies behind and beyond the surface of the piece both aethetically and metaphorically.

Jeremy: Who are people that you look up to?

Terry: Tim Hawkinson, Tom Friedman, Lee Bontecou, Vik Muniz, Sarah Sze …to name a few.

Jeremy: Do you have any advice for young artists? Things you’ve learned to do (or not do) on your journey?

Terry: Go out – travel to the great art centers and see art, lots of it. Try to connect with artists that inspire you and if
possible go to their talks and ask questions…like you’ve asked of me – thank you!

Jeremy: Thanks for making time for me, I really appreciate it.

“The Garden of Nineveh-Bitter,” 2008, resin, plastic, aluminum foil, human bone replicas, bubble wrap, plastic maze puzzles, and shredded money, audio recordings
16 x 20 x 2 Ω feet. Photographed by Chris Rogers

“Jaw Breaker Series, 1, 2 and 4,” 2008-2009, resin and jawbreaker candy on panel
40 x 40 x 2 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

“Reptilius Consumerus Devourus,” 2010, Shredded US Currency, various bank documents, and glue
100 feet x varying sized bread slices. Photographed by Chris Rogers

I highly recommend this show. And if you’re strapped for cash, the FAC has a free admission day the third tuesday of each month – the next one is March 20th.

header image:
“S¸ss,” 2011, resin, jaw breaker candy
30 x 19 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

Contemporary Sculpture Roundup: Part II

 

 

Shan Wells lives and works in Durango, Colorado. He is a poet at heart, and his work is best viewed as such. Shan writes this about the pieces I’m highlighting below:

 

in the aftermath of the 2002 Missionary Ridge wildfire in Colorado
large swaths of the land were destroyed by mudslides from the deforested burned areas.
this mud seemed to me like clotted blood, which inspired a work about healing.
the land hemorrhages, and the blood is swabbed up
until the wound is repaired or stabilized.

 

 

“Swabs” by Shan Wells (photo from artist’s website)

 

 

Detail of “Swabs” by Shan Wells (photo from artist’s website)

GEHARD DEMETZ

Gorgeous craftsmanship characterizes Gehard Demetz’s work. A master woodcarver who allows some areas to stay rough while other achieve a life-like polish, Gehard portrays children as the medium for naysayer opinions. The work is beautiful, although pessimistic.

“A Soft Distortion” by Gehard Demetz (photo from artist’s website)

“It’s Warmer Now” by Gehard Demetz (photo from artist’s website)

“Your Fairy Tales Scare” by Gehard Demetz (photo from artist’s website)

Kristof Kintera lives and works in Prague. He seems to follow ideas, rather than a style and craft, and while much of his work doesn’t interest me, there are a few pieces I think are outstanding. The two sculptures here are great executions on particular ideas, and create strong reactions of revulsion and curiosity in their viewers.

“All My Bad Thoughts” by Kristof Kintera (photo from artist’s website)

“My Light is Your Life” by Kristof Kintera (photo from artist’s website)

Basically the Deborah Butterfield of Finland, but four times as large! Yes, the body of that second calf sculpture IS an entire van.
I love artists that walk the line between figurative and abstract and Miina does that beautifully here.
(photo from artist’s website)
(photo from artist’s website)
Although his work has a heavy New Orleans influence, Sean O’Meallie lives and works here in Colorado.
His bright and playful forms are all created from wood and hand-painted. I particularly love his series of toy guns, and the deeper thoughts they provoke in spite (and because of) their child-like appearance.
(photo by Troy DeRose)
(photo from artist’s website)
(photo from artist’s website)
(photo from artist’s website)


Our A to Z Artistic Inspiration

At the start of every new year comes a fresh start, and as practicing artists, we need to take advantage of it!

Resolve to muster your courage and try something new. Or submit your work to a contest or magazine. Or just keep trudging along in writing that manuscript. (Are these examples hitting close to home for anyone else or just me?) And if you have no resolve to keep creating, read this excellent article by Kendall Ruth, published on The Curator entitled “Listening Past Writer’s Block” (don’t worry, it does apply to other mediums as well)

To push you along, here’s part 2 to our earlier inspiration post. From A to Z, here are some of our favorite ways to stay inspired in our art and some of the things and people who inspire us most.

A to Z Inspiration

 Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

This is THE BEST book we know of that will help stuck and fearful artists move forward. The only thing it lacks is the gospel, but its depth astounds us. Five stars and two thumbs up!

..
Bake Something New

The idea is to try a new recipe, which will hopefully be a flaming success (so to speak), which will give you confidence (and snacks) to try something new artistically. Try baking bread from the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (one of Liz’s favorite cookbooks!).

.

Critiques

When was the last time another artist (particularly one in your medium) critiqued your work? Critique is essential for the growing artist. If you want to create your best work, you need to seek out other artists who can give you honest feedback about your art.
.

DesignSponge

Get inspired to make your house a work of art by checking out DesignSponge‘s daily design and DIY posts.
.

.

Eavesdrop

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, was famous for eavesdropping. He’d sit behind couples on a train and write down their conversation verbatim to study what makes good dialogue (and it’s possible their words would end up in the mouths of his characters). You never know what you might overhear that would give you an idea for a new direction on a project.

.

Host a Film Night

Popcorn, friends, and a thoughtful movie are all you need to have a great discussion at the end of the night. Consider seeing “Tree of Life” (at Redbox), “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (in select theaters), or an old classic like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” or Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.

.

Get out and About

Everyone needs a change of scenery. Take a sketchbook to the park or your computer to a coffee shop. Or just go for a walk in your neighborhood — the fresh air and exercise will do your right brain cells good.

.

Go to a House Concert (or play one!)

This recent trend of house concerts is a lot of fun. Musicians get an intimate stage and the chance to connect with fans more personally. Plus the publicity they get is authentic and relationally-based — the best kind of marketing. Local to Colorado Springs, Fuel Friends music blog hosts house concerts with musicians like David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion) and Joe Pug.

.

Invest in your Art

How you spend your money tells you what you value. Is your art worth spending money on, in your mind? That should tell you how important you feel your art is. Treat yourself this January, and stop by Dick Blick or Hobby Lobby and pick up a new set of pens and brushes or just go ahead and buy that letterpress set with your Christmas money. Maybe buying a new desk is in order, or a new chair, one you want to sit in. Investing in good supplies makes you want to make art with them and helps you (and others in your life) place value in your art-making.

.

Keep Junk out of your Workspace

Unless you’re a found-object artist, you have no excuse for keeping junk in your art-making space. Do NOT pile bills, books, dishes or anything else on the desk you use for writing or painting. If you designate a clutter-free space for you to work on your art, and you’re more likely to sit down and get to work

.

Kill Perfectionism!!

Can you tell we struggle with this? Perfectionism kills artists. It keeps you from being able to keep producing lots of work because you are afraid you won’t produce your BEST work. So pull out your ninja sword, and let this monster die a quick death… daily.

.

Listen and Subscribe to Podcasts

We love podcasts because they fill otherwise empty, brainless time (for example, when Jeremy’s searching for the perfect iStock image or when Liz is chopping vegetables or folding laundry). Our favorites include The Moth (live storytelling), the Acts 29 Network (a Christian church planting network), Car Talk (hilarious car advice on NPR), and the New Yorker’s Fiction readings (authors reading short stories).

.

Collaborate Across Mediums

Seriously, this is so encouraging for us. When we get stuck, it helps to have someone else speaking into your work, owning your work as half theirs. Our parables book came out of us collaborating in writing and sculpture, and we’re now approaching editors about publishing it. You never know where a collaboration will take you!

.

The Library’s New Releases Section

Our library (and probably yours too) has a section for all new books they’ve acquired, which are often books hot off the presses. We have made a habit of stopping by and browsing titles and covers to look for books that pique our interest – and we’re never disappointed. We always come away with arm loads.

.

Open a Book

Reading is so inspirational, whether you’re reading a book to learn new art-making techniques or to study master artists or just to immerse yourself in a good story. Get a library card, or buy great (read: cheap) used books on Abe Books (Liz’s fave online bookstore).

.

Pinterest

Pinterest is an online bookmarking community (a pin board) of interesting ideas, arranged by photographs. They have every category you can think of, from artwork to recipes to DIY ideas to book recommendations, and I (Liz) could spend hours browsing.

.

Be Quiet

It is essential for artists to have quiet so they can remove themselves from the hectic hum of postmodernity and reflect from a broader vantage point. Turn off all your electronic devices for a day so you can get some thinking time.

.

Establish an Art-making Routine

We hate to tell you this, but art won’t happen on its own. You need to spend regular time in your studio or at your desk pounding out art. Establishing a routine is the best way to make sure this happens. Jeremy has “art night” on Thursdays, and he used to make himself a pot of coffee each Thursday to prepare himself for the work ahead of him. Liz aims to write at least 500 words every day during the work week, and sometimes she’ll begin by reading another book or article to get her mind going.

.

Steal Shamelessly

Picasso once said (supposedly), “Bad artists copy; good artists steal.” We’re not advocating copyright violations. Rather, the point is to study others’ art so that you can master their techniques and incorporate them into your own work and your unique style.

.

Make a Spot of Tea (or Coffee)

Who’s to say it’s a bad thing to use caffeine to jumpstart creativity? Give it a go, chaps.

.

Use Noisetrade!

Founded by Derek Webb and a few other Nashville-based musicians, Noisetrade is our favorite free LEGAL music downloading website. The musicians post their music themselves, and in exchange for downloading their music for free (or for a tip), you give them your email address and/or post their CD on Facebook — free marketing for the musicians and free music for you. Doesn’t get any better!

.

Visit an Art Museum or Gallery

Seeing visual art in person can help spark new ideas. We often bring a camera and take photos of our favorite pieces. We also write down the artists’ names and look them up online later. Jeremy has folders and folders filled with photographs of visual art that inspires him, and when he’s experiencing a creative dry spell, he turns to these photographs for that extra burst of inspiration. And if you need extra incentive, both the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs and the Denver Art Museum have free days (and all the local galleries we know of have absolutely free admission)!

Worship (& Enter the Worship Circle)

For me (Liz), singing is freeing. It helps me relax, and I find that when I spend time worshipping God through song, ideas abound! My favorite group for this BY FAR is Enter the Worship Circle‘s folksy community worship. They also have a Chair and Microphone series where individual band members record intimate worship – just them and God. There’s nothing else like it!

Re-eXamine Old Notebooks

The assumption here is that you’re already carrying around a notebook or sketchbook with you everywhere you go, so you can catch new ideas as they come to you (you can’t put eavesdropping into practice quite as well without a notebook handy!). The second step is to go through old notebooks when your creativity has run dry. Often a brilliant idea you thought of on the bus ride home won’t be helpful until months (or years) later.

Take a Lesson from the YMCA

I (Liz) love the YMCA. I love my membership, which makes me get out and about AND exercise semi-regularly. I love how community-minded the Y is, which is not such a bad idea for us artists to consider. Let’s ask ourselves, how can we serve our local communities with our art? I love that I can take yoga classes, a separate hobby from my writing, and that I can meet a truly diverse set of people doing it, which means I have a chance to interact with non-artists and not get stuck in an art bubble, so to speak. Connect the dots and take a lesson from the Y!

Zoo Photography Adventure

Okay, we admit it, we were reaching for a Z here, but the point remains: photography adventures are tons of fun! Maybe decide to take photographs of found letters and make a collage to spell a word when you get home. Or maybe just go on a hike and take a photo of everything that takes your breath away. You’ll get outside, and you’ll be training your eye at the same time. (They also make for great dates, guys)

So get out there and make some great art, friends!

Beautiful Plastic: Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang

In my experience, most of what is labeled “eco art” ends up being a garrish, kitschy mess with more ecological value than artistic. I’ve seen more than my share of piles of plastic, covered in paint and artist statements that make themselves out to be the savior of the world.

When I saw Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang‘s exhibit at the Smokebrush gallery in 2010, the artfulness of their exhibit startled me. What I saw was a celebration of discovery, a good eye for composition and color, and a matter-of-fact statement about how much plastic is polluting our oceans — without a guilt trip.

I recently found this video of the artists where they talk about their process, how they got started and where they’re going. It is informative, interesting and gets their point across without bludgeoning the audience. I hope you enjoy it.

Below: Photos I took at the Smokebrush exhibit

Drawn to Stories: Joel Armstrong’s Wire Drawings

From cave walls to Picasso, the medium of drawing is possibly the oldest, most immediate and most universal art form. But what is a drawing? Does a drawing have to be on paper? Does it have to be on anything at all? If you were to extract the drawing from its surroundings, what would it look like? Questions like these led Joel Armstrong to begin drawing with bailing wire.

I (Jeremy) had the privilege of studying under Joel Armstrong at John Brown University, where he teaches illustration, mixed-medium and graphic design courses. Under Joel’s instruction I learned to ask that important question “what if?” Joel was always pushing limits, and questioning outcomes. “What if you tried this over here?” “What if you fill this image with words to describe it?” “What if this element became a symbol that you use again over here?” My own emerging style of found object assemblage was formed during that time, and Joel’s influence left a lasting impression. His questions forced me to work harder, and to bring more meaning and depth to my artwork.

Joel pushes himself in the same way. It was while working on his MFA (Drawing) from Colorado State University that he pushed the medium of drawing off of paper. The importance of story was already at work in his mind when Joel started drawing the contents of dresser drawers. What stories did those objects hold? What secrets did the various clothes, letters, scissors and spools of thread contain? A sense of wonder, curiosity and discovery met Joel as he explored the contents of dressers.

He began to draw using wire so the drawings could be taken out of drawers, examined and placed back. They could be hung from the ceiling or nestled in the crook of an armchair. Joel carefully kept the two-dimensional essence of a drawing, but pulled it free from the bounds of paper into three-dimensional space, creating an entire installation, a room full of drawings and stories that could be explored at will.

“As an installation artist, the entire gallery becomes my canvas. My art is an extension of real life and offers connections with memories, feelings, and expressions that the steady sound of a sprinkler can resurrect, or the bright sounds a happy bird can bring to mind. I tell stories that reflect our human experience.” –Joel Armstrong

Joel’s process involves rusting his wire drawings. Rust holds the nostalgic memory of living on the gulf coast of Texas, where humidity and salt water speed up the rusting process. This symbolic choice also references the passing of time and the process of aging, both of which are marked by stories. Joel makes a point to tell stories in everything he does.

Garage Sale” is the title of Joel’s latest work. He received a two-year grant to complete this installation. He bought objects from garage sales, asking for a story about each piece he bought. If there was no story, he imagined one. Each of these objects was drawn in wire. The wire drawings were rusted. The papers on which Joel’s wire drawings are rusted become rusty themselves and a “rust painting” (see process here) while the ghost image of his drawing is left behind. These paintings were framed. All of this was left out for an audience to peruse as they would an ordinary garage sale. An open invitation to participate in not only an American past-time, but in small, intimate glimpses into other people’s lives through their stories, through their belongings.


(buy a book about Joel’s Garage Sale installation here!)

“Most installation art leaves me wondering what I saw and what was trying to be said. Joel Armstrong’s environments are more like a gathering of friends telling stories that are so familiar I can listen to them for hours.” – Donald Kolberg

My Mother Vs. Modern Art

I (Liz) don’t know any artists with artist parents — okay, maybe a few and they’re a troupe of singers from Austria. The truth is that most artists live among a majority of nonartists, or at least people who would never dream of calling themselves artists. They probably cook and sing and knit and decorate their houses just like artists do, but “art” seems like such an extraordinary (read: odd, strange, quirky, incomprehensible, etc.) activity that is far removed from their real living.

And in fact, these views about art are not really that surprising. When you look at the art that has been lauded for the past fifty years (since Modernism), you can see why most people feel that art, particularly art that hangs on the walls of art museums, was not made for them. They “just don’t get it.” (Though, really, who does?)

Just for fun, I thought I’d give you a peek at one of my favorite so-called “nonartists” — my mother. Two years ago, we went to the modern wing of the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and I took notes. Does this experience feel familiar to anyone else?

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

My mother and I walk into an art museum. Already this sounds like the set-up for a joke, and really it is; you could even call it a small miracle that my mother was even willing to step foot inside a building with something called “art” on its walls. Probably the last time we entered the National Gallery together was for my class field trip in fifth grade when, just to be nice, she signed up to be a chaperone.

We buy tickets; she treats — the first reason I brought her along. And as we walk toward the modern wing, she now discovers the second.

“Mom, is it okay if I write down your responses to the art?” I ask, pulling a small black notebook out of my backpack before she answers.

“Yeah, I guess so,” she says.

We walk toward the wall in front of us. “What do you think of this one?” I ask her.

In front of us a canvas stretches across the wall, the length and height of a man, except that no forms or colors are painted onto the canvas’ surface.

“Well…” she says, “Am I missing something?”

“What do you mean?” I say.

“I mean… is this it?” she asks.

I stand next to her, just to her right. “Hm. I see what you mean,” I say.

Then suddenly I step backward. “Let’s look at it from back here,” I say.

My mother joins me, taking steps backward, continuing to stare at the canvas in front of her, her head still. We look for a few more seconds.

“I think there may be a white paint on the surface,” I say, watching my mother’s face.

My mother squints her eyes. Her mouth squirms. Then she sighs, turning to look at me. “I’m sorry, Lizzy, I just don’t see anything at all. It just looks like a blank canvas to me.”

“Fair enough,” I say, grinning. I make a note in pen on a page in my notebook.

We move on to a sculpture hanging on the wall just a few steps away. We pause in front of it.

“Is that what I think it is?” asks my mom.

I laugh. “Almost definitely,” I say, “Marcel Duchamp was famous for his urinals.”

“And that is ‘art’?” says my mother, pointing at the urinal, “Who decides these things?” She makes a few furious hand motions and then turns to leave.

“Hold on, hold on,” I say, scribbling in my notebook. “I came to find one piece in particular. We can leave after I see it.”

My mother sighs and follows me deeper into the gallery. Soon I catch a glimpse of purple and grey paint from a few rooms away: one of Jackson Pollock’s lavender masterpieces.

“Here it is,” I tell my mom. We sit down in front of it on a wooden bench.

“Okay, so what do you think of this one?” I ask.

“Well,” says my mother, “On a first glance, it looks like some of the paintings you created in pre-school.” I laugh.

“And on a second glance?” I say.

My mom stares at the painting for a bit before answering. “As I stare at it,” she says, “I begin to feel sad. It seems sad to me. Is that right?”

“Sure,” I say.

“And… it looks like it might be raining. Isn’t it called ‘Lavender Mist?'”

“Yeah, that’s great, Mom,” I say.

I nod approvingly, trying to encourage her to go on. Instead she says, “But, hun, I still don’t get it. So can we leave now? I’d like to grab some lunch before we head home.”

I smile. “Okay, Mom,” I say, and we make our way toward the cafeteria and then out into the open air, both convinced our outing was a success: for me because my mother was willing to stare at modern art for thirty whole minutes, and for my mother because she knows I will not force her to step into another art gallery for another ten years at least.

Contemporary Santa Fe Roundup

Just a few weeks ago, Liz and I celebrated our first anniversary in Santa Fe, NM. Being the art geeks we are, it was a great decision. Santa Fe has a thriving art community with lots of contemporary and even ground-breaking art.

Here are our favorite artists and selected works.

David Nakabayashi’s collage work at the Box Gallery.

Jon Lee‘s work at the Jay Etkin Gallery.

We saw Nina Tichava‘s show being hung at the Nuart Gallery

 We LOVED Mark Horst‘s work. This is “Embrace #37” at Canyon Road Contemporary Art.

“The Invitation #3” by Mark Horst.

Detail of “The Invitation #3” by Mark Horst.

“I am not I (brothers 17)” by Mark Horst.

Some gorgeous, abstract found object work by Randall Reid at Nuart Gallery.

Paintings by Pam Cobb at the Jay Etkin Gallery.

We caught an emerging arts festival here at The Railyard. Aside from being our favorite art district in Santa Fe, the Railyard is also home to Second Street Brewery which has a real solid Imperial Stout.

And then there were giant fish head sculptures by Colett Hosmer. What’s not to love?