Friday, April 29, 2005

Spring Snow

Spring snows remind me that winter isn't quite gone. It falls on the brown grass, two to six inches worth, sometimes ten. Everyone gets out their shovels and removes it from their walks and driveways and pile it on their lawn. Well.... some of us. I tend to leave it alone knowing what will happen.

The sun comes out. It usually comes out that afternoon and sometimes the next day. But it comes out and it has power. The heavy spring snow rapidly melts and then, voila! It reveals the beginning of spring. The grass that was entirely brown the day before now has a striking touch of green. A few days later, there's more snow and the same thing happens. The snow melts back to reveal more green. It only takes one or two snows to make the green spread like paint on a wet piece of paper.

It keeps snowing every week or two through April and May, gradually replaced by rain. But the rain only finishes what the snow starts. The snow is the catalyst for spring because it protects the earth as it falls, melts softly into the ground, and soaks to the roots. Rain would just run off the hard surface of winter. It needs the softening of the spring snow to be able to do it's job in the early summer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Artist Self

When I allow my artist self to take over I feel liberated and more normal. I spend so much of my time being something else.

I try not to allow creativity to be limited in my life, but for me to be an artist involves taking down my fascades, casting aside my reserve, and exposing my soul. Creative activity means to be me wholly and completely. When I am being a responsible, working adult I usually feel restricted and as if I must shut away an important part of me. It is so hard to recapture that everyday fascade that is so very necessary that it makes it that much harder to remove it in order to create.

Once I get started creating something, I don't want to stop. Not just because I am "in the flow of things" but because I crave the freedom and don't want it to end. There is an energy and perhaps an addiction in the creative process for me as well. However, either the reality that I have to go to work in the morning or sheer exhaustion, eventually forces me to stop and head for bed.

My Renaissance Personal Preference

When it comes to the Renaissance and art, I'll take the Northern version over the Italian version any day of the week. I mean, talk about powerful images. They move me down at the heart of my being. There are no soft, blonde angels gently smiling with their hands tucked in prayer. No, the Northern Renaissance was all about reality. Biblical scenes are portrayed with more everyday feeling than angelic bliss.

For example. Check out Matthias Grünwald's Isenheim alterpiece. Mary looks about to faint in John's arms, while Christ himself shows great physical pain in the distortion of his hands and feet.

In the engraving of the crucifixion done by Albrect Dürer we see the people around Christ weeping as if in great distress. Mary is cradled and supported in the arms of another woman.

Instead of showing fine young dukes out winning battles or gracing fine ladies with thier presence we see everyday people in everyday activities in Pieter Bruegel's work.

Now for you purists out there. You can have your Italian Renassaince. Heaven forbid that I should question it's place in art history or even the quality of it's artists and their work. But as for me, I connect with the Northern Renaissance much better and there are a lot of others out there who do as well and I would just like the "other" guys to get some recognition too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Collector Wanna-be's

When I had collector wanna-be's come into the gallery where I used to work this was the advise I gave them. Buy what you like and buy what you can afford, but always by originals. That always seemed to be a revelation to them. So I'd break it down for them like this:

1. Buy what you like without worrying about quality or how much it's worth. Why wouldn't you buy something you like? You'd be surprised by how many people buy things because they think they should, or because it's popular.
2. Buy what you can afford. Most people don't realize that they can buy a work of art for the same price as a poster. Most posters cost about $30. For that much you can go to a local artist co-op and probably find something you like, something no one else has, and something made by someone in your community.
3. Always buy an original. For one thing, it's unique. No one else has one just like yours when you buy an original. But the really cool thing is that when you buy an original, there is just something better about it than a poster.

I've seen a lot of people who have become collectors by following those three basic steps. Now when I say collectors I'm not talking about the kind of people who have works of art that are worth more than my house. I'm talking about people who buy original art rather than posters because they love art regardless of it's dollar value to the world. Besides, how do you think those people with the seven figure art collections got started?

You'll eventually find, a few years down the road, that a number of things have taken place. You'll have a house full of beautiful art that you love. Your taste in art and your eye for good art has improved. You'll be able to "spot a deal" and often anticipate an artist's "rise to stardom" before their prices go up when they've been discovered. And, last but not least, you'll find that your world has expanded and your appreciation for life is deeper.

Creative Value

Having a variety of interests and a broad (though often general) knowledge of how to make things has taught me the intrinsic value of "handmade." When I see a quilt for sale, I know how good the quality is, how much effort was put into it, if the quilt is worth the price, or whether it's too a good deal to pass up.

I feel sad when I encounter people who have no idea of the value of something that is handmade. When they comment that it's too expensive, it's hard not to respond with a lesson in value. While they believe that $30 for a doily is too expensive, I realize that the maker is probably underpricing it. I get frustrated when someone looks at a $300 painting and says it's too expensive, because I know that the artist underpriced it hoping to eventually become well known enough to make a living from their art.

So part of my life mission seems to be to educate the ignorant, to teach them the value of what they encounter. Since our culture measures value with money, I like to break down the value that way. For example:

That $30 doily took 30 hours to make.
This shop takes a 40% commission on everything they sell leaving the maker $18.
The thread that was used cost the maker $10.
That means the maker's profit is $8 or $0.27 an hour.
Or
That $300 painting took 10 hours to paint.
The gallery takes a 50% commission on everything they sell leaving the artist with $150.
The paint and canvas that went into that painting cost $30.
Since the artist framed it himself that was only $100 and it took him 2 hours to do.
That means that he is only making a profit of $20 or $1.67 an hour.
When you factor in all the paintings that won't sell, he's not making anything at all.

So I guess my advice to people is, if it's hand made, it's value is not just in the money. The value lies in the joy, heart, and soul that the creator put into the making of it. Pay the money, take it home, and let what the creator put into it bless your life. Otherwise, walk out of the store, run down to the mall, and buy something machine made that will cost you half as much, wear out twice as fast, and has no life invested in it. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have handmade.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Creative People

Really creative people are never exclusive in their interests or hobbies. They usually have many that they cycle through one at a time or in batches and I am a perfect example.

One day, many years ago while at an arts and crafts fair, I was admiring some creations at a booth. Off handedly, I commented to my husband that I had always wanted to learn how to do that particular craft. The craftsman attending the booth said, "You can." "I don't have time," I responded. "Well then, you just need to make time," she replied. I left it at that. How could I explain to her that I had over 50 other interests and that one just wasn't quite interesting enough to add to the list at that point in my life.

I often envy those whose list of interests is short. By short I mean 10 or less. They can focus on their interests rather than flitting around from project to project like I do. They can mass produce things that can then be put up for sale at fairs without burning out or losing interest. But, then I have to remind myself, that while my interests tend to keep my attention hopping from topic to topic, I do know how to do a lot of interesting things and I do return to most of them on a fairly regular basis.

In addition, I benefit from all those interests. I have art on my walls, cloths in my closet, hats, mittens and scarves to keep me warm, embroidered linens, quilts for my bed, and beautiful books to write in that are all a result of my 50+ interests. I'll bet that craftsman doesn't.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Creativity Tool

One of the best aids to my creativity that I have found is keeping a journal. I actually carry two with me wherever I go. One for writing in and one for sketching in.

I found the perfect books about 3 years ago. Moleskines. They're the right size, they open flat (I hate books that you have to hold open), they have a pocket for odd stuff in the back, a ribbon page marker, and an elastic band to hold it all shut. I carry the lined one for writing and the plain one for sketching.

So, what do I put in these wonderful journals? Everything! In my lined one I put quotes, references, travel journals and notes, word definitions, things I'm thinking about, stories I make up, recipes, books to read, poetry, reviews of art shows, gardening stuff, school research stuff, etc. In my plain one I sketch when we hike or travel, I draw ideas for art projects, sewing projects, art book ideas, furniture designs, jewelry designs, clothing designs, architectural designs, etc.

The importance of these books in my life is that it allows me to continually think creatively even when I don't have time to make art. Unfortunately, that's most of the time. When I do have time, I use my journals as a reference for whatever I'm working on, or to refresh my memory about things I want to create.

When I begin a new one I put the date in the front cover. When I finish filling it, I put that date next to the first one. That helps me keep track of when I did things. I've also gotten a fine tip white paint marker to write the type of book and dates on the spine so that I can pull the right one off my book shelf the first time.

Everyone has a creative strategy and that's mine. I wish I'd started doing it years ago. It's made it so much easier to keep track of ideas, both new and progressive ones.