New Work and Words on the Subject of Fear

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“East of the Sun,” 22″x28,” acrylic,
copyright 2018, Molly Larson Cook

I subscribe to several art websites and find each of them fascinating and informative.  Now and then, I’d go so far as to say I find one of them thought-provoking and downright challenging.

This happened today when I opened one of those sites to find this big question for readers (artists)…”What are you afraid of?”

I could respond with a list of things I’m afraid of ranging from spiders and snakes to falling down a flight of stairs and breaking a hip to things that go bump in the night like the stranger pounding on my front door at 3:00 a.m. and trying to get in a couple of weeks ago.

But I don’t think this is what the author of the post about fear meant.  He was asking his question in relation to those of us who do art, and there were several good answers to the question ranging from fear of poverty (always on the artist’s big board of important things) to fear of not being good enough to fear of success.

We do our work, we get brave enough to show it around, maybe even land a gallery show and then that old bug-a-boo, fear of success rears its ugly head.

Fear of success for someone in the arts is rather like the fear of being outed as a fraud in the business world.  This is actually a phenomenon known as “imposter syndrome.”  It’s been reported in business and psychology journals for years now.

I think fear of success in the arts is different.  For one thing, much of business success is based on knowledge – or lack of it – in which case those who struggle with imposter syndrome are concerned that maybe they just don’t know enough but have been able to fake it, baffling the world with BS, whether it’s true or not.

While I grant that some arts endeavors can seem a little like BS this is mostly a matter of taste. The truth is it’s hard to fake art.  A pianist can’t fake playing the piano, a dancer can’t fake the dancing, a sculptor can either do it or not and a potter’s ability is immediately clear – something beautiful or a misshapen lump.  The Meryl Streep portrayal of “singer” Florence Foster Jenkins demonstrated that it’s not possible to fake singing, either.

So I think fear of success for an artist is more about one of two things:  fear that our work doesn’t meet our own expectations and fear that we might not be able to produce enough work to meet the expectations of others (audiences, gallery owners and potential clients) or that these “others” will become so locked into our style that they’ll resist any changes we might make.

(Consider the response to musicians switching from acoustic to amplified instruments.)

All things considered, I’m a lot more comfortable with artists’ fears than those of the business world.  And I sleep better, too…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To Frame or Not to Frame

Backstage at the Art Studio

When I began to think about submitting paintings for art shows, I also began to think about frames for those paintings.  As I strolled through framing stores or framing sections of art supply stores, I thought more about it.

Looking at art in galleries and museums, frames are even more on my mind – the many styles and possibilities.

I sometimes wonder why an artist chose a particular frame for his or her painting.  Some of them work, it seems to me, but many others distract.

Some juried shows require a frame and are often quite specific about what kind of frame is acceptable.  I don’t argue the point.  But I’ve made the decision not to frame.  I stick with painting the edges and offering my work unframed with hanging hardware installed.

I have a couple of reasons for this and will be interested in your take on the framing question.

Reason #1 – Frames can be quite expensive and if I add a frame, I have to build the price of the frame into the price I charge for the painting.  By not adding a frame, I’m keeping the price lower for the buyer.

Reason #2 – Frames – to me – fall into the “décor” category and are as personal for the buyers as choosing a sofa or carpet or any other furnishing for their homes or businesses.  Because I work in abstract expressionism with a focus on color, I can guess that the buyer might like color, but beyond that, I have no idea how anyone’s home or office  is decorated or a buyer’s taste when it comes to framing.

I was told a few years back by a framer that most people who buy framed art have it reframed to suit their décor.  It makes no sense to me to spend – and charge – money for a frame that will be removed and replaced by something to the buyer’s liking.

When invited to mount the solo show coming up this spring, I was quite clear with the gallery owner that my work would not be framed.  She was fine with that.  The finished black edges define and don’t distract from the art.  If pushed, my taste would be for the simplest black frames, but I already know, after selling a couple of pieces that were framed this way, that the buyers wanted something else.  Something more ornate that I could not have guessed.

Of course, if a buyer asks to have it framed and we can choose a frame together, I’m happy to facilitate that step.  Some buyers know exactly what they want and others want to try a painting in one room or another before giving it a “forever home.”

Initially, I suggest that a buyer hang the painting without a frame and live with it for a bit before they decide whether to frame or not to frame.   It’s a take on the advice I got from an interior designer years back when I moved into a very modern high rise apartment and had questions about some of my antique furniture.

“Live with it for a while before you decide to make a change,” the designer told me.  I did, and the antique oak dining table and chairs stayed.

One note – if a gallery I’d like to be part of wants to show my work and requires that paintings be framed (as some do), I will by all means frame my work with those simple black frames.  I’m not about to shoot myself in the foot.

If you’re an artist or an art buyer, I invite you to let me know your thoughts on framing.

Painting, Juggling and Business

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Untitled, copyright, 2018, Molly Larson Cook

The beat goes on as I continue to work on new pieces for the upcoming show.  And I’ve expanded the canvas, so to speak, by bumping myself up to a slightly larger size.  The new one above, as yet untitled, is 22″ x 28″ and I had fun working again with a wider surface.

As a writer, I know what it means to find one’s voice and also one’s genre.  Yes, there are writers who do it all, and I’ve done most of it myself, but I know where I’m most comfortable – where my voice can speak most clearly and resonate best.

As an artist, I’m learning the same things, and it’s a joyous moment when it all comes together.

Musicians say it works this way as well whether they’re playing classical music, pop or jazz.  Actors get it, too – the moment when the character “gels” and they know they’re in the groove of the role they’re playing.

When it happens, you stop thinking about what you’re doing and just do it.  The words “Paint first, think later” become the mantra.  Don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t mean you never think.  It means you’ve done the groundwork and practice necessary to finally take you to a place where you no longer have to “think” about every step. You’re free to “paint first”  and do it with confidence.  I liken it to an early experience of learning to juggle.

In the beginning, learning to juggle is insanely awkward and messy, not to mention frustrating – dropped balls everywhere.  I was advised to practice over my bed so the balls wouldn’t roll under the furniture.  An old-fashioned telephone booth works, too.  So you practice until your arms hurt and then one day, one surprising day, you get all those balls in the air and don’t drop a single one and you’re on your way.  You stop thinking about it and just do it.

After this breakthrough, I could juggle balls in the air as well as lemons at the market, stones at the beach, anything handy.  I could bounce-juggle balls as I walked along a sidewalk or danced.  I learned to juggle with a partner, passing the balls back and forth.  Juggling, not thinking.

And so it’s going with the art these days.  And as I’m more comfortable with the paint, I’m also becoming more comfortable with the – oh, no! – business side of the work.  Because there is a business side.

In that endeavor, I’ve been reading a great book for artists titled simply, The Artist’s Guide: How to make a living doing what you love.  The author is Jackie Battenfield, artist, consultant and instructor at Columbia University.

We make choices – we can be “Sunday painters” and never want to sell a thing, but we can also choose to be “professional artists” in which case, Battenfield’s book is a terrific guide with a realistic look at what it takes as well as all the help you might need to get there.

Battenfield describes the book as one intended to help artists at all levels including those who might be “resuscitating a stalled or dormant practice.”  Bingo.  That’s me.  I have a significant birthday coming up in March and no time to waste on this resuscitation.

Back to work – bring on the gesso!

 

Iconic Books, Individuality and Confidence

Robert Henri and his 1923 book, The Art Spirit, continue to be wise and welcome companions on this artist’s journey.

I have begun to carry the book around with me the way I once carried Walden and Yevtushenko’s Selected Poems and Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez.  There were others over the years. We all have our iconic books at one time or another.

Henri, of course, speaks directly to art.  No need for Emily Dickinson’s telling anything “slant.”  It’s all there in plain language to the working artist.  Here’s a passage I came across recently that struck me in its simplicity and applicability:

The technique of a little individuality will be a little technique, however scrupulously elaborated it may be. However long studied it will still be a little technique…The greatness of art depends absolutely on the greatness of the artist’s individuality and on the same source depends the power to acquire a technique sufficient for expression.  The (artist) who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime (he) may have something to express will never have the technique of the thing (he) wishes to express.

No little individuality! For me this is a call to have confidence in our work, whatever it may be, and to take the risks that go with it.  Individuality is about that confidence, not about behaving wildly or wearing mismatched socks.  It’s the individuality of our work, not some quasi-Bohemian idea of the artist as an unusual person.

Dressing, as someone once wrote of a character in a book, like a person leaving a burning building doesn’t make anyone an artist.  It just makes the person – well, look like someone leaving a burning building.

Artists and other creatives are rarely run-of-the-mill individuals, to be sure, but there’s no need to call attention to that or make it the basis for any kind of entitlement.  In the communities I’ve loved the most, creative people – artists, writers, musicians and more – are treated not with entitlement but with the same respect other members of the community are accorded, no more and no less.  Those who claim entitlement become smaller in my eyes.

So we soldier on, toilers in the creative vineyard like toilers in any other vineyard.  We encourage each other, laugh with each other, engage in serious discussions with each other, feed each other when called upon and breath the same air as everyone else in the community.

Our difference – Henri’s “greatness of art” – is in our fearless individuality and our power (read confidence) to express that.

To my artist sisters and brothers, I can say only, “Keep on keepin’ on.”  (Yes, I’m that old!)

Here are the three pieces I’ve been working on…I’ll write more about the process and lessons learned next time.  These are 15×30 acrylics.  No titles yet.  The center panel which a week or so ago was wanting to be horizontal changed its mind in the company of the other two.  We never know…

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