Wednesday 30 April 2014

Fellow Travellers

The Gift
photo collage

Creative ideas can sometimes reveal themselves at any moment, as if by magic (which probably means they’ve taken shape subconsciously after an extended period of researching, planning and thinking). Their rendering into actual works in media, however, is usually a demanding and time-consuming process. Whether or not the ideas transform into viable two or three dimensional works depends on the artists’ dexterity with the media, their focus, their understanding of their own symbols and meanings, and the clarity of their vision. It also depends on the uninterrupted time they devote to the creation process.
I am often asked how I can sculpt or paint in isolation for hours, days, even weeks. After all, when I’m in my studio, I am apparently alone. My defence of that solitary time, even to passing up social and even romantic activities when I’m in creation mode, is incomprehensible to friends and family, and it has alas cost me dearly throughout my artistic career. However, if I may paraphrase the old cliché (‘if you don’t use it you lose it’) if you don’t create it when it needs to be created, you lose it and all other works that should have come following.
 The thing is, when I’m in the throes of creation, I need this isolation from people or my social side will distract me from my making process. Once engaged, the work cannot be set aside, I must maintain the continuity or I will risk losing it. It’s not just the medium’s properties that need to be respected, clay, for instance goes through various deal-with-me-now! stages during sculpting, but the impetus for the work and the very energy required to execute it must also be sustained.
Anyway, whether it’s clay or acrylic, wire or wood, paper, pencil, or pen, the medium with which I create my images is in many ways as alive as if I were working with a human partner on a dance duet or to rehearse a dialogue for a play: it has a personality, it has needs and it offers creative ideas of its own. If I’ve taken the time to become fluent in its language and in the form of physical communication that best connects us, if I respect it and attend to it with undivided attention, we have a meaningful relationship. As in any successful collaboration, the aim is for us to coax and release something meaningful one from the other. There is nothing ‘alone’ or ‘isolated’ about that.
There are days when the idea is clear, the intent like a beacon, and the partnership between my medium and I uncomplicated and smooth. On those days, the piece comes together naturally, with no wasted effort or struggle, whether it is a drawing, a painting or a sculpture or any combination thereof. On those days, the more tactile and dimensional the work becomes, the more visually solid and actual, the more the flow of ideas becomes my nourishment and sustenance, the more it inspires and connects to the next piece I will make and the next.
            On other days, the interaction between my medium and me is more of a negotiation, each trying to find the compromise between substance and gesture. The medium wants to be expressed to its full potential, but if my making gesture is tenuous or unsure, it may refuse to cooperate. When this happens the rhythm of creation must change, I must slow, stop, examine, analyze, maybe backtrack before moving forward again, stop again, evaluate, maybe re-think or restructure, try again, and so on, until I achieve clarity: In words, the interaction might sound like this: if I, artist, do this and you, medium, do that, will the image reveal itself? No? How about ...?
            The days reserved for experimentation are both a joy and a challenge. On these days, the focus is on remaining open to ‘mistakes’, that is to the accidental things that happen when my medium and I deliberately work without planning and preconception. Attention at this time is essential, because to repeat something that happens unexpectedly but that carries just the ‘right’ meaning or expresses exactly ‘that’ feeling, I have to have observed how it came to be and remember how to repeat it.
            That’s the thing: an artist’s work may be born of accident, mistake or unpremeditated gesture, but what makes it part of her/his style is its intentional repetition or its consistent re-iteration. I may choose to let an accidentally distorted form become the inspiration for the way I distort all forms because it expresses something new, something intriguing, mysterious, true or revealing in my work. These ‘accidental’ discoveries are exciting but they don’t happen if I’m not 100% engaged in the process.
There are instances when my medium and I share the studio with a third party, a third collaborator. When I need realistic human elements in my work, I like to work with models. I can then either do a series of drawings of a pose destined to become a sculpture, or sketch quick gestural poses in paint to capture moments and movements, or work directly in clay to keep in touch (literally) with the third dimension. In any case, any of these actions refreshes my understanding of human form, movement, and expression, and answers specific questions I might have about the architecture or aesthetic of a figurative piece I’m planning or on which I’m working. There is also an added level of energy when I have to be responsive to and responsible for yet another participant in the process.
True, working with models has its frustrations. They are human. They need breaks, for one. However, If they are professionals, and as attentive and engaged in the process as I am, the three of us, model, medium and I create a perfect flow of energy that results in expressive images.
Work that comes out of any of these studio scenarios is always satisfying. And it’s invariably the work family and friends who were annoyed at being put off or jealous of my time ‘alone’ appreciate the most.

Friday 25 April 2014

The Art and Craft Quarter

Ni vu ni connu
photo collage

            One of my aims  int his Blog is to address issues relative to the process of thinking as a professional artist. It’s a tough one, because many people have only a vague idea about it, believing that living by art is about ‘just’ making it then trying to sell it. Even people who live by teaching art but don’t practice it seem to have a misconception about it.
            Success professionally to most people means sales, big-ticket sales. They've heard tales of artists selling work for fabulous prices and are inspired to believe they can as well. They think all they’ll need to do is hand off their work to a gallery or dealer and voila! Fabulous riches.
            Let us say that indeed, a solo exhibition in a commercial gallery sells out. The artist and the dealer are hyped, excited. More exhibitions are scheduled, in other towns perhaps, follow-up events are planned like interviews and guest appearances, clients clamour for more work so orders come pouring in, agencies accord artists’ grants. The logical next step is to ride the wave, right? Except very quickly, forget working to inspiration, forget experimentation, forget having dry spells until the artist and the work become collectible commodities and assistants can be hired or the sketches and plans can be handed off to crafts people: for now the artist must produce. The studio must become the 9-5; art making becomes the job. Are artists really willing and prepared to take it on? Most are not.
            Preparation is essential, or fame will be a greater burden than obscurity.
            First and foremost, being a professional artist is about self-knowledge. Not egocentricity or narcissism but real self-knowledge. People who want to live by art need to know where they come from, who they are, what they know, how they know it, why it’s notable and what they need to do about it visually. This isn’t fixed knowledge; it’s constantly mutating knowledge, which means people need to reconsider their absolutes and their limitations and do something about them too.
            Secondly, it’s about obstinacy, endurance and courage, even by those who are insecure, self-effacing or docile in other contexts. Art cannot be ‘the other’ thing or the ‘when I have time’ thing, or the ‘sacrificial lamb’ thing. It is about not feeling guilty or self-indulgent, and it’s definitely about having a long-term commitment to it. It’s about learning, researching and endless self-critical practice. Long-term, means long-term, not just ‘later’, as in ‘when the kids grow up’, or ‘when I retire’; or ‘when my husband/wife/child is sleeping’, it means like any other job, regular concentrated hours. It also means from now to eternity, because that’s about how long it will take. Family has to know this, accept this, respect this and support it; everyone needs to embrace it and move on.
            Third, it’s not about fame and fortune though it would be nice if these were by-products of a committed and honest practice. Too many focus on these results but don’t have the patience or stick-to-it-ness to develop their technique or knowledge enough to live up to them. Some are clever or good self-promoters, they can force or sidle their way into ‘the milieu’ but they get trapped by their own ‘success’ and are either enslaved to granting agencies or become manufacturers of art commodities. 
           Others become so demoralized by their dependence on the whims of galleries and indifferent audiences, others yet get so depressed because they see their work gathering dust in every corner of their studios and homes, that they slowly abandon their practice. Those who stick to it despite it all work from their gut, they create from their conviction, from their unshakable faith that their images express their Truth.
Fourth, it is about focus. What is the aim of learning, of experimenting, of trying, even of achieving mastery? Express something, represent something, abstract something, record an impression of something. ‘Something’ means clarity, intent and purpose. That means having the technical skill and to be expressive as means to an end, for that’s what leads to the control of the imagery, which goes hand-in-hand with achieving one’s artistic intent.
Fifth, it’s about being able to conceptualize, communicate, contribute, compete and continue. Professional artists may create alone when they practice their art, but they become part of a continuity and a community when they practice their profession. Making ‘art’ images entails accepting a responsibility to all others who also made or make such images: one artist’s professionalism, or lack thereof, affects all others’ practice.
Also, the moment artists show their work even to one other person or take their images out of their studios they want something for it, anything from money to acclaim, from respect to support, from praise to criticism, from commission to representation, from competition to acceptance, from contact to relief, from provocation to impact They need the skills to make their art, but they also need to know what they’re willing and able to do for the art once it’s made and the skills to get the something they want for it.
Each level of professional practice has its demands. There are different but cumulative requirements that must be met as the artist’s profession progresses onward through the levels in all their permutations from private/amateur to local/emerging to regional/semi-professional to national/professional to international/renowned.  Artists need to know what level they hope to achieve, understand what is needed and do whatever it takes to achieve it.
Sixth, they need to create WITH something. Materials, tools and equipment also have a history; they are designed to achieve certain ends and allow for specific effects. Many retain their original qualities indefinitely if they are handled properly while others change and evolve and must be re-mastered continually. There are those that are dangerous if not handled with respect and expertise, over time maybe even causing serious health problems or even death. Some will be unforgiving, others will be cooperatively revolutionary if the artist knows how much push and pull beyond their expected properties they will tolerate, Artists must know their materials and tools at the highest level of their potential.
No one I’ve ever met makes art for nothing. Or, if the intent really were ‘just for me’ or ‘because I love it’, or ‘don’t care if it lasts’, or ‘it can mean anything”, or “I don’t need the money”, if anyone really didn’t want to deal with all the other aspects of “being an artist’, then he or she would made art and leave it somewhere secret for it to decompose and disappear. It would be, as they say in French, “Ni vu ni connu” (neither seen nor known).

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Uncharted Territory

Stay!– photo collage

I recently was part of a mentoring event in which I was one of many professionals who spoke to Bachelor, Masters and PhD students on the verge of graduating university into the cold cruel world of earning their own way. They were Arts and Sciences, and Visual Arts students, and to a person they were passionate about their fields and eager to get active in them.
One question that dampened the enthusiasm came up as we were talking about surmounting obstacles. It was this: “What if you come up to an obstacle and you realize you can’t surmount it, that you made the wrong choice in your career?”
There are things in life that a person may not overcome, not if the person’s limits of endurance, desire or intelligence are reached. There certainly are many forces that can work against us, that push us to those limits, things that deflect us from our paths or that lead us in the wrong direction. We all have to deal with them at some point in our lives, but are they ‘obstacles’? If it is an ‘obstacle’, to me it implies that it involves a choice, those other things don’t leave choices.
Ok, it is entirely possible that someone has taken the wrong path in his/her career choice. However, I find it hard to believe that the person would only realize that at the END of his/her time in university. Unless people were forced, slept or cheated their way through their BA, Masters or PhD years, by graduation they should have a pretty good idea that they are doing what is right for them. Still, I suppose the usual answer to the young man’s question, and the answer the students gathered seemed to expect, was, “Well, it’s never too late to change.” That is definitely true, but it seems counterproductive for people to give themselves a ticket out before even starting their careers. Which is why it’s not what I answered.
I said this:
In my experience, an obstacle is something that stands in your way that you need to overcome. Avoidance is futile, because, like the Borg’s mechanical parts (Star Trek: Next Generation), avoidance grafts itself onto your psyche and you assimilate it as part of your personality. Failure without effort, surrender without resistance, resignation without self-assertion, and self-justification all can become the modus operandi of your behaviour every time thereafter an obstacle impedes your way. And anyway, every avoidance makes the next confrontation or effort more difficult.
 An obstacle is only an obstacle because you want what you believe you’ll find beyond it. It challenges you to pit your ability, knowledge and skill against it, forcing you beyond your knowledge, courage or safety levels. If you can give up what’s behind it BECAUSE of this, then you should.
However, your finding an obstacle difficult, even impossible to surmount despite your best effort should not be a reason for you to give up but a signal to you that you’re not yet ready to tackle it. If you absolutely want what it denies you, your challenge is to figure out 1) what you are missing to be able to conquer it; 2) where and /to whom you need to go to get it and 3) to take the time to move your skill and knowledge to a new level. Take whatever time it takes to do or learn, get as many allies as you may need and then, try again.
I have learned that the old cliché is true, that real success is in the effort, in recognizing more needs to be done and doing it.
You’ve hit an apparently insurmountable obstacle. Stand back, pause a moment. Maybe it’s time to trot along it for a while. You’re always encouraged to think of your achievements as your strong points but maybe, at this moment, it’s your weaknesses that are strong. They are holding you back. Try this: examine your achievements as represented by your CV. Ask yourself what do you absolutely want? What do you absolutely need to get ‘it’? What is missing from your self-description? Be artistic: maybe doing something unrelated for awhile will give you new tools – if nothing else, it will expand your creativity.
Do all the preparatory work, from gaining skill and knowledge to imagining as many impediments as it is humanly possible to imagine and planning ways to deal with them. Then visualize what you will do the tiniest, Technicolor detail, to the nanosecond, and then go for it. At that point, the only real obstacle will be the people ready to tell you it won’t work or that you will fail.
At that point, if the naysayers have the power to cause you doubt, ask for an itemized, down to the last bolt and period reason why it won’t work or why they think you can’t do it. They may present convincing evidence, in which case you will be stronger and more skilled anyway to tackle the new thing you do. But, most of the time, you will discover that what they’re actually saying is that they failed at their attempt, learned avoidance and want to teach it to you too.
Remember: they cannot read your mind, know how well you’ve prepared nor visualize what you have worked so hard to. If they compete with you, they fear your success. If they love you, they fear for you who have little reason to fear for yourself, for by then you should not fear what you will attempt but respect it as something that is worthy of your effort. So stand by it and try, for at hat point, no matter what the outcome, you have already succeeded.

Friday 18 April 2014

Reading the Signs

Fortune Teller
photo collage

Reading the signs:

-        Art is not about ‘beauty’, it never really was, not even in the Renaissance: art is first and foremost a response to elements of life that must be expressed in ways which reveal their deepest meanings (for which words are inadequate) and their most profound impact (involving all the senses); sometimes, these can be called ‘beautiful’ in an aesthetic sense, the artist renders them as art, but they cannot be exclusively ‘beauty’ because sometimes they must perforce be ‘ugly’ to be ‘truth’, which makes them beautiful.

-        Artists do not always make art to ‘communicate’, and ‘concept’ does not always apply to social issues. Art has always been conceptual but ‘conceptual’ as an ‘ism’ is a contemporary (meaning of the late 20th, early 21st centuries) movement.

-        There isn’t one reading of a good work of art but layers of meaning moving deeper and deeper into engagement. The mind should be taken from subject to medium-technique–style to theme to concept and hopefully be inspired and moved.

For example:

Layer 1:            it’s a summer landscape with a train passing in the far distance;
Layer 2             it’s oil on 24”x 48” vertical panel rendered with bold, expressive brush strokes and overlaid with red glazes;
Layer 3:             the serenity of nature is barely disturbed by the train’s passage, but the tightness of the vertical orientation and the redness make it feel disturbing, unnatural;
Layer 4             the title of the piece puts the landscape and the train in Poland during the Second World War.

Layer 1:            It’s a trio of colour bands running vertically;
Layer 2:            it is done in layers of multi-coloured oils on canvas to a monumental scale;
Layer 3:            the interplay of colours within each band and the relationship of the bands to each other create a sense of movement laterally despite the vertical orientation of the composition;
Layer 4            this creates balance even as it challenges it.

Over the Christmas holidays one year in the mid eighties, I was a gallery sitter for The Walter Phillips Gallery, a Banff Centre contemporary gallery. Guests and centre participants had mostly left for the holidays, but some stayed on for conferences or to go skiing in neighbouring resorts, and so the gallery didn’t close. Banff National Park is a gorgeous place, nestled as it is in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, it was no strain for me to stay put on the Banff Centre campus and sit with some incredible art for a few hours every day.
One day, a group of about six men wandered into he building while exploring the campus grounds. I understood from their conversation that they were attending a conference. They walked to my desk in the hallway outside the gallery proper and asked, “What is this place?” so I explained that they were welcome to visit the gallery but that the art studios beyond, mostly painting, photography, printmaking, fibre and ceramics, were closed until the artists returned. Curious, they entered the gallery through its double doors and I lost sight of them briefly.
The Walter Phillips gallery was at the time – and probably still is - a vast, open space that could accommodate large installations. On that occasion, the work on display, and I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the artist’s name (and I couldn’t find it listed on the Banff archives site), was a group of metal sculptures, an eye, an ear, a mouth, a nose, each at least twice the height of an average man, arranged in the centre of the space, with seemingly unrelated, mural-sized photographs hung on the walls depicting crowds of people engaged in a variety of human political and social activities. The impact was stunning: these sensory organs, though gigantic, were unconnected to a central nervous system, to a brain that would allow them to really ‘see’, hear’, ‘smell’ and ‘taste’ the human scenes being depicted in the photographs. I read the work as an indictment of humanity’s indifference to or lack of insight about even its most obvious actions.
Imagine my shock and surprise when the six men, after maybe three minutes in the space, came charging out at me in a rage to announce, “This isn’t art, it’s GARBAGE!”
I am a tolerant person. I am an educator, after all. I have taught difficult subjects to resistant, even incredulous students for most of my long (I’m exhausted!) teaching career. I am also an artist, I know people have different aesthetics, different ideas about meaning, even disagreements about what is art and what is ‘decoration’.  However, for a group of adults, men, attending a conference about what could only be an important subject to them to spend less that a few minutes in an art gallery and then condemn the art therein with such authority could not be borne. What a glaring illustration of the very thing the exhibition was about! I could not let it be.
“Come back into the gallery and I will prove you wrong,” I said, a counter challenge.
They were not happy but they’d thrown down the glove and I’d picked it up. They had to follow me back into the gallery.
I spoke for maybe five minutes, walking them through the exhibit and putting what I saw and felt into words, and then we spent the next hour at least going around the objects or sitting among them on the floor while the men made their own comments, asked questions, and exchanged ideas, each more engaged and insightful than the last. As they talked they concluded they hadn’t really hated the work, they had simply responded instinctively to its impact and ASSUMED they’d not understood it. They’d experienced the anxiety the installation created as if it were a personal attack.
I suggested they read the gallery’s texts about the work to see if their responses had anything in common with the artist’s or curator’s comments. “Good art shouldn’t need so much explanation,” one of the men said.
“You know, in the Renaissance, people had to know Bible stories, as well as Greek and Roman mythologies, to understand the art they saw. All the work was coded symbolically, people had to know how to ‘read’ them to really understand them.You may think it's 'good' or 'masterful' art because you've been exposed to those codes and symbols, even if unconsciously, all your life.  So this business of ‘art speak’ isn’t new. The only difference is in the types of stories being depicted today, which need new types of codes and symbols. The gallery texts serve to provide a context for them.” So the men spent the next while reading the texts and discussing them. Once they got over the language, they realized they had understood the work pretty well.
As they headed out, one of the men told me, “You know, in hockey, you don’t stop to analyze a play during a game, you respond in kind, or more aggressively.”
“But you don’t walk out in the middle of the game!” I said. “Artists today are challenging you after all. The difference is time, in the pacing and rhythm of the interaction, in the pause rather than in the speed of the play. The game in an art gallery is more like the pre-game strategising.” I said, “Isn’t the real challenge in a hockey game understanding the ice, knowing how the stick responds and what the puck may do and anticipating what the challenger usually does in different plays before hitting the ice?”
When the men left the gallery, they told me, “This is the best exhibition!” I could not have been happier.
The content of the exchanges may be different, but every time visitors to the gallery I curate today have taken the time to engage with the work, even if it’s through a guided tour, a conversation with gallery staff or other guests, or by reading the written material, they have had a meaningful experience. They haven’t liked everything they’ve seen, or agreed with everything they’ve read, and that is very good. As I said earlier, not all art is about ‘beauty’.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

The Marketplace

 photo collage

An artist recently forwarded to me a copy of a contract a gallery had sent her to sign. Unsolicited, the gallery had contacted her with high praise for her work and an offer to represent her. The contact it expected her to sign was seven pages long. In my opinion, it was a ridiculously vague and one-sided contract to the benefit of the gallery that she could not sign without extreme prejudice to herself.
Galleries and dealers have to know the artists they take on are reliable, consistent and proficient, and that they will integrate beneficially into the gallery’s mission or mandate. Artists that cannot honour commitments, whose inspiration hits without regard for exhibition requirements, or who behave like a spoiled children are not the kind who will help the gallery attain or maintain a good reputation. The contract helps scare those away, or if they enter into the agreement, contracts give the gallery leverage in the negotiations.
A good contract, however, doesn’t just protect the gallery or dealer. An artist should never sign any contract that does not outline BOTH parties’ responsibilities and commitments IN EVERY DETAIL. I have known artists whose galleries have sold their work then billed them for so many hidden or related ‘services’ that the artist’s portion of the sale was less than 10% despite the original 50-50 agreement.
Here are some questions artists should ask and clarify BEFORE signing a contract with a gallery or dealer and then make sure they are dealt with clearly and bindingly in the contract:

What is the gallery’s mandate or mission?
What are the gallery owner’s, or dealer’s or curator’s qualifications and expertise?
What is the gallery’s role, the artist’s?
Is there a hanging fee? A wall fee? A gallery fee?
What is the commission on sales?  On commissions?
What services does the gallery provide for its sales percentage?
For which services does the gallery bill the artist? What are the exact costs involved for each service (ie framing)? Are any shared by the gallery?
Is the contract exclusive?
If not, what are the expectations relative to sales through or exhibitions in other venues?
If so, what does the gallery guarantee contractually?
How many solo shows will the artist have and how often?
How many works will be expected for a solo?
How many group shows will there be?  How many works?
Will there be off-site shows? What kind and how often? National or international shows?
What kind of promotion will be done for solos? For groups?
Does the gallery pay for any part of the work’s packaging its transport and storage, its insurance in transit to or from and on the gallery’s premises?
How and when are the works to be delivered to the gallery?  Is the artist given an itemized, descriptive receipt for the work?
Is there qualified staff on site to handle it? Who packs it up?
How and when are the works to be returned to the artist?
What happens to the work when it is not on display? Where and how is it stored? Is it shown to clients? How long is it kept in storage?
How long after an exhibition or the return of the work to the artist does the gallery retain the right to its commission?
Is the gallery’s commission different if a gallery client sees a work in the artist’s studio that was never exhibited in the gallery?
The artist will not pay a commission on works never exhibited in the gallery and sold to clients who had no contact at all with the gallery.
Who hangs the show, does the lighting, the nametags, who handles the sales?
Who handles the opening reception? What is served? Who pays for it?
Is there a catalogue? Who writes the articles? Takes the photographs? Does the layout? Is there an invitation card? Pays for the printing?
What kinds of documents are required from the artist? When and how are they to be delivered?
How and when is the artist paid for a sale?
Does the gallery negotiate the price with the buyer and if so does the artist have to agree to discounts?
Who delivers the work to the client?
Is there a return policy for works?
Does the gallery ‘lend’ works on spec? Does it rent them?
Are there costs involved with promotion (invitation cards, articles, magazine spreads, etc.) or advertising (ads, posters, TV spots, etc.)?
Does the gallery have a mailing list? Does the artist have to provide a mailing list?
Who pays for the mailing of the invitation or who handles the e-mailing?
Is there staff on site during opening hours? What is their training and expertise?
What security does the gallery have?
How does the gallery use the artist’s images post exhibition? Does it obtain the artist’s permission every time, and send the artist a copy? (i.e. of magazine ads or articles)
Does the gallery expect to sell online? How is this handled since the copyright of the works remains the property f the artist?
Does the gallery expect to be able to reproduce the images in any format? For what purpose? Is the artist notified every time? How is the artist compensated?
When does the contract terminate?
What conditions are there for the artist’s withdrawal? The gallery’s?
Is the contract between artist and individual or artist and gallery? In either case, is the artist’s succession bound by the contract or can the contract die with the artist? What conditions apply to the succession? Can the artist’s executor re-negotiate the contract or enter into a new one with the gallery or individual?

These are some concerns that need to be addressed, answers to questions may bring up others.. It is not recommended that an artist sign a contract or send work to a gallery without going to the space and meeting the dealer, curator and staff in person. If this is impossible, it is advisable that friends or family visit the space and report back on such things as how they were treated by staff, how knowledgeable were the staff about the artist and art on display, how was the work displayed and lit, what was the documentation that accompanied the exhibition? If that is impossible, other fact-finding methods are: tracking the gallery’s activities on-line;  talking to artists who are dealing or have dealt with the gallery or dealer; or contacting the local business bureaus to ascertain the legal status of the gallery and its reputation in the community.
Artists pay hefty percentages for the privilege to give their works to others to handle for them; they must protect the works and themselves, just as the gallery must protect itself. The gallery has no hesitation in asking artists for details or their training, for examples of their work, for their CVs, their statements, and any press or critical coverage, why should artists not ask gallery owners, dealers and even sales staff to show their CVs and prove THEIR reputation and qualifications as well?

Thursday 10 April 2014

Tour Guide Notes 2

Building Home 
photo collage

            If artists are confident in their work, preparing dossiers should be a rewarding, even if demanding, experience. Done with attention and deliberation, the preparation becomes a valuable self-critical exercise that can reveal new ideas or clarify what must be revealed in documents.
            Done properly, that’s the key, usually not only once during an artistic career but at regular intervals, following the requirements for specific submissions, or for each exhibition of new work.
Dossiers are made up of a selection of documents depending on their use and their intended readers. Usually, venues will be very clear about what they require in submissions. Artists who wish to be considered professional must honor those requirements to the letter.

The Letter of Intent or Cover Letter addresses the intended readers directly and
1.              Introduces the artist generally
2.              Lays out the reasons why the dossier is being presented
3.              Lists the accompanying documents
4.              Provides contact information

The Artist’s Biography answers these types of questions to introduce the artist and the work within a socio-cultural context
1.              Who is the artist as a person?
2.              What triggered the interest in the visual arts, what have been the influences since?
3.              How did the artist come to the medium or media and go about gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to do the work?
4.              What has been the evolution of the process and the thinking?
The Artist’s Statement achieves various goals whether the work is dealt with individually, as a series or as a body of work,
1.              It defines the work in physical terms.
2.              It identifies the subject matter and style
3.              It identifies the main function of symbols and reveals the driving themes of the work
4.              It aligns the work aesthetically with others either from history or from the artist’s contemporaries or both
5.              It underlines the concepts being developed and the artist’s immediate or long-term goals (depending on the purpose of the dossier)
It must be well-written (no typos or spelling mistakes), must use language you are comfortable with and understand (art speak is counterproductive if you don’t think naturally in those words or terms), it must establish your understanding of your own motivations, themes and processes

The Portfolio, whether actual or virtual, can vary in length depending on the intent of the dossier. An artist’s professional portfolio usually includes 20 high qualitys images that illustrate the Statement, all numbered and titled. Give examples of:
1.              The man medium, technique and subject
2.              The principal thematic, approach and style
3.              The most recent work (past 5 years) or
If a general portfolio, the best work produced to date; or
If for an exhibition soon: works available immediately or
The type of work being proposed for a later exhibition but not yet created

The Descriptive List of Works provides technical information about the images in the Portfolio. In the same sequence provide:
1.              Title
2.              Year (optional)
3.              If part of a series, sequence
4.              Dimensions unframed and framed (if applicable) as follows: Height, width, depth in inches and centimeters
5.              Ground and medium or media
6.       Price (pre and post venue commission) or value (for insurance purposes)

The Budget is for those dossiers sent to granting agencies or for specific creation projects, and sometimes for residencies and exchanges. It must show a clear control of expenses and a cover-the-bases preparedness. Include such things as
1.              Cost of materials
2.              Installation and assembly costs
3.              Artist’s salary (and of any other participants)
4.              Transport and storage costs
5.              Displacement costs (travel, accommodation, etc.)

The Curriculum Vitae or CV is the list, usually from the most recent back to about ten years, of the artist’s major professional achievements. The information on it can be verified or proven on demand. Of particular importance: are exhibitions and activities in ‘peer assessment’ (juried or with prizes) situations, and preferably in galleries, art centers or artist-run spaces with curators or selection committees
1.              Solo exhibitions
2.              Regional and National group exhibitions and/or important local exhibitions
3.              International Exhibitions
4.              Grants
5.              Prizes or mentions
6.              Public or corporate collections
7.              Art education
8.              Professional development activities
9.              Service on juries, committees, and other art community-supporting activities
10.           Articles or critiques you’ve written in the field and had published
11.           Teaching experience
12.           Service on boards or committees

The Critical, Press or Media Coverage. Here you include copies of all documents that show there was public or critical response to your work or to your exhibitions.
1.             Critical reviews exhibitions in newspapers or professional magazines
2.             Published articles about you, your process or community involvement
3.             Letters of recommendation or appraisal by someone with authority in the profession
4.             Any other public notice EXCEPT events listings or paid ads

The SASE or Self-Addressed-Stamped Envelope is for the return of hard copies, CDs and other actual documentation. Artists who do not include one inadvertently indicate their dossier is not worth recuperating. Artists picking up their dossiers in person are not necessarily welcome, especially if they have been rejected.

Enjoy the process of creating and maintaining your dossier. The time you devote to it could be the best investment you make in yourself and your work once it leaves your studio.