creative process

When a Project Finds You...

In my experience as an artist, I have found that sometimes I have quite consciously looked for, chosen, and worked on a project. At other times, a project has found me. This happened to me earlier this year when I spent two months cleaning out the house that my parents had lived in for nearly 70 years.

One morning, I walked through the dining room and saw the shadow of a chair being cast against a door. What I registered was how empty that chair-shadow looked, and it made me think of how the family would never again sit around that table to share a meal in that house. I took a picture of it... just because it seemed important to.

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The next day, the sun streamed through the bathroom window. After showering, I opened the door and saw that my silhouette was being cast onto the opposite wall. I remembered the photograph of the chair I had taken the previous day, and suddenly realized that these shadows perfectly summed up what I was experiencing at that time: loss, the fugitive nature of time and memory, emptiness.

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I realized that these pictures could speak for me at a time when words were simply inadequate, and kept taking them for the next two months until I left the house for the last time. I'm now sifting through the more than 3,000 images that I took, still amazed at how suddenly this project emerged, and how it found me when I wasn't even looking.

Memorable Quotes- Sting

Whenever creative people talk about their medium, whether it be writing, dance, painting, sculpture, ceramics, music, film, etc., they always speak for artists in other mediums. This is because creative concerns and methods are essentially universal to all artists, regardless of medium. I read an interview with Sting recently in which he talked about his creative process. Substitute the word "photography" for "music", and this thought is equally relevant:

"Music is like a sea without a horizon and without a reason for being. Making music is a wonderful adventure without borders - exactly like love. You never get to the bottom of the person you love. The closer you get, the more you understand about how little you know of them. That means that there is a lot of work yet to be done."

Exactly.

Memorable Quotes- Jerry Uelsmann & Duane Michals

There are a many thoughtful photographers out there who speak eloquently about their work and photography in general, but few are as inspiring as Jerry Uelsmann and Duane Michals. (I could list more, like Kip Fulbeck, for instance, but will limit myself for now.) Last month I attended the Society for Photographic Education's national conference, where 82-year old Uelsmann was a featured speaker. Here are a few of the more memorable things he said:

"I asked an historian, "What IS history?", and he answered, "History amounts to those things that you choose to remember."

"The camera is a license to explore."

"The viewer always completes the image."

"Art is one of those areas where there is more than one right answer."

"Once you think you know everything, the questioning stops."

And perhaps my favorite: "I don't want this presentation to be a snore-fest with yawn-sauce on the side."

Michals, who is now 85, was equally entertaining and challenging when I heard him speak at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2000. Here are some of his most memorable lines:

"Do not try to be perfect, please. Perfect is boring. Your humanity lies in your vulnerability."

"Pay attention to your mind. You put crap in your mind, you get crap in your life. You put good things in your mind, you get good things in your life."

"I think about thinking."

"Don't come crying to me because nothing happened. Nothing happened because you didn't make it happen."

"You have 2 choices in life: doing and bullshit. Don't tell me what you are going to do. Show me what you have done."

"Guess when you were born? You were born now."

When golfer Arnold Palmer died in 2016, it was written of him, "People loved him because, in a world of sullen superstars, Palmer radiated joy and delight in the treasures of his life... He had a wonderful time being Arnold Palmer and squeezed every drop of juice from the experience." The same can be said about Uelsmann and Michals, both giants of 20th century photography.

The Challenge of Titling Artwork

Giving titles to artwork is a challenging but rewarding part of the creative process. Although I am sure that there are many artists out there who have no problem coming up with titles, there are many others for whom it is a difficult or thankless task. I've talked with artists who hate assigning titles, and often default to "Untitled No. XXX" for their work. This is, of course, an option, but one that can work against an artist in certain respects. First, it can make it challenging to figure out which piece a potential buyer or curator is talking about unless you are an artist who has a great inventory system that allows for quickly finding your artwork in your archives. The longer you make art, the harder it may be to identify and find an untitled piece without a detailed and up-to-date inventory database. (I'm speaking from personal experience here.) Second, it can turn off certain viewers and buyers who welcome titles, as they can add meaning or provide insight into the work.

It is this value-added aspect of titling artwork that makes me work hard at coming up with an effective title. Titling forces me to engage with my art in a different way than when I am making technical or aesthetic decisions about it. I title all the artwork that I exhibit, making sure to title each body of work, as well as each piece within a series.

Sometimes titling is really hard. This was the case for the overall title of the body of work that became "Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered". I agonized over what the title should be, making long lists of potential titles, all of which were lame or awful. It wasn't until I was passing by one of my bookcases and my eye fell on a Chieftains CD titled "Tears of Stone" that I had a eureka moment. Conversely, sometimes titling is drop-dead easy. This was the case with each image in the "Tears of Stone" series.  Rather than give the pictures metaphorical titles, I knew that many viewers would be very interested in the type of place and the location at which each shot was taken. The location would further indicate the scope of the war's impact the nations that fought in it. Here's an example:

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On the other hand, sometimes metaphorical titles can be very effective. Here's an example from "The Primitive Streak" series that functions both literally and metaphorically, and which depicts my nieces as they neared the end of their childhood:

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How do you come up with a great title for a piece of art? For me, it varies. Sometimes it comes from an external source like a discussion I have with a friend, a line in a book, newspaper, poem or song, or from listening to a podcast, as happened with the two series "The Wind Telephone" (This American Life) and "The Primitive Streak" (Radiolab). Sometimes a title is suggested by the artwork itself as I work on it. Using a thesaurus can be enormously helpful. I now keep an ongoing list of potential titles, knowing that I may never create a piece that matches up to one of those titles.

The main criteria I use for judging whether a title is effective or notis, "Does it add something to the experience of looking at the art without explaining too much?"

There really isn't one defining formula for creating successful titles for your artwork. Here are three different blogs that make excellent suggestions:

http://www.nicholaswilton.com/2014/08/06/how-to-title-your-art-so-it-sells/

https://renee-phillips.com/think-titles-art-matter/

How to Find the Perfect Title for Art

The Thread in the River- Installing the Show

To say that I have been buried in the preparations for this show the past few months is to make a gross understatement. The pace has been non-stop, but it has all come together without any last-minute disasters, which is a miracle. I went down to the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery today to help with the layout of the work as it is installed. Since virtually none of this work has ever been exhibited before, I am beyond nervous as to the impact it will have once it is all up.

Installing "The Thread in the River" exhibition at the Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, OH

The show consists of 6 different bodies of work. Will all of those series make sense when seen together in the same space? Does the order and presentation of the work help the viewer make sense of it? Is it a problem that 2 of the series are in color and 4 are in black & white? Or that two series are presented as videos and 4 consist of still images? Does anything need rethinking for future exhibitions? What's missing that could make it stronger?

Initial installation of "The Wind Telephone" series at the Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, OH

Only about half of the work was up today, and none of the labels were done, so it was hard for me to answer those questions. I'm going back tomorrow to look things over again, and might get a better sense of it then.

External Factors in the Perception of Artwork

I have written a number of posts about how the presentation of artwork can affect the viewer's perception of that art. The other day I ran across a fantastic video that speaks to the same issue as it relates to food. "Tasteology" is a series of four videos that address the issue of why food tastes the way it does. The first three episodes focus on the source of the raw ingredients, how they are prepared, and how they are stored. The final episode, found below, examines how the presentation and environment in which food is eaten affects our perception of its flavor and textures. From the room and the plating to the ambient sounds and lighting, this video speaks to an issue that all artists should think more about when considering how to present their work. I loved it! [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDsifeDf-c[/embed]

Acknowledging Influence in Your Art

Teju Cole is a photographer, author, teacher, art historian, and critic. He is one of today's  most complex, thoughtful and articulate critics of photography, and I always enjoy the articles he writes for the New York Times Magazine.  They are hugely thought-provoking. He recently published a book, Known and Strange Things, which was reviewed by Claudia Rankine in the Sunday New York Times Book Review in August. In the review, Rankine refers to a section in which Cole has a conversation with writer and critic Aleksandar Hemon. Rankin writes: "Hemon is ... interested in what happens when influences are constantly shaping and reshaping the imagination. For Cole, visual artists, especially painters, are least affected by that anxiety of influence and “know that everything is a combination of what’s observed, what’s imagined, what’s overheard and what’s been done before.” He argues that to acknowledge influence is to let go of notions of “literal records of reality” and cultural or racial ownership of content. All Cole wants is to be “dragged down into a space of narrative that I haven’t been in before.”"

I love that Cole embraces the notion of artists being influenced by external forces. I know so many artists who shy away from, if not openly fear, the idea that their work might be influenced by someone or something else. Young artists in particular, but older artists, too, often want their work to be born only from themselves. They actively refuse to read about others, to go to museums, to expose themselves to anything outside of the narrow parameters of their own lives as they have lived them to date.

It is deluded to think that we can go through this life not being influenced by something other than ourselves. We don't live in a vacuum, even when we try to. I don't think it matters what our influences are as artists. What matters far more is what we do with the influences we have. Do we take that information and create something unique out of it? Or do we use it to rehash what others have already said and done before? I think that the prospect of the latter is what makes people fearful. But if you use that which influences you to create something fresh and new, something that makes people like Cole sit up, pay attention, and say "I haven't seen that before.", then there is no reason to fear your influences.

Reliving Cultural Moments That Change Your Life

In 2015, the New York Times ran a series of articles written by a variety of people that addressed the following question: "What cultural work or encounter do you wish you could experience again for the first time?"

The authors wrote about concerts, books and films that had had a profound impact on them, each of which they wished they could experience again for the first time. For me, there have been two such cultural experiences, one of which I blogged about in 2014:

[embed]http://janealdenstevens.com/?p=1382[/embed]

The other experience took place during a visit to New York City in the mid-1970’s. I decided one day to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in order to see in person some of the artworks that I had studied in art history classes in college. I had no particular agenda for this visit, no works that I specifically wanted to see. After having taken in the art on the first two floors, I started up the flight of stairs that would take me to the next level. Doing so meant going up a short flight of stairs, turning 90˚ to the right, ascending another short flight, then turning another 90˚ to take the final steps up to the third floor. As I ascended that last section, I became aware that a large painting was coming into view with each step I climbed. It was enormous, it was black and white, it was riveting.

It was Picasso's “Guernica”.guernica_all-1

Although I had seen this painting in reproduction many times before, I was stunned when encountering it in person. It is one thing to see a photograph of an artwork in a book, or as a projection or screen image, and quite another to experience it in real life. Nothing had prepared me for the violence, the authority, the command of this painting.

I stood there at the top of the stairs, unable to move, not knowing where to begin or even what to think. It was as if all thought had been stripped from my brain, leaving a blank slate behind. I can’t say exactly how long I stayed there examining and thinking about the painting, but I do know that it was a good long time. I left MOMA without having looked at anything else.

I was aware that "Guernica" was going to be sent back to Spain eventually (it was, in 1981), and that this was probably the only time that I would be able to see it in person. So I drank it in while I could, all the while wondering how a painting could evoke such a visceral response in me.

Looking back, I understand that my reaction arose from a combination of things: the way the painting came slowly into view as I ascended the stairs, the powerful content of it, the fact that it was in black, gray & white, the abstract method used to paint it, the relationship of the figures to each other, and my total lack of expectation about what I was going to see as I climbed those steps.

I think of that day often, as it was the first time that I realized how potent and personal art could be, and wish I could see "Guernica" for the first time again.

Thoughts on Beauty

I have been invited to participate in The Anna May Project, [embed]http://theannamayproject.com/[/embed]

an educational "visual storytelling project that helps women and girls learn to shape and tell their own stories." The Anna May Project was founded by Amy Whitaker, who brings years of executive leadership experience plus degrees in Fine Arts and Art Education to the table. She seeks to empower women and girls to find their own truths and inner strength through the use of photography and visual storytelling.

Some of my photographs will appear in the first edition of Riptide Magazine, being published by The Anna May Project in January 2017. In the meantime, Amy asked me to compose a short essay on "beauty", which will be the focus of that issue of the magazine. Doing so was an interesting exercise, as I never had written anything on that topic before, and I was limited to 200 words. After finishing, I realized that beauty is a topic about which I have very strong feelings, particularly because it runs counter to so much that is valued in today's art world. Here is what I wrote:

"Beauty is strength, resiliency, and conviction. Because I am drawn to these qualities, beauty often finds its way into my work.

Beauty emerges from a combination of elements—the setting, the light, the ambient sounds and smells, the way people move—in the way these elements interact and connect with each other. I thus can find beauty in any setting and in people of all ages, because it is not just about how things look.

Making a picture that speaks to my definition of beauty is never a specific goal; rather, it is a byproduct of how I see and experience the world and what I want to say about it through my photographs.

In today’s art world, beauty is something that is scorned by many. Back in 1981 when I staged my Masters of Fine Arts thesis exhibit, "Dancing on a Wall", a mentor wrote, “(Your photographs are) … an expression of a vital ingredient of creation—the artist’s delight and love for a much maligned, old-fashioned, but everlastingly satisfying component of much of art—beauty.”

He further advised me to never apologize for that, and indeed, to embrace it as part of my creative self—and I always have."

Learning to stand up for who I truly am as a person and artist was one of the most important lessons I ever learned from that beloved mentor, Charles A. Arnold, Jr., known by all as Charlie. Although he is gone now, his lessons resonate and guide me every day of my life.

Taking Risks in Your Artwork

Different people have different thresholds for risk-taking. Some find it easy to dive off a cliff into the unknown, while others hesitate before diving, and still others never take the leap. But there is a lot of truth in the axiom: "No risk, no reward". David Bowie makes the case for taking risks with one's artwork in this brief interview:

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNbnef_eXBM[/embed]

Someone said to me once that if you are willing to jump off the creative cliff into the unknown, you will spend some time in free-fall, terrified at what you have just done, certain that you will crash and burn. But it's important to remember that you will probably sprout some wings on the way down, which will ease your passage and provide you with a successful  landing. This has proven to be true for me most of the times when I have taken the greatest risks in my work.

I have recently started photographing people in silhouette, something I have never done before. It requires using the camera settings in a very different way than I am used to, and assessing the scene in front of me completely differently, too. It's aggravating, scary, and exciting all at once. I am impatient to get great results right away, which almost never happens when I start something new. That lack of immediate success increases my level of frustration. But working this way has pushed me out of a comfort zone that I hadn't even known I was in. And something new will come out of it that I otherwise would never have done.

Taking risks + being uncomfortable = Totally worth it

Piezography Workshop for Black & White Printing

My current project, titled The Thread in the River, is a mix of photographic media: film, digital, and video. I am creating a number of series, some of which are going to be printed in black and white. My Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered project was printed with  Piezography software and inks back in the early '00's, so I knew that that is the method that I want to print this new b&w work with. But a lot has changed since then and I knew that I needed a total reboot. So I signed up for one of the New Piezography Workshops at Cone Editions Press in East Topsham, Vermont, and traveled there last month for it. With participants from China, Japan, Canada and the US, it was a truly international experience. Throughout the workshop, Jon ConeWalker Blackwell, and Dana Hillesland each filled us in on different aspects of the process, including information about how to prepare image files, how the software works, printer setup and maintenance, and far, far more. We were able to print on a large assortment of papers using 5 different inksets. They did a lot of one-on-one work with each of us, as we all had come there with different needs and agendas.IMG_3408

In addition, I got to see Cathy Cone's photographic work, which is gorgeous and evocative. At the end of the last day, we spent some time at the waterfall nearby, then walked back to share wine, beer, and stories. It was a beautiful summer day and a fitting end to a fantastic experience, surrounded by people for whom craft is important. For anyone who is serious about fine digital black & white printing, Piezography is the way to go.

Photograph by Cathy Cone

Making Connections Between Music and Visual Art

I had coffee recently with cello-player-extraordinaire Nat Chaitkin. Nat plays cello everywhere in Cincinnati, it seems- with the Cincinnati Symphony, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and through his music advocacy program, Bach and Boombox, all over the city. Those facts do not begin to do him or his playing justice, though. Nat wants to change the way people experience and perceive classical music, and everything he does is geared towards breaking down the walls between musicians and audience. He tells his students to find the story in the music they are playing, for all music tells some kind of story. Figuring out what the story is requires imagining something that becomes visual. Conjuring up something visual, even if the story is only seen in the mind's eye, is something that visual artists can relate to.

Nat told me about an experience he had had at one of Cincinnati's street festivals with a woman who has synesthesia. Her form of this condition is such that when she hears music, she sees colors that change as the notes change. Nat ended up playing music in different keys, while she drew what she was "seeing" on the pavement with colored chalk. It is just one example of how music and visual art connect.

Here is Nat's full blog post about the encounter:

[embed]http://bachandboombox.com/your-experience-may-vary/[/embed]

Most photographers don't consciously think about how the sounds that exist in the environment in which they are photographing might affect what and how they photograph. This is too bad, because of course the sounds (and smells and tactile qualities) that surround us affect our experience of that environment, and thus affect the kind of art we make from it.

Nat's experience is a reminder that visual artists should try to remain aware of all of our senses as we create our work, and not just rely on our eyes or our brains.

Portraits, Self-Portraits, Cindy Sherman & Aging (Part 2)

My last post was inspired by a recent New York Times article about Cindy Sherman's  latest body of work. In it, she presents herself in the style of old Hollywood screen goddesses who are past their prime. Rather than looking sadly like they are trying to still look like their younger selves, the women that Sherman portrays have a certain dignity to them. They look like they are older. They look like they have lived a life. Photograph by Cindy Sherman

Sherman states that this work, which came after a 5-year hiatus, was the result of she herself getting older and trying to come to terms with it. She says, “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman.” And apparently she is using this new series to try to figure it out.

Sherman is now 62, an age which for many is an in-between state — not quite still middle-aged, but not yet old-old. As author Gerald Marzaroti recently wrote of people that age: "You are milling in the anteroom of the aged." The fact that Sherman is professing that this series of pictures is more autobiographically based than her prior work is really interesting to me, as is the fact that her age is a driving force in making it.

Numerous photographers have used aging as a foundation for their work- Anne Noggle  and Lucy Hilmer are two who leap immediately to mind—and I, too, find myself very consciously exploring it in my own work at the moment.

I have always been interested in the process and effects of aging. For the “Shadowing the Gene Pool” series, I photographed young children and very old adults, marveling in their similarities and differences. I did the same in the “Birth & Death” series. In my current work, I am looking at my own body, how I am aging, what I think about it, and how I see myself as I age, in addition to looking at how others age. While it is not the only issue that my new work tackles, it is a big part of it.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column back in March that speaks to how being older can enrich one’s work. Here is an excerpt:

“…(People are) less likely by middle age to be blinded by ego, more likely to know what it is they actually desire, more likely to get out of their own way, and maybe a little less likely…to care about what other people think.

…They achieve a kind of tranquility, not because they’ve decided to do nothing, but because they’ve achieved focus and purity of will. They have enough self-confidence, and impatience, to say no to some things so they can say yes to others.

From this perspective, middle age is kind of inspiring. Many of life’s possibilities are now closed, but limitation is often liberating. The remaining possibilities can be seized more bravely, and lived more deeply.”

Portraits, Self-Portraits, Cindy Sherman & Aging (Part 1)

The New York Times recently  published an article on photographer Cindy Sherman that focused on her most recent work, which is being exhibited for the first time in New York City this month. Throughout her 40-year career, Sherman has made photographs using herself as a model. At the time that her "Film Stills" series was catapulting her to fame, she stated that these portraits were not “about” her. By this she meant that they did not contain any autobiographical content, and that the viewer should not expect to understand anything about her as a private individual by looking at the pictures. Up to now, she has always maintained that stance about all of her work.

But the New York Times article raised my eyebrows when I read the lines, "...she is now willing to see aspects of herself even in her early photos."

This shift is significant, and I’m sure will lead to much discussion among critics, art historians, and students of her work. Sherman herself attributes this change in her own assessment of her past work to the fact that she is now older (62, to be specific) and looks back at that work from a different perspective than she had when she was younger.

This makes sense to me. As we age, there is often a natural evolution in how we see ourselves. We look back at our own history and ask ourselves, “How could I have been so naïve/courageous/stupid/bold? Why did I do that? Why didn’t I do that? What was I thinking?!” and myriad other questions.

In the case of art, one of the most valuable actions I have taken in recent years has been to look back through my archives every once in a while and try to understand my older work in a new way. With the passage of time, new life experiences help me to understand my younger creative self better, and in different ways that were invisible to me before. I’m glad that I have kept a lot of my early work so I can study it in this way.

I would encourage any artist to do so. If you don’t have the space to keep a lot of original artwork, then keep what is most important/significant to you and digitize as much of the rest of it as you can. Looking at digital reproductions of your artwork is not even close to being the same as looking at the originals, but it is the next best thing, and certainly better than nothing. In this way, you can haul out as much or as little of your past creative history as you want, whenever you want, and learn from yourself about yourself.

The older you get and the more you have to look back on, the more threads you will find that connect the various bodies of work that you have done and the better you will understand your creative voice as it has evolved.

Work-Life Balance for Artists

Work-life-art balance - Is there such a thing?! My answer to that is: There can be, but it is a constant struggle to maintain it, and there are plenty of times when it is impossible. At least, that is my experience.

There are so many factors that one has to deal with in life: Work demands, personal relationships with partners/kids/family/friends, physical and mental health issues, financial pressures... I could go on and on. These factors will vary for everyone and change over time. For example, for the first 14 years of my career as an artist-educator, children were not part of my life. I found the work-life-art balance challenging enough, but then I had twins and everything changed.

Back in 2004, an interviewer asked me to describe a typical day in my life and this is what I said:

5:30am- Wake up, answer e-mails for 30 minutes, exercise briefly, eat breakfast, shower, start a load of laundry.

7am- While my hands are engaged in making lunch for my kids, my mind is scanning the entire day to come so that I don't forget anything. Good luck with that! It's also my turn to take the kids to school.

8:30am-12:30pm- In my studio wrapping up the pre-production activities for a book of my photographs that is being published in a few months. I’m on the phone with the designer, the copy editor, and the translators setting up the final round of proofreading. I’m also getting together a copyright application and an exhibition application. This means preparing digital files of the photos, filling out paperwork, labeling, addressing….

12:30pm- Work-related meetings.

2-4:20pm- Teach a class of graduate and advanced photography students.

5:30pm- Family time with spouse and kids. Includes making, eating, and cleaning up after dinner, and getting the kids to bed.

8:20pm- Grade student projects, prepare for upcoming classes, answer e-mails, and do some committee work.

10:30pm- The siren song of sleep is calling my name.

As you can see, my days were jam-packed full, with hardly any down time. But the above example also illustrates my first piece of advice for artists who are struggling to find time to make art amid the chaos of life and the demands of your job: Schedule regular time for art-related activities and make that time inviolate. Whether you spend that time on making art or preparing grant applications, etc., doesn't matter. What does matter is that the only way that you will find time to have art in your life is to make it a priority.

For me, that meant scheduling it- just like a doctor's appointment. If I scheduled time for my creative life and treated it like I did an important doctor's appointment, then I wasn't going to end up giving that time away. I ended up carving out a grand total of 8 hours per week for my art. Twice a week, 4 hours each time. Which, as any artist knows, is grossly inadequate. But it was enough to keep me going, to keep my hand in it. And because my time dedicated to art was so limited, I rarely wasted it.

Clara Lieu, an art professor and artist, wrote a terrific blog post on this subject titled:

[embed]https://claralieu.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/ask-the-art-professor-how-do-you-balance-a-full-time-job-kids-and-your-own-art/[/embed]

In it, she states: "Successfully balancing a full-time job, kids and your art is all about various forms of sacrifice." Whether you have kids or not, that is totally true. And there are times when one or the other thing will have to be sacrificed. For example, for the first three years after my kids were born, I did nothing art-related at all. Nothing. Because I literally couldn't. I was so exhausted from raising the kids and trying to do my job that I couldn't even think about art. As obsessed as I am about art-making, I just realized that I couldn't make it a priority at that time. But the funny thing was, I didn't care. I knew that that state wouldn't last forever, and it didn't. Once the kids were older and less labor-intensive, I started scheduling time for creative work once again.

And that brings me to my second piece of advice, which is that learning to say "no" is an important part of making the sacrifices necessary for work-life-art balance, and the sooner you practice doing that, the better off you will be. As described above, sometimes I had to say "no" to my art. Sometimes I had to say "no" to how much time and energy I spent on my job. Sometimes I had to say "no" to a social or sports or family event. What you say "no" to will vary, according to what life throws at you at any given time.

No one can do it all or have it all, all the time. Saying "no" becomes an important coping mechanism for keeping your energy and time focused on what your priorities are/need to be. I know that that's easier said than done, but it really does help.

Everyone has to figure out their own answer to how to create work-life-art balance for themselves. Keep trying out different approaches until you find something that fits your own life and then keep at it, until you need to make a change again in order to regain your balance.

 

Thank You, Prince

Yet another genius of popular music has died. The fact that Prince and David Bowie died within months of each other does not feel random to me. Two people who lived and breathed their art, always seeking for different ways to express themselves, both of whom marched to their own beat and who died far too young. Photograph by Planton Antoniou

The New Yorker magazine published an article that outlined some of the many reasons for why Prince was so respected by his peers and fans alike.

And here is an excerpt from an interview Prince did with Jim Walsh from the Minneapolis Post:

“I am music. I feel music. When I walk around, I hear brand new things. You're almost cursed. You're not even (its maker), you're just there to bring it forth. You know, ‘Can't I go to sleep?’ No. You can't. But OK, now you can. And you go to sleep, and you don't hear it, and then you're lonely. No one wants to be on Earth alone.”

 He spoke for all artists with those words.

Walsh wrote, “…that’s what we mourn today — the loss of an eternal seeker, which all great artists are at heart.” Our world is left less colorful, less vibrant, and diminished by his passing.

Thank you, Prince, for all the gifts you gave us.

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 2)

My last post addressed the fact that I have been thinking a lot lately about what will happen to my photographs after I am gone. I have not come to any firm conclusions yet, so stay tuned. But there was an article in the New York Times recently about Bob Dylan's archives which interested me. It didn't provide me with any potential solutions to my own problem, but it was great food for thought.

The Dylan archive, which was recently acquired by a group of institutions in Oklahoma, consists of over 6,000 items which include lyrics, notebooks, correspondence, recordings, films and photographs. Apparently no one had known prior to this that his archives were so extensive, and the Times' article discusses what a treasure trove it will be for researchers:

"With voluminous drafts from every phase of Mr. Dylan's career, the collection offers a comprehensive look at the working process of a legendarily secretive artist. ... The range of hotel stationary suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion."

Apparently, the archives were formed by simple accumulation over the years, and then placed in storage. Dylan eventually hired an archivist, who started the process of organizing everything before it was offered for sale.

One of the most intriguing questions posed by the article was whether other rock artists of the 60's and 70's will follow in Dylan's footsteps when it comes to their archives. Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen's manager, noted "the disconnect between the needs of professional archivists and the culture of rock in the 1960's. "Was anyone sitting around worrying about this kind of thing back then?", he said. "We were living in the era of 'Hope I die before I get old.'" It's my guess that very few of the giants of rock from that era would have such an extensive collection of items as Bob Dylan has. And I wonder how many artists from all media think about something like this?

Finally, the article mentions that, despite the large volume of items that make up his archive, it reveals very little about Dylan the man that is not already known. Since Dylan is known for being obsessively private, that does not surprise me. It makes me wonder if he edited out anything that referred to his personal life so that it would never see the light of day.

All of this brings up the question of what exactly would be valuable to include in one's archive. In my case, just "final" photographs that were published or exhibited? All of my negatives and contact sheets and RAW digital files with nothing edited out? Technical notes? Work prints? Correspondence with galleries, curators, museums, fellow artists? Personal journals? Bob Dylan is a seminal artist in his field, who has influenced his medium in profound ways. I am not such an artist in my field. It makes sense to me that what would be included in a valuable archive of an artist of Dylan's stature would be quite different from what would be included in mine. But.... maybe not?

The question of what to include is an challenging one because it of course means that you would be editing the items, unless you were to include absolutely everything you ever created or did. And in editing the items, you would be creating a specific picture of yourself as an artist that might be different than the one others would get if left unedited.

And, if you are not a Bob Dylan or an Ansel Adams or a Sally Mann, then who are you creating an archive for? Where would it be housed? Who would have  access to it? Who would be interested in it? Why create one at all?

So many questions, and so few answers, at least for now.

Artists I Like- On Kawara

Perhaps because I am currently working on a project that utilizes photographs that I have made on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, I am intrigued by artists who have taken that approach in their own work, regardless of medium. On Kawara (1932-2014), a conceptual artist born in Japan, certainly fits that mode.  For 48 years, he would spend a part of each day making a painting that had at its center the date on which he was painting it (his "Today" series). Other creative methods he used were mapping the places he'd been, and  keeping daily lists of people he met. Between 1970 and 2000, he sent his friends more than 900 telegrams just to tell them that he was still alive.On Kawara In the pre-social networked age that we live in today, that kind of thing would perhaps have labeled him as eccentric. Today it makes him seem to have been far ahead of his time. It's possible that, if he were a young artist today, he would have been posting a daily Instagram of each meal, sending weekly selfies on Snapchat (without showing his face, as he was obsessively private), and tweeting his whereabouts on Twitter. Taken together, his work creates an archive of his life.

In an article on Artnet.com, critic Ben Davis wrote that Kawara not only anticipated our data-obsessed age, "he offers an alternative way of thinking about it, a possible model for how to stay human amid it all."

That brings up the issue of the culture of sharing (oversharing?) of personal information in today's world. For me, the most effective kind of personal sharing through one's artwork is that in which an artist reveals just enough for the viewer to engage with, but which only hints at the deeper currents beyond. I like artists whose work makes me feel like I know them, at the same time that I realize I don't know them at all.

On Kawara's work does that for me. He tells us so much about himself and his life, but ultimately preserves his privacy and seems completely unknowable.  For his art wasn't solely about him per se, it was about the passage of time. By focusing on how that passage is built from incremental steps day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, Kawara make us aware of our own inexorable movement towards the future, as well as of the past we have left behind.947-am

The Process of Creating #3

I read a memorial piece on author James Salter in the New York Times Magazine recently. Written by Will Mackin, the final paragraph contains a wonderful description of what the creative process is like. Salter had been a fighter pilot prior to turning to writing as a profession, and Mackin was convinced that the experience informed how Salter wrote. Here is the final paragraph: "...you can sense Salter's search for the idea, or the feeling, or the mood behind the fictional moment. I see him sitting at his desk, as he once sat in the cockpit over Korea, staring out in front of him, a space that can be defined only by what's not there. He doesn't know exactly what he wants to say, or how to say it, but he feels its presence. As his search goes on, he may begin to doubt the existence of what he's after. But then it appears - in the case of an enemy fighter, "silent as a shark" - and immediately it tries to escape or to turn on him. He struggles to maintain sight of it, moving in close, so close he can't miss. And when he hits, something vital shatters."

I can relate so much to what Mackin was describing, as I think any creative person in any field can, for that is the creative process in a nutshell. Beautifully said! And... it makes me want to read James Salter's books!

Dear David Bowie...

Dear David Bowie, You have been on my mind a lot since you passed away two weeks ago. Not that you have ever been off my radar, but the event of your death has caused me to ask myself why I will miss you so much, now that you are gone. The author and journalist Charles Shaar Murray was quoted in the obituary that The Economist ran in its January 14, 2016 issue as saying: "I can think of no other rock artist whose next album is always the one I'm most looking forward to hearing."

And that sums it up in a nutshell for me. You were predictable in your unpredictability. I never quite knew what you would do next, and that sense of anticipation- of not knowing what was around the corner- was exhilarating. Whether it was in the music itself or the way you dressed and presented yourself to the world, there was always a feeling that you had discovered something before the rest of us and encouraged us to explore it, too.

Even your voice was unpredictable. It was unexpectedly powerful, yet it would quaver. As a friend of mine so brilliantly put it, your voice was "so striking because of the contrasting qualities of fierce self-assurance and bristling vulnerability." I sometimes would think that it wasn't quite in tune, but then it was. Where would it go next? I loved that I never quite knew the answer to that.

You were an artist who epitomized the idea that the best of art is based on a substantial foundation of knowledge and experience that is invisible to the rest of us, but which is necessary to produce your work. Always seeking, always curious, always telling us that it is normal to be different.

I will really miss you, Mr. Bowie. I'm so glad that you spent as much time as you did on earth.

Thank you for your art,

Jane Alden Stevens