Monday, January 28, 2019

The Value of Art

"In the Stillness", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available on my website.  

I did all the art-related paperwork for my taxes this week. 2018 was my best year ever, and I still made less than your average student, working part-time in a minimum wage job. And people ask why I still work full-time. Sheesh.

To me, art and culture is something that is inherently valuable. I can't imagine a world without it. Can you? Picture going through your life without music. Or with only utilitarian clothes, all the same. Imagine a world without any kind of man-made visual stimulation at all... no paintings, no photography, no illustrations.

Fun, right?

So why is it that as a society, we don't value the work that artists do?

Wonder why the cost of concert tickets has gotten so high? It's because musicians can't make a living with recorded music any more. People don't buy it. They stream on YouTube, where most of the artists get nothing, or Spotify, where they get a fraction of a cent per play. Performing live is the only way they make any money, and they need money to live (and I live with a musician, this is not me making assumptions, this is a reality). Lots of smaller venues that "feature" live music don't actually pay the musicians anymore either... the bands need to set someone up by the door to charge admission (if that's permitted... otherwise they play for "exposure"), and it helps if they have merchandise to sell. When you're splitting that few hundred bucks between the 5 band members, it doesn't go very far.

Visual art isn't any better... big companies raking in millions in profits per year steal designs from artists that dare to post their work online. They don't think anything of it. If it's online, it must be free for anyone to use, right? But try doing that with a design owned by someone with enough money to sue you (think Disney). It wouldn't go well.

A thing that has emerged in the visual art world is the pay-to-play model. In the traditional art world, you found an art gallery that liked your work, they had a client list, held events, handled the sales, and took a commission. Usually, its around 50%.. does that surprise you? I know many people who where shocked when i told them the average commission for a gallery was half of what the purchaser pays. I get it and don't begrudge them their commission... they are paying rent, hydro, wages for their staff, advertising, etc. It's a business. In this new model, the artist coughs up a "hanging fee"; sometimes its a nominal $30-$50 per piece, sometimes it's considerably more. Some venues charge a commission on top of that, should the piece sell. Many venues offer the ability to have a "solo show", which amounts to renting the gallery for a certain time period. In a city like Toronto it can be quite expensive. I get it... the rents are insanely high so in order to stay open the gallery has to have some guaranteed income. It's a model that has developed out of need. But for the artists that are trying to do this for a living, it can put the entire gallery thing out of reach.

I often wonder how visual artists that make work that may be difficult to sell (like installation or film) manage to make a living. I know there are grants available, but I also am aware that often artists that don't have a saleable product have a hard time "qualifying" as a professional artist to Revenue Canada. I read an article this week that explains how the different branches of government actually work against each other, making the situation for artists even worse. I was angry by the time I got to the end. It makes no sense, and I now understand now that not valuing the arts is built right into the system we live within.

What's the solution for this? I have no idea. But I think it starts with transparency, and letting people in on the industry's secrets.  Only when the system of funding is fixed can the arts really thrive in Canada. At the moment, it seems to be totally out of whack. 

I understand that if I want to live off my art, I have to think like an entrepreneur, think of it like a business, and that means doing the work that sells, and abandoning the stuff that doesn't. Since art is such a personal thing, that can be a difficult decision to make. I use painting as a kind of stress/anxiety management tool, and I know I would continue to paint even if I never sold another piece. I would just have to reevaluate how long I kept something around and I would paint over things a lot more regularly. at the moment I'm managing to sell enough to cover my expenses and give myself a bit to try some new things, and that will have to do for now.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Walking Into the Light

"Walk Into the Light", 18x24" mixed media on canvas. Available. 
Canadian Winter. One of those things you just have to learn to deal with, should you choose to live in Canada. It doesn't get light until 8 or 8:30, it's starting to get dark by 4:00 (depending on where you live and what month it is). And when it is "light", it isn't really... its dim and dreary. The only time you get that wonderful, bright winter sun is when it's minus-hell-has-frozen-over cold.

We had two wonderfully sunny days this week. Only one of them was -15°C. I miss the sun. No matter how many winters I live through, I can't seem to really adjust to it. 

I go through this stretch of time every year, from early January until late February, where I feel like crap and can't seem to motivate myself to do much of anything. It's actually a thing... It's called Season Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), and apparently effects a pretty decent sized chunk of the population. I have a sun lamp that I use in my studio when I'm working  and that helps a bit, but it's one of those things that you have to use every day to see a difference. I have not been painting every day... somehow I've got a billion other things to do and can't seem to plan my time very well. Just the same I've gotten a few pieces finished that I had hanging around, so I'm marking them up as "the first of 2019". It helps me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something instead of just going around in circles. 

When I was working on this piece, which has been in progress since late summer, I was trying to capture the feeling of being in a dark forest and walking into the blinding sunshine. I kept putting it away and then going back to it, changing the entire thing every time. It's way darker than I had thought it would be when I started. I had visions of this lovely, cool blue-green only around the edges, but it didn't work. I kept closing it in until I had the feeling I wanted, but then it was so dark that I had to go back in and add some metallic and lighter tones to brighten it up.

The greens also disappeared when it started getting really cold outside. It was the week between Christmas and New Years when I picked it up again and covered the whole thing in a blue glaze. You can see some bits of green poking through here and there if you look really closely, but now it's mostly blue and purple. It's colder, feels more like winter, but I do get the feeling of moving from dark into light. Which is in line with the whole days getting longer and brighter thing that I'm SO looking forward to.

I'm surfing around online and dreaming of warmer weather... found this article about a town in Italy selling homes for 1 euro with a condition that you have to renovate the place. How nice would it be to start a little community for us Canadian artists desperate to escape the dreariness? Of course I don't have the money to actually do it, but it's wonderful to dream.....

Monday, January 14, 2019

Why Original Art Makes Your Life Better

"Summer Breeze", 24x24 mixed media on canvas. Available.

A few months ago, we decided to paint the entire main floor of our house. It was a tan colour, and we wanted to lighten it up with one of the popular light neutrals. We chose a very light warm grey... but when you come in, it just looks white.

Before we started, I packed up all the art and stored it away in various spots... every spare inch of space we had now had art stashed there. My studio was crazy full... but it didn't matter since I wasn't going to do any work until this was done anyway.

After everything was done i was really busy, so we left it for a bit before we hung all the art back up on the walls. Wow. What a difference. It turned our nice looking house into a home with personality. It expressed who we are.

You can't walk into our home and not know we are people that appreciate music, or that we like colour… you can probably even tell more subtle things about us by what hangs in what room. I like to change things up regularly... and I have more than enough work to be able to do that. And as pieces go out to shows and/or sell, things get rearranged. I usually have one of my larger musician paintings hanging over the piano, but recently I put up an abstract landscape. I love the way the iridescent paint glows when the morning sun hits it, so it is likely staying there until my next show. And it serves the purpose of keeping me relaxed when I sit down to try to play, and can't seem to hit any of the right keys.

I've seen lots of articles floating around the internet on why original art is important. While I agree with the sentiment, I think that a print of a piece you really connect with can be an acceptable substitute. Having something on the wall that really expresses your personality will make your space feel more your own.

Being a 50+ woman living in a big city, I want a couple things from the art I hang on my walls. For the most part, I want an image that is calming and creates a feeling of peacefulness in my home. My life is hectic... work is busy, there's the traffic, there's always people around, quiet is elusive... when I'm home I want the opposite of that. I want art I can look at for a good, long time and still see something new in it, every time. Art that gives me a feeling of spontaneity and joy and calm. And because I can paint, that's the kind of art I try to make. It took me a long time to learn how, but I think I'm there now. It was worth the effort it took.

Art can be a great conversation starter. I love to connect with the people who buy my paintings, and learn a bit about their lives. And likewise, they seem to be curious about mine. I've made a few really good friends that started with a conversation about art. When I am invited into someone's home I always note the art on the walls, and ask questions about it. Each piece usually has a story, and those stories are wonderful to share. Just hearing the excitement in a friend's voice as they tell me the story about the painting they bought on that trip a few years back, and how they managed to find themselves in that particular gallery or studio... well, it's always a high point.

I know people who follow the latest decor trends and are constantly redecorating their homes. I don't think art should follow trends or that you should choose your art based on your decor. If you choose works that you connect with, pieces that make you feel something, it will inspire you to find a way to make it work. Fortunately, with neutral everything being the thing these days, pretty much anything goes, art wise. Make your choices based on how you connect to it, and you can't go wrong.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Make Creativity Part of your Daily Life

"Spatial Music", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available.
First painting of 2019.

Humans are creative beings. Once our daily needs for food and shelter are taken care of, we move on to other things that enrich our lives. Things that feed our souls. Being creative can do that.

Creativity takes on all sorts of different forms. I like to paint. My mom quilts. My son makes music. My husband endlessly comes up with projects to do around our house, be it building a shed to figuring out a better way to store our snow tires.

I know these days everyone is always so busy. But are we, really? My internet was out for a few days last week... I quickly realized how much time I spent surfing, on social media, sucked into binge watching a series on Netflix. While I always feel so busy, I figure I could free up at least another hour a day if I really wanted to. Possibly more. Of course, I don't have little kids anymore. That makes things more challenging, but it can be done if you're really committed.

I follow a lot of visual artists on social media. I hear about these groups and challenges that provide a good starting point for anyone looking to try their hand at being creative. I have even joined a couple groups... they give me a bit of inspiration when I'm looking for a new project. One group has monthly challenges and the members are really supportive of each other. The hosts also put out a podcast specifically aimed at those trying to build a creative habit. There are also lots of online classes available for every conceivable medium and skill level. A class provides a structure that works for a lot of people, with assignments giving them a specific project and deadline.

For me, being creative.... actually ACTING on the creative impulse... is what makes me more creative. Each painting builds on the one before it, taking a little bit of what I learned and using it as a springboard for the next thing. The only time I really hit that "I don't know what to do" roadblock is when I stop working for an extended period of time. A week break is ok, a month is not. It's like I get creative lethargy and can't motivate myself to get back to it. It took me a while to figure this out about myself, but I bet I am not alone here. Once you build a creative habit into your life, it's pretty much self-perpetuating.

I told y'all I was taking a break for the holidays... and while I did take a break from my blog, social media and marketing my work, I didn't actually take much time off from creating. I reworked an old piece that I thought could be better, finished up some half done stuff, did some drawing in my sketchbook, played with my camera and figured out how to use some new software. I got back to the "play" stage that reminds me why I started painting in the first place. It was rejuvenating.

I could have spent my time off watching movies on Netflix. Well, actually I couldn't, because my internet was out, but you know what I mean. It's way too easy to passively sit there and let the hours slip by. But if you really want to watch that new series everyone is talking about, at least do it with a sketchbook and pencil in hand. You just never know what you can do until you try.