20 November 2013
Climbing Back On the Horse
The life of a fine artist is weird. The only experience I have to compare it with is the life of a commercial illustrator, which was my life for 20+ years until I started with the woodblock prints. There's a lot of clarity in illustration. Someone contacts you with a proposal, you talk about the details, the price, the schedule and then you say yes or no. The typical turnaround time for the type of work I did was one to two weeks, which included sketches, edits to sketches, final rendering, and often edits to the final rendering. I usually had between five and eight jobs on my desk at any given time. Hard work, but the deadlines kept everything moving and prevented anything from becoming too precious. And for the most part I got paid pretty well.
But fine art is weird. The cycles are l-o-n-g. Crazy long. I've been spending an average of 18 months per print series. Since there are never clear deadlines, or for that matter clear parameters to the work (other than self-imposed), the only thing keeping me on track is my inner resolve to make the work and the dialog with the work itself. With no deadlines or external demands, there are dangers everywhere: the danger of losing interest, the danger of letting things get too precious, the struggles with inertia, the toggling between discouragement and delusions of grandeur. Then, in addition to making the work, there's a need to be persistent in keeping up with submissions to juried shows or applications for grants and residencies, and to devote continued attention to web sites and social media. And finally, there are the economics of the whole thing, which I'm discovering are absolutely absurd. The financial situation for artists in the U.S. is by and large abysmal. There have been a number of excellent articles about this recently, like here and here.
Two weeks ago I mounted a solo show at Historic Northampton. The opening was spectacular: well attended, exciting, a night full of great feedback, and a few sales. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Yet still, I felt a kind of crash afterwards. Other artists tell me this is normal. It probably is -- I'm not yet an old hand at this. But compared to life as an illustrator, this strange cycle of being holed up in my studio for months at a time followed by big 'coming out' experiences at exhibitions followed by back to the studio for a bunch more months... it's just strange. When I decided to throw myself into the transition from illustration into fine art I really thought that my skills would be transferable. From a technical point of view, they are transferable. But the lifestyle is so different, the culture of the 'art world' so different... I had no idea.
So here I am, back in the studio after spending six solid weeks prepping for a four-week show, groping around for what to do next. Today I carved some hieroglyphics on a 4 by 6 inch block of shina plywood. I'm on the move again!