This month, February, I am showing some work at Dot to Dot gallery in Letchworth. And, it is being advertised using my old friend Alan’s head!
Now, I don’t want this to sound like one of those “I can’t believe it happened to me!” stories, but I’m actually quite shocked that I got asked to do this exhibition. In fact, I might have been a bit too modest about it, as even my own mother didn’t know it was my stuff – I guess she thought I was just helping out.
I am learning a lot from dealing with putting my work in public. Like, for instance, frames are really handy. Also, people expect you to sell your work. And that means that they want you to price your work – actually using money, and exact figures! I should probably thank the staff at the gallery, Ruby and Rebecca, for being so patient with me, as pretty much every question they asked came as a shock to me. Up to and including “what kind of sandwich do you want for lunch?”.
(I had mozzarella and tomato.)
It’d be great to see anybody who wants to see my work, and I’m also doing two workshops linked to the show – one on drawing faces, and the other one on some topic that I’ve forgotten. Thankfully, Ruby will be around to make sure I’m not mauled by participants. I’ll also be hanging around and doing some drawing in the gallery on some of the days that it’s open, and working on a “live art wall”.
Dot to Dot is open Tuesdays 10-6, and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday 10-4. You can read more info on their Facebook page or their website (and quickly peeking at the FB page for my event tells me I have two people signed up for the workshop, blimey). If you’re localish and want to see the show, drop me a line (comment or use the contact box) and if I’m free I’ll meet you there.
Things have been slow here, for me, for a number of reasons. Let’s talk about them, honorable blog reader. Or rather, I’ll write about them and you’ll read my writings.
(If that doesn’t work for you feel free to go)
Recent posts here have taken the simple-to-understand format of an image, created by me, along with some text. Usually funny text. This has been going on since the first quarter of 2011, when I stopped trying to say smart things online and just concentrated on getting better at drawing and painting with watercolours.
This has worked out pretty well. I’m feeling confident about my ability with watercolours and drawing. People have started asking me to draw things for them, which is amazing (thanks guys!) and fun, and something I love doing. I’ve sold work at auctions, and even turned down sales (sorry guys!) and just generally had a lot more fun than when I was doing things with computers.
But the thing that’s missing is words.
Without the little bit of text that goes under my images, they’re just watercolours. Sometimes they’re not the best watercolours, but I’ve got a story I want to tell, and the combination of words and text work well. This is a problem for putting my work into a visual domain, as you can’t hang a picture with a bunch of text next to it. Picture galleries are really unfriendly to anything that breaks the mould of thing-on-wall-in-frame, because they want to ignore contemporary art (apart from the price-tags).
As you might tell from this blogpost, I can usually stick words together fine. Not for any meaningful stuff though – that always gives me the yips, and means I have to stop. I totally have a thing to write about my time in Liverpool (in April!) that I haven’t done yet. This year I tried to do NaNoWriMo and failed, because I found myself stuck in my office chair all day, slowly typing garbage into a word processor, while wishing I was drawing.
My problem with NaNoWriMo was twofold; the aim of producing 50,000 words by the end of the month was something that I had not prepared enough to do, and secondly, I didn’t enjoy writing fiction. I’ve recently discovered a fascination for history, and the strange stories it throws up (like the world’s first roundabout being visited by Stalin, or the Viking discovery of America).
But the big problem is that I just have no support groups to talk to. I have no like-minded souls here in Bedfordshire – I’ve got some excellent friends here, with busy and interesting lives, but there’s no creative community that thinks about making things. For a while, I tried to get a book group I was part of to make a fanzine about books, but the idea was just too foreign for them to carry it through.
I try not to talk about the other stuff I don’t have here. For the longest time, I’ve been holed up in a small market town, recovering, and the lack of a peer group (or even people in my age range) has been useful. Relaxing, even. I’ve not had anybody around me with whom I could compare myself, not even slightly – no need to “keep up with the Joneses” when you’re an artist and they’re an IT professional. But, without a creative community to be a part of, when does a lone artist start looking like a crazy fool?
So, in some ways, the slow-down here has been me trying to understand what to do next. It would be easy to fall into a despondency, to say “nobody understands me!”, but that doesn’t get stuff done. I like writing words, but can’t make pictures when I do. I enjoy making pictures, but they need words to mean something. So… some kind of words + pictures type deal?
But I am slow, dear reader. So very slow at doing things. I really struggle to make things happen, and I often get caught up in the minutiae instead of getting down to making things fast.
It’s that special time of year again, where no matter if you’re a follower of Tarvu or you have been touched by his noodly appendage, you suddenly find yourself needing to do a bunch of stuff involving buying cards and going to parties.
This is a time of year where it is just hard to get things done. It’s dark and cold, and the excitement of a new year is just around the corner. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been finding it difficult to apply my butt to the seat and get down to work recently! Whatever the reason for my procrastination, it has meant that this is the first year I’ve been on top of my christmas card list. Huzzah!
The other thing about this time of year is that you have to go out to parties and meet people. You might think that you can stay in and get more work done, but you’ll probably end up eating cake in front of the TV and feeling miserable. I’m probably speaking from personal experience here, but I know I’m not alone in dragging myself out only to have an unexpectedly nice time.
So, I joined an online dating site.
And then I fucking hated it.
I messed around on the site for about three hours, filling in an endless questionnaire (which was kind of fun) and generated the above graph. It reminded me of the time that I went for a job interview at a Subway Sandwich shop, and they tried to see if I would be a good employee by asking me multiple choice questions. Just like after that interview, by the time I finished clicking an appropriate number of questions my brain went all squishy and useless.
Then I went and drew in my notebook for twenty minutes, and I felt loads better. I cannot stress how much better this simple activity made me as opposed to my digital socialising. Crazy, right? Who knew the introverted, artistic, unadventurous person would actually enjoy doing something that didn’t involve repeatedly clicking a mouse.
In my day-to-day life, it’s very unusual for me to even see a woman under 50, let alone talk to one, so it was nice to see that the wider world still contains people my own age. But the sort of online site that involves putting up a picture of you (Facebook, Google+, and dating sites) seems to totally do my head in, and part of my continued recovery is learning to avoid what does that. Still, I did get a nifty graph out of it.
In her book about creativity, Twyla Tharp mentions the idea of “the Bubble”. This is when a creative person strips away all the extraneous stuff of their life, and commits themselves to making their art, structuring their life so that they focus exclusively on creation. Tharp gives the example of the writer Phillip Roth, who lived alone in the countryside, producing some of his most acclaimed work in a monastic existence.
This is pretty tempting. You see, I’ve been reading and researching into creativity – what it is, how we use it, and where we get the sense of what we want to do when we are being creative. One of the most interesting books in this area is a book about improv, the drama school thing of “making stuff up”, which is talked about at length by Keith Johnstone in his book “Impro“.
“As I grew up,” begins his book, “everything started getting grey and dull.” Johnstone asks why we change from playful children to locked-down adults, and unpacks that shift from creativity to sober adulthood. He lays a lot of blame at schools, and I have to agree with him; I have never had a good learning experience at a school, college, or university. In fact, what I am doing today (writing, drawing, and making jokes), is stuff I was either told I couldn’t do, or I was actively told not to do.
So I’m pretty mad about my schooling.
If you do any research into art history, it soon becomes apparent that the people who are the best in their field are the people who started young. What our education does is set people up to have an understanding of many fields, but a specialisation in none – great if you’re going to be a manager, but crap if you want to specialise as a tradesman.
Of course, I couldn’t leave school at 14 and train to be an artist. I had a friend who left school at that age and trained to do carpentry for building sites, and he’s doing pretty well for himself. But there was a slot for him to drop into; there was a route for people to become tradesmen, like he did, but not a route for people to stay creative.
I find myself wondering if the current glut of stand-up comics is made of people not suited for the median-style management education, who have both intelligence and creativity but are taught to reject more traditional forms of expression as childish. Without being able to use any other media than language, where else would those people turn but comedy?
“And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”
Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Prime Minister, 1987
“It’s a consumer riot. These people are completely depoliticised, obsessed with consumer items yet too poor to buy them. When that frustration comes to the surface they’re not going to know who or what to take it out on, so they attack everything. Our culture fashioned these people into consuming morons, it’s not surprising when they act like violent morons when they can’t get what they want.”
Darren Cullen, Artist, 2011
“When you’ve been told there’s no society, why would you care about other people?”
Tony Evans, football editor of The Times, 2011
After reading Jessica Patient’s blog-post about distractions, I thought I’d chime in. I’ve spent this year so far re-discovering my creativity, and a big part of that is getting over the distractions and inertia that regular life offers – after all, couches are designed to be comfortable, and TV is made to be watchable. But part of being creative is working out why you’re not just relaxing on the couch with your favourite box set…
You can’t really list your distractions until you know what your work is. I once knew a guy who was an impoverished musician; for as long as I’d known him, he had been short of money. I’d regularly see him busking in town, and his clothes went through various states until they could best be described as “threadbare”.
One day he turned to me and said “money’s getting a bit short. I might have to go back to my old job – being a dentist”. Colour me every fucking shade of surprised! Steve, the genial musician who lived on nothing, had what I’d been looking for; the secret entrance to pots of cash and a steady career. Before he’d just been another guy on the same economic strata as me; now I saw that he was slumming it.
Of course, I was wrong.
“I just couldn’t take all the kids crying because of me”, he said. “I spent all day doing kids teeth, and they all hated me at the end of the day. So I quit”.
Steve wasn’t a penniless musician out of choice. He had walked away from one of the most profitable careers around because his distractions came at a base level of humanity. A level that he couldn’t ignore. I think a lot of distractions really function at this deep level, and that the things we use to distract ourselves are just tools.
Most of the time, we just don’t want to fail at doing something. We don’t want to make something ugly or clunky, something not perfect, and so we end up reading the paper or watching the TV rather than putting in the hard work to make something beautiful. That’s what I’m doing now; I’m not writing a short piece about distraction, I’m distracting myself, because when this is finished, I have to pick what my work is going to be.
The problem with Roman history is that it’s mostly written by guys who hate the people they’re writing about, or are writing two generations later, or both.
This would be like me writing a history of the miners strike, using only reports from The Sun as a a reference.
Corporations have become the sole arbiters of cultural ideas and taste in America. Our culture is corporate culture. Culture used to be the opposite of commerce, not a fast track to ‘content’- derived riches. Not so long ago captains of industry (no angels in the way they acquired wealth) thought that part of their responsibility was to use their millions to support culture. Carnegie built libraries, Rockefeller built art museums, Ford created his global foundation. What do we now get from our billionaires? Gates? Or Eisner? Or Redstone? Sales pitches. Junk mail. Meanwhile, creative people have their work reduced to ‘content’ or ‘intellectual property’. Magazines and films become ‘delivery systems’ for product messages.But to be fair, the above is only 99 percent true.
From Tibor Kalman’s manifesto, “Fuck Committees“.