Category Archives: The Business of Being an Artist

Creating Intentions For Art

 
ginger-burrell-candle

Today I received an email from my dear cousin Cindi. She is a therapist and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Just being with her makes me feel more calm and gentle and centered.

What struck me about her email was the idea that we should pause and reflect on all of the experiences of the last year, both good and bad, happy or sad, exciting or depressing and that “most likely your 2016 was quite a mixture of many rich moments that make up daily living.” Isn’t that true? In our every day lives as humans and in our practices as artists. We have successes and failures, ups and downs, moments of creative genius and moments of frustrating blockage. It’s very easy to focus on the negatives. On what we didn’t do, or on what we did wrong. More productive, I think, to look at every aspect and go from there.

She went on to encourage the idea of intentions, rather than resolutions for the New Year. Here is Cindi’s description of the difference: ” Intentions come from the heart and are gentler ways of getting yourself to live the life that matters to you. Setting intentions is more about connecting with your values rather than some wished for outcome. Intentions help you to align your daily living practices with what’s most important, and they don’t set you up for failure the way resolutions do… How many years have you made the same resolutions, only to fall off the path before February? …When you set an intention, you are creating a scaffolding that always helps you to go in the right direction.”

So, I’d like to propose that you take some time to set intentions for your practice as an artist. Again, following Cindi’s lead, here are some questions that you might ask yourself in setting your intentions for 2017.

  • Why do I make art?
  • Who do I make art for?
  • What is it about making art that I value?
  • What do I wish for in my art making?
  • How can I support myself in being an artist?
  • What do I need to change in my life to make more time for art?

Answering these questions will help guide you towards intentions.

Here are some sample intentions that I created based on my answers to the above questions. Yours may be similar, or very different.

  • May I use my day to create art and help others make art.
  • May I remember that making art is more important than making art perfectly.
  • May I be aware when I am using other activities as an excuse to avoid a difficult part of making art.
  • May I be kind to myself when I make mistakes.
  • May I remember that it is okay to say “no” to others to make time for my art.

In my case, I’ve printed these out and I’m putting them on the back of my studio door. The idea being that I’ll see them each morning as I enter the studio and close the door. They are meant as a reminder to help me refocus and set the tone for my studio time.

I’d love to hear about your intentions for 2017. Please feel free to post them in the comments.

~Ginger

http://www.gingerburrell.com

 

 

 

 

The Art of Art Feedback

Hi everybody, my name is Greg and I’ll be your guest-blogger this evening.  Yes, I’m the husband Greg that Ginger mentions from time to time.  And yes, despite a recent knock on the noggin Ginger is okay and doing well.  She’s busy in the studio and will return to blogging soon enough.  In the meantime, Ging has asked me to write a few words this week.   So I shall follow the advice of my sixth-grade English teacher (shout out to Ms. Fawcett!) and write what I know.  And what I know is how to be married to An Artist.  So buckle up, here we go…

The 2017 Codex is just around the corner and Ginger is hard at work on new books.  Some of them are just in the idea stage while others have advanced to prototypes.  So I frequently hear Ginger ask, “Hey, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some feedback on this new book..?”   And here is my reaction:

a_deer_in_the_headlights__by_james_the_nose

“Deer In The Headlights” by James-The-Nose on deviantart.com

Ah yes, the art of giving art feedback. Those of us who know an artist or perhaps even live with one have been asked to critique new work.  It is a veritable minefield that I occasionally successfully navigate (the unsuccessful navigations could be their own column not to mention material for marital counseling).  Here are some guidelines that I have learned along the way.

  • If you’re the significant other of an artist then your first thought might be, “Why me?  I’m not an artist!  I’m not qualified to say nothing!”  Ah, but you do know how to have an opinion and that’s the first step.  The next step is to not be intimidated.  Treat the art piece as you would a movie, a ball game, or a business plan.   Objectively evaluate each aspect of the piece.  Say what you think works and what doesn’t.
  • Get yourself in the right frame of mind.  Turn off the TV and put down the phone.  Go to a room away from the kids or pets so they don’t distract.   Be aware of your own feelings, are you tired, hungry, stressed, or cranky?  Sometimes I simply have to tell Ginger “I’m really tired right now, let’s wait until I can give it my full attention.”
  • The artist values your opinion and thinks you have helpful insights.  Being asked to give a critique is an honor.  In fact, I like seeing new work because it’s like seeing a new side of Ginger.  I think it’s very cool that even though I’m not an artist Ginger still thinks I have useful things to say about her work.  In return, I have a responsibility to give an honest assessment.   Don’t just dismiss the work with a “hey, great!” or “yeah, its nice”.  Sure, everybody likes to hear praise but the artist probably wants something more helpful.   Which leads me to…
  • You aren’t doing the artist any favors by watering down your feedback.  My mother used to tell me “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all”. (A phrase which Ginger often reminds me in social situations, to little avail.)  It’s a nice sentiment but I don’t believe it’s true.  Sure, honesty can be dangerous.  There are times when I have strong opinions and maybe Ginger isn’t in the right frame of mind to hear them.   I might make an observation or suggestion and Ginger might disagree and push back.  We’re not arguing, we’re having a dialogue.  And that dialogue can help Ginger clarify her thinking about the piece.  She might storm away in anger but, at the end of the day, Ginger realizes I was just being honest and she appreciates my candor.
  • BE SPECIFIC! Saying, “I don’t like it” is vague.  “This font is hard to read” is more specific.  “It’s confusing” is vague.  “I don’t understand the jump from this page to the next” is better.  Specific is helpful because the artist can then re-examine her choice and decide whether to keep or emend it.  (Though sometimes I think that Ginger’s silence means she’s re-examining her choice in a husband).   Specific feedback is actionable.  “I don’t get it” is vague, what’s Ginger supposed to do with that?  Be specific even in your positive feedback, what elements work and why?  What aspects (materials, colors, flow) work well and why?  What stands out to you?   Despite the fact that it might kill me I realize this is a case where more talking and more words are better.
  • Gently play the devil’s advocate and question each element of the work.  Why is this here?  Why did you choose this? Does this element add to a piece or is it just distracting?  Did you do this just because you can or because the work needs it?  Sometimes I sound like a two-year old asking “why?” over and over but I think it’s a question that needs to be asked.
  • Don’t let the artist give a long introduction or explanation before presenting the piece.  I feel the work should speak for itself.  Too much explanation can color my impressions of a new work.  If there’s a lot to be said then say it in the piece.   Don’t try to sell me on the idea.  Let me look and form my own first impressions.
  • Don’t just focus on technical details, how does the work make you feel?  Sure, comments on book structure, material choices, and other technical aspects are good.  But the point of any art work is to communicate with the viewer’s intellect, heart, and soul.  Does the work touch you?  What emotions does it evoke?  Again, be specific.  Some of the best feedback I can give is to tell Ginger how her pieces make me feel (sad, angry, bored, in awe, curious).
  • Don’t take it personally if the artist doesn’t agree with or act on your ideas.  They are just suggestions from one person.  It’s the artist’s work and the artist has the final say.   Don’t be a baby and get exasperated.  Don’t throw up your hands and exclaim, “They why did you ask for my opinion then?!”   Art feedback is no place for sarcasm, belittlement, or condescension.

I hope you found this useful.  If you’re an artist then maybe forward it to the people who get to see your works in progress.  And I hope this gives you some insight into how us non-artists feel, go easy on us.   -Greg

Creating (And Re-Creating) Habits

Squirrel (1 of 1)

I think one of the hardest, and most important, things we can do as artists is create habits and routines to support our art-making. I’ve been creating, trying and ultimately re-creating, trying and often failing, to create habits and routines as an artist for nearly ten years.

Ten years. Wow. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was truly terrified of calling myself an artist, let alone leaving the office work world to work in a studio and classroom. Along the way I’ve discovered that I am a master of distraction, procrastination and, perhaps worst of all, perfectionism. If you’ve seen the movie, Up, you know what I mean when I say, “Squirrel?!”

I love squirrels. We feed several of them at our bird feeders each day. In fact, I created a squirrel feeder by re-purposing a rabbit… See, there I go. I’ve been meaning to write blog posts for months. I’ve written dozens in my head. But since they’re never as well written as I’d like, and I don’t have exactly the right photo to post, or Ellis wants to play, or the dishes need done or there is an artists’ book I’m avoiding in the studio, no blog posts.

To be fair, and as my dear friend Karen would tell me, to be kind to myself, I have had a bit of a distraction for the last year. Our niece, Marisol, has been living with us and it’s been our responsibility to help her successfully make the transition from junior in high school to college freshman. With any luck we’ve taught Mari some things and she’s definitely taught us. And, next Saturday, our year of homework, worry, taxi service, cajoling, reminding and loving is coming to an end. She’s moving to college. Okay, well the loving and the worrying, that definitely isn’t coming to an end. As we’ve told her we will always do those things!

So I have the opportunity to re-work my schedule and the responsibility to improve it. I need to put into practice all the things I’ve been teaching Marisol. Make and keep a schedule. Keep a calendar. Fulfill responsibilities first. Stay focused. Squirrel?

Step one. I’ve put on my calendar as a recurring event, “Blog Post” on Tuesdays. Oh, I’d love to write them twice a week. Even three times. And I’d like each to be beautifully illustrated and inspire you deeply as an artist. But as my perfectionist self knows, if I try to meet those standards up front, I’ll never post. Instead of one blog a week, I’ll post one blog a month. Or every six months. Or year.

So, one post a week. Here it is. Next week I’ll tell you about the book I’m reading and the other habits I’m trying this time. And how I did my best not to cry when I left Marisol in her dorm room.

~Ginger

www.gingerburrell.com