The late Bill Jay, a prolific writer about art – mostly photography – said (and I can’t find the exact quotation) that many so-so artists would become famous if they destroyed 90% of their work.
Mark Twain burned a great deal of his draft materials and false starts before his death. He didn’t want historians “rummaging through his trash” and publishing material that he had abandoned.
Picasso kept darn near everything and the historians are still quibbling about what they are finding.
Bill Jay also noted that there are four types of artists. The first is the type who stumbles about until they find a “groove”, make wonderful pieces then stays in that groove for the rest of their career recapitulating previous successes. He calls out Ansel Adams as an example.
The second type is the artist who finds a groove, works it until the vein of gold is exhausted and then finds another groove – either by medium (Picasso) or subject matter (Sabastião Selgado, look him up – what set me to thinking about this issue is that he just received a Lifetime Achievement award and an honorary doctorate from Harvard).
The third type is the artist who never exhausts the vein of gold and continues to produce wonderful pieces for their entire career – Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, photographer Jerry Uelsmann.
The fourth type just stumbles along. Ted Orland (another prolific writer about art) says that “The only purpose of 99% of what you do is to get to the 1% that sings.” That’s me.
As I write this I’m looking at three shelves of three-ring binders full of pages of negatives – roughly 50,000 of them. I can also see other shelves of black portfolio boxes containing roughly 500 finished prints. Hmmm, sounds like 1% to me.
What comes next? I doubt very seriously that some future historian will pour over my negatives seeking overlooked gems. I doubt very seriously that there are any needles in that haystack anyway.
Then, only last week, I got an email from my 55 year old daughter reminding me of a photograph that I took of her when she was 16 and wondering if I could make another copy for her – and I could.
Life is such a puzzle.
At a place and in a time I do not remember I bought this button. I thought it was a giggle and I agreed with the statement it makes. I have worn it on various sweaters and sweat shirts for years.
I have received quite a few comments on it – at the toll booth at the ferry terminal in Anacortes the attendant looked me over and said "Ok, I'm not afraid." as he handed me my change.
A few of months ago at the Pike Place Market the young woman behind the cash register at the tea shop said "Ooooh, that's a Miripolsky!"
Does the name Miripolsky ring a bell? (It didn't with me.) But I said "It sure is." and looked him up as soon as I got home. Turns out that Andre Miripolsky is a big-name pop artist from Venice California (where else) and this was kind of his break-out piece. Ok, cool, here's an 84 year old geezer like me running around with a pop art icon on his sweater.
Just before the pandemic hit I went to the opening of the middle-school student art show at the Burien community center. The event was fun, mostly because the kids from all over the school district who had pieces in the show were having such a good time. The I believe 6th grader who took the first price was a rather shy girl. Her piece had a cartoony, kind of goofy look that reminded me of Miripolsky so after the awards were all done I asked her if she would show me her piece and tell me about it.
She was obviously pleased to have a random grown up take interest but told me with a straight face that she wasn't good at talking about it. (Ever hear that before?) Then she treated me to an articulate, well-reasoned explanation of why she did that particular piece and what it meant to her. I loved it. As we walked back towards her proud parents she very quietly said "I really like your button." What would any softhearted parent do? I gave it to her and she pinned it on her blouse. I also wrote down the url to Miripolsky's website for her.
That ought to improve my art Karma just a bit.
I also ordered a couple of more of them from the website -- having one to give away suddenly seems like a good idea.
Check out the latest exhibitions that are at the Seattle Art Museum. I haven't been there since before the pandemic so I really want to go soon. Doug
Check out this interesting article about 16th Century Italian Artist Tiziano Vecelli (Titian)
Check out this interesting article about French Realist Artist Julien Dupre.
“The Dirty Sock Syndrome”
(I’ll get back to the title shortly. Bear with me.)
Every now and again I’ll say “I have just got to tidy up my work area.” to which my wife usually responds with bit of a snort and “You spend as much time tidying up in there as you do working in there.” Not quite true but close enough to be worthy of a snort.
I try to put tools and materials back where they belong as soon as I’m done with them (even for a minute) but I am not by nature a neat and orderly person. As a consequence the cruft tends to build up – especially when I’m in the middle of, say, mounting and matting prints – until there isn’t enough vacant space on the work surface to put anything else down. I guess the price of tidiness is eternal vigilance. But that’s a short-term issue.
A longer-term issue is that of the dirty sock syndrome. I read of it in (of all the unlikely places) a chapter on building maintenance in an excellent book on church governance*. In it the author says that if you see a dirty sock on your bedroom floor you pick it up, put it in the laundry basket and forget about it. Come laundry day it gets clean, you put it in a drawer and all is well. If you don’t pick it up – leave it there for, say, three days, it becomes part of the décor and you stop seeing it. It will stay there until your spouse (or whomever) picks it up. Exasperated parents will instantly recognize this phenomenon in occasional visits to their child’s bedroom. This, not seeing what is obvious to a stranger, is a longer-term issue. Once in a while I have to spend some time picking up the dirty socks in my work area. Looking around me as a write I see about eight – starting with an ink bottle containing maybe 2 ccs of ink standing proudly beside a full one and a small kitchen timer that stopped working even after I put a new battery in it. I have no idea how long they’ve been there but now that I’ve noticed them they are gone.
Art on a wall works the same way. After it’s been up for a while (a lot longer than three days) we stop seeing it. Galleries and museums change their shows – why not our homes? Chances are good that if you are reading this you have more artwork than wall space. (If not, support your local artists, buy reproductions from museum shops, frame your own pieces.)
When we moved to our current house three years ago one of my smarter ideas was to put hanging rails on a lot of the walls, making it easy to change our “show”. I walk past it 20 times a day and as soon as I don’t occasionally stop to smile and say to myself “George Tice certainly makes beautiful prints!” it’s time to change the show – roughly three months. Only a few of our particular favorite pieces are on “permanent display” but even they move from place to place so they will stay fresh.
The hanging rails are really helpful but it isn't that big a deal to add or subtract a few picture hooks. With a bit of forethought the new piece will hide the pinhole left by the former hook. In our previous house I kept a small jar of filler and another of touch-up paint at the ready.
* “Moving on from Church Folly Lane”, Robert Latham, Wheatmark Press 2006
Check out this article as it talks about what an Australian Artist created during the pandemic.
Some years ago I was snooping through a gallery operated by a local (Chico, California) arts organization. The blue-haired lady behind the counter asked if I was an artist to which I replied “I am a photographer.” Her dismissive response was that they didn’t regard photography as art. I usually think of something good to say about 15 minutes after it is needed but this time I got it out straight away. “Oh I agree – but neither is painting or drawing or sculpture. However, some photographers and some painters and some sculptors are artists.” Taken aback she wandered off to annoy somebody else.
I believe that it was Robert Frost who said that “poet” is a gift that must be given to you – that you cannot claim it for yourself. I would add “artist” or “novelist” as similar gifts.
So I am uncomfortable to self-identify myself as an artist. If somebody else wants to identify me as an artist that’s fine by me.
However, nobody can disagree that I am a photographer. I make photographs. Most of the time the result of doing so is rubbish. Sometimes it is a product. Once in a while it may be art.
Nobody always gets it right. I suspect that even Picasso had a full trash can. Mark Twain burned a lot of his drafts so that nobody could pick through his rubbish after his death. Photographer Brett Weston similarly destroyed most of his negatives before his death.
How often to you need to get it right to deserve the honorific? John Nichols wrote one terrific novel, The Milagro Bean Field Wars. That’s all folks. The second and third books of his hastily devised trilogy after its success were just awful. Is that enough to earn “novelist”?
I likely have a couple of dozen prints that I would hang on a wall alongside those of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s – but he could muster up several hundred.
I’ll continue to self identify as a photographer.
As a kid I drew incessantly. By the time I was in middle grades I was doing it pretty well. However, the schools in small-town Illinois had 0.00 support for visual art but did have minimal support for music. In 6th grade music rared its head and I leaped in headfirst. Any interest in visual art went away. Through college and beyond I played in dance bands of more-or-less reputable dance bands including a summer tour in Germany with a USO troupe.
Time passed. As a young professional I decided that I couldn’t have a day job, a night job, and a family so I put my horns “under the bed”.
Well, of course I had a camera and enjoyed taking family and vacation slides but nothing beyond that. A couple of co-workers did black and white photography and they had such a good time that I had begun to dabble in it.
More time passed. We were living in Buffalo New York and a friend told me about the George Eastman (founder of Kodak) museum in nearby Rochester. Okay, I’m up for art museums so we visited it. At that time the main building was in the mansion that had been George Eastman’s home. On a landing halfway up the “grand staircase” was hung a large print – probably 20x24 – of Ansel Adams “Moon Over Half Dome.” I was mesmerized, I was dazzled. I nearly fell backwards down the stairs. I had never seen a photograph – or any other piece of visual art – that hit me that hard.. I started haunting the public library for books of photographs and discovered a whole new world.
It took me a while (quite a while actually) to figure out what kind of photography I wanted to do but I knew it was out there somewhere. It took even longer to gain the skill to make my prints look the way I wanted them.
Do I miss making music, or drawing or would I like to paint or sculpt? Sure. But there are only 24 hours in my day too.
In a recent conversation (I believe it was at a board meeting) Tom Fletcher noted that the farmer’s market was no place to sell “fine art”. Now I know exactly what he meant – “you are unlikely to sell a piece for $500.” However, that sent me down one of my favorite rabbit holes of thought.
First, I don’t even know what that term means. If there is fine art does that imply that there is ok art, so-so art, bad art? Or is it graded like sandpaper extra fine, fine, medium, coarse? Moreover, who gets to decide? But I digress.
My friend Katrina formerly did spectacular underwater photography. “Formerly” because of a rather unnerving episode at a couple of hundred feet down with a shark a good deal bigger than she is. After a certain amount of soul searching she turned to making jewelery and she’s good at that, too.
She is the only artist that I know personally who made a significant part of her living selling work at sundry street fairs. She always had a few stunning prints up in her booth – 20x24 or bigger, beautifully framed and priced to match. She had smaller work priced to sell --loose and framed prints, refrigerator magnets, greeting cards, and bookmarks. The highest margin items were the cards and bookmarks – very cheap to print and priced at the impulse buy level. Refrigerator magnets were also good sellers but not so high a margin. Smaller prints in the $20 or so range did ok, too. And sell they did – they were the bread and butter of her sales.
Did anybody ever take one of her stunning, large, expensive prints home from her booth? No. But they sure drew lookers into her booth. She also regarded them as advertizing. More than once she got a call or email of the “We saw your work at… and want to buy a print.” She did a series on eyes – octopus eyes in particular. A veterinary opthalmologist bought a couple of giant prints for his office. Paid her booth fees for a couple of years.