Thursday, July 22, 2010

Report from the back 40

Windhook literally has a back 40 acres, and I took my first hike up there this summer. (I've been pretty busy with the front 18) Here's what I found today.

  • Two large trees down across the jeep trail, and numerous smaller branches, all from winter storms. Also a medium small tree down in the fairy circle.
  • A bee tree I didn't know about. It has one of the downed trees leaning up against it, and will probably need to have the bees moved to a hive before I start cutting. The bee tree is bringing in bright yellow pollen, whereas the hive I am managing is bringing in greyish pollen. They are within 1500 feet of each other, so this is curious. These two hives must be foraging from extremely localized sources.
  • Several new patches of distaff, a noxious thistle that tends to invade and choke grazing land. I clear up whatever I find every year in July before it sets seeds.
  • More Italian thistle and bull thistle than ever before. These are not considered problem weeds by ranchers but I would prefer less rather than more. The solution is to get cows on the hills.
  • The high spring is running as always. low volume but steady. It will supply a water trough when the cows go in.

So my work is cut out for me. time to tune up the chain saws, take the backhoe off the tractor, find the choke chain and cables and head up the hill to do a little logging. (We get more firewood than we can use just from clearing winter storm damage.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Personal Cost of Making Art

A good friend of mine recently asked me this question:
" you think that true art (if it could be defined) is only created at great personal cost to the artist? Is a decent into madness usually required? In which case, perhaps Windhook may need an asylum!"

Here, unedited, is the response I gave her. I might have more to say on this later, but this is a pretty good launching point for the subject.

"Madness is not required, but is not uncommon. That's all I will say directly on that, although it might pop up again in the discussion of personal cost.

Suffering and personal cost are a little more complicated. The great personal cost to the artist has many components. Art cannot be reduced to economics. One cannot place a per-hour dollar value on the effort involved in making art. One cannot base one's commitment to make art on how well it will be received, or whether or not the effort will be adequately compensated to justify it. Those who actually practice as artists will almost uniformly agree that it is an obsession. That it is absolutely necessary, whether it pays or not. Most will tell you that they work for pennies per hour. Most do not make a living. Most have endured cold and calculating responses, insults, either intended or otherwise, and have had times when it seemed that no one saw the value in their work. Artists who "make it" are the tip of the iceberg and typically have paid their dues. Often even the successful artist doesn't make a living wage.

All of this is because art does not belong in commerce and cannot be evaluated there. And yet there is no mechanism in this culture to insulate and protect artists from the fact that commerce is the only tangible measure of success, and the only mechanism for survival. If you can't sell it you won't get by.

This situation separates potential artists into several categories. 1.) Those with talent who are not driven enough to walk away from economic stability to do the work. 2.) Those who have the financial means not to have to make that decision. Many of these cannot overcome the other hurdle, which is rejection by the art world. Rejection is usually based as much on unfamiliarity as on lack of merit. 3.) Those who are driven to art no matter what. They will live in poverty and work when no one cares. It is only these who "make it" ... sometimes posthumously.

The high art auction market speaks to the issue of familiarity, as well as to the artificial measure of art that comes from applying the template of commerce to it. Rent the movie "Incognito" or "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?" or watch this video to get a sense of how toxic the infiltration of investment capital into the art market has become.

I could talk about this subject for a lot longer, but I'll come up for air here and wait for your response. The Mona Lisa Curse video is a good place to start, and should be seen before the others probably, which is convenient since it is viewable online."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The stories we tell ourselves

I spent nearly 40 of my nearly 59 years not doing much art. From the age of 14 I knew I was an artist, and that there was no other true path for me to follow. And for all of those years when I was doing not much art, I still knew this thing that was so obvious to me from early adolescence.

So what happened? How did I spend so many good productive years in the prime of my life not doing the thing that was known to me to be my core intention and calling? I spend a little time on this question from time to time, but not too much. I know that I cannot recall those years, and I know that they have shaped who I am, and inform the nature of the art that I am doing today. It's all good.

But a little reflection on the path I have taken, and the choices I have made can be useful. As I have looked back into these artistically sparse periods of my life, I notice that there was a lot of the voice in my head at those times...the voice that tells stories about why things are not possible. And I notice that the stories are not very unique, and not very imaginative.

The stories provide cover for procrastination. I need more money. I don't have enough time. No one appreciates my art (which of course they have not seen because it's still in my head.) I'm too tired at the end of a long day, or a long week. I have to keep this job, which takes up all my time and energy. I have jury duty. The dog ate my ...

These stories have a way of weaseling into our lives even when we think we are making progress. It amazes me to consider that for most of the past 7 years that we have been working on Windhook, I made the excuse that creating Windhook justified not making art. How crazy is that! It has only been in the past year and a half that I have called that little bluff and begun to make and show art in earnest.

There is, of course, a singular reason for all of these stories and devices, but it is a reason we don't like to look at. It is the fear that action will lead to failure. If I put it off, it will not be my downfall. If I keep it in the future, it cannot bring me disappointment. What if I put myself out there and no one appreciates my work? What if no one even notices? Procrastination combines this fear with anticipation to create a rather peculiar little monster, obsessed with a goal but paralyzed against taking steps to achieve it.

The reality is that none of these stories are capable to prevent one from making art. They are sometimes true, but never compelling. If you are clear and conscious about the fears and uncertainties that haunt the creative life, and commit yourself to face these demons head on, art will happen in defiance of all the contrary circumstances.

I know this is true from the experience of the past few years. It takes stepping off the locomotive of future-focus storytelling. It means walking every moment in present conscious action...dealing with what comes, as it comes, rather than telling and listening to stories about what might beset an imaginary future.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Studio 33 revisited

The day I thought I was getting my final inspection, the inspector decided to require some changes to the landings at the doors. He has been walking over these landings since I put them in in November, but I guess it just caught his attention. Oh well. I'm building decks anyway and will just bump my schedule forward to meet his requirements. The only other thing is the fire department final inspection. Studio 33 will be done by the end of May or early June if all goes well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Studio 33

The modular classroom has been named "Studio 33" because the original door has the number 33 on it. We have basically finished the work under the building permit. The county is requiring that we remove the HVAC unit from the building, since it is permitted as a shop. I guess they were afraid that if it was too comfortable, we would want to live in it. We cannot get the final permit sign-off until the heat pump is removed, and I am trying to find a new home for the HVAC before I take it off the building. Once that is done, we will call for final inspection.

The upgrades to Studio 33 include a half bath, a studio sink, a pair of new windows and a 7' x 7' opening covered by an 8' x 8' barn slider. This big door is to let over-sized items in and out of the studio. We put a 4' wide sliding glass door into the slider so we wouldn't always have to open the big door.

Right now we are working on getting a decent shop floor in the building. Once that is done. we will be ready to set it up for a workshop. We are hoping to have our first workshop over a weekend sometime in the Spring. Watch this space for more on that.