*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Cassirer’s partial definition of art as symbolic language has dominated art studios in our [20th] century. A new history of culture anchored upon the work of art as a symbolic expression thus came into being. By these means art has been made to connect with the rest of history.
But the price has been high, for while studies of meaning received all our attention, another definition of art, as a system of formal relationships, thereby suffered neglect. This other definition matters more than meaning. In the same sense speech matters more than writing, because speech preceded writing, and because writing is but a special case of speech.
The other definition of art as form remains unfashionable, although every thinking person will accept it as a truism that no meaning can be conveyed without form. Every meaning requires a support, or a vehicle, or a holder. These are the bearers of meaning, and without them no meaning would cross from me to you, or from you to me, or indeed from any part of nature to any other part.
… The structural forms can be sensed independent of meaning. We know from linguistics in particular that the structural elements undergo more or less regular evolutions in time without relation to meaning, as when certain phonetic shifts in the history of cognate languages can be explained only by a hypothesis of regular change. Thus phoneme a occurring in an early stage of language, becomes phoneme b at a later stage, independently of meaning, and only under the rules governing the phonetic structure of the language. The regularity of these changes is such that the phonetic changes can be used to measure durations between recorded but undated examples of speech.
Similar regularities probably govern the formal infrastructure of every art. Whenever symbolic clusters appear, however, we see interferences that may disrupt the regular evolution of the formal system. An interference from visual images is present in almost all art. Even architecture, which is commonly thought to lack figural intention, is guided from one utterance to the next by the images of the admired buildings of the past, both far and near in time.
George Kubler in The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things
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A: My life is devoted to art and to art-making. Working in pastel is slow and labor-intensive – in a good year I make four or five pastel paintings – so maintaining good work habits is imperative. As a fulltime professional artist, I strive to keep regular studio hours. I work five days a week, roughly seven hours a day.
However, running the business side of things is an every day activity: marketing, interviews, applying for exhibitions, making photographs, documenting my professional activities, sending JPEGs, responding to inquiries, etc. There is always something to do!
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Carnival in Oruro [Bolivia] is a glorious spectacle. It’s flash, pomp and brilliance can be enjoyed without understanding its long history and intricate mythologies. Still, the onlooker is left with a thousand questions that are not so easily answered. Behind the glitter of Carnival lie the history, the timeless myths and the distinct traditions of this mining community.
According to the Spanish writer Jean Laude, “The function of the mask is to reaffirm, at regular intervals, the truth and presence of myths in everyday life.” This suggests that masks should be studied in context, noting their association with the individual dancer and the history, myths and traditions of the community that produces them. The mask has to be animated within its ritual, comic or social role.
A first step in appreciating the masks is to understand something of the land and people that crafted them. Oruro is a mining city on the open Altiplano at 3,700 meters (12,144 ft.) above sea level. The sky appears a rarified blue, it is intensely cold and a constant wind lifts dust to the eyes. During the year no more than 125,000 people live in the city. Suddenly in the weeks of Carnival, the population doubles or triples.
Three languages, Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish are spoken in Oruro. Their use reflects an ancient pattern of conquest in the history of this land. It is said that the Urus, whose language is now almost lost, were the first inhabitants. In time they were dominated by the Aymara tribes. Later, Quechua was introduced as the Inca advanced their empire from Cuzco. Ultimately the Spanish arrived and founded the present city in 1601 to exploit rich mineral deposits found in the seven hills.
Today, descendants of the Urus live near Oruro around the shore of Lake Poopo. Elements of their distinctive culture remain but they have no wealth in comparison with the more dominant Aymara and Quechua who surround them. A further change came in the recent past because Oruro has acted as a magnet, attracting many people from the countryside to work in the mines.
On one side were the Urus, ancient owners of all the land which now only carries their name (Uro Uro = Oruro). On the other side were the miners, many of whom were Quechua and Aymara migrants. In the middle is “Carnival.”
El Carnaval de Oruro by Manuel Vargas in Mascaras de los Andes Bolivianos, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil
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A: It’s probably the fact that I keep regular studio hours. Contrary to the cliche of artists working in spurts, I continually work in the studio at least seven hours a day, five days a week, with Wednesdays and Sundays as my days off. I devote another two hours or so in the mornings and evenings for art business tasks: email, sending out jpegs, social media, etc. I always remember something Katharine Hepburn said: “Without discipline there is no life.”
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Q: To be a professional visual artist is to have two full-time jobs because an artist must continually balance the creative and the business sides of things. How do you manage to be so productive?
A: With social media and other new ways of doing business, managing it all is getting more difficult every day. Bear in mind that I say this as someone who does not have the extra time commitment of a day job, nor do I have children or other family members to care for. I have no idea how other visual artists, who may have these responsibilities and more, keep up with all the tasks that need to be done. In The Artist’s Guide: How to Make A Living Doing What You Love, Jackie Battenfield lists a few of them (believe me, there are others):
…being an artist isn’t just about making art. You have many other responsibilities – managing a studio, looking for opportunities, identifying an audience for your work, caring for and protecting what you have created, and securing money, time, and space – in addition to whatever is happening in your personal life.
To begin with I try to maintain regular studio hours. I generally work on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and once I’m at the studio I stay there for a minimum of 7 hours. To paint I need daylight so in the spring and summer my work day tends to be longer. My pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are extremely labor-intensive. I need to put in sufficient hours in order to accomplish anything. When I was younger I used to work in my studio 6 days a week, 9 hours or more a day. I have more commitments now, and can no longer work 60+ hours a week, but I still try to stick to a schedule. And once I’m at the studio I concentrate on doing the creative work, period.
I am productive when I keep the business and creative sides physically separate., ie., no computers, iPads, etc. are allowed into the studio. Recently I tried an experiment. I brought my iPad to the studio, thinking, “Surely I am disciplined enough to use it only during my lunch break.” But no, I wasted so much time checking email, responding to messages on Facebook, etc., when I should have been focusing on solving problems with the painting that was on my easel. I learned a good lesson that day and won’t bring my iPad to the studio again.
As has long been my practice, I concentrate on business tasks when I get home in the evening and on my, so called, days off. After a day spent working in the studio, I generally spend a minimum of two to three hours more to answer email, apply for exhibitions, work on my blog, email images to people who need them, etc. At present I have part-time help with social media – the talented Barbra Drizin, of Start from Scratch Social Media – although my time commitment there is growing, too, as more details need my attention.
No one ever said it would be easy being a professional artist, but then again, I would not choose to spend my days any other way. As I often say, “Being an artist is a calling. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a life for wimps… or slackers.”
Comments are welcome!
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