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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012
  ahead in 2012


Starting next week, my summer of travel, teaching and exhibiting takes off, and it seems a good time now to post updates and information. (Basic information about workshops can be seen here—please email me at crowellart@yahoo.com with any questions or interest in classes. )

First stop, northern California. There are still openings in the Oil and Wax Workshop I am teaching at Yreka, near Mt. Shasta, June 8-10, and a special offer is now available for college students or mature high school students to attend at reduced cost. I’m looking forward to my time in California. I have an enthusiastic group of students, one of whom has done a wonderful job of organizing things in advance. (I am always so grateful to the people who take this on and make it possible for me to arrive in a strange town and jump into teaching.) It will be a fun trip overall--I’ll be seeing several friends as I drive up from the San Francisco airport, and I'm teaching a private class in Davis on my way back.

In July I'm teaching an intensive, weeklong Oil and Wax Workshop at Cullowhee Mountain Arts near Asheville, North Carolina. The class for the week of July 16-20 is full, but I was recently invited to add a class for the previous week--July 9-13—so there are available spots. Cullowhee Mountain Arts is in its first year and has attracted an exciting lineup of professional artists to teach.

The classes at CMA are special in that the length (5 days) allows time for the full range of information that I offer. In this sense, they will combine the material of my Intro and Level 2 instruction. Attendance at these workshops will include use of the Western Carolina University campus facilities, evening lectures, and a wine reception on Sunday evening before each session, so it should be an enjoyable time with a sense of community among the participants.

After the North Carolina classes, I’ll be home for only a few days before taking off on a long road trip west in August with a car full of art and class supplies. First on the agenda, a workshop in Dallas (which filled in the first 48 hours after it was announced—I feel very welcomed by Texans!) Again, I appreciate the well-done organizing on my behalf by one of the class members. I am hoping to arrive a few days early to have time to check out the art and gallery scene in Dallas. Following that workshop, I'll drive on to New Mexico—I have a solo exhibit opening at Darnell Fine Art on August 10. The last leg of the trip is to Telluride, Colorado, where I will be teaching a Level Two Workshop, August 13-16, at the Ah Haa School for the Arts (I have taught there for the past two years .) I love seeing the students who have taken my Intro classes come together at these Level Two events, and I know it will be a great four days. Being in Telluride is always special. It's a friendly, easygoing place with the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen from the main street of a town, with views of mountain peaks and a distant waterfall. There are still a few openings left in this class (a cold wax intro class is a prerequisite) so please let me know if you'd like to join us.

I’ll also be checking in with the gallery that handles my work there, Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, and plans are underway for an evening talk about my work. Finally, I’ll be home the third week in August.

In late October, I will be leaving for Ireland, a country I found so inspiring for my work in 2011 that I applied for and was awarded another residency, this one at Cill Rialaig, on the seacoast of County Kerry. I was able to visit this gorgeous, remote, restored stone village (see photo below) last year, and ever since have pictured being there, painting and walking the rocks on the shore. My friend Janice Mason Steeves and I managed to book coordinating dates at Cill Rialaig, so we’ll rent a car together (which is advised, given its location, miles from where one can buy food and other necessities) and enjoy the shared experience --as we did last year at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan. We are expecting wild, stormy weather at that time of year (we’ll be there through mid-November) and we’ll be packing the warm clothes and wellies.



I’ve held off scheduling any workshops for Fall as I waited for confirmation on acceptance and dates from Cill Rialaig, but now I think I may hold a class or two in September or early October at my studio. I will send an announcement to my mailing list if that happens. Please let me know if you’d like to be added to the list by emailing me or clicking through the link on my website.

Certainly there is a lot of work, planning and logistical juggling involved in making all of this happen. But it has been the case for the past few years, and as time goes on I have more and more confidence that it will all work out. I look forward with pleasure to the inspiration of travel and to many new connections with other artists. Maybe I will meet some of you along the way!

(The painting at the beginning of the post is as yet untitled, 20”x16” oil, cold wax and mixed media on panel.)
 
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
  critique, part three


A good critique, I think, is an in-depth, constructive conversation about an artist’s work; my last post gave some ideas for facilitating that dialogue. Key to a good critique is a degree of control that the artist has over the situation-- choosing in advance what to show, and in a situation in which you feel at ease, open, ready to speak and listen.

But most of us have found ourselves in uncomfortable situations that I call pseudo-critiques. More or less unexpectedly, you are confronted with unsolicited and unhelpful advice, criticism, or analysis. A situation like that is not to be confused with an actual critique, since there is no genuine conversation. They are more like sneak attacks, and put the artist in a defensive position. It may help to be aware of a few likely scenarios where pseudo-critiques may happen. These include:

At a gallery reception. It may be argued that when the work in on public view, it is open for criticism, and that’s fine in a written review. But I don’t feel that the reception is the time and place --it’s hard enough for the artist to stand around for two or three hours being pleasant and outgoing without having someone lecturing about what changes are needed in a certain painting or that the work is obviously derivative of so and so’s. (Both are pseudo-critiques I have endured at openings.) After all the artist has been through to put on the show, the reception is a time to take in some glory and celebrate.

During an appointment with a gallery director. The gallery needs to decide if work is in line with its vision and client preferences, but criticism is uncalled for. A restrained “I’m afraid your work isn’t a good fit for us” is standard, along with some polite chit chat to ease the tension. Of course, the artist might decide to ask for reasons if the work is rejected, and that could be helpful and informative, but it isn’t required. Many will find the situation to be judgmental enough as it is. (Again, I speak from experience, having endured –years ago--a humiliating lecture from a gallery director about my lack of color sense…I had to wonder why she’d agreed to look at it in the first place.)

With uninvited studio visitors. When a friend or relative decides to drop in to an artist’s studio, you are should steer clear of any urge to defend, explain, or apologize for what you have going on. Quite likely the current painting will be in a state of chaos and confusion—at least that’s how the timing usually works for me. But even if everything looks great, an uninvited visitor should wait to be asked before saying much—even positive remarks can actually be unwelcome (such as the dreaded, “don’t touch that, it’s perfect as it is!”) Again, you may choose to invite dialogue, if there’s a gut feeling that this is the right time, and the right person. If not, it’s easy enough to treat the situation as the casual drop in that it is, and talk about anything but the art.

When guests scrutinize artwork hanging in your home. One time, a visitor of mine told me that one of my dark charcoal drawings too depressing for the living room. I couldn’t think of a thing to say in response. Would we criticize anything else in somebody’s house? I suppose some people would, but considering the personal nature of art and artistic taste this is not a good idea. At the risk of being repetitious-- there’s no need to defend or explain.

When passers-by comment on artists working in public. Artists painting on location are usually not doing so to attract an audience or a steady stream of comments, and they’re under no obligation to educate or entertain. Some may choose to do so, but at their own discretion. Most will be trying hard to tune out any distractions.

These scenarios all put the artist in an awkward, distracted or defensive position. How to handle them? The same strategies that work against you in a legitimate critique setting (see my last post) can come in handy when you really don’t want to encourage the conversation. Or a polite (if slightly sarcastic) “thanks for the feedback” and a quick change of subject will do.

On the other hand, in any situation you can also make the choice to engage in dialogue about your work, if you are so inclined--if you sense that there’s something of value to be gained. The hard part (I know from experience) is to keep your wits about you and not get drawn in where you don’t want to go.

The painting above, Blue Vestige, is 24"x24", oil and mixed media on panel, finished today.
 
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
  critique, part two


Do I need to convince you that receiving constructive feedback on your work is a good thing? Probably not--most of us would like to know more about how our work is perceived by other people, and know from experience how helpful other people's insights can be. Interesting then the lengths we will go to avoid that conversation, even with good friends. I've come up with eight strategies that artists use to deflect honest, deep conversation about their work--I'm sure there are more!-- and I speak from experience. Not only have I observed these in action, I've prone to a few of these myself.

So, imagine yourself in your studio, with one or more visitors looking at your work, the setting for an informal critique. They may be friends, other artists you know, family members, curious neighbors. The purpose of the visit is not to sell your work (I'll save that topic for another post) but simply to show what you've been doing, and get some feedback. It is very likely that your audience has something of value to offer by way of insight, suggestion or reaction. Will you find out? Maybe not, if you retreat too far into any of the following defenses:

1. Saying, in essence: "Everything I do is great! I am so pleased with all of these!! Aren't they fantastic!?" (subtext: "You are not allowed to voice any criticism.")

2. Saying, in essence: "Everything I do is awful. I hate everything here. I am really bad at this." (subtext: "You'd better tell me only good things, or you will completely crush me.")

3. Going on and on about topics unrelated to the artwork on view. (subtext: "I am hoping to kill all our time before a single word of substance can be spoken about the work.")

4. Being silent, tense, wary. (subtext: "Please just go away.")

5. Rushing the viewer through the studio, giving them no more than 5 seconds to see each piece. (subtext, "I'm afraid to hear what you have to say, let's just get this over with as soon as possible.")

6. Talking only about the materials or technical aspects of the work. (subtext: "I'm an expert at this and that's all you need to know.")

7. Talking about the meaning of the work using art jargon instead of normal speech. (subtext: "I have been to art school and that's all you need to know.")

8. Talking only about sales, exhibits, collectors, and other aspects of success. (subtext, "Other people love my work and that's all you need to know.")

OK, I'm teasing a little here--I know that being scrutinized by other people, even ones you know and trust, can be very uncomfortable. Underlying all of these strategies is the fear of rejection and negative criticism by the audience--hence the desire to push the viewers away before anything bad can be said. This is usually effective, because despite wanting to see your work, the audience in your studio may also feel put on the spot, unsure and a little ill at ease. They want to say the right things, intelligent things, but may not enjoy the pressure to do so. The assumption by everyone in the room is that you are engaged in a judging, and being judged scenario, and the natural inclination is for an easy way out.

But you--the artist--can do everybody a favor by putting a different agenda into play. The first step, difficult as it may be, is to let go of the need for approval and praise. This frees you from the defensive strategies above and allows you to focus on open ended conversation about your art. Your studio visitors too will be free to move beyond liking or disliking, which may not a comfortable role for them either. (Of course, if they do like the work and say so, that's a fine starting point!) Here are a few suggestions for opening up dialogue next time someone comes to see your work:

As your visitors come in, talk casually about the work you have out to give them time to orient themselves to what's what. For example, you can indicate older and newer pieces, and things in progress. Mention ideas you're interested in and point out some relevant examples of how you're applying them. Don't launch into a big lecture, just do a few minutes of this to give your audience a chance to look around and get curious. That may be all you have to do--comments and questions will ensue and the conversation will flow. If you need some other conversational help, though, you can try working in some questions...ask what was the first impression of the work, and what came through after looking a few minutes longer. Or about how the person's eyes are drawn within a particular piece, if he or she thinks it would work on a much larger or smaller scale, or if there are any distinct emotions or ideas that come to mind in viewing the work, or which of the finished pieces on view would that person choose to put in an exhibit. You don't need to grill the person--these are just prompts to get a studio visitor engaged with the work, thinking and talking.

With people whose subjective opinion you trust, the questions can be more pointed and the feedback you request more specific as to whether something is working, or whether a particular direction seems promising. If you have an art friend who is direct and honest, the conversation can range from helpful suggestions to deep probing and revealing insights. In the end, the best informal critiques are not controlled by your expectations or questions--they take off into unexpected territory, and leave you with energy, new ideas, and all the art synapses in your brain firing.

(the untitled painting above is 16"x16" oil and mixed media on panel.)
 

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