In 1905, in an effort to increase water flow for farming into Southern California’s Imperial Valley, engineers accidentally overflowed a bank of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. For two years, while repairs were made to the breach, the river flowed into a centuries-dry lake bed, forming the land-locked Salton Sea, about 64 miles southeast of Palm Springs.
Monthly Archives: March, 2019
Artists with integrity and high standards can fall prey to a particularly nasty condition. It’s called “Prior disappointment syndrome.”
Failed works of art and even disappointing passages, particularly recent ones, can haunt and disarm your current work. You may have noticed when returning from a holiday, you sometimes paint freshly and well for a few days and then the old decay sets in. If you’ve ever experienced this situation, I’m here to help you understand why the decline happens and what you can do about it.
Around 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Two-and-Three-Part Inventions, the keyboard exercises he wrote for his students and his growing brood of kids. Bach described these call-and-answer, contrapuntal inventions as a means of obtaining and carrying out good ideas by learning to play clearly separate voices. Wanting to give his students a taste of how to build compositions, Bach arranged the Inventions in progression, ascending in major and minor keys. The result is a structure that serves as a backbone for understanding the melodic variation possible while hinged on one musical theme.
A subscriber wrote, “I need help with ‘developing ideas.’ I have to show I can do this in my portfolio to apply for art school and although it is an admission of a lack of imagination to ask, I really need a structure to help me. I have to do more than supply completed works. I know that artists get ideas while working, but how do I develop themes and explore subjects?”
In 1880, when Hilma af Klint was 18, she watched her 10-year-old sister Hermina die of the flu. Their father was a Swedish naval commander, and her family had spent the summers exploring the rocky hills of the island of Adelsö on Lake Mälaren, just west of Stockholm. There, Hilma nurtured her interests in botany, mathematics, Darwinism, physics and music. The loss of her sister also opened the door to inquiring into the spirit world.
“Curator,” one of the commonest words in the art vocabulary is hardly mentioned in the art handbooks. According to the Oxford Dictionary it’s derived from the noun ‘curate’ — officially “the assistant to a priest or a clergyman appointed to take charge of a parish during the incapacity or suspension of an incumbent.” In historic law a curator was a guardian of “a minor or a lunatic.” These days it’s the person in charge of a museum or art gallery. In our business we generally think of the curator as the chooser of what’s going to be seen by the public.
A common question is, “Do I need a gallery?” The simple answer is, “No.” Yesterday, Vancouver artist John Ferrie emailed his annual exhibition notice, announcing his latest body of work and explaining himself in his own words: “I have often been viewed as an art rebel, as I have very much side-stepped the gallery system. Often showing in obscure environments such as the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel or doing a huge installation for Vancity at their signature branch in Point Grey, I have discovered what works for me.
In Peter Sims’ book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, we see the value of making lots of small failures as a way to get to large successes. While Peter’s book is mainly aimed at entrepreneurs, it’s also of real value to us regular creative types. These days, cutting-edge gurus are passing the word around: “Fail often in order to succeed sooner.”
The never-quite-satisfactory answer to the question remains what my dad told me long ago: “Keep busy while waiting for something to happen.” And while the old system stands — of visiting galleries in person, getting to know their programming and pursuing a shortlist with excellent images of current work plus support material — a new and remarkable artist’s marketplace is teeming with an active audience of gallerists, curators, agents, consultants, designers, collectors and advocates. You will find it on your phone.