When the stock market, home values and car sales tank, innovation soars. “Innovation,” says W. Chan Kim of the World Economic Forum, “goes up when the economy goes down.” Not just for now, but always.
In 1969 when the economy dropped 1.9 percent, the number of patents granted jumped 14 percent. Previous recessions have spawned Hybrid technology, the Internet, the Blackberry, the iPod, and fresh light on DNA. Recessions bring new materials, new products, new ideals and new ways of working.
“Necessity,” says a Latin proverb, “is the mother of invention.” As well as inventing and reinventing new ways of marketing and distribution, artists need, more than anything, to be sensitized to their own actions in the general vicinity of the easel — tools, paints, supports, ideas. Filling needs is part of the game, but it also means picking up a permit for creative play. A little stress lights the bulb. Here are a few ideas:
Be surprised by happenstance combinations.
Be prepared to overhaul your attitudes.
Be steady, be thorough, be nimble.
Be fresh, be rested, pace yourself.
Be aware that good stuff also comes when you’re tired.
Be open to collaborations and partnerships.
Be an eager student of your own processes.
Become a specialist and demand new quality.
Fall in love with your muse and serve her.
Remember, the best second opinion comes from you.
And by all means spread the “What could be?” religion, and start by converting yourself.
Be on the lookout for subtle nuances or the effects of minor touches. Further, be aware of the passage of time. Time is the stealthy ghost that hides the wisps of change. While epiphanies are worth watching for, slow and steady works as well. In the words of photographer Walter Hawn, “I’m an experimental innovator. I’m a tortoise with no hair.”
Things are going to get better. The innovators among us will not only notice it first, they’ll lead.
PS: “He who will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.” (Sir Francis Bacon)
Esoterica: An essential of innovation is the tendency to err. Cherish your ability to make errors. A skill above all others is the appreciation and adoption of certain errors and the condemnation of others. This talent, whether intuitive or learned, is the key to rugged individualism, human uniqueness, personal style and creative progress. “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes,” says Steve Jobs, “It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
Becoming stronger and more capable
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA
The making of art is a never-ending process of adjustments. Due to the economy, I have decided to scale down the size of my work to accommodate the budget of buyers and allow myself to re-invent my mind-set and abilities as an artist. It has become challenging to shift to the smaller format (and a change in subject matter,) and yet, this “challenge” has afforded me the opportunity to grow! I paint the same number of hours… I charge the same price per square inch of canvas and I am getting twice as many paintings done! This, in turn, allows for a bigger body of work to be shown to prospective galleries and more pieces to choose from for exhibition… a win-win situation if you ask me! Now is the time for new thought, ways, and resourcefulness. You will become a stronger more capable artist through arduous circumstances… struggle is growth.
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by Adam Cope, Lanquais, Dordogne, France
What a breath of fresh air to hear this! — after years of advice plugging continuity of style, continuity of supply to gallerists, etc. Innovation is, in fact, incredibly difficult. Whilst something might be new to an individual painter’s practice, it’s probably already been done a million times over by others. However, any in-depth study shows that innovations are, in fact, the product of group endeavour, with many hundreds of painters trying things out.
Each with their own take, their own slant. Cubism didn’t just belong to Picasso but to all Paris. The reason why there’s a never-ending change of styles in painting is that innovation is as important as tradition. The individual painter finds his/herself in exciting tension between the two poles of innovation and consistency.
Innovation at school
by Marty Gibson, Scottsdale, AZ, USA
My parents scraped together enough money to give me a BFA in painting and design. It was difficult because they had little money for art supplies. That sent me scrounging everywhere for something with which to make art. They also cautioned me that every semester might be my last. It was the greatest gift they could have given me. I was frantic to learn as much as I could. It forced me to reuse mat board and canvas and experiment with unlikely tools. I always got good grades due to my creativity. Innovation was necessary during what was one of the best times of my life.
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Size down, quality up
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
As an artist who is about to open a new collection in less than ten days, I am looking at the new work in my studio and wondering if I have enough time to start over. I have spent the last several months watching the economy spiral down to an all time low. I have worried about my rent and phone bill and all the while hearing everyone is going through the same troubles. In this new collection of paintings I have scaled the size down and dialed up the quality of my painting in order to bring people to see this new voice. I have been locked away in my studio for last quarter, painting, drawing and pondering. Pondering if this work will read, will people respond to it or will people finally discover I am a no talent hack. Or maybe they will just come and buy something.
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A studio full of inventions
by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA
I fully believe that inventions go up when we need to be creative instead of looking for a thing to buy that maybe only half solves the problem anyway. Last week I created better… longer, really… hooks from wire hangers to hold my turps from my Open Box M. I find the longer… about 6 inch… hook gives me more room and less bumping into the turps can. I also built a long L shaped tool that I shamelessly copied from Don Demers. The short part of the L rests on the canvas and the long part allows me to draw a perfect straight line. Voila! I also copied Don’s drawing tool that lets me take two pieces of L shaped card board marked in 1/4 inches. I then mark my canvas in inches. I get a sort of grid then and my drawings and massings are better from the start. I spend less time correcting drawing mistakes and get to painting much quicker and easier.
Ah, but I am still looking for the best dirty brush holder! So far, my friend Carol Jenkins seems to have the best idea. She took an old glass wax can that is rectangular, about 8 inches deep and about 5 x 1 inches. She cut two holes in it and fashioned a hook for her easel. The longer rectangular holding area means fewer brushes getting other brushes dirtier. It works pretty well in the field but I am still searching for the best dirty brush holder. Any ideas? About half of my inventions to make painting outside easier show off my “tendency to err.” But some do the job just fine. I am always inspired whenever I or someone else makes painting easier… and any inspiration from any source inspires my painting too. Bring it on.
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Of things tanking
by Tai Ward-Holmes, Queenstown, New Zealand
Thanks for your “The art of innovation” letter. At the moment it reads as if the sentence does not match; ‘tank’?….can it be a spelling error? “When the stock market, home values and car sales tank, innovation …could it be SANK!” Oh dear, maybe it’s a question of another time another place. Maybe in 5 years? Let’s hope we do “tank” up the situation!
(RG note) Hi Tai. This one was not a misspelled word or other form of typo. Up here in Canada we say “The stock market tanked,” which means it really sank (went down) very badly. Further, whereas you are inclined to say “The petrol is in the tank,” we say “Gas tanked,” which means the price of gas went down. Furthermore, gas as we know it has nothing to do with natural gas, LNG, coal gas or the kind of gas we get up here when he have too many hamburgers. Does this make things a bit clearer? Tank yew.
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About making errors
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA
A skill above all others is the appreciation and adoption of certain errors and the condemnation of others. I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean by this.
(RG note) Sorry, Nancy Bea, and others who found the sentence puzzling. Sometimes I’m like an Airedale on the beach where her rear legs get ahead of her front ones. We all make errors. It’s part of the human predicament. To make progress we need not repeat some errors, and be wise enough to repeat selected others. Properly selected errors can be the keys to style and individualism. In the sentence you quoted, my general sense of clarity tanked.
by Rosemarie Beresford, Toronto, ON, Canada
I read your letter with particular interest, your reception of comments pro and con, in a vain effort to get to the nub of the matter: Is there a criteria of allowable reasons to begin to paint? Should one begin with a question, be it a moral/political issue that may be nagging at an individual artist, or formal, to resolve — a retinal impulse, an attempt to recover a sensory experience? And when one finds a compatible motif, or theme, this can become a spur to production, but then it runs its course. I do most of my work on site, ‘plein air’, but these long Northern winters kills my output. When it is nature that prevents me, setting up a still life is possible, but not compelling. Painting from memory or the residual and fragmentary is not enough, I haven’t enough to go on — that it is not true somehow to the initial experience and that I haven’t the material present to me to make a statement about it. If the foregoing has given anyone an idea of my perplexity and you wish to comment on it, I shall be looking for your thoughts.
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by Colleen Obrien, Calgary, AB, Canada
“Be open to collaborations and partnerships” stood out for me. Last Thursday in my Gallery I invited all visitors to add their marks to a large canvas, 24 x 36 inches. I had the under-painting complete. I primed with burnt orange but when they were finished there was very little showing through. Dozens of people of all ages participated, some shy, some eager. The First Thursday of the month is a party in Art Central, the three story building in Downtown Calgary where I have the Colleen O’Brien Gallery.
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Innovative charity angle
by Susan Gifford Knopp, Shingle Springs, CA, USA
I haven’t made a sale in months. I mostly make cloisonné jewelry but some mosaic and sculpture too. I have won many awards and am featured in 5 hardcover art and jewelry books most of my work is over $300. So every year I make a donation to support three children in Uganda thru school, the charity is water and stone. And I thought, as I looked at my very crowded studio with art furniture — glass beads I made, etc, that didn’t sell — why don’t I ask a friend to hold a party and have some friends over and donate the entire sale to charity. They write the check to the charity I send it in, they get sent a receipt and a gift of lovely art. WIN — Win !!!! And I know my art is making a difference somewhere in the world. Of course the prices will be low and my masterpieces stay in the vault for better selling days. With so much need in the world would this concept work for anyone else? I won’t take my rejects but only good items that just haven’t sold or were a trip into another media. I am hoping we make at least $500. It is on a Friday night 6 pm only for a few hours we will serve cookies and coffee. I will let people know how it goes if you publish it. Artist can make a difference — please pray or meditate good thoughts for this sale. So many children are suffering daily.
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Prescription for thriving art
by Richard F Barber, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK
Music has kept ahead of the game by embracing its audiences at both ends the spectrum from opera to rap. Books are also very much in vogue, whereby bookshops are very busy compared to galleries. Whereupon galleries lay empty, silent morgue-like places where no one dare tread. Art has failed by trying to captivate the audience with what it thinks is sophisticated and misses the mark by miles. Music hits all bases. That’s how it wins over its audiences the same as sport. This I feel is down to bad judgment on the part of our galleries’ curators concerning what the public wants, by catering for the minority instead of the masses.
People need to be able to understand what they are seeing or buying, they are not all fools. So they need to be able to relate to it, not to be brow-beaten by something that they find intimidating or question their IQ when it does not bear any resemblance to what they are familiar with. So the artist with a more obscure art form becomes more threatening to the novice. As much as artists need the freedom to paint what they feel, they must not forget or lose sight of the fact that the buyers will only buy what they like. This also applies to the galleries — the people will only go to see what they like, so it’s a case of appealing to the masses not the minority. Then and only then will art thrive.
Seeing Blue I
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Vicki Cowan of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Samuel Beckett, the playwright said: ‘No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ I recite it loudly to all my students in printmaking and painting. It’s posted on the wall of the studio too.”
And also George Mark of Birmingham, UK, who wrote, “To innovate is to live, to accept the status quo is to die.”
And also B. J. Adams of Washington, DC, USA, who wrote, “You give constructive ways to look beyond any business’s current policies and ideas and suggest heading along a parallel or even tangent road.”
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