Letting folks into my studio is getting more and more problematical. It has to do with my embarrassment about the accumulated mess — the build-up of unfinished and substandard paintings — as well as the sentimental bric-a-brac and clutter on every surface, including the floor. As well as being recommended for inclusion in the current TV feature “The Hoarders,” it’s also been suggested that I go for counselling.
My condition was noted last Thursday when a stretch limo arrived in our driveway. Six recent art-school graduates filed into my studio and stood respectfully in the limited spaces available. As they grimaced into the gridlock, they seemed to be asking if this kind of future might be waiting for them.
They were a jolly, optimistic group. We talked about work habits, painting in series, types of easels, use of photography, art dealer relationships. “You must have a very active mind,” said a stylish young woman as she knocked over a piece of Parthenon marble I had liberated some years ago. A young man with a van Dyke beard and a box of Tic-Tacs asked what I thought new artists these days might now expect.
Happy to draw attention away from my sloth, I slipped into guru mode:
“You will not always get what you think you deserve, but you will quite often get what you negotiate.”
“You will find that you’ll work longer hours than your friends who have full time, demanding jobs.”
“You will find your best education is the education you give yourself.”
“If you’re lucky you will fall in love with some interesting processes and begin to think you own them.”
I was going to go on with even more lofty stuff, when one of the grads asked what I thought about the future of neat and tidy studios. It was meant as a light interjection, and it had the effect of causing a brief round of mirth. Several of my visitors were staring at my paint-table and the heap of nearly-dead tubes awaiting their final squeeze.
“You will be surprised to find you can always get more paint out of a tube,” I said. It seemed like a good thought at the time.
PS: There were a lot of questions requiring numerical answers, all of which I guesstimated: “How many paintings do you sign in a year?” (250) “How many days a year do you work in your studio?” (200) “How many on location?” (40) “How many galleries handle your work?” (15) “What percentage of starts do you abandon?” (20%)
Esoterica: Over the last decade or so, many art students have demanded more from their schools. Facing similar financial burdens and debts as in other fields, today’s graduates seem better informed of technical and practical concerns. Many have finely-honed skills and media mastery. Others come out with a keen curiosity as to how the artist-dealer-patron axis works. Notwithstanding the mild belittlement of apparent disorder, renewed respect for figurative and realistic art is in the air.
Stack of buckets
by Ellen Dick, Swalwell, AB, Canada
I once had some very nice, well dressed people in my studio, which is two classrooms of a 1930’s school, when it started to rain. I ran over to the stack of buckets ready for the water that was about to begin pouring in and distributed them in the appropriate places just as the water started pouring down. They have not come back.
I also had a workshop in the ‘better’ end of this building (two more class rooms) and at the end of the workshop I had given them all something to eat. One of the women clearing up looked at my kitchen, stood there uncertain and said, ‘Is this your kitchen or do you have a real one somewhere else in this building?’ They haven’t come back either.
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Basement with potential
by Debra Gow, Langley, BC, Canada
Four months ago my husband and I purchased a new home with a front entrance basement with soft retail zoning. Being the business minded A-type man that he is, he envisioned a profitable return on all the years of painting that I’ve done. Students coming and going, papers, canvas, tubes of paint around my area of the house which always turns into most of it.
Anyways this beautiful space is now turned into a Studio Gallery which cost us a fair bit in sweat and dollars. But now I have this space I’ve always wanted but still not enough of the messy side, “One needs to keep up the pretense of a professional Gallery” my husband says.
by George Mccausland, Tucson, AZ, USA
On the subject of cluttered work areas: I believe as we get older there is a tendency to hold on to things as a sort of means of holding on to the life around us. Since retirement I have treated things around me as distractions, and if I see that I am not going to use them within 6 months to a year then I toss them. My best solution to the clutter problem is, imagine that you are moving within the next two weeks. You would be surprised how organized and clear your area and your home become.
I try to treat my photographic work the same. I go through the files stored on the hard drives and try to review the material with a fair eye and clean out the images that held some interest at the time but just didn’t make it. My studio is uncluttered I feel any clutter has the effect of distracting me from the objectives I plan on achieving.
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Clean and orderly
by Debbie Sierchio, Trinity, FL, USA
I am a neat freak and on certain occasions frantically find an area of the house that needs my complete attention to cleanliness. However, I too have a studio; but it is clean, orderly and I am constantly bombarded with family members who want to hang out with me, or feel they need to intrude on my creativity; and don’t understand why it irritates me. When they hover I close the door or curtain for a few moments of uninterrupted solitude. But, then there is the flip side and that is that artists lead a lonely life and mine is full with family, work and other creative activities that don’t require complete solitude.
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More out than in
by Vicki Barton, Westminster, CO, USA
I have painted in my basement studio for 30 years. The Hoarders Show has encouraged me to limit my acquisition of more “necessities” and I’m hoping “more out than in” will hold the line. Our children speak of the day after we are gone when they will just open the door, call friends and tell them to take what they want.
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Accumulation of experience
by Carol Rosenberg, Sanibel FL, USA
I remember when I was 19 years old and had no art materials and very little aesthetic, academic or technical knowledge of art. I knew, however, that I wanted to be an artist. Your studio sounds like mine; a wonderful accumulation of experience, materials, ideas, books/information and opportunities — a place where people can feel “creativity.” Save the sterility for the kitchen.
by Dorothy Gardiner, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
I only let 2 people in my home/studio. One is an artist, the other is a very old friend. Neither of them care what my art/creative hoarding looks like. Or so I thought. The last time my painting buddy came in he mentioned the show “Hoarders” and suggested that I might be heading in that direction. That was 2 months ago and I haven’t let him in since — Although I started cleaning yesterday. Don’t think I’ll get to it today. Made a schedule, figured it will be done in a month.
by Michael Fenton, New Jersey, USA
Before I became an artist, I worked for a world class corporation/laboratory. I never felt comfortable with opening up the workplace to visitors and this has carried over to my studio. My studio is always in some state of disarray, but it is not a sty. It is my cave, my private sanctuary where I can think and paint and be; visitors invite in disruptive karma and I have to answer stupid questions like, “how long did that painting take to do?” I don’t mind the occasional fellow artist or student, but I really don’t want visitors. If someone comes to look at a painting I bring the painting to a neutral place in my home where they can see it in a proper setting.
by Nancy M. Lund, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
When my parents died it made me look at my own “hoarding” habits. My parents were children of the depression and never threw anything away. Well almost nothing. For the last year or so of my parents life, when I was there helping, cooking, cleaning and doing whatever they asked, I became quite a little sneak. When they took their afternoon naps, I would just clean out one drawer or one closet. I wouldn’t throw away the good stuff, just the junk. It was a small thing considering all of the things they couldn’t throw away. Mother saved every ribbon on any gift that had ever been unwrapped in her home. There was the red box, the green box, the yellow and the purple, not to mention the blue and the orange. Oh yes, every color was there. I actually thought about doing a ribbon collage but my rational thoughts got the better of me and I took them to the local thrift store.
When my parents both passed away, the real work began. It was overwhelming to try to figure out what was valuable and what wasn’t. We, (I have 3 siblings), finally brought in an estate expert that put a value on everything. It worked out so well. If one of us wanted something, it was put in our pile and we were charged for what it was worth. If all four of us wanted the same thing, we had a drawing and the winner put in their pile which they paid for. When all was said and done, we didn’t have one argument. We all got some of the stuff that we valued and wanted. We are all still best friends. It’s a very workable way to distribute your parent’s assets.
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What it means to be an artist
by Kirk Wassell, Chino Hills, CA, USA
I think it is remarkable and humbling how gracious you were in that scenario. It is my humble opinion that to be invited into your realm was without a doubt, an experience that was far beyond their comprehension. I have found you, your art, words, occasional quips, brilliance and your plethora of knowledge of just about everything, to be my greatest find, during my own personal exploration of trying to make sense of “what is art.” Being invited into someone’s lair, and criticizing what you find, indicates to me there was something lacking in the education of those individuals. Again, in my opinion, if they really knew to whom they were speaking, I believe their actions would have been radically different.
I know if I were given the opportunity to spend some time with you, it would be such a grand experience, that I would hope to be able to savor it like a glass of the finest brandy, drinking in the moments one by one. Many years ago, when I was approximately 9 years of age, I would sit and listen to my Grandfather who would tell me stories of our family history in the four corners region of the Southwestern United States. I was mesmerized by his ability to convey a word picture, so vivid, I could see the Indians on horseback. I find that your abilities affect me the same way, and I find your eloquence with language is an art in and of itself.
Lastly, if those new beings learned anything from you, and I hope for their sake they did, then maybe someday they will realize how blessed they were to have had the opportunity to touch upon what it means to be an artist. What it means to reflect upon yourself as you age, and begin to see that habits change to accommodate growth, and growth seems to mutate as necessary, whenever you find that looking at something does not always reveal understanding, just as looking does not guarantee seeing, and those who know this, know that art is not a manifestation of what we see as much as what we feel and so on.
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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 Jeannie Browning of SC, USA, who wrote, “They say a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. I say a clean studio is a sign that nothing happens there.”
And also BJ Wright of Tunnel Hill, GA, USA, who wrote, “I always cling to a long remembered quote: ‘Creative minds are rarely tidy.'”
And also Edward Berkeley of Portland, OR, USA, who wrote, “What you describe, Robert, is the organized chaos we all go through in our working areas, desks, labs etc. And it works.”
Enjoy the past comments below for What to expect…