Respectability in art, galleries and … bliss?

I always have the most interesting conversations with my fellow artists because it always provokes further thought.

Today was about “quality” and “respectable” galleries and venues. Do you think that just because someone doesn’t follow another’s rules that their work lacks quality or respectability?

I wonder if it is better to be told that an artist needs to meet “standards” or if one should “make” those standards. Isn’t it better to be wanted for who you are rather than be dictated to?

I come from a very strict background on one hand, but a very free-flowing mindscape on another. My father was a stronghand, he had certain expectations that had to be met, he had certain values that he wouldn’t tolerate being compromised. But one thing he always told me was to set my own rules. I didn’t really understand what he meant, because he wasn’t a real good demonstration of this ideal, but I understand now, some years after his death, that was his heart and soul talking to me, and if he could do it over again, he would. My years in the military taught me structure, taught me order, and what it was like to be confined. Now, I have been out of the military longer than in it (I retired in 97), and I am understanding more and more of what it means to make my own rules. I am understanding that the value of social pressure can be used for good, but it is also very detrimental. While it isn’t quite “Lord of the Flies” here in Kelowna, there is tremendous social pressure to conform, to only do certain things, to be friends with only certain people yadda yadda yadda. I never bought in to that sort of thing, and here is where my realization lies. Social conformity suffocates creativity.

My mother had the type of attitude that as long as it didn’t hurt anyone, anything goes, pretty much. She was/is so open minded it was irritating. But that was her gift, and one that still bugs me today for I can not consider one side of the argument without acknowledging, even grudgingly, the other. All points of view are valid, it is just choosing which one you want to adopt and fits in with your life. Just because “I” make certain decisions, or ask certain questions, doesn’t mean that YOUR decisions or actions are wrong.

In January of this year, I turned my studio into a cooperative venture with three other artists. This is going so very well, beyond my most imaginative dreams. With less time at the RCA, I have noticed a reduction in my requirement to “conform”. Odd, isn’t it. But it is a public building, it is an institution with its own rules and regulations. By reducing the exposure to these sorts of structure, I feel my mind has become much more freer – “slipped the surly bonds” of social conformity so some extent, and now certainly working on the remainder. Lately I’ve had trouble painting larger works – mostly I have been doing 5x7s, 6x8ss, you know, that sort of thing, and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Well, I was growing, that’s what the problem was. Growth is seldom easy and mostly painful and confusing.

Below is an excerpt from an email to a friend of mine, where I am discussing what is going on in terms of art making, and attitude:

“and it is from our conversation that I think I have it figured out, just a little – and why I am doing the sculpture now, and doing sculptured drawings, and why the paper needs to be so big. I need the room, to shape and transform the space. ….. Anyway, that is what has been going around in my brain – I’ve been so used to conflict, and working from conflict, that the process of creating from a space of peace is/was foreign. It is like I am learning a new language.”

Art is really a process that illuminates what is going on within, if we pay attention. For me, the process of working with clay, adding, subtracting, being malleable, and then solidifying over time, finally to firing, is a parable for social conformity. Now I am working with stone, carving out, revealing the subject within, chipping away the rigid boundaries – I’m seeing a parallel of a path to independence and maturity….

Regarding respectability, I don’t think there is a correct answer, right for everyone. I only know the questions and comments I make to myself: By being told what standards you will adhere to, the walls of a box are created, and then you inhabit that box. That’s someone else’s box. By defining what standards you adhere to, you become known for a certain thing – is respectability all that it is cracked up to be? Does quality require respectability? Do you want to be respectable, or do you want to be alive and carefree and happy? Do you want people to want you for who you are or how you toe the line. The first is freedom and bliss and shooting for the stars, the second is chains and handcuffs and stormy clouds. At least in my world.

For my art, I will take care of the quality and respectability will take care of itself.

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