Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why I'm not a Visual Artist

A big BTW, On The Premises is the magazine which picked up The Moon Dreams of Water and lauded it with an Honorable Mention. They pay real money and do real editing and best of all, they are a writer's dream of promptness. Highly recommend.

So, I was hanging out with my dad at Winestock last night. He's a sculptor with an amazing work ethic. Visit Lee's artwork here, if you are so inclined. We often discuss the differences between our two art forms—me with text, him with visual.

We talked about an artist's crisis of self confidence. Since it's daily life for me, I always thought it had to do with how little exposure I've had. The theory being that the more you publish the easier it is to have people read and judge your work, and the more objective you can be about it. No published writers have self confidence problems, right?

I'd never heard my dad talk about a crisis of confidence before. He's a mature artist and sells work all the time. I assumed it didn't happen to him.

Anyways, we discussed two issues. The first was how do you cope during a crisis of confidence. The second, more nebulous, what does it feel like when you can't cope? What saves you?

Unlike writers who can shut off the computer and stuff manuscripts out of sight in a drawer, visual artists can't always escape their work. My dad, for instance, has huge sculptures all around the place. And from every era of his life too. But even during dark times, he lives with the art. I think he has a mechanism, rather like my being able to read Stephanie Myers or watch Vin Diesel movies. He turns off critical functioning and simply stops looking.

Here's an example. Fortunately he doesn't read blogs, so I'm safe telling this story. For months he kept matches in a Christmas cookie tin with a really ugly Santa on it. I wondered if it had sentimental value or there was some sophisticated design element that I simply wasn't getting. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and asked him why he kept it. Didn't it bother him as an artist? He looked me like I was insane and said it didn't have a design on it at all. Imagery like that, ugly and mass produced, isn't really art so he doesn't see it. It's just a tin holding his matches.

Okay, that's part one of the conversation, how to cope. Part two is more complicated and I'm just going to lay out the problem. What happens when you can't cope with your own work? When you can't stop judging yourself and every piece of your work looks cowardly, needy, unfinished, and amateurish? When those little flaws you thought supported or balanced your PERFECT idea have taken over the piece like some kind of virulent mold? When you can't even see your idea in that rancid stew, and very possibly your first draft dashed off on a napkin was the only thing worth keeping?

Imagine if you will, taking these deformed tadpole ideas and hanging them on a white wall, in front of big windows, where women in $400 shoes walk by and peer in, and couples in beige enter with their wallets aglow? Sometimes there are openings where hundreds of these people and all their critical friends troop past your work and say…nothing at all. What are they thinking? Are they comparing it to last year's show? Do they see that spot where the paint dripped? Oh, God, I can't fix it.

The idea of exposing yourself to the world in this frame of mind makes me weak, nauseous, hollow, panicked, and crazy. Hell on earth, people! And that's why I'm not a visual artist.

I do not know how Lee copes. He says he continues to see something of interest in his work during these times. And we both agreed that no matter how bad it gets, being an artist is the most interesting and absorbing thing anyone can do. I'd call it a career, but writing/making art really isn't a career. It's an occasionally profitable entry in the DSM.

I think—don't quote me on this since you know I'm not overly exposed in the word game—hypnotism might come in handy as a coping mechanism. Or a monstrous ego. Or extremely developed marketing skills. Lee says that falling back on training and craft and skill doesn't hurt either.

Or chocolate and television.

The secret reason for this post is that in August guess what? I'll be making visual art and hanging it on walls in a public place where people not related to me will see it. In a wine-soaked moment, my evil bad self volunteered for this torture. Winestock in OC starting August 1.


  1. This seems like quite a swing from your comments about your awesome abillities referred to in some of your earlier blogs. Those seemed to refer to your approval of yourself and abilities, while now, you have switched criteria to the importance of rave reviews from others as being the fixall for the proverbial 'hole in the soul.' I don't know that I have ever met an author/artist who has produced work worth mentioning, without that 'hole in the soul', which pushes, torments, and sometimes makes them a pain in the ass to those around them, but ultimately spawns beauty. Fortunately you aren't talentless like most of us in beige, who don't see the ideas, the inspiration, the pain, which you do, and make something of it. I am in awe of those who can actually put an idea on paper. Keep at it. We beige people need you.

  2. Oh, dear. When I mentioned awesome abilities, it was in the Dr. Frankenstein "It's ALIVE!" context. The power surge of creativity gives way soon enough to my usual wretchedness.

    As for beige. Hmmm. What I really liked was the visual of conservatively-dressed people who, if you ran them through an X-ray machine, have wallets glowing as if they'd been irradiated. Dealers trying to make a sale might lock onto those radiant wallets to the exclusion of all else. Maybe I was making a stereotype of poor beige. There's taupe and caramel (mmm) and honey and the color of weak sunshine on a foggy fall afternoon. Sorta beige, isn't it? Anyways, beige hardly describes an individual with personality and a heartbeat, even those going by the name Anonymous.

    Thanks for saying I'm not talentless! That will get me through the day.

  3. Even your response flows with talent. I love the way your words flow. I suppose that beige is better than brown, but then I guess that it is not politically correct to refer to brown people, even with radioactive wallets. It may be the $400 shoes that draw in the sales people. Uranium in plain view.

  4. Perhaps it is the willingness to be exposed which makes an artest/writer able to accomplish what they do. Although everyone lives with some level of exposure, some of us are not even aware that we are exposed, and therefore living in a fog of false confidence, when maybe exposing ourselves to the terror of the exposed soul might waken us from our sleep. Anyway, glad that you have taken the risk to expose your thoughts on the screen. Love the way your mind works, processes, hides, exposes.