Category Archives: ARC Gallery

The Cost of Being an Artist

A few months ago (Feb. 7, 2010), I wrote about The Owing Project, my interactive art work about owing and debt.  I have been working hard on creating objects that express my feelings on this subject, and soon they will be installed at ARC Gallery in Chicago for my solo exhibition.

One of the things that I think about as I work is, quite literally, the cost.  I have to work for a living, and it makes me uneasy to take time away from my commissioned works (Ketubot, classes, etc.) to put so much time and effort into an installation.  The exhibit will include some paintings that can be purchased, as well as inexpensive prints of two of the paintings that will be available for sale at the desk.  But, most of the work is site-specific and not conceived for market.

I am haunted, as a person who lives in the world, by the specter of debt and owing that hangs over so many of us and indeed, our nation and our global economy.  I am conscious, as a responsible adult, of the expenditures for paint, chicken wire, auction paddles, cloth and all the motley materials I used to create larger-than-life figures, murals, etc.  So, I balance my work on this project with my work that pays the bills.

Why, you may ask, does an artist do this kind of work?  Because value cannot always be measured in dollars and cents.  There is a cost to always thinking of monetary value and disregarding spiritual and creative riches.  As my lefty compadres back in college protest marches used to say, “Give us bread, but give us roses!”  My view of socialist solutions to the problems of the world has gone from wine to vinegar, but I still hold to that principle.  And, from a pragmatic viewpoint, doing this work brings attention to all the work I do, and also sharpens my skills and expertise.

As I struggle to complete works that are outside my usual media (have you ever tried to work with chicken wire?!), I have found a remarkable synthesis of all the various elements of my creative life.  Indeed, this was the goal.  It has finally come together, and I can see the common threads stitching together all the things that I do.  So, I go forward knowing that all of my work will be enhanced, whether it is a larger-than-life effigy meant to scare myself (and you, hopefully) so you can feel the panic of owing as you enter the gallery, or the next Ketubah I will paint or class I will teach.  The bottom line is:  save your receipts, but don’t overlook the intangible values of personal growth and creatively connecting with the world.

 I hope you will come and play in my dystopia!  The Owing Project opens at ARC Gallery on July 21.  The opening reception is Friday, July 23, 6-9 p.m. , and the show closes Aug. 14.  The Owing Project is endorsed by the Center For Tax and Budget Accountability, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to “identify and analyze issues, develop policy options, and promote fair, efficient and progressive tax, spending and economic policies that improve the well-being of low and moderate income families in Illinois.” 

What debts do you owe?  What do you owe society?  What does the world owe you?  I shot these photos when I encountered a Tea Party protest in Redlands, California on April 15, 2010 (tax day).  I don’t know who they think paid for the sidewalks they were standing on, but last I checked, it was the tax-payers.



Teaching Text-ers Calligraphy

note from Annie, who participated in my calligraphy workshop at Stevenson High School

It is interesting teaching calligraphy to high-school students who mostly type.  Most people of a certain age remember the green hand-writing charts that ran around the top of the chalk-boards (another anachronism!) in our grade-school classrooms.  I am told that the systematic teaching of cursive hand-writing is being phased out of schools.

Calligraphy is related to the part of the brain that draws.  Interestingly, it isn’t the same as the part that controls writing.  So, when I teach calligraphy, I always encourage my students, pointing out that, while my own hand-writing is nothing to brag about, I am able to do calligraphy.

Palmer Method of Cursive Handwriting

I’ve been teaching calligraphy to kids since the mid-90’s, and it seems that, the less they write by hand, the more fascinated they are with calligraphy.  They watch with rapt attention as I demonstrate how to use a chisel-shaped brush or pen, how the tool makes the thick and thin parts by itself, where to begin the strokes for the letters, how to figure out the proper height.  For an hour or so, the classroom is silent as they dip their pen into a bottle of ink, shake off the excess drops onto scratch paper, prime the pen with a few strokes, and hold their breath to write until the ink runs out and they have to repeat the process.  It’s meditative, repetitive, mesmerizing.  I tell them that calligraphy itself is not a particularly creative art form, it’s more of a discipline.  It trains the hand and the brain.  It allows the hand to draw and paint with more mastery, control, confidence.  Calligraphic letters can provide a framework and structure for a riotous explosion of creative expression.

I specialize in illuminated marriage contracts.  I guess that probably makes me the queen of obsolescence:  writing by hand, illuminated manuscripts, not to mention marriage.  The pen I use is the same one I learned on in high school (Speedball handle and nib, C-4 for Hebrew), but I have learned a great deal about painting since I was a kid and now I decorate my manuscripts with egg-tempera paint instead of what we used to call “magic markers”.

I am increasingly fascinated with hand-written text.  We see less and less of it, and when we see someone’s hand-writing, it’s almost like catching a glimpse of an intimate scene through an open door on a busy street.  It’s a glimpse into the personality of the writer.  The Owing Project, my exploration of owing and debt which will be exhibited at ARC Gallery this summer (July 21- Aug. 14) and at The Art Center, Highland Park in April of 2011, has collected many slips of paper with anonymous hand-written answers to personal questions about what people owe, how they feel about it, what they feel they owe the world, and what the world owes them.  The little papers are fraught with emotion, which is conveyed in the handwriting of the author.