Category Archives: getting motivated

Really Big Woodcut Prints

Sometimes invitations that appear in my inbox are too tantalizing to hit “delete”.  About six months ago, I received a “Call For Artists” for an event called “Really Big Prints” in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  It was described as an opportunity to create a huge (3’x 5′) woodcut print and have it printed by a steamroller!

steamroller

The thought of seeing a steamroller re-purposed as a press to create huge works of art was irresistible.  Being inexperienced as a woodcut artist, naturally, I jumped at the chance(!)  I conferred with my experts, who were generous with their knowledge and time:  Ellen Holtzblatt, who makes exquisite woodcuts; and Alex, the owner of McClain’s Printmaking Supplies.

The event requests that each artist (there will be 45 working over 5 days) create an edition of 4-5 prints and donate one copy to the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc.

I did the drawing and carving in 3 1/2 days.  My cutting marks improved as I got a feel for the tools, and gained some fluidity and expressiveness.  The final day I started at 10 a.m. and finished at 8 p.m., and didn’t feel the day pass by.  Carving is wonderfully addictive; what a joy to lose myself in work that way, and have the calluses on my hands to show for it.

I will post again after the event, with photos and videos.

Re-Drawing the Map of the Art World

In her NY Times review of Saul Steinberg:  A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, Deborah Solomon reminds us that Steinberg was most famous for his “View of the World From 9th Avenue”, a Manhattan-centric remapping of the world.

Steinberg was a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker.  In addition, his drawings and sculptures were shown in high-brow galleries and museums, and prized by art collectors.

Solomon, who authored a forthcoming biography of Norman Rockwell, has good reason to be well-versed on the topic of “fine art” vs. “illustration”.  About Steinberg, she comments:  “In his heyday, art critics butted heads over whether his drawings should be considered cartooning, illustration or museum-worthy art.  By now such attempts at classification seem beside the point.  Most of us do not believe that an invisible velvet rope separates museum art from magazine art, or that a painting hanging at the Museum of Modern Art is automatically superior in aesthetic terms to a children’s book illustration.  The truth is that any genre can produce works of enduring power” (italics mine.)

Solomon cites an anecdote from the biography that mirrors this pedestal-busting view of art:  “(Steinberg) once described Picasso, after visiting him at his villa outside Cannes, as ‘an old Jewish man in the Florida sun– all torso and shorts.'”

What do you think?  Is there an important distinction between illustration and fine art?  Does it matter?

Artists: What Do You Think About The Art World Today?

critiquing art work by a group member

In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive.  Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.”  He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”

I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.

Q:  What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?

E:   Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art.  Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything.  People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.

Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s  all about where’s the next big thing.

J:  I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time.  Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.

G:  Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.

C:  But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.

Q:  What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?

E:  Art fairs are like a big box store for art.

C:   I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors.  I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity.  Small dealers have been driven out of business.  Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer.  The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship.  These galleries have been closing.  People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.

Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art.  Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations.  People aren’t culturally sophisticated.  There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.

Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls.  I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls.  Their choices are driven by status or decoration.  They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste.  It’s cowardly, but also ignorant–  out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it.  For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.

An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”  (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)

The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable.   E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.

Artists:  what do you think of the art-industrial hive?  How do you want to reach the public with your art?

“Knittivists” Repairing The World

There is a wonderful project called “Tikkun Tree”, which is organizing fiber artists to contribute knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewn leaves and doves to a fiber olive tree.  The tree will be a symbol of peace and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is inspired by  “the courageous and remarkable efforts of Jewish and Palestinian citizens and activists in Israel and Diaspora who have been working toward peaceful coexistence” and also by “the many recent knittivist community needlework projects, including the pink tank, knitnotwar 1,0o0 Project , Knit a River, and the Red Sweater Project“.

I can embroider and sew, I think it will be fun to foliate!  If you want to participate, send your leaves to:

The TikkunTree Project
P.O. Box 2088
Philadelphia, PA 19103

I love to paint olive trees.  Here are some works which include olive trees from my portfolio:

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Creative Collaboration As It Should Be

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The current exhibit at Fill In The Blank Gallery, entitled “Habitual Growth”, is an example of a fully integrated, successful collaboration by three talented artists:  Alexis Ortiz, Julia Gootzeit and Katie Schofield.  Together, they created an environment that is so symbiotic, all the objects seem to just have grown in the gallery.  This is no small feat, considering the materials used:  ceramic vessels, nest-like shapes crocheted from plastic grocery bags, cascades of keys, little dyed, felted balls, stripes of soil and ristras of red ceramic carroty thingies.

The artists recycle, re-use, re-purpose.  All of the recycled objects bring their own stories to the table, and the artists cast them in a new context, layering different perspectives.  The result is a rich, fresh, intriguing mix that comes together incredibly well.  The exhibit will be up at 5038 N. Lincoln Avenue until Aug. 20.  It’s well worth a visit– check the gallery website for hours.

I am preparing for a two-person show next spring with artist Harriet Kohn, at PerficalSense Studio.  We discussed the idea of whether  to collaborate on work together, or just show our independent, though complementary, work.  Seeing the seamless collaboration created by Alexis, Julia and Katie raised the bar for us.  Now we have to decide:  pas de deux,  or ensemble?  This is where my inner elementary school teacher is saying, ” Judy, you’re not a team player.”  We’ll see what happens!

The Cheetah Paradigm

Are you a cheetah?

There’s a sequence from a nature channel documentary that has stayed with me:  the cheetah (fastest land animal, capable of sprinting close to 100 mph for short distances)  in pursuit of its hapless prey.  Following the sprint, and the meal that results, the cheetah rests.  It lolls about on the grass in the shade, sometimes with its paws up in the air.  In the life of a cheetah, there’s a lot more time spent lolling than sprinting.

I have come to adopt this model as the paradigm for my creative life.  For all the activity (making new art, exhibiting, teaching, curating shows, marketing, etc.) there is a certain amount of time I spend doing “nothing”.

People sometimes ask me, “How do you do it all?”  Of course, I don’t do it “all”, there are plenty of things I can’t be a perfectionist about.  But, I have found a way to be pretty prolific, creatively.  For me,  the answer lies in embracing one’s inner cheetah, in other words, balancing bursts of frenetic creative activity with blob time.  We must give ourselves permission to rest, to digest, to daydream.

It’s become a sort of short-hand expression:  when artist-friends ask me what I’m working on, sometimes I’ll just say, “Paws in the air.”

Off And Running

Kerry Hirth makes the Arts Section

It’s always wonderful to hear about an artist-friend making headlines.  I think this photo says it all, but the article in the Columbia Daily Tribune is a beautifully and insightfully written piece about Kerry’s synasthetic work.

Are You An Artist/Hoarder?

Junk Hauler

Most of the artists I know are, to put it politely, “pack-rats.”  If we decide we like a new medium, we buy it in bulk to save money.  God help us if we are collage or fiber artists; no button nor scrap goes unsalvaged.  “Able Removal Service” adverstises that hoarders are their specialty– you can call them if your treasures are becoming your trap.

I find that, before I embark upon a new piece of work, I need to tidy my studio.  Once it got so messy that I even took before and after photos:

 I wish I could say that it’s still that tidy, but at least it’s close, and I can work there efficiently.

I recently visited my artist friend, Harriet Kohn.  She is a wonderful fiber artist, and her studio is a work of art.  I have heard rumors about the Smithsonian-like basement of another fiber artist we know (who shall remain unnamed) which is the laboratory for incredible, exquisite works of art.  I hear that she knows exactly where everything is. 
Rembrandt was a compulsive collector.  For much of his life, he suffered from financial troubles.  Part of his problem was that he spent a lot of money on antiquities and rare objects of natural beauty.  He couldn’t stop himself, even when he couldn’t pay the rent.  In the end, his collection was auctioned off.
Why do we need to hang onto stuff?  What irrational stuff do you, as an artist, hang onto?  Do you flourish better in chaos, or order?

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.

 

 
 
 
 

Miles of Letters; Years of Love

Rabbi Frederick Wenger (l.) and Rochelle Wenger, holding their ketubah from 1973, at the wedding of their daughter, Miriam, to Daniel Landis, in 2010. (Photo by Amy Little Photography)

In the photo above, my artistic life is graphically bookmarked.  On the left is Rabbi Fred Wenger with his lovely bride, Rochelle.  At the age of 17, I made the ketubah for their wedding (which they are holding).  It was Fred’s idea:  he’s the kind of guy who recognizes a spark of potential in a person and nags them until they blossom.

It came about because I was an arty kid, and I mentioned to Fred that I had discovered a Jewish folk art I hadn’t seen before:  the decorative ketubah.  Fred’s response was, “You know, I’m getting married this summer.  Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  To which I answered in typical teenage fashion, “I don’t know how.  It’s too hard.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.”  Fred coached me.  He knew that I had enough Hebrew and artistic background to pull it off, and to say he lit a fire in me is an under-statement.
The last time I saw Fred and Rochelle in person was sometime in the 80’s, when they were still living in the Chicago area.  They later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Fred was the rabbi at Cong. Kol Ami until he recently retired.  They raised their two children, Haim and Miriam, and when Miriam announced her engagement, they called me to say that they wanted to commission me to make her ketubah as their wedding gift to her.  I told them that they’d have to come up with something else to give Miriam and her fiance, Daniel, because this one’s on me.
The amazing thing is:  Miriam and Daniel have my first second-generation ketubah, and their parents have the first one I ever made.  It was truly beshert (destined):  I had another couple in line to be the first second-generation couple, but they changed their mind.  The universe intended for this milestone to be in the hands of the Wenger-Landis family.
Perhaps it seems grandiose to say that the universe put it’s big hand into this little arrangement.  But, when I look at the photo: at the primitive, shaky, faded work done by a kid who didn’t know about archival materials, yet expressed the exuberance of discovery; contrasted with a ketubah that reflects my life’s work (so far) of making ketubot, it moves me.  What also moves me is seeing the faces of my dear friends, who were shy, coltish, crazy-in-love kids when I made their ketubah in 1973, and how well life has turned out for them.  They are beloved in their community, have years of good works that have helped many, and have raised two wonderful and successful adult children– now they have Daniel in the family, too!
We move through our lives, as my dad says when I ask him how he’s doing:  “Just plodding along.”  We seldom get the opportunity to take stock of where we came from, and where we’ve arrived.  This photo does that for me.  I feel very blessed to have met Fred and Rochelle, and for the tremendous impact Fred made in my life by simply saying, “Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  It reminds me that we all can have this impact, if we pay attention, and put our energies towards positive things, for ourselves and in encouraging others.  Being a free-lance artist isn’t an easy life; it is constantly challenging and frustrating at times, but this is more than offset by the joy I experience in making ketubot as a collaborative art form.
If you’d like to see Miriam and Daniel’s ketubah close-up, and some more, too, click here.