Friday, October 31, 2014

extraneous work (ix): modern communication - social media, networking, facebook, smartphones

(also see the previous post, since this is very much related to selling art and branding in the broad sense.)

modern communication ~ frank waaldijk
modern communication (illustration for this post, own work, 2014, 10 x 15 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

i've been reading on art, and also about specific artists... and i'm very tired of all the yada-yada that surrounds art. 'art is the new religion' is the often heard catchphrase, very true unfortunately. often the inanity of seemingly-deep-but-oh-so-shallow `justifications' why the art which is presented to us is so very special makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

which is why i would like to keep this post short. the drawing above explains my feelings on social media, facebook, smartphones etc. instead of interacting directly with the people around us, we are all glued to some screen, together alone... in this half-virtual world, facebook / google-plus and the likes serve as broadcasting media for our own thoughts / experiences / feelings / ... as a result, to me it appears as if everyone is sending sending sending out messages, at a speed which makes real interaction difficult (or so it appears to me).

i do not like facebook, nor google-plus, and i really hesitate to add my broadcasts to these social media. it is a bit of a paradox, you could say, since i do broadcast all these things on my blogs. the difference to me is that my blogs don't send anyone notifications, they do not compel anyone to look, they are there for anyone interested but they do not impose themselves.

this leads me to admit that i am in my core a shy person, and i dislike to claim attention. i do not like to shout from the rooftops that my art is excellent (although i do believe this to be the case), and i dislike to spend energy on creating yada-yada buzz around my art. these character traits practically guarantee that i will not become a `successful' artist in the economical / social sense... but they also enable me to focus on what is essential to my art, and to pursue my search with little compromise to the craziness of contemporary art.

in my opinion, much of our modern communication is fleeting, and inconsequential in terms of content (not in social terms, e.g. texting has been compared to the grooming of primates). so what happens to `slow' content? it gets drowned out, i believe.

extraneous work for an artist in this respect: to tailor a combination of art and communication, such that people are enticed to take notice of the art and the artist.

for this, in my not so humble opinion, a certain shallowness is almost prerequisite. if a message has real content, needing time to be digested, it will certainly be ignored. my character traits are such that i value content, and have little patience with the art of distorting such content into sound bites for a not-too-interested public. however, in order to gain some recognition, i could and perhaps should consider hiring an agent to take care of the extraneous work of social media, networking etc.

Monday, October 27, 2014

extraneous work (viii): selling art, networking, social media, branding, marketing

by selling i do not only mean the actual sale of an artwork. i mean the work that is necessary to create appreciation for my art, in a broader sense. there are various ways to go about creating such appreciation in wide enough circles, and i would like to discuss some of these ways from my personal perspective.

one cannot expect to raise appreciation of one's art without taking some trouble to at least show it to one other person. in the most fortuituous case, this might start a snowballing effect, and the end of the year sees thousands of artistic pilgrims coming to your studio, begging for an artwork, any artwork, as long as it carries your signature... :-)

in reality, art appreciation usually works a little differently. i've had many individual art lovers be enthusiastic about my work, but i hardly sell enough. in order to make a living i should have much better access to people who are really looking for art to buy. and then, as with so much other endeavours in life, competition and all sorts of extraneous parameters come in. in the contemporary art world, the valuation and apppreciation is often most difficult, even for experts. there is a lot of hot air...extremely so even.

let's just take two quotes from germaine greer on damien hirst (she comments on robert hughes' criticism of damien hirst, in the guardian 2008)
What is touching about Hughes's despair is that he thinks that artists still make things. It's a long time since Hirst actually made an artwork with his own hands.
...
Hirst is quite frank about what he doesn't do. He doesn't paint his triumphantly vacuous spot paintings - the best spot paintings by Damien Hirst are those painted by Rachel Howard. His undeniable genius consists in getting people to buy them. Damien Hirst is a brand, because the art form of the 21st century is marketing. To develop so strong a brand on so conspicuously threadbare a rationale is hugely creative - revolutionary even.

damien hirst is the well-known extreme example of how contemporary art is more about marketing than about the art itself. but these mechanisms also impact on a small-time (at least economically speaking :-)) artist like myself. so, according to the experts, what should you do if you want to succeed as an artist - which is always interpreted in terms of selling your art, by the way-? the gist of it, as i perceive it, is as follows:
  • be recognizable: do something different, but don't change this: your own style
  • work on a branding strategy: brand yourself as an artist, brand your art (your own style)
  • work on your cv by participating in many events, show your art in many places, according to your branding strategy and pricing strategy, get your name noticed
  • network, and use your networks, look for endorsements from `art experts'
  • use all social media to draw attention to you and your work

some of this stuff is new (sometimes in its extreme form only), but other aspects already plagued artists in medieval times i think. strikingly, together with marketing dominating art, as a logical consequence of postmodern value confusion, (acclaimwise) successful contemporary art has officially lost connection with aesthetics. this actually leads to a shadow world: the world of `stuffy' traditional visual art values, in which `small-time' artists like myself operate.

another quote for you, from a very nice review of the book: seven days in the art world (review by adrien favell, book by sarah thornton).
It is perhaps this socially mobile dynamic in the book, that accounts for the fact that Thornton mostly dwells on success and fame in the art world, not its obverse—despite, in fact, the truth that this world is driven not by the stars who made it, but the also rans, in vast numbers, who get smashed trying. Only once do we get a glimpse of this other side of art: in a light and sensitive portrait of a day amongst slacker students at a California art school. The lockjaw of theory and conceptualism on contemporary art is graphically illustrated in the scorn these struggling and mostly hopeless young artists pour on notions that art has anything to do with “beauty” or “affect”. Everyone in the art world today talks this talk today, but it has to be noted how much a role these desperately old fashioned notions still play in motivating the big auction sales—something well observed by Don Thompson. But apart from the students, Thornton has much less to say about the lives and work of the legions of those who are always hopefully (or euphemistically) referred to “emerging” artists, trying to make the leap across the chasm from art school to Turner prize nomination. The book analyses the anxieties of the Turner prize nominees, but these are already “successful” artists; the everyday action in the art system is generally going on well below this, at a more intermediate level, in the mundane actions of dealers and artists to scratch out a career and living against its brute statistics of failure.

please read the review, you will notice that its author has far more stamina in writing about these things than i do. some people write really well, to the enjoyment of many. i hope that my writing, impatient as it may be, still contributes something too...since there are so few artists entering the fray of writing about art. i commented on this earlier, it is a bit comparable to having the discipline of complex surgery being dominated by non-surgeons.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

extraneous work (vii): storing art, transporting art, restoring art

most people don't stop to consider that many sculptures are fragile, and that the storage and transport of such sculptures is not trivial. even during shows it happens that sculptures get damaged by --- i have no suitable adjective --- visitors. over the past 32 years, strangely enough i've observed that storage is the hardest. because no storage is permanent (for me, with limited funds), which means that sculptures need to be disassembled, repacked and transported... and this is where the loss of components and damage hazard creeps in. i have lost around 10 sculptures completely, in this way. and about the same number of sculptures has been damaged to the point where serious restoration was necessary.

storing --> restoring

as an example of fragile sculptures consider:

man woman relation, left view, frank waaldijk
man woman relation (20 x 15 x 15 cm, own work, 2005)

the slow triumph of death ~ frank waaldijk
the slow triumph of death (own work, 2010-2011, 30 x 15 x 30 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

but also the ceramic sculptures tend to be fragile and accident-prone. so one learns how to disassemble, reassemble and package sculptures. and one learns how to restore. restoring paintings and drawings actually seems to have become a fruitful artistic sideline for me! (see the series on finishing old work). so then the word `extraneous' must be dropped. but it was meant to be a bit provocative in the first place, since i think all these endeavours are fruitful, and in some sense related. just wanted to share something of all the hidden aspects of being an artist.

xerophyte, frank waaldijk
xerophyte (26 x 30 cm, own work, 1994-2013, click on the image for an enlargement)

the unfinished original of the above drawing had completely faded, due to my using iodine as ink, until only the outline of the original was visible. now the original was left unfinished since i did not know how to proceed with it. restoring always means reconsidering, and this time i chose a simple background to better focus on the plant and its supporting table itself.

i like to draw plants, but it demands some patience...all those leaves (mother nature at all times remains the greatest artist).i can't resist another drawing of a xerophyte, since also in this drawing the supporting table plays a major role:

xerophyte, frank waaldijk
xerophyte ii (20 x 30 cm, own work, 2010, click on the image for an enlargement)

extraneous work (vi): presenting art, software, social media, networking, framing art

out of necessity i have several art websites, including this blog. already for my artist's homepage www.fwaaldijk.nl i had to learn a minimum of html. i'm quite unsatisfied with this website, but i find it prohibitive to invest even more time in learning how build a proper website.

spend money on having someone do it for me, i'm pondering on that. my artist budget is not spacious, and i always want to be in control of everything. i'm also not in control now, since my knowledge of html, css and dynamic scripting is abysmal. on this blog (like on my other blogs), i usually spend just the minimum amount of effort to learn how to control the most important issues (layout, fonts, picture representations, video embeddings - rare as they may be).

often i hear that an artist should use the internet-related social media, such as facebook. however, i truly dislike facebook, and seldom can muster the necessary energy to participate. i prefer blogging, since in this way i feel that i'm not pestering anybody with my long and often philosophical writings. anyone wishing to read can do so, but the blog feels agreeably low-key / modest to me in the sense that i do not advertise my postings, or draw attention to them other than by simply putting them up on the web.

the downside is that my blog doesn't generate much feedback / interaction. in order to sell art, many people recommend strategies based on networking, also web-based combined with social media. my own strategy is indeed old-fashioned and not so productive: i think customers should see the art in real life, and that the art should speak for itself.

for this i participate in some art-showing events each year. presenting my art in real life is however more work than presenting it on the web. for instance there is the framing to consider:

framing a painting, frank waaldijk
framing notre dame des anges with shells (click on the image for an enlargement)

i often experiment with the framing of paintings, because i want painting and frame to really work together. so more often than not i find myself constructing a frame, usually from wood or from aluminum. both materials require precise and time-consuming work. the designing of the frame, testing different options, both visually and constructively is often equally time-consuming.

therefore i undertake this only when i feel the paintings will really gain in strength, as compared to letting a professional picture-framer make a frame. i often use this latter option too, as costly as it can be, just to save time. but i still feel happy that i am able to create good picture-frames myself, it is not so easy.

framing drawings in addition involves cutting glass, and cutting passepartouts...the latter i can do well, but cutting glass is somehow not my strong point (it often breaks badly), so this i usually outsource, or avoid. i also like to use old picture frames, and repaint them with my `special' layered technique. in this way many drawings acquire some extra atmosphere. for this i regularly visit second-hand shops, to find suitable old frames. i have a fair collection of them, so i can pick one when a drawing is finished. i also use prefab standard size frames for drawings, mostly in wood but also aluminum sometimes.

my general guiding principle is that the frame should distract as little as possible from the artwork being framed. on te other hand, it shouuld also be distinct enough colourwise and material-wise to be clearly separate from the artwork. i have seen countless artworks where the frame dominates the art...perhaps because without the dominant frame the art work is not special enough?

the question: if an artwork needs a frame to become art, then what have we? touches on a similar but more disturbing question:

if an artwork needs a museum to become art, then what are we doing?

many artworks in modern musea in my not so humble opinion would not be considered artworks if they were found outside of a museum. and in that case, i find myself prone to irritation that they take up space in a museum, and pretentiously so.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

extraneous work (5): writing about art, presenting, photographing, photoshopping

writing about art to me also means presenting art visually, to accompany the writing. almost all bloggers use photographs or other images to enliven their accounts, but i dare say that presenting art works online is a special challenge. why? because:

in this day and age we still have no reliable way to represent/reproduce colours.

and certainly not online. this fact to me is still less surprising than that nobody complains about this (have you ever heard someone else beside me complaining about this?).

take for example the famous painting luncheon of the boating party (le déjeuner des canotiers) by pierre-auguste renoir. let me present below the three first results from google image search:

dejeuner des canotiers, pierre-auguste renoir
le déjeuner des canotiers, pierre auguste renoir (1881, click on the image for an enlargement)

dejeuner des canotiers, pierre-auguste renoir
le déjeuner des canotiers, pierre auguste renoir (1881, click on the image for an enlargement)

dejeuner des canotiers, pierre-auguste renoir
le déjeuner des canotiers, pierre auguste renoir (1881, click on the image for an enlargement)

i could go with more reproductions of this painting...and each would be quite different from the other. so even when searching for art images, i am constantly evaluating picture size, detail but also overall colour. and this is hard, even if i have seen a painting many times in real life. and i have come to observe often that my own computer screen is very different from other screens, so i cannot in any way really control what you are seeing on your screen.

this to me is extremely frustrating, it is like having a piece of music being represented in different speeds, scales, instrumentations, on different computers... but (almost) nobody complains. this is a very clear indication that most people don't care about the precise colour of the things they're looking at. except when it's clothes, or cars, or ...

anyway, be sure that the pictures presented on this blog often involve a tedious amount of photoshopping. this holds especially for photographs of my own artwork. here i discover time and again that my canon 650d is simply not as good colourwise as my canon 350d was (before the batteries expired, new batteries are extremely expensive, i thought i would get better value from the much newer model 650d, but alas). as a result there are quite some paintings that i have not been able to photograph satisfactorily at all, even when using photoshop extensively. so i'm studying on how to resolve this. one way i have discovered is to use a combination of photoshop and picasa. admittedly i'm no expert on photographing, nor on photoshop. but in this series on extraneous work, it seems fitting to mention that i have been forced to acquire much more expertise in these disciplines than i would have liked to, simply to be able to present art.

of course in the pre-digital days, i simply could not afford the equipment which was necessary for good colour reproductions. so all my bitching aside, there is some improvement.

extraneous work (4): writing about art, art contemplation, teaching art

my other dutch blog is called beeld en wereld (image and world; `beeldenwereld' means `world of images'). it started out as a blog containing notes for the art contemplation course `beeld en wereld' that i taught to art students at the unitacademy nijmegen. now i also use it infrequently as a personal blog for typically dutch art affairs. the course notes `beeld en wereld' cover a very broad range of subjects, and i am planning to translate some of these subjects to put up on this blog. one central theme is the dynamic relation between inner world <--> outer world, which i believe to be especially relevant for artists. the course notes also contain some art history, art philosophy, and guide questions for artists.

schema 1 beeld en wereld
scheme of inner world <--> outer world, interfaced through language, image, story with several feedback loops.

i do not think that many contemporary artists write as much about art as i do, although like i said earlier there are quite a few artists who write or have written more. my art blogs attract a fair number of visitors (over 400,000 visits in the past 6,5 years, not much in web terms but not a dry stream either). but the amount of feedback given is very little. it often feels like i write in some sort of empty place, with an occassional casual visitor. therefore it is quite uplifting to see that my students and some visiting artists are really interested in the course topics and the illustrations that i prepare for `beeld en wereld'.

also, the course has really helped me to gain insight in the myriad constellations that occur when considering the interaction between myself as an artist and the outer world. what role suits me, what roles are possible, viable, sustainable, what roles are in vogue; what reactions can be expected from various sources; different looks at market forces, what are the roles of art in our and other societies, current and past..etc. etc.

to me art contemplation encompasses everything from art itself to art history, art sociology, art psychology, artist's psychology, artist's development (technical, themewise, (non)pictorial, society-related, businesswise...) and what you can come up with.

i have found that such art contemplation is often sorely lacking in curricula or art discussions, whereas especially to the artist her/himself it can be very uplifting and helpful to understand the complex mechanisms that surround the various worlds of art. from the inner world of the artist to the outer world of society in general.

it is also very uplifting to me to see that other artists have worked on these issues as well:

diego vélazquez, las meninas
las meninas by diego vélazquez

in interpretation las meninas has more layers than an onion...many of those touching on inner world <--> outer world. please follow the above link to wikipedia and read about this painting, if you are unfamiliar with it. interestingly it also touches on the relation between vélazquez and his commissioner king philip iv of spain. this relation must have been excellent, just looking at the artistic freedom vélazquez was given for this portrait.

this most famous painting has inspired many other artists, writers, philosophers through the ages. such as picasso who in 1957 painted 58 different versions:

pablo picasso, las meninas 1957
las meninas by pablo picasso

joel-peter witkin, las meninas
las meninas by joel-peter witkin

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

extraneous work (3): writing about art, presenting art

[you will by now understand that the word `extraneous' in the series' title is meant thus: `not immediately pertaining to the creation of art'.]

i write about art in different ways, one important way is this blog. but i also have two other art blogs, in dutch. the first of those is called trijntje fop gaat op de schop. it is an extensive tribute to the many many artists that inspire / have inspired me. it takes the form of poetry, specifically light verse, with animals as characters. the name `trijntje fop' comes from multatuli's ideas (multatuli = eduard douwes dekker, see the previous post), from a famous and hilarious passage containing school children's poetry. it was taken as a nom de plume by the dutch poet kees stip (1913-2001). the name is currently used to describe light poetry with the following style characteristics:

  • about 1 or more animals (`on a ...' ) with typical human characteristics - as in de la fontaine's work
  • abundance of spoonerisms.
  • 2 to ... lines, mostly 6 lines in aabbcc form.

most of my trijntje fops are about a specific artist, where the 'punchline' usually consists of some wordplay on the artist's name. i illustrate these poems with relevant artworks and background information, which is where the real work creeps in. all in all i've written some 200 trijntje fops so far...which was a lot of work. to give an idea, let me present my latest trijntje fop -not about a specific artist- below:


op n tasmaanse duivel en n duivelsrog


briest thea tasmaanse duivel:
`alleen maar banaan met zuivel?
vervloekt zij wie steeds ons hellevoer
weer boekt bij die zweedse melkboer!'

de helleveeg eist n vragenuur:
voor welk beest spijst t vagevuur?

`besef toch' sust dragan duivelsrog
de chefkok van satans ruif en trog
`aan types als bok beëlzebub
heeft íedere kok n helse club

de stamppotstampij
van harry harpij!
of maak maar ns snert voor ruziester
en drama queen slechtvalk lucifer

misschien stopt de hel met kniezen
indien k ze zelf laat kiezen?'

bel nu 666 voor vlammetjes!
-of stuur sms voor bammetjes



tasmaanse duivel, chen wu
tasmaanse duivel
(foto chen wu)



duivelsrog, david sim
duivelsrog
(mobula mobular, foto david sim)


bok, de seve, baquoy
bok
(tekening van de sève, gravure van c. baquoy, in  illustrations de histoire naturelle générale et particulière avec la description du cabinet du roy, tome v, 1755)


harpij, bjørn christian tørrissen
harpij
(foto bjørn christian tørrissen)
 


slechtvalk, peregrine falcon, john james audubon
slechtvalk 
(john james audubon, uit the birds of america)


harpij waterspuwer, veronique pagnier
waterspuwer harpij (mythologisch)
(foto véronique pagnier)



harpij, bjørn christian tørrissen
duivel = satan, beëlzebub, lucifer
(tarotkaart van pamela colman smith)



drama queen: iemand die graag van een mug een olifant maakt; vlammetjes: scherpe snack, bammetjes: boterhammetjes



john james audubon, for example, features here. what an incredible artist! the world of art is very strange, for the recognition of audubon is no doubt formidable, yet one does not usually see his works in art museums, nor is he usually mentioned in art history books. [one reason of course is that his main work is contained in the incredible book birds of america (link to digital version, only 120 complete sets exist), and it is hard to display books]. anyway, the older i get, the less i understand of this world. but the less i care, too, for fitting in, for understanding...what i perceive as the general insanity of our society.

(in the trijntje fops i often comment ironically on this general craziness.)