Monday, September 29, 2008

When Art and Values Clash

Searching for Time, Infrared photograph, (c)2008 Jeane Vogel
24x30, $325 matted

It was bound to happen. I meet a lot of people at art fairs and we basically have one thing in common: we both like my art! Or I like my art and they are being polite. Doesn't matter. We're just strangers to each other, finding something in common.

Sometimes a reaction to my work will be strong and a patron will share some very personal information, as if I were a girlfriend or a confidant. Like the woman who's husband was deployed to Iraq and they were both on my website and liked the same piece. She found me and bought it. It made them feel closer, and safer. Wow! 

Or the little girl who almost sobbed as she clutched one of my images, it so reminded her of her beloved home, now 1000 miles away. (Her mom got it for her.)

When a piece of art is the centerpiece of the conversation, people can feel close quickly.
It's a nice feeling. A personal connection, a sharing of intent,  a common purpose.

Then suddenly, I'm pulled up short. 

A collector of mine, someone who has purchased many large pieces for herself, as gifts, even commissioned a special work -- sent me some rather disturbing political materials recently.
Really? You believe that?, I thought. I guess she thought I did too.

Most artists I know are politically liberal. Some more, some less. I'm not ashamed to say I fit into the "more" camp. I try not to to talk politics at an art fair or exhibit, but it's burned into my DNA. If someone makes a comment, I'll engage them - in the most polite, civil way I know of if we disagree; enthusiastically if we're of the same mind.

But what does it mean if someone, a collector, is so drawn to my work but we're poles apart on major issues that affect our lives?

It truly jarred me at first. Oh no, I thought, I really like you! You have my work in your home! How could you think THAT!

Then the flash of the moment passed.  We had found something in common. The art. It's not much, but it's a start. Part of my values, through my work, were finding a kindred voice. In this contentious climate, where disagreement too often means that the opponent will be demonized, attacked unfairly and lied about, I'll take what common ground I can find.

Maybe it's another example of how art can heal the world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


In August 2001, I opened my first art website. Since then, I've added, subtracted and tried to tweak it.

Mostly I ended up with a mess. I knew I had to start from scratch.

I finished that daunting task this morning. WHOOHOO! Ok, well "finished" is not quite right. There are tons of things I need to change and fix -- not the least of which is adding a real shopping cart. But I'm getting there!

Please click around and tell me what you think. Comments are always welcome! I want the site to be easy and friendly. Tell me if it's not.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stuff That Art is Made Of

"Maple Leaf," public domain, artist unknown

I found this leaf on my walk yesterday. First fallen leaf of fall.

Taking time to see the remarkable amidst the familiar: This is the stuff that art is made of.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't Be Afraid of Art

Rhymes With Orange, (c) Hilary Price, 
Used with Permission of the Artist

When I laugh out loud at the funnies, it's often at Rhymes With Orange (I've been know to cry at Funky Winkerbean and For Better and For Worse too.) Hannah, my 12-going-on-24-year-old, rolls her eyes. What is so funny NOW, Mom?

I admit to be being a huge RWO fan. In five to 10 words and a cartoon drawing Hilary Price nails the idiosyncrasies of relationships, mothers, food, cats (and the people they chose to tolerate), dogs (and the people they live for), God, politics -- you name it!

This one, The Working Artist, hit home. There's a sad little joke among artists: if you want the perfect picture -- the one that people will knock down your doors to get -- just paint a clown holding a bouquet of flowers, standing in front of a barn. Why? Because those are the safest images that everyone seems to want.

They're pretty. They're universal. They won't cause a fuss.

Ok, maybe it's the tanking economy or the rampant government corruption or the notion that it's OK to lie if we say it often enough and don't back down -- but I'm ready to cause a fuss!

"Safe" art isn't getting us anywhere. "Safe" art matches your sofa and picks up the colors of the accent pieces in a room. "Real" art matches your soul. "Real" art takes you beyond yourself. It can be pretty too, but it will won't let you just glance at it without demanding something back.

What does that have to doing with "making a fuss?" Art is life. Period. If we need "safe" art around us, it stands to reason that we might be afraid of what's out there. We might not be ready to demand what we deserve: decent health care, honest public servants, jobs that pay a living wage, challenging education for our kids, safe food and water and air.

I'm not ready to get rid of the flowers and waterscapes and still lifes in my body of work, but I'm glad to have a reminder that art is, primarily, a method of communication. Everyone has something to say, and we have an obligation to say it. And we have an obligation to hear what others say, without belittling or demeaning or demonizing them in the process. But that's a two-way street too.

I have a bumper sticker on my van: "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." The whole quote, from Gray Panther Maggie Kuhn, is "Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."

Now THAT was a woman who knew how to raise a fuss!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tough Year for Art Lovers

This is a tough year. The economy is tanking. The weather has been deadly. Gas prices ... well, let's just say most of us don't get a share of those huge oil company profits.

There's a trend in times like these: people want beautiful, inspiring things around them, because everything else seems so bleak.

That's certainly been my experience this year. Collectors, patrons and "everyday" art lovers need that one special piece -- that oasis of beauty or inspiration or personal connection that our art represents for them. 

Art isn't a luxury anymore. It's a sanity-saver.

It's been a tough year to go to art fairs too. I'm grateful for every single person who comes out in the rain and nasty weather. This year of art fairs has seen more than just rain. Microbursts, tornados and straight-line winds have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of art at fairs this season.

This weekend I was at Lakeside East in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. We set up after dark - in the rain. We finished setting up Saturday morning - in the rain. There was a record 7 inches of rain in Chicago. They cancelled the show for Sunday, so after close on Saturday we torn down and packed up in the dark -- and the rain. The urban streams were flowing in the streets and basements. Still people came to see and buy art.

Thank you.

Monday, September 08, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...

My friend Hildy Gottlieb (desert dweller, fixer of non-profits and talented photographer -- and many other things too numerous to mention) introduced me to this web-based comic. I've become rather addicted. 

What does this have to do with art? Aside from the fact that it IS art, work like this makes me laugh and gives me some balance. I need that right now. A lot of it.

If you go to his site, ( don't forget to roll over the comic with your mouse. There more here than meets the eye!

The work comes with a warning: "This comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

Hey! I resemble that remark!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Family In Progress

I know people get tired of hearing this from me, but it's my litany: 
Art saves lives.

Art can save the world.

How do I know? Because I've seen it. I don't mean to suggest that ONLY art saves lives. That would be silly. It's equally silly to think that art is just pretty or angry or useless.

Want an example? I have lots, but let's start with this one. Missouri Adoption Heart Gallery Project

The Heart Gallery has affiliates all over the country. The Missouri project was started three years ago by photographer Dana Colcleasure, who truly is my hero. She worked for a couple of years to cut through bureaucratic red tape, appease obstructive egos and recruit photographers. I bugged her for months when I first heard of it -- long before she was ready for photographers -- because I wanted to be part of this project.

Heart Gallery photographers are professionals who take fine art portraits of children awaiting adoption. We try to show their personality, their life-spark. The portraits then tour the state in galleries and shopping centers and community centers, hoping a family will be inspired to inquire about adoption.

It works. Hundreds of children in MO have been adopted in the last three years. I know of at least two children I have photographed who have found "forever families." Thousands are still waiting. 

This year I photographed 12 children! Every one of them is beautiful and fun and perfect and loveable. Every once in a while I check the gallery to see how they are faring. WHOOPPIEEE! Xavier, Jordan & George Michael have a family in progress! Taking on three boys is a challenge, but this family will be the best!

So you might be thinking: I don't know if I can do that. These kids are older. Some have "issues." Some have disabilities. 

Yep. That's right. But we ALL have issues. And I don't know if you can do it either. But I know we have to do something! Each one of us who is successful stood on the shoulders of others. We were lifted and coached and encouraged. That's what these kids deserve too.

Now, let's see what we can do for Blaine, Willie, sisters Tiffany, Tierra and Sharda, James, Felicia and twins Kantriel & Keron. The Missouri Heart Gallery has been touring the state since May. It opened in St. Louis yestereday and will be in various locations throughout the month of September. See the whole schedule here. Please visit it and spread the word. 

Can art save lives? I made a simple piece of art in March and three boys will celebrate Christmas with parents and their "forever family." I know I just had a small part in it, but it's a part I'm humbled and privileged to do.

We can't fix everything, but we can fix something. Art saves lives. Art can change the world.