Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Screw Up Your Courage & Get Your Work Out There

Superior View, Hand-altered Polaroid Photograph, ©2009 Jeane Vogel

Working artists, inspired artists, hungry artists produce a lot of work. Some of it is wonderful. Some of it is not.

How do we tell the difference?

I use a time-honored technique. I ask my husband, of course, and my daughter. They love everything. Even if they don't, they tell me they do. My ego gets stroked.

Sadly, that's where lots of artists stop. Amateur artists, even professionals, don't ask for real critiques. Maybe they don't want to know. Maybe they know and don't want to face it. Maybe they don't want to do the work to get better.

Maybe they are just afraid.

Submitting work to be judged against the work of others is a frightening prospect. The fear of rejection is a poison dart to creativity.

And the fear of rejection can be boiled down to one simple component: you don't like me! That's what we do to ourselves. Our work reflects ourselves. If you don't like my work, you must not like me. I'm worthless. I'm stupid. I'm bad.

Oh good grief! No wonder therapists have such full schedules.

SNAP OUT OF IT! It's not personal.

It's the work, not the person, that is liked or not. And art is subjective. The same work can receive multiple rejections and acceptances in the course of a year or two.

And when you think about it, it's not the rejection that's so difficult, but the fear of it. The thought that we MIGHT fail that stops us from submitting work to a juried exhibition or seeking out a new gallery.

What's the cure? It's simple. Just do it. Gather your best work, write the check and submit to a juried show. Do it again. And again. And again.

Talent, vision, execution -- these are all vital parts of being an artist. But they are worthless if you don't exhibit your work. And, unless you own your own gallery, you cannot exhibit your work without submitting it to the judgment of others. Art isn't a pretty picture -- it's communication. It has to been seen. It has to be discussed. It has to be examined.

Will you get rejected? I can almost guarantee it.

Will you get accepted? If it's good enough, yes.

Will you learn from the experience? If you're brave enough, you will.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Art Saves Lives -- Again

I was in my 20s when I was thunderstruck with the idea that art saves lives.

It's not an original idea. It predates writing; probably predates languages. It's uniquely human.

And being uniquely human, art has an impact on every part of our lives. Every minute. Art saves lives.

I'm not talking about art therapy, which is important. I'm talking about ART. Creation. Imagination. Using materials at hand to communicate an idea so complex or personal or elegant, that common speech will fail.

This week I was privileged to be Artist-in-Residence at the national conference of the National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health in Washington. I led a photo workshop for the Youth Track, teens and young adults who attended with their parents or alone. They are advocates for proper education and treatment for young people with mental illness. They work every day to remove the stigma of mental illness.

My job is simple. I introduce the materials. I suggest some techniques. I encourage them to think deeply about what they want to say in their finished piece. We have one day.

It's during the shooting phase of the workshop that I get to know them a bit. If the group isn't too big, I can work one-on-one, helping each get the kind of images they want. After the film is developed, the real creativity begins. The materials are basic: glue sticks, scissors, mat board, colored paper, tissue paper, whatever is at hand. They get one instruction: create your story.

Every time I do this workshop, I am blown away by the results. Without limitations, each artist creates something spectacular! I watched commentaries emerge: peace, how teens seem to have no control of their lives, living in shadows, dreaming of freedom. One artist used the actual film negatives to frame his work. It hurt me, an old film photographer, to see negatives damaged, but I got over it as I watched the power of the piece emerge.

We installed the work in a public place at the conference the next day. It would have taken me 5 minutes and no drama to install the work alone. I asked the group to do it instead. It took an hour. There was drama. The final installation, like many installations, was a work of art in itself. It was far better than I would have done.

Art saves lives. For this group, art inspires lives too.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cleansing My Palate

At least once a day, someone comes into my studio/gallery at Crestwood Court and marvels: "ALL this work is yours? You did all this?"

Well..., yes. But I didn't do it yesterday. I agree it's varied: hand-altered Polaroid photos, Infrared photos, mixed media pastel paintings, everday ceramics, silver jewelry, and most recently, votive candle scupltures from hand-made paper.

The work in my studio represents years of work. I work everyday. EVERYDAY. Hundreds of thousands of hours of work. The good art goes in the gallery or an art fair or, I hope, someone's home or office.

The bad work goes in the trash. My critics may disagree, but I am ruthless in examining my work. I toss a lot. A lot. One day, I'm worried someone will find the cache of rejects and marvel with distain: "YOU did all this?" Yuck. My reputation will be ruined!

I think one of the things that people are surprised about is the variety of work in the gallery. Many artists have one style, one body of work. They are known for it. That's what they do. It's successful. They stay the course.

I have a couple of bodies of work that I'm known for -- mostly notably hand-altered Polaroid photographs. I love that body of work. It continues to evolve and grow. As long as I can find film, I will work with medium.

Sometimes I have to break out of it, though. Ten years ago, frustrated that I couldn't thrown a clay pot, I took up ceramics. I love the mud. I'm not great, but it's a medium I can use when I need it. I've been heard to say that as a potter, I'm a very good photographer! But my berry bowls and ikaebonas are very popular and I'll be putting new items in the gallery this fall.

I'm working on a special new project that demanded hand-made paper. Sure, I could buy it, but it's so much more special if the papermaking is part of the completed piece of art. Most recently, I've picked up silversmithing. I'll make jewelry, sure, if just to feed my own habit. But I want to incorporate silver into mixed media pieces. So I have to learn it.

Most of us artists have visions far beyond our abilities or talent. If we're brave, we will try to give those visions life. The more and varied skills the artist has, the greater the chances that the vision will materialize in a vibrant piece of work.

Sometimes working with a different medium -- making paper or throwing a pot instead of making photographs, for example -- is like eating a light sherbet between two dinner courses with strong flavors. It's like cleansing the palate. Creating a different art form is a way of clearing out the creative dust and making room for new ideas.

Working with more than one medium broadens my artistic vision and keeps work fresh and exciting. That means constant learning and experimenting too.

So yes, all this work is mine. It's okay for an artist to do more than one thing, isn't it? It's okay for ALL of us to be more than one thing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Looking at Old Work with New Eyes

Peace Luck Love #8, Infrared Photograph, ©2008 Jeane Vogel
Peace Luck Love #9, Infrared Photograph, ©2008 Jeane Vogel 

Photographers want instant gratification. Even as we used to toil for hours in a darkroom, we wanted to see our work right away. In the film days, if it took a day or more to process the five rolls of  PlusX we just shot, it was much too long. We ran from the shoot to the darkroom. We wanted it NOW! And that was before the days of 1-hour photo kiosks!

That's probably why Polaroid, then digital, was embraced so quickly. Instant gratification.

Serious photographers shoot hundreds and thousands of images per month. We edit the images we shoot shortly after. We process and print the ones we like. We shoot some more. We move on.

Once in a while, I look back over old images. And every once in a while, looking at the old work with new eyes, I find exceptional work that I rejected. It's as if I've created new images!

In spring 2008, I started working on a series of introspective Infrared photographs I call Peace Luck Love. The Infrared heightens the mood of the work.

Last weekend, I decided to revisit the discarded images and process a few. I found four additional images in that series that once looked ordinary. With a bit of time behind them, the images popped at me.

Instant gratification ... all over again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Kind of Disgusting Person Does This?

It's true: I'm not a great business person. I'm an artist. I don't want to trick or coerce someone into collecting my work or scheduling a wedding. I want my business model to be a partnership, to fulfill a need, to inspire a smile or a thought or a memory.

I try to be a strong businesswoman, but I'm not aggressive or impassive enough. I can't bring my self to justify any action with an "it's just business" attitude. 

Sometimes I wonder where our business ethics have gone. I know most people are honest and hardworking. Some just aren't. Some are willing to toss people aside to get their buck.

When we see a gross violation of human decency in business, what should we do? 

Here's the situation that has me so steamed: A photographer volunteers to be part of a group that offers infant bereavement photography for families. 

I'm a volunteer for this group. We are professional photographers who volunteer to go to hospitals when a baby has died or has been stillborn.  When we get a call, we drop what we're doing and race to the family's side. These may be the only images ever made for these families. The images are retouched and are quite beautiful and moving. We provide prints and CDs and DVD slide shows with music for the families. Each session is emotionally challenging and requires up to 15 hours of shooting, processing, retouching and creating the final presentation. It's a labor of love. Everything is provided free of charge.

Why do we do it? Because we can. We have a skill. The gratitude we get back from the families is priceless. It's a gift to a family that has suffered an indescribable loss. It's a way to mend a tiny tear in our broken world. We're not special. It's just what we do.

We certainly don't do it to get more business. That's sick and cynical. 

Back to this new volunteer photographer. She works during the day for a company that has contracts with hospitals to photograph all the newborns. They photograph the babies -- flash, flash, here's your pics, give me your credit card. They are very aggressive with families and hospitals. They're making a lot of money. Fine. They aren't taking money away from me. I'm not a "hit and run" photographer.

This woman volunteers to be part of the infant bereavement group. Before she can go out on a session alone, she has to shadow a more experienced photographer to learn procedures, learn the best way to talk to families and handle the babies. 

As soon as the two photographers get to the hospital, the new volunteer -- the one who works for that aggressive company -- pushes the other photographer aside, declares she's works for this other company and takes the pictures. The kicker: when she delivered the pictures the next day, she CHARGES THE FAMILY for the work!

Mind you, this is a family who's baby has just died. They were told they were getting beautiful fine art portraits that they could cherish. For free. Instead they get regular old snapshots and they have to pay for them. They pay. They want these photographs. Only later will they feel betrayed and abused.

What kind of disgusting human being does this? What kind of person poses as a volunteer to get her foot in the door to get more business? What kind of person pretend to care about people just to get their money? 

This woman lied and cheated and stole - all in the course of 10 minutes -- for money? 
To take money from a family with a dead baby? Seriously?

This behavior is worse than unethical -- it's repugnant. Is the economy that bad that we have to stoop to exploiting a family's grief to earn a living?

Do I know her name? You bet I do. We know who she is and we know what she did. 

So I ask again. When we see a gross violation of human decency in business, what should we do? 

(The infant bereavement organization is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.  It's a great organization and worthy of support.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Long Did That Take to Make?

Spring Break, Mixed Media Painting, 20x20, $335

I understand the question. "How long did that take to make?" Artists and craftspeople hear it all the time.

I remember the first time I asked it. My family was traveling in the southwest US and we stopped to visit Navajo tribal land. A woman displayed her handmade silver and turquoise jewelry on a colorful, woven blanket. My mother, who collected silver jewelry and was trying to avoid getting her ears pierced, was searching for clip on earnings.

I was 12 and didn't have much money. I was looking at the less expensive beaded necklaces.

I picked one up. "This is pretty," I said. "Did you make it?" She nodded. "How long did it take you to make it?" "Oh, a long time," she said.

My father took me aside. "You shouldn't ask that question," he said gently. "It took her a long time to learn how to do this. Maybe she learned from her mother or her aunt, who learned from their mothers and aunts. Her work isn't about hours of work, but her skill and talent."

I think I understood. A little. I understand a lot more, now.

Much of our work in this country is paid for by the hour. We value the TIME it takes to make something-- sometimes more than the skill and talent and education and heritage of the work. Oh sure, we appreciate those things, but often the value of the work comes down to the TIME required for creation. 

I realize now that the beaded necklace might have only taken 15 minutes to make. If she had told me that, would the value had been diminished? Probably. I might have focused on the time the item took to make, instead of the value of the skill, the history, and the practiced hands that made it for me. I might have compared the price to the amount of time I had to work to earn that money.

When asked, some artists respond with their age: 'It took me 52 years to paint that. All my education and experience went into its creation."

It's a cute answer, but not satisfying. And it reinforces the idea that the value art or craft is measured in TIME. It's not. It's measured in emotion. It's measured in the viewer's connection to the work. It's measured in excellence. 

As an artist, I don't punch a time clock. I have no idea how long it takes to create a particular piece. When asked, a try to give a quick answer: "Oh, I don't know. Sometimes hours, sometimes days. I don't pay attention. I work until it's done."

That generally satisfies. What the person is really asking is: "Please tell me more about this art." So I do.

I bought the necklace I found in the desert that day. I still have it. It's value has stood the test of time.

Monday, April 06, 2009

ArtSpace Grand Opening May 2

Part of the gallery, a mixed media painting in process, and studio front
It's taken me three months, but I'm finally happy with the way the new studio is feeling and working. Yes, I moved from a small 12x12 studio to one with more than a 1000 square feet, but the new space is already starting to feel a little small! It's it amazing how fast space can fill?

I was one of the first to sign a lease at the new ArtSpace in Crestwood Court, a dying suburban mall that is transforming into an art destination. Already, 65 artists, theatres, dance studios and arts groups are buzzing about -- creating, teaching, selling art. Still, this is temporary space. We will lose our leases when the mall redevelops in two or three years. For now, the space is glorious!

I'm not a Pollyanna, but there is something special happening here. First, a company -- Jones, Lang, LaSalle -- found a creative, cooperative solution to their dead retail space. Leasing Manager Leisa Son conceived the idea and her bosses, especially General Manager Tony Stephens, supported her. How cool is that? 

JLL are putting money, energy, time and resources into creating a true art community where mall walkers now reign. The mall walkers will stay, I hope. But they will be joined by art patrons. 

Our grand opening is May 2 from noon - 9. Family activities are scheduled from noon to 5. In the evening, the event shifts to an exhibit opening event. 

The artists are stepping up too. Most of us know that there is no true competition in the art world -- except to strive toward excellence. Art is subjective. You like it or not. Since competing for sales is a little silly, we might as well cooperate. And that's what we're doing at ArtSpace.

A community is growing. It's going to be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Burned Out Austrialian Artists Need Our Help

Dear fellow & sister artists,

In February we all watched in horror while much of the Australian province of Victoria went up in flames. While that was horrible enough, it got worse: the town of Marysville, Victoria, is an artist's haven. Every gallery, studio, wooden sculpture garden, brush, canvas, oil, pen -- everything went up in flames. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of art and every art space is gone. All. Gone. In a blink of an eye. There was no time to save anything.

We have a chance to help. A sister artist, Wyn Vogel (no relation) and I have joined together to create ART - "Art Recovery Together" Wyn lives in Brisbane and has lots of contacts in Marysville. She has contacted the local art group, the Yarra Valley Arts Council (YVAC) to find out what artists need. They need EVERYTHING. The YVAC is helping us coordinate.

For three months, from April 1 to June 30, Wyn is turning over her website to collect art for sale, the proceeds will help buy art supplies, replace equipment, anything they need that helps artists start working again.

We need your help and your donations. The donating artist will email me with a jpg, sale amount, how much of sale amount will benefit ART, (at least 50% please!) and the estimated shipping cost (to US and to AU). We will put them on the web site and publicize the on-line event. If your piece sells, we will contact you with information on shipping. All family-friendly work is requested.

Basic info:

1. Jpg files should be about 900k
2. Send up to 5 views of each work. Fewer is better but send what you need to show the work
3. Include your name & contact information, website, size and medium of work
4. Short bio (no more than 3 normal sentences). You can include your picture.
5. Send all information to

This project has been backed by the Regional Arts Council of St. Louis and by the Yarra Valley Arts Council in Australia. Both Wyn and I are putting our reputations behind it, for what that's worth. Wyn's work can be seen at

This has taken Wyn and me a couple of months (mostly Wyn!) to jump through hoops and get permissions to proceed. It's not too late! Thanks for any help you can give our fellow and sister artists who have lost everything -- including their art. Let's get them creating again.

Please send this to EVERYONE who can help. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
Thank you!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Buying Handmade

I finally did it. I opened the Etsy shop.

If you don't know about Etsy, I encourage you to explore it. Etsy provides artists a venue to display and buyers to discover small hand-made treasures. Most of the work there is inexpensive, ranging from $10 - $100.

It's the place to go for a special gift. It's the place to go to support an artist. It's the place to go to buy hand-made.

I'm happy to see our culture returning to an appreciation of fine hand-made things. I've given hand-made gifts for years: note cards, pottery, knit scarves. Most people appreciated them -- some didn't. The ones who didn't thought I was being cheap. The ones who did loved that I spent time creating something just for them.

When I want a gift, I love buying finely crafted hand-made gifts. Of course, not all hand-made is created equal but the best hand-made
  • is fair trade. I'm buying from the artist or the artist's agent.
  • often is local. Not many resources are spent in shipping. Lots of the materials are local too.
  • supports a fellow artist. Lots of us support ourselves our families from the work of our hands. We appreciate our patrons.
  • preserves the craft and allow us a glimpse of other cultures and other peoples.
  • introduces me to the artist. There's something special about owning or giving a gift when there's a personal connection to the maker -- even if the connection is a short email or phone call.
  • reminds us of our values. Integrity of work, quality materials, customer service. No one's work is exploited in my studio. (Ask my intern. I think I'm fair. If not, I'll correct it!)
  • is special and comes from the love of the work. That shows in the items created.
Every other generation or so, as a people we return to our roots. We pick up the basket reeds and clay lumps amd charcoals and needles and begin to create for ourselves again. I'm sorry that sometimes it takes an economic downturn for us to reject all the over-packaged, grossly-advertised store-bought, but I'm glad we're getting there again.

Hand-made is special. Hand-made is holistic. Hand-made is sustainable.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You Know What You Should Do.....?

Sunflower II, Mixed Media Painting, ©2009 Jeane Vogel, 16x16

Is there a connection between artists being told what to do and the banality of most art seen in public places in the US? Bear with me here.

The connection might be called Unsolicited Advice.

I seem to get it all the time. Strangers walk into my studio, look around. "You know what you should do..." Then it begins.

A fellow artist walks into my studio. "You know what you should be doing ...?" No, you do that. That suggestion has nothing to do with my work.

I'm not saying that I don't like input and advice. In fact, I often ask for it and get terrific responses. Sometimes I don't like the suggestion, but it might give me pause and force me to understand why I'm not heeding it. (As an aside, if I need my ego fed, I ask advice from my husband. He seems to think everything I do is wonderful. How cool is that?)

What I truly don't understand is why do people insist on telling me what I should be doing. Do I look incompetent? Do I seem confused or aimless? Did I ask for advice? Am I your student?

Unsolicited Advice. It makes you question your judgment, censor your thoughts, keep your work safe.

Or, are you telling me what art to produce because you don't like my work? Don't understand it? It's not what you expect? Ok. Tell me that instead.

A Buddhist friend tells me that I get so much unsolicited advice because I'm always giving it. Well, that should stop, shouldn't it? OK, I'll work on that, but there's something more.

Do we really want all art to look alike? Are we so narrow or limited or lazy or stupid that we have to be spoon fed only paintings of little girls holding a bouquet, or a sailboat on the sea, or a field of sunflowers. I've created art with all these things, but this is all we can do? Can't we create something that forces a viewer to spend more than 5 seconds with it before moving on?

Art should spark a conversation, link to another idea, inspire an action, even just solicit a smile. I'm not saying that every work produced has to be important or controversial or political. Our art should not just fade into the wall.

Take a look around at your bank, your hotel lobby, your dentist's office. Do you notice the art? If not, ask why it's there. I don't think we really want everything the same. We don't want to be told what we should be doing.

Monday, March 09, 2009

f8 & Be There

Those of us who began studying photography in the dark ages (read: darkroom ages) had this adage drilled into us. f8 and be there!

It means that the photographers who get the "best" pictures are those who have their camera set on a medium aperture (f8) to compensate for focusing errors (no auto-focus in those days), and are there -- at the spot they are supposed to be.

What it really means is, "be prepared." There's also an element of luck involved. Now, I've was a Girl Scout until I was kicked out at 13 (another story) and I've been a GS leader for 8 years. I'm a mom. I know all about "be prepared" and the value of "luck!"

I started thinking about what "f8 and be there" could mean for all artists today. It struck me that "f8 and be there" is the old photographer's shorthand for daVinci's 7 Virtues of Life for Artists.

Note that DaVinci didn't call these the "virtues of artists" but the virtues of LIFE for artists. I think what he is telling us is that talented artists who do not live in the world, experience the world, interact the world, comment on the world and struggle to fix the world are artists who are wasting their talent on self-indulgence and ego.

I've had daVinci's 7 Virtues, with my interpretations, posted in my studio for years:

Curiosita -- an attitude of curiosity of continuous learning. It's the "what, when, where, why & how?" of living.

Dimostrazione -- an ability to learn and to test by knowledge by experience. Have an experimental nature.

Sensazione -- a development of awareness and refinement of sight and other senses. Be alert. Be aware. Use all the senses to experience the world.

Sfumato --think the way you paint. Overlay. Blend. Have a tendency to embrace and accept uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox. Be a free thinker.

Arte/Scienza -- a develop a balance between science and art, logic and imagination. Use the whole brain. Think. Create.

Corporalita -- have a calculated desire to achieve poise, fitness and ambidexterity. Be physical. Take action.

Connessione -- recognize that all things are connected. Life, art, politics, people, nature, commerce, faith.

Thanks, Leonardo.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Let's Bring Back the Patronage System

Anyone who has been to Florence or Rome, or who stayed awake during the Art History class slide shows, has seen the splendor that was created during the height of Europe's golden age for artists. The 15th and 16th century in Europe was awash with money and princes and aggrandizement. The work was bold and new and demanded to be seen and discussed.

Ever wanting to best their peers, the elite hired hired artists, kept them on the payroll and commissioned grand work that still takes our breath away 500 years later. I haven't set foot inside the Medici Chapels since 1982, but given the chance I will gush on for 20 minutes about the detail and beauty and exquisite workmanship of the floor-to-ceiling mosaics.

It was an era of full employment for artists. Patrons paid, artists created.

Not that all was good, of course. Your patron had to like the work you created for him. Many a tortured artist was forced to produce pedestrian art to please the master. If not, you might be discharged -- permanently.

Diego Rivera experienced the pain of the displeased Patron in the '30s when Rockefeller destroyed the commissioned mural because it was too revolutionary. Rockefeller knew who Rivera was, right? Did he think that Diego would paint a mural of the benign industrialist? Or maybe dogs playing poker?

There are some who believe that we have a patron system in place right now: it's called the University. Artists teach and produce work. Some are no more satisfied with the new Patron system, than with the old. Though few art professors lose their heads if they get a negative review.

So here's my challenge. Let's bring back the Patronage system. Let's be active in seeking out matches for artists and collectors, companies and institutions. Let's be generous with our knowledge of each others' work. Let's encourage businesses to take down the anonymous, boring, beige mixed media abstracts and pretend-watercolors of sailboats, and replace them with work that will make people stop and look -- and want to come back to the business to look again.

The Patronage system filled 15th century Europe with beauty and majesty and work worth of comment. It's time we do the same in 2009 everywhere.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Phoning It In

Concentration, from the Game Series, ©2009 Jeane Vogel Photography, Infrared Photograph

Everyone body does it once in a while: phones it in. Creation become mundane. Even work we love can become boring. Maybe I'm feeling sick. Maybe I'm feeling bored. Maybe I'm burnt out. Maybe I'm resentful of the work the client wants.

Maybe I'm just lazy.

I know that sounds harsh, but let's call it what it is. It hits all of us once in a while. We let it slide. It's good enough. We hope it doesn't show.

Of course it shows. All of us are judged by work. Our most recent work. There's truth in the old saying that we're only as good as our last effort. The old stuff might be great, the new stuff is lackluster, but nobody will notice because we're successful or well-known or ... whatever.

I recently read an interview that drove this point home to me. A local reporter, long relieved of duties by layoffs, produced a freelance piece for a small paper. I know this person and the writer is competent. The article I read was not. The questions were common, the writing was lazy. The reporter phoned it in. It was good enough. When I thought about it, I realized that everything I've read by this writer lately has been far below what we used to except. Maybe the writer thought no body will notice.

I think lots of people notice.

As soon as the thought "it's good enough" pops into my head, I know I have to resist the temptation to believe it. As soon as I realized I'm "phoning it in," I know it's time to look at why.

Why is it "just good enough?"

Is the concept not good enough? Start over.

Is the client not paying enough? Learn from that and restructure the pricing -- next time.

Do I think I'm not talented enough to deliver the work I imagined or promised? Try it again. "I can't" generally means "This us too hard. I don't want to try."

Am I bored? Too bad. Do it anyway.

We all can't be the best, but there's no excuse for laziness. There's no excuse for phoning it in.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Game Series

Diversions, (c)2009 Jeane Vogel Photography, Infrared Photograph, from the Game Series

Pamper Me, (c)2009 Jeane Vogel Photography, Hand-altered Polaroid, from the Game Series

Photographers aren't taken seriously as artists by many people.

My work often doesn't look like photography, so patrons confide in me: "I don't really like photography. Any body can take a picture." Sometime they add, trying to be complimentary: "But YOUR work. That's art. You really had to do something."

I don't like pitting my work against other photographers or artists. I'd rather try to broaden the patron's view of art to include traditional photography.

It's true, anyone can take a photo. Seems that everyone does. An artist, though, creates a comprehensive body of work. An artist creates a distinctive style and captures his or her vision on film or sensor. An artist communicates. One or six nice pictures does not an artist make.

That being said, I like to push my medium a bit beyond the obvious. Most people think that photography captures a moment in time. I disagree. A snapshot captures a moment in time. A photograph captures a mood or emotion. It tells a story. It evokes a memory. It provokes a discussion. The moment in time is almost irrelevant.

I am especially fond of photographic processes that expose a part of our world that we cannot see with out eyes. I want to produce work that asks for a relationship -- demands a few minutes of your time and maybe even gives you something new every time you approach it.

My newest work -- the Game Series -- combines both goals. The set-ups take a long time, so I'm shooting each one in hand-altered Polaroid and in infrared. I'm delighted by how different each is, even with the same subject matter.

Does the Games Series demand your time and give you something new? You tell me.

Monday, February 02, 2009

George Bailey, meet Darwin

"Potter's not selling. He's buying! And why? Because we're panicking and he's not."
George Bailey, It's A Wonderful Life

A room full of scared people trying to get their money out of a rickety, broken down, old Savings & Loan before all hell breaks loose. That's the image that comes to mind as I prepare for Art Fair Season --2009.

Imagine the room filled with art fair artists. Imagine we've lost faith in ourselves and we fearful of what we face in the next months as we travel to fairs, set up displays and desperately, hopefully look to each person who comes by.

There's a different feeling this year, isn't there? The last couple of years have been rough sometimes, and that was before the bottom dropped out of everything.

As bad as things are for some people -- and I truly believe that we have to do everything we can to help each other -- it's not bad for everyone. Sure, the media is hyping us in to a disaster frenzy, but let's put things in perspective: There's always a market for good art.

As I head into this new season, there are a couple of things I'm going to keep in the front of my head:
  • I refuse to go into "survival" mode. I will continue to be confident in the quality of my work.
  • I will not cut corners with my materials. I might cut costs, but not quality.
  • I paid attention in high school biology class. The fit survive. The weak won't. I will be fit.
  • I will not slash my prices. I will not give my work away.
  • I will not be greedy. When other artists sell, it's a good sign for all of us.
  • I will be gentle but firm with hobbyists who are selling their work for nothing: undercut me if you want, but I do not consider you a peer. If you want to be treated like a professional, a colleague, you must act like one.
  • I will not grouse about poor sales. Negative energy brings everyone down!
  • I will focus even more on customer service.
  • I will continue my practice to send a personal thank you note to every person who shares their address.
  • I will continue to resist the temptation to copy the style of a more successful artist.
Will this be an easy season or a challenging one? Who knows? Not every artist will have the same experience. I've had terrific shows when my neighbor didn't make expenses. This year, we have to use all the skills we have.

Being a working artist is a lesson in Darwinism: The strong survive. The survivors adapt. The ranks thin and produce better offspring. In our case, our offspring is better art.

I'm not prone to "Pollyanna-ish" sentiment, but I think we have a great opportunity this year. My plan? I'm focusing on my core values: quality, integrity, attitude, graditude.

Monday, January 26, 2009

No Shortcuts to the Artist's Life

George Clooney is coming to town. More than 4000 people filled the shopping-mall-turned-art community this weekend, hoping to be cast as one of the extras in his new movie, to be filmed in St. Louis. My studio is in the old mall, and I got to watch the spectacle.

Since the casting call would bring so many people to this new art space, we were asked to have our studios open. I complied. And spent the day bursting dreams.

Well, I probably didn't, but that's what it felt like.

First, let me say that I am a believer in sharing information and encouraging people. There are so many people who helped me -- are STILL helping me -- and I want to return the favor.

What I cannot do is give someone a short cut. Sometimes folks don't want to hear the truth.

There were no fewer than two dozen young people -- under 30 -- who walked into my studio on Saturday and wanted a job, wanted an intership, wanted to know the secret of success, wanted to know why they couldn't sell their art, wanted to know --- well, you get the idea.

Don't be mistaken -- I'm not a art guru and I certainly don't look like I know the secrets of life. I was just there -- and apparently approachable. I was certainly happy to stop what I was doing to talk to them.

I was shocked by a number of things:
  • Not one of these people was prepared with any information about themselves. A couple seemed put off when I suggested that they email me their resume and samples of their work.
  • There was a lot of negativity in their attitudes: it's hard to break in, I don't have any money, no one will give me a chance. Did they mistake me for their mother or their girlfriend?
  • They really didn't want to hear my answers.
  • They wanted quick fixes.
I know times are tough. I haven't forgotten that when you're young and starting out, times are always tough. And I might be wrong, but I got the distinct impression that most of these people were used to be given what they wanted... until now.

Here's what I told each one of them:
  • There is no quick way to life as an artist. You have to work at it. All the time.
  • Get the education you can afford. Learn from everyone. Learn from everything.
  • Teach what you know.
  • Be willing to take chances.
  • Show only your BEST work.
  • Enter your best work in juried exhibits. Find out if you're really as good as you think you are.
  • Don't be afraid of competition. There's always somebody who's better than you. Learn from them.
  • Achieve the excellence you admire.
  • You might not be able to have everything right now. There are decisions to make: cable or art supplies?
  • Don't copy somebody's else's work or style. Find your own vision. Find your own voice.
  • Come to grips with the fact that you might have to support yourself with other work while your art evolves.
  • Don't assume you the world owes you any recognition. There are LOTS of talented people out there.
  • Be responsible for your own success.
  • Be grateful to people who help you.
  • Be generous to people who need your help.
  • It's ok to complain and gripe about how hard this is. My friends hear it from me all the time. But stop it there-- with friends. That's what they're for! To the rest of the world, show your confidence, and your willingness to work hard and take risks.
  • Failure looks like failure. Success looks like success.
There are no short cuts to a successful artist's life. There are no short cuts to any successful life.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Muse of Change

01.20.09 -- Let's Get to Work!, © 2009 Jeane Vogel Photography. Hand-altered Polaroid Photography

01/20/09 -- No More Excuses, © 2009 Jeane Vogel Photography. Infrared photograph

In classical Greek mythology, there are nine Muses -- the sisters of creation. 

Artists, especially women artists, are part of the larger sisterhood that is guided by these Muses.

There is no identified Muse of Change or Muse of Hope or Muse of Promise, but those women visited me in the studio. Not surprisingly, they came during the rebroadcast of Martin Luther King's speech at the March on Washington in 1963. I'm old enough to remember it. I'm old enough to believe in it.

I was working on a new series of "game" images. Games are important in our lives. Children learn from playing games. Adults work out frustrations or find new solutions to problems from games.  Like art, games might seem frivolous, but are vitally important to our mental health.

As I was working on setting up the first image I planned, the Muses took over. Just so I could have some control, I decided to shoot in Infrared --spectrum of light the eye cannot see -- and hand-altered Polaroid.

The set-ups are similar, but the messages are different.

The hand-altered Polaroid uses the new film, which has very different qualities from the old but is still wonderful. The color balance is skewed a bit, but I can make it work. The dark lines on the image represent the barriers to success -- we are not naive to the difficulty of what needs to be done. 

The second image is an Infrared photograph. In this image you can see the unplayed tiles. What will happen next? Those tiles are in darkness. We don't know what comes next, but we have hope and power. The edges of the tiles are lighted brightly. There are possibilities here.

We never know when the Muses will visit. All we can do is listen. And respond. And create.

No more excuses. Let's get to work.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Teach Me, Don't Sell Me

In the business world, this is classic marketing advice: get bodies in the workshop seats by promising to reveal the secret of quick bucks, mete out just enough information to entice your mark, er listener, then close the deal with the sale: "Everything you need to know -- and more! -- is in my book/DVD/day-long retreat. Only $199. But wait! There's more!"

It's come to the art world in the last few years in the form of tele-seminars and workshops. And it's giving all of us a bad name.

I know I don't know everything-- in fact I hardly know anything at all. When it comes to art, I know where to get my instruction. When it comes to the business of art, I'm struggling. 

Daily I get three or four reminders to sign up for workshops or webinars or teleconferences that will "jump start my art," "connect to the best galleries" or teach me the "secret of selling to the best collectors." This year the hook is "how to survive a recession." 

Yeah, yeah.

Every once in a while, I bite. I'm still annoyed by an hour I wasted this week on a "preview webinar." The idea, of course, is to give the listener a taste of the full session and hope I'll pay for the full thing scheduled for a few days later. Apparently a lot did. I cannot imagine why.

First, I cannot stand "perky." The marketer of this session interrupted every few minutes to make her pitch. And she was WAY too perky. I'm sure somebody coached her to sound that way. It sounded fake and disingenuous.

But the part the really repelled me was the way the hour-long webinar was handled. THERE WAS NO INFORMATION GIVEN! Nothing. Oh sure, there were little tidbits tossed out, but those nuggets were followed by: "I really don't have time to explain it all here, but I'll get into depth on Tuesday night." I looked at my watch. We have 45 minutes left! So what she was really saying was "You're not paying for this so I'm not telling you." 

Instead of enticing me, I came away doubting whether this person really did have something useful to share. Honestly, I expected her next sentence to be: "This little bottle of Dr. Brown's Elixir will ignite your muse, clear your desk clutter, wash your studio floor and finish your taxes. Why, I even knew one little lady who sold paintings to five major Chelsea galleries after one little sip!"

Yep, I felt like I had spent an hour with a snake oil salesman. 

I'm not saying that all of these mass seminars are bad, but if someone is selling something at the end, the build up better be useful and practical.

Lots of artists teach. I do. I love teaching -- not as much as creating art, but teachers learn so much from the act of sharing.  Every time I lead a workshop or class, even if it's to 5 year olds, I come away with a new understanding of my medium -- and more ideas for new work. 

Sharing our knowledge with each other doesn't diminish us -- it enriches us. We don't have to share it for free -- my workshops cost money too -- but we don't have to sell something at the end, do we?

Teach me. Stop selling me stuff.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Peace Corps for Artists?

There's been some buzz that President-Elect Obama wants to establish an Art Corps -- sort of a Peace Corps for the arts within the United States.

The idea is a great one -- but with a huge flaw that perpetuates the idea that artists don't need to make a living.

I get ahead of myself.

The Art Corps doesn't exist yet, but there's talk that visual and performing artists would be recruited to volunteer their time in schools and communities to fill the gaps left when arts are eliminated from budgets because of funding emergencies. Now certainly is the time for that. From what I've seen first-hand, arts education in our schools is just awful. It seems that too many teachers are uninspired, overwhelmed, or don't care anymore. And why should they care? There's no money, and art and music are considered "electives" -- fun courses. They don't really mean anything, do they?

Some arts teachers are bad artists themselves, or don't bother to continue to work on their craft. I'm still seething over a teacher my daughter had who "corrected" the students' sculptures if she didn't like some of the elements! That's appalling! The students went home defeated, not accomplished.

We need more art and music -- from working visual and performing artists -- in our schools and communities at all levels. In fact, I would be first in line to sign up.

So where's the flaw in this plan? Asking artists and musicians to volunteer -- again -- continues the myth that art is not a worthy profession, able to sustain a family. There was an opinion poll released recently that suggested that 90 percent of people polled supported art and wanted art in their lives, but only about 10 percent of those people valued artists -- they thought art was not a valued profession. In other words, they wanted the result but not the people that create it. 


Art isn't something artists do in their spare time -- or it shouldn't be. Art isn't frivolous. It's a driving passion. Art and music add to the quality of our lives. Art enriches, inspires, entertains, bemuses and makes us think. Art makes us grow. Art saves lives.

Then why delegate it to spare time, trust-funders or people who are supported by a spouse with a good job? Why do we assume that artists should be "starving?" Artists are asked to volunteer our time and energy and talent -- and the fruits of those efforts -- a lot! And we do -- a lot.

I've worked in schools, hospitals and community settings for little or no money. I've seen children and adults discover the joy of creation, and revel in accomplish they didn't know was possible. I watched students surprise their teachers with work that the teachers thought was impossible from these " bad kids." I've seen very sick kids smile with pride, forgetting their pain for a moment.

Art saves lives. It's not frivolous. In a school, it's as important as math. In a hospital, it's as vital as the right treatment. In our community, it's as useful as good streets.

I think the Art Corps is a great idea. But while we're at it, let's remember validate the work of the volunteers who will be going into the schools and communities. Let's add those artists' works to our public collections, commission visual and performing work from them that we pay for, and elevate their status in our communities.

Working visual and performing artists are vital contributors to our humanity. Let's treat them like we believe it.