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.