Art Making Art Thinking

Making art - ideas from anytime and anyplace

An interlude – continuing reflection on practice – a post with no images

In my thesis (2006)[1] I examined the idea that creative practice for most artists (from any art) could not be easily separated from everyday life.

Arguably everyday life for everyone requires imagination and memory as well as thinking . . .

about what is around them now . . .

about what has been around them in the past . . .

and about what will be around them in the future.

When I think about what that involves for us . . . for all of us . . . all the time . . . I am still astounded by the existence of consciousness and its complexity.

Essentially consciousness is one of the most beautiful things in our world, it results in seemingly unlimited ways of structuring and restructuring and enhancing our lives and here’s the but, those enhancements are subject to different belief systems within individuals, society’s and cultures which themselves are the products of ‘creative’ thinking.

What brought on this reflective burst of thought? Three things in particular . . .

Firstly – last week I was at the Christmas meeting of the Perthshire Care and Well-being Co-operative and we spoke about the importance of providing different kinds of care for the increasing numbers of people experiencing problems with their emotional and mental health. The shared consensus was that increased pervasiveness of technology was exposing people of all age groups to unrealistic expectations of themselves and how they should ‘be’, revisiting the perennial question . . . what makes a successful and meaningful life?

Secondly – Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Enough said.

Thirdly – the article in the Blairgowrie Advertiser early in December informing the readership that the old Hill Primary school in the town centre had been sold by Perth and Kinross Council for the grand sum of £1. Yes, SOLD FOR £1!!! To Corryard Contractor and Developer, Crieff. This was only found out after a freedom of information request was put in to the council. The request was put in because of confusion in Blairgowrie about why the council would prefer to choose a private development bid over one from The Ericht Trust. The Ericht Trust had spent a significant amount of time putting together a proposal for a local community centre for the benefit of Blairgowrie. Finding out that the old school had been purchased for £1 is an indication that central amenities for the local community are not a priority for Perth and Kinross Council. Dream Homes are a priority though. Enough said again. (Interestingly I could not find anything on the Blairgowrie Advertiser’s Facebook page about this, or on the online page of the  Daily Record’s  which owns the Advertiser

I am unable to make art which overtly engages with these issues, I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I feel that I cannot do justice to the seriousness of these events although all of this does influence my thinking and therefore, indirectly, my art.

 

[1] Stackhouse, Aileen M (2006)Trahere; the sense of unease in making a mark – the practice of drawing and the practice of thinking. University of Dundee

Art Times . . . the year turns over and falls away . . .

While I am looking for a Radio 4 programme that my brother recommended I find  this one instead – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b098jp3w called The Gamble – it talks about Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon and I wonder how they managed to live in such a way . . . how they managed to push themselves to financial, emotional and physical limits and still create art which is meaningful. The programme asks whether it is ‘ an artist’s calling to live this life of fear, confronting failure in the hope that taking yourself to the bottom will eventually elevate you to the top?  . . . in a rare BBC interview Freud spoke  about  people  sacrificing the possibility of comfort and what is thought to be an agreeable life, to a life of uncertainty and loneliness perhaps, and where you are engaged in, to them, an incomprehensible activity with results fairly unlikely to change or affect your situation in an economic way,  and the thought of that seems to many people astonishing . . .’  The programme  contains readings from a poem and it is good, I will have to find out who the poet is.

I wonder if this means I am not an artist because I do not gamble . . . or do I? Maybe . . . not as overtly as someone who puts money on horses, play cards or do the lottery but yes, in a different way, I do gamble. I have chosen this economically unrewarding path and I have always understood  that it is likely to will remain so. At least Freud and Bacon did not have children to look after and I wonder about my apparent selfishness in pursuing art rather than working for more secure way of life to provide for my family and their future.

To some extent this repeated self-questioning is irrelevant and pointless, making art is not a choice it is who I am – I cannot remember a time when I did not consciously make marks. It would be more accurate to say I am a continuous process of looking for and finding opportunities and places to make art in as many ways as possible. I have chosen not to follow a predictable career path. Sometimes this bothers me ( I don’t have a workplace pension having never earned enough to put by, bringing up three people costs  and financial needs don’t finish when they are eighteen) and sometimes it doesn’t ( people who are secure in the knowledge that they have a workplace pension sometimes find that it is gone when they retire). I am secure in the knowledge that when/if I reach sixty-six I will not sit back and wonder what to do with my life now, because I will already be doing it.

Reading the above back to myself makes me sound more confident than I am. I know  what I have said contains contradictions and I am quite happy with that.

It was Radio 4’s daily consumer affairs programme You and Yours segment about Online Art Artists that Neil was telling me about, I eventually found, have a listen . . .it’s very interesting particularly because shortly afterwards I listened to Radio Scotland’s Stark Talk series where Edi Stark speaks with Arthur Watson, artist and traditional singer , president of the Royal Scottish Academy of art and architecture, the home of Scottish contemporary art. Arthur has a long and distinguished career as a learned and well-respected and influential artist practitioner within Scotland and beyond contemporary art world. The particular point that he made which I know is true is that he spends hardly any time using a computer except to check his email. He has no interest in using them because he perceives, accurately, that they have the capacity to suck time away from the perilous nature of pursuing the calling of making art. I agree with Arthur about this although I hope that he recognises that his almost Luddite (nb not anti-progress, protective towards traditional practices) reluctance to engage with the actual use of various software is cushioned by his ability to delegate its machinations to those who have to work with it to bring their, or his, works to fruition. For many artists these days and particularly recent graduates and emerging artists such engagement is vital as they begin to make their career without the bulwark of the academic institution or professional bodies such as the RSA (which remain the territory of the few). . .not only because it is technology which supports their careers outwith such, they do not have to belong to any body to belong, they are able to build their own networks without waiting for others notice, nods, or approval. In addition it is cheap, open access platforms mean that many can learn much without substantial financial commitment or indeed any. They can proceed at their own pace, explore where they are and wander onwards in this virtual much in the tradition of the flaneur – their libraries and galleries are open all over the world at all times. They are not limited to their physical space or the people they actually know. I do not argue that one way is better than another, both are good. What I am saying is that if your career as an artist does not advance in the way you imagine, it does not mean you are not an artist.  Yesterday evening I went along  to AKBell Library in Perth to see the new Maker_Space  Culture Perth and Kinross which is open for library members to pursue their creative practice. There’s all sorts of bookable digital resources available along with support for creatives who can’t afford their own kit . . I am impressed and am thinking about how I can make use of their 3D printer.

I trained in sculpture and although I experiment with paint I am not confident when using it. I swither between whether I prefer oil or watercolour, I swither between abstract or representative, I swither between landscape and figurative and I swither between leaving a flat surface or building outward from the canvas. It takes me a long time to make up my mind whichever artform I concentrate upon and earlier found this in my notebook ‘today I am speaking about sculpture and I find it hard to explain how slow it is, the slowness, the halts and spaces then the acceleration in thinking so rapid that an alteration takes place in the form where there is no indication of the amount, repetitiveness and complexity of circular thought beforehand. Even the halts, spaces and silences are part of the work’s emergence . . .even the times when physical work ceases, where the work sits unchanged for months and sometimes years before it is taken in hand again. There is no time as measured by the clock, the days, years there is only art time.

I am not sure of the precise beginning date of these first two images here in their form as painting. The idea for them had been revolving? Proceeding? Approaching? since 1996 although the images themselves come from much earlier childhood thinking.

The next four are struggles with paint and the appearance of water, of waters’ force, its energy, its densities and transparencies . . .its presence. . .to look at one body of water is to reference all bodies of water experienced in any a=way over time and location. I cannot express what it means. I have many digital film clips of the River Ericht from this year and the from previous years concerning what fascinates me about bodies of water. The digital clips are fine, I love to watch them although for some reason they do not contain all I want them to contain which is why I turned to painting. These are unsatisfactory as well and march me straight back to the question ‘why make art at all when it is the water itself which contains the magic? What more can I say about water than say water?’  I do not know how to make them the way I want them to be.

 

 

Art Time Flies . . . the last weeks of August . . .

I have been thinking about the fact that one day a week for one year is not enough to find out all I want to know about the River Ericht . . . I am literally only skimming its surface. The months since June have been crammed with events, thoughts and ideas, conversation and learning new skills. I could make a list of all of these however that would not communicate the intensity of the last ten weeks, what I can communicate is the abrupt changes in the Ericht’s flow. Through May, June, July and August the water levels continued to be low enough to paddle in places that were usually inaccessible, then on the night of Monday 14th the heavens opened and the torrential downpour lasted for hours. On the Tuesday morning I went out with the dog and the Ericht was in spate, racing and tumbling, churning and falling over itself in its hurry towards the Isla.  The rocks beneath the viewpoint at Cargill’s Leap were totally overwhelmed with brown, raging torrents and invisible then only two days later the water was falling and they could be seen again.  I would not like to be a form of life which depends on stable water flow although anything which exists alongside the Ericht must be able to adapt to such extremes. Interestingly, even though the river still looks high this morning when I look at SEPA’S website it is still within normal levels for the time of year. Today, for example, the water level is just beneath 0.7m which is at the lower end of ‘normal’.

If such turbulence continues it may mean the coracle I have made with willow weaver Jane Wilkinson of Special Branch Baskets will not be moored in the Ericht during BRAW 2017. Unexpectedly (for myself) I feel very attached to my coracle and am now reluctant to set it free from the Ericht’s beginning up at Bridge of Cally to see how far it floats down towards its  confluence with the River Isla. I am thinking of a way around this. . . when I first had the idea I was quite willing to let it go and see what happened. The idea was connected to my reading about David Nash’s (British Sculptor) Wooden Boulder  and I was impressed with his ability to accept that whatever happened to the work was the work. I don’t know whether the physical method of weaving has endowed this particular coracle with more meaning than if I had used an axe to hack and shape a log boat from a tree which I had felled myself.  Does the controlled and regular weaving of the willow wands with my hands and fingers mean more than the abrupt movement of wielding a heavy and sharp tool. Maybe my reluctance to deliberately leave it out in the elements is intrinsically to  weavings’ links with domesticity. Some artworks  I make do not exercise a strong hold on my imagination and I am willing to send them on their way, or even speed their destruction. My son Thomas has helped me make my coracle and I would have been lost without his physical strength – fifteen years ago maybe I could have made it myself but not now. Thomas and Jane spoke about how weaving and using coracles was an ancient and worldwide way of transport, there are writings describing them as well as drawings. The whole process took three days and even now the stitching needs completion then I will make it watertight by painting it with bitumen paint before seriously considering what to do when it is finished. By the way it has been christened ‘Theo’ by the Tibetan Mastiff of the same name when it was being woven at Eastfield House before being taken down to be handstitched at the Alyth base of Outdoor Explore in The Barony.

Midway through July  I visited the Ericht’s Witches Pool near Craighall Bridge with Danielle Muir and she had shown me how she takes freshwater samples of bugs to establish how clean the rivers are around Perthshire . . .  the Ericht scores highly with its evidence of invertebrate species living in the water including; the larvae of Stonefly, Mayfly, Midge and Cased caddis; Pond snails, Freshwater shrimp, Water and Whirligig beetles. Plant species were abundant as well including; Harebell, Pink Purslane, Valerian, Wood Sorrel, Wood Cranesbill, Herb Robert, Dog’s Mercury, St John’s Wort, Dog Violet, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Common Figwort, Hogweed, Yellow Pimpernel, Sticky willies (Cleavers Herb), Common Comfrey, Self-Heal, Hedge Woundwort, Nipplewort, Foxglove, Nettle-leaved Bellflower, Golden-rod, Leopardsbane, Butterbur, Feverfew, Ragwort and Marsh Thistle. Among the birds were Dippers (the Ericht is a favourite River of theirs), Grey wagtails, a Common sandpiper (I have only seen them at the sea before), Wrens, Long tailed tits and a Buzzard. We heard noises in the undergrowth which may have been deer but the only mammal we saw was the Red squirrel. All of these inhabitants really on each other for their survival and any imbalance will have long term effects which may not be immediately visible but are there nevertheless.

There has been more, much more, and as usual I do not have enough space. Perthshire Open Studios 2017 looms where I will be showing at Cornelia Weinmann Design . . .  only nine days to go!

 

Art Times . . . I live Here . . . and I am out of my Studio

I spend so much of the time inside my studio and undoubtedly I sometimes use it as a refuge from the noise of our world. Most of us have hiding places from everyday demands and routines of work and it is uncomfortable to recognise that my own refuge is actually my work. My research project into the River Ericht has brought many personal challenges, not least meeting other people and clearly explaining what I am doing. The art of communication is precisely that, an art, and because much of my time is spent alone communicating with other people holds many complex layers and potential for misunderstanding.

There are so many people I have met in my work about the River Ericht since February and I am struck again by how genuinely giving and constructive they are with their memories and knowledge. Ideas for possible artworks are beginning to form and I have shared two or three of these with closer acquaintances,

And there is so much to do, the amount of relevant information I have already gathered is varied and vast. At the beginning of June I was introduced to The Blethers group in Blairgowrie and look forward  to going along and listening to more recollections in July. Last Thursday (14th June) I listenned to a talk in the Cateran Cafe given by Paul Adair (Perth Museum and Art Gallery) on the Laing Photographic Collection given to the archives by  D.Wilson Laing Photographers after they closed in Blairgowrie around 1993. The collection has been chosen by Cateran’s Common Wealth as part of the A Story of the Cateran Trail in 100 Objects exhibition which opens on 1st July in Alyth Museum. It was fascinating because portraits of our own children in 1992 (too recent for the purposes of the talk) were taken in the studio which was shown on the first slide and although I did not know any of the people in the photographs I recognised many of the locations. The extensive collection will soon be available to view online.

This weekend BRAN volunteers tidied up the grass and litter along the banks of the Riverside, this is hard work especially because PKC does not have the budget to commit to maintaining this resource. There are plenty of bins along the path and I don’t understand why people don’t use them, this is such a beautiful place for visitors to Blairgowrie and people who live here to relax and enjoy AND it’s only five minutes from the town centre AND Cargill’s Bistro‘s excellent scones OR Wellmeadow Cafe‘s tasty pancakes. Clare Damodaran from the Blairgowrie Advertiser came down and took some pictures of us before we all got messy and then interviewed Brian Smith, Graham Reid and myself about the Riverside Venture Group which I joined in April. Brian and Graham are working hard to rejuvenate the Riverside as an essential place to visit in Scotland given the town’s wealth of social and cultural history – they will welcome any ideas and people willing to get involved.

On Sunday I went along to the third of Leila Mayne’s Plant Study Walks along the Ericht and the first thing I saw on the freshly cut grass was a large empty plastic Co-op bag and various empty sandwich cartons and silver foil. ANYWAY!! Leila  knows so much about aspects of our relationship with our environment that Hazel and I become mentally stunned with her weight of knowledge. We learned about the health giving properties of  two types of Plantain, Plantago Lanceolata and Plantain- Plantaginaceae. Brilliant! Not only because I am learning about so many new plant properties but also because I get to spend most of the day outside by the River. It was an absolutely beautiful day.

On Saturday 24th I will be at Blairgowrie’s Community Market in the ABC tent should anyone want to come and see me drawing my surroundings in the Wellmeadow. And, if you would like to try outdoor drawing with me, then my July workshops are on the 21st and 22nd July, book on https://www.aileenmstackhouse.co.uk/courses.html   seven maximum – minimum four.

 

Art Times . . . I live here . . . walking close by the River Ericht

Spring has come and April turns to May . . .

During April each day so cold, the wind bright steel cold into eyes skin bones breath catching – aching to return home and warm the self. . . there is an exhilaration in walking against the wind or being driven by it from every way and then May turns the corner the sun rises earlier brings light and heat.

Ten days into May and still no rain and so dry, the ground is cracking and footsteps sound the earth echoing beneath, soils are losing their pigment turning pale grey brown ochre and clouds of their dust rises like smoke following the wind as it passes. Yet the trees leaves are still unfolding and the plants below their shelter are still growing,  there are constellations of starry Wild Garlic (allium ursinum, ‘bear’s garlic’, ransoms) and Wood Anemone (anemone nemorosa) the leaves of Wood Avens (geum urbanum, ‘herb bennet’), Coltsfoot (tussilago farfara,’son before the father’) Sweet Cicely (myrrhus odorata, ‘anise’) there are so many species here by the riverside. The Ericht’s water level is lower than it has been during spring for years and parts of the river bed can be seen that I have never seen before, at the beginning of April it is so shallow that Piotr Gudan from Outdoor Explore calls off our kayaking down from where it starts at Bridge of Cally to where it ends at its confluence with the River Isla. The water is not deep enough he says, we would have to carry the kayaks as much as paddle them.  This morning while I stand on the bank next to Cargill’s Leap there are pools still where water is so deep the bottom cannot be seen, dark brown, black, purple and blue, and then there are pools where rocks and shelves of rock can now be seen. The exposed river rock in places becomes silvery grey patterned by fronds of dried weed pointing downstream, more than ever its tilted folds and crumpled stone slopes resemble the bones of unknown gigantic beasts strewn between the steep banks.

Imagine no rain for 15 years . . .this is impossible for me . . .the thought fills me with dread. If there were no rain . . . here we take so much for granted.

Water holds people with its presence, they stop to contemplate the passing flow, the depths and reflections, eddies, waves, currents overflowing then falling back, drying, flooding and spilling. Many artists have tried, and try, to capture its essential nature yet nothing we make is big enough to communicate its presence,

Conversations about the river with people  have been full of unexpected nuggets of knowledge; Louise Copeland (Brooklinn Mill), Rab Kettles (Wisecraft), Lesley Macdonald (Cargill’s), Sir William Macpherson (Newton Castle), Cath Robertson of (BRAN, Blairgowrie and Rattray Access Network), Melanie and Peter Thomson (Thomson Farms), Leila Mayne (medical herbalist) among others. I have been experimenting with recording some conversations, some people ask not to be recorded and I respect this. Learning sound recording is a new experiment and experience for me, it is complex and does not come easily, I make mistakes which is fine. The word for becoming used to sound editing software is tangled, I begin and stop, and begin again. . .  it is all most confusing yet this is to be expected. There are many people who I still wish to talk to and there is still much to learn.

I have been reading A social history of Blairgowrie and Rattray : the market town, the mill town, the berry town / edited and compiled by Margaret Laing. A land by Jacquetta Hawkes, How to read water by Tristan Gooley, The water book by Alok Jha, All are interesting and all point me in new directions.

 

Art Times . . . I live here . . . close by the River Ericht

And now it is the end of March. So much is happening, so many new people to meet and to talk about the Ericht with, so much to learn about. Learning is an ongoing process for people, we have to learn to live, we have to learn to communicate and create, to make, to think and imagine how things can change or how to keep them the same (impossible). We learn whatever we do, we learn when we meet different people, we learn that they see a different world from our own, this includes the wide world around us as well as what is under our own nose. Not everyone appreciates wildness, wilderness, many cannot see beyond the undergrowth and what lives there, for some a tree is an obstruction and not a home for living things, not everyone appreciates maintained landscapes, many cannot see the green space around only what forms of life are missing.

I’m learning all this anew, not everyone sees the Ericht the way I do, as a refuge, a safe haven full of beauty. Because of this range of opinions I will say what I have learned from the people I speak to, but in this Creative Scotland funded role of Artist-in-Residence-in-My-Home-Blairgowrie I will maintain an objective distance. I will show what I see, I will not express personal opinions.

Meetings attended this month have included BRAN and then the Riverside Venture Group which is a sub group within Blairgowrie Community Council then one to one meetings with Jessie Shaw of One Voice and The Ericht Trust where I collected a Tascam sound recorder to borrow and record sounds along the river as well as interviews. I have volunteered to become their new interviewer for Blairgowrie Hour on Heartland FM so we’ll see how that pans out, Lesley McDonald from Cargill’s Bistro has a list of people she wants me to interview. I walked along the Ericht towards Kitty Swanson’s bridge with Hazel Harris and we spoke about how paths were vulnerable to landowners and farmers as well as the area’s history. Upcoming conversations include Melanie Thomson who will speak to me about the history of the mills along the Ericht’s banks and Louise Copeland who lives at the confluence of the Lornty Burn with the Ericht.

And Spring is coming . . .

Art Times Five – aspects of creative practice-12 December 2016

On drawing and talking ( Ways into Drawing One)

The six people (guinea pigs?) who have come along to this first block and taken part include a teacher, an alternative health therapist/self-catering provider, a practising artist, a photographer and a scientist. I began the block by working through ways of mark making each week and finished with each person framing one of their artworks. Create at Nest has been a good venue, small and friendly, and because it is a new venture everything is still developing and growing.

I have been feeling my way back into teaching and without the presence of an academic institution behind me I am free to work at the pace I choose, a pace which takes account of other individuals’ perceptions and experiences rather than fitting some perceptions into a pre-existing template and ignoring others. There is a different and more gentle feel about my independently organising and presenting my own drawing workshops in this space.

Because responsibility for these classes starts and stops with me, I am able to adjust what I do and the methods I use, responding to each person who takes part and according to my  experience of my own practice and its creative context. My objective is to demonstrate how powerfully drawing can influence our quality of life and for people to enjoy and express themselves.

I draw to demonstrate to the group what I mean while I talk about drawing.  The speed of talking means that naturally  people do not listen to everything I say and are sometimes reluctant to ask what I mean. If I draw while I talk everything slows down and people feel more able to interrupt, to express an opinion and to question.  It makes me think more closely about what I am doing, it reminds me of what I have done, it sends me off on a tangent, it shows me where else I can go, what else I can explore . . . drawing is a limitless and easily accessible resource for everyone.

Demonstration Images

The classes begin again in January. Information below and on my website www.aileenmstackhouse.uk

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Art Times Four

Art Times Four

Autumn drawing and other actions

Images above are from ‘Scratch Notes. . Volume 1’ miniature boxed installation shown at Perthshire Creates exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery in October.

For me October overstayed its welcome and when time becomes like this my perception of the world hangs within a state of suspension where everything turns, rotates and orbits and the sun hangs too in the metalled gold or silver sky.

I have been looking at designers. Even now, almost 20 years after getting my degree in Fine Art Sculpture, I believe that dividing art into categories such as fine art and design is not helpful. For me anyone who thinks and imagines ways of doing things differently and then creates from their ideas is an artist – divisions are specious and a waste of time. For humans in this world to work together and share ideas should be the aim.

Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer (http://www.manifestoproject.it/bruce-mau) believes in creativity’s power to change our lives. I borrowed a book from the library called Glimmer by Warren Berger which discusses Bruce Mau’s and other designers’ influence on the everyday – how design is not about producing objects/gadgets of design – design is about processes of improving our experience of living in the world.  The book’s mantra is ‘ask stupid questions’ ask questions that don’t accept the way things are, ask why, ask what, ask who, where, when, how, whether, what about??? Too many of us don’t ask we simply behave. Stupid questions trigger fresh thinking. Another way to say this is ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’.

Whatever we make, however we create, wherever we draw, sculpt, craft, part of all that exploratory process is getting lost (getting lost means we see/find/feel stuff we wouldn’t otherwise experience), and we make what we may consider to be mistakes (mistakes have a function), part of that process is to question our habits of making/doing and to DO DIFFERENTLY!

Which brings me to my new drawing class in Blairgowrie ‘Ways into Drawing’. I had forgotten how much I love to talk about drawing, to show others different ways to draw, to encourage experimentation. Not in a huge way, my aim is to encourage people who want to draw to play and relax, to have conversations, eat biscuits and drink tea and coffee . . .what is truly lovely is this is not about marks, passing exams, ticking boxes . . .it is simply about the process of mark making among like-minded people who are becoming friends. We’re just over half way through the block and I’m enjoying it enough to run another two groups that begin in January 2017. ‘Ways into Drawing One’ will repeat this current class and ‘Ways into Drawing Two’ will build and expand on ‘One’. I will use Create at Nest in Blairgowrie again as a venue, it’s small enough not to intimidate new people and it’s friendly. Bookings can be made via my website. Examples of the groups drawing can be seen below.

 

Finally . . . I have finished the wax sculpture commissioned privately for a Dandie Dimont and it will soon be cast in bronze. I am excited; the dog was interesting to model because he is small with short legs, a long muscular body and a curly coat. Dandie Dimont’s are a rare British breed, they do not cast their hair and so are good companions for people who are sensitive to dog hair. They were bred to be used for hunting badgers and their feet are amazing, when the dog is lying down they look dainty and small. When the dog stands up the foot spreads and look rather like a spade with claws stuck at the end. His body is concertina like – sometimes short and chunky – sometimes long and snake like. Their jaws have a bite which is fierce because they dislocate to get a grip on their prey. OUCH!

There’s so much more that happened but I’ve already written rather a lot so hey ho . . . so here’s a list Perthshire Creates exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Scottish Woodworking Show 2016 at Brodies Timber in Inver by Dunkeld, Dr Isabella Moore CBE Director of Comtec talking to Women’s Enterprise at Cargills Bistro, The Care and Well-being Co-op event in Pitlochry where I held a Drawing for Well-being taster session, went to workshop about Sharing your creative practice held by Voluntary Arts Scoltand at the Botanic Cottage in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and presented by Gill Thomas  and going to Growbiz Perthshire’s event about the mentoring process at Fishers Hotel in Pitlochry.

This week I will be concentrating on MAKING art.

Keep Making Artwork

Thinking about making art work

 

Why does artwork have to work/function/be understood? Does art have to work etc for it to be named as art. . . to be understood as art . .  to be spoken of as art?

It’s in the nature of creating art that it does not always work/function/be comprehensible, sometimes it becomes un-nameable, un-categorisable, sometimes it is not even understood  by the person who is making that art.

Further. . .in order to become art an artwork has to contain spaces of time during its making and within its structure where it does not work, it does not fulfil its function. It stops being art and becomes art not being.

Bear with me while I think this conundrum out and type while thinking (since typing is slower than talking, typing focuses the mind and means I may be able to make sense out of non-sense).

 

Start again.

 

First there is the name . . . art

A work of art

A piece of work

An artwork

A curator once expressed their belief in conversation with me that art can never be called work in the way that coal mining or fishing or anything that involves physical labour can be called work. Calling art work was a piece of nonsense, a non-sense.

I did not respond for this was true . . . coal mining and art are demonstrably different. Despite the curator themselves being involved in the pursuit and gathering of artworks and artists into the fold of the art world it was evident that they considered coal mining to be worthwhile work whereas making art and thinking about making art was not as worthwhile, was considered to be a luxury.

I still did not respond for I did not know what to say . . . in one sentence everything I made, everything I did, everything I thought about had become relegated to a lower level of things necessary for existence. Was not worthwhile . . . what? Creating art or looking at art was considered a luxury, a way of whiling away time.

Years later I think the curator did not express this belief of theirs particularly well. My own belief is that art and art making is essential for humanity in order to stay well and to understand the world.

 

Then there is the process of . . . art

The art of making works which communicate the art of being, thinking, ideas, beliefs, perceptions . . . all of these artworks work, they function as expressions of our humanity –they share feelings (good and bad), perceptions (inaccurate or accurate) and ideas (mistaken or correct) between individuals, communities, societies and cultures.

The processes of art are not always physical, nor are they always labour-intensive, and the products may be regarded as inessential to human existence, luxurious. Imagine (and here the concept of imagination is fundamental) our world without art, we would have no infrastructure, no medicine, education, history, philosophy or science, none of these would exist if we did not have the ability to imagine and then create from that imagining.

And some believe art is not work. . .

 

Four experiences this month have highlighted these thoughts and given me more food for them. . The first was Perthshire Open Studios, which I spoke about in my last blog Art Times Three. The second was just this last weekend 24th September in Dundee’s Mini Make Off organised by Pop Dundee . I went along to see how my artist friend Victoria Wylie Hale engaged with the public as well as simply saying ‘Hello Friend’. Third was the PVAF’s road show in Create at Nest in Blairgowrie on the following day, it’s definitely a good idea for PVAF to go out and about given that Perthshire is huge. The present committee have put out a revisioning of their mission statement for the membership to comment on via a survey, (see their link above) before their AGM, showing a healthy attitude towards adjusting in response to the changing art world. The meeting discussed Perth’s City of Culture bid to become the UK City of culture 2021. With regard to the idea of art and work I was interested in how the Perth and Kinross Council’s invitation to artists to suggest ideas was seemingly at odds with its own history of cutting financial provision for, shedding jobs in, and withdrawing opportunities for communities to engage in art which has recently been masked by a rebranding exercise which purports that the opposite is the case. Recently I found out that Life Drawing Classes would now only be held in Perth, no longer in  Blairgowrie or Kinross and that PKC was stopping funding for Adult Education in Blairgowrie and Alyth.

In other professions people who have ideas are paid for those ideas, people who work are paid for that work. Artists should be paid for their work, not expected to pay for the chance to turn up and present ideas/hand artwork over to a gallery or institution where it may/may not be exhibited for a set space of time or where it may or may not be chosen/sold. If it is chosen for further development and given the financial means to go ahead then those means are often inadequate and rarely equate to the remuneration given to equally qualified professionals. If it is sold then the parties who exhibit the artwork are given a substantial percentage of the selling price, if it is not sold then the artist picks it up and takes it away, no remuneration at all. It has always been the case in the UK that the life of an artist is complicated and often supported by a number of other jobs, or a supportive partner/family, or, for those fortunate enough, an independent income although hopefully things are changing. Creative Scotland has recently declared its support for the campaign Paying Artists/Valuing Art, see AN newsletter for the campaign’s 2 year history.

Back to experience two, Vicky at Dundee’s Mini Make Off. A brilliant idea, artists were given space for a day to demonstrate what they do and give visitors the chance to have a go. I wanted to see Vicky’s stall because I’ve been following the growth of her art group for children at Explore, Play, Create in Forfar and wanted to pick her brains again about making my way as a freelancer in the sharkfest of the art world. Earlier in the year I had been along to see her own work in Angus Open Studios, now defunct due to a lack of artists volunteering for the committee. I’ve known Vicky for years (though she’s many years younger than me!) and if anyone is going to be successful then Vicky is. Part of her appeal is her complete openness and willingness to exchange ideas and make art with whoever she’s with, whether they are three years old or an octogenarian or everyone in-between. See her own pages for what she’s achieved.

My point here is that all artists much of the work Vicky does is unpaid. The amount of research, development, practice, market research, management, professional development, administration and publicity that she has to do vastly outweighs her financial reward yet Vicky keeps on making art. . .Why? Why do I keep making art, or why do any of us who make art keep making art? See the end for answer.

And I think that’s what the people who don’t make art understand when they find ways of justifying why artists do not need paid, they know artists are going to stick their necks out and keep making art anyway so why pay them? They recognise as well that most artists do not join committees, do not exert pressure for their rights, would rather not make a noise in case people decide not to choose their work, will not say that’s not fair and consistently undervalue themselves and the way they see the world. That’s me.

To finish on a positive note. Experience four was taking part in Introduction to WordPress organised by Growbiz and run by Louise Copeland (website developer) of Great Little Brands.  Using examples from the ‘back end’ of websites she is currently developing for clients Louise gave us insights into how we could begin to use WordPress, or if we already used it then ways to improve our experience. Using her own self-catering holiday website and  Rachel Bower’s website she demonstrated how to set up online shops and made it look easy. Cornelia Weinmann’s  website had a more stripped down look and drew admiring ooh’s from the audience. The Care and Well-Being Co-op website differed slightly in that it used a template designed for charitable organisations. WordPress is a powerful tool for those of us who do not have a big budget, it’s open source which means that a lot of those resources and tools are free. Terms which I sort of understand now and didn’t before are plug-ins (additional features/functions), up-sell and cross-sell, how to use categories and tags (wasn’t doing it properly before!) and RSS. Louise emphasised that it’s important to structure our information consistently and to always test before publishing. All of this information was presented clearly and was fairly easy to understand, I’m glad she didn’t talk about HTML though.

Next blog I’ll talk about giving an Art Taster session for the Care and Well-being Co-op at the Atholl Centre in Pitlochry during Perth and Kinross Wellbeing week and then at the end of October Voluntary Arts Scotland has organised a training session called ‘Sharing your Creative Skills’ about how to run workshops! It’s free to attend, it’s in Edinburgh at the Royal Botanic Garden so hopefully there will be no rain because I love looking at plants. And I might get a chance to look at Inverleith House where the exhibition will be I still believe in Miracles for beautiful places to walk through.

The answer to the question why do artists make art is because it is almost impossible for artists not to make art, unless they are ill and even then some still do . . . (Frieda Kahlo and John Bellany to name two).

 

Art Times Three – Fixing Things

“How does a project mature? It is obviously a most mysterious, imperceptible process. It carries on independently of ourselves, in the subconscious, crystallizing on the walls of the soul. It is the form of the soul that makes it unique, indeed only the soul decides the hidden ‘gestation period’ of that image which cannot be perceived by the conscious gaze”[1]

These words perfectly describes how I try to make art. . .

‘ nuff said. . .

Taking part in Perthshire Open Studios 2016 was a new experience for me, it emphasised that my previous experience of exhibiting – where ideas take precedence over selling art – was not helpful in this particular context. For eight days I answered questions from all kinds of people, some artists and some not, and by answering their questions I continued to learn a different way of saying what is necessary and leaving out what is not. Because it is true that many artists talk too much and use unhelpful, opaque and inaccessible language when talking about their art. See what I did there?

When I speak about art there is a conflict, it is very easy to say too much and overcomplicate things for the listener/observer, and they will walk away if they feel they don’t understand. I understand this. The naïve part of me rebels and feels that many other professions such as builders, engineers, mechanics, doctors, shop keepers, hardly ever have to explain in detail the stages of what they have done or why, it is enough that they have done it. They can fix what does not work or what is missing and VOILA! It is fixed – it works! (Or maybe not – but that is revealed at a later point in time if they have to explain why something has gone wrong). People generally consider all off these professions to be necessary and do not question why they need shelter, transport networks, cars, their own bodies or food, water and warmth.

Other professions such as teachers, nurses, social workers and, yes, artists, are constantly asked to explain what they do before they do it, while they are doing it and why – and are often told how they should do what they are trained to do by people who are not trained. I am not saying that people should not have an opinion BUT naïve me continues to be irritated by, for example, a neurosurgeon who notices how much a square slice of human brain under the microscope bears a resemblance to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square 1913[2] then speaks about it at an international conference on design, exhibits it and  thus is accepted as a serious artist. Perhaps that is fair enough and yes, actually it is fair enough because, as Joseph Beuys said in 1972 at Documenta 5 “Everybody is an artist” [3] and I truly believe this. What bugs me though is this – if I walked into a hospital theatre where a neurosurgeon was performing an intricate operation and asked if I could have a go because I was a doctor of philosophy I know what the reaction would be.

And I certainly do not get paid as much for my art as a neurosurgeon does for their operating ability, even though my art includes science and their science requires artistic imagination which is a pre-requisite of ALL professions, and even though my formal art education lasted 10 years (not including school).  Art is still undervalued in our society and culture unless it is a commercial commodity (for a good example of increasing support for artists’ intrinsic value for everyone’s lives see https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/creative-scotland-arts-strategy-makes-commitment-to-fair-pay-for-artists). Art in retail outlets such as IKEA is more affordable and can be changed as often as furniture and interior decoration, and what artist hasn’t ever been asked if they can create something that ‘goes’ with a room in someone’s home? Does the consumer want something they never tire of looking at or something so disposable that they can throw it away with a clear conscience? (hopefully in the recycling bin)

That’s enough pontificating. I was asked interesting questions and some people were interested in what lies behind and within an artwork and how it emerges from the imagination. I listened to the other artists in the group and appreciated what they were saying, they had more experience than I of this particular environment. I did sell some work and I have a commission – I found that there is an enjoyable commercial element to my work which will hopefully begin to supply my bread and butter. What’s more it is art that means something to me since it reflects our love for others who are important to us.

[1] in Tarkovsky,A & Giovanni Chiaramonte; (2006); Instant light Tarkovsky Polaroids

[2] Basic biography see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimir_Malevich

[3] Basic explanation see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_sculpture

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