Monday, September 29, 2014

The Artist Statement

Illustration: Paul Klee. 'Schlamm Assel Fisch', 1940.

Recently, I have come across a number of individuals within the creative community asking how necessary the artist statement is, with a number decrying the whole effort of producing an artist statement as a pretentious episode, stating that it should be unnecessary, as the work itself should suffice. That to me is a mistake. Reading an artist statement to me personally, is the second thing I do after checking their artwork at a website. The two to me are intimately and irrevocably linked. To understand the personal headspace of an artist is to understand their work. If you do not have an inkling as to their personal perspective, you lose so much.

The artist statement is ultimately a personal statement, which is something we should be aware of. Critics of the artist statement maintain that it is a lesson in pretentious self-promotion, but to many it is a simple explanation. It can literally be as simple as placing a piece of artwork on a wall and someone asking, "What's that all about then?" and you explaining.

Illustration: Liubov Popova. 'Spatial Force Construction', 1920.

I do understand that underlying the confusion and criticism of the artist statement, are differences in perspective, differences even in methods of work. Practical designers for example, may not see the point of producing an artist statement, but I still believe that all creative individuals should produce one irrespective of whether they are a designer or an artist. It is really a message of intent for the world at large.

Whatever the personal opinion regarding statements, I do think that artists should be taken seriously, and genuinely. The artist statement is not something to be sneered at, treated with derision, or contempt by others. It does not have to be long, complex, and deeply meaningful, but if it is, then that should be seen as the prerogative of the individual artist, and not the judgement of others. Personally, I think everyone on the planet should create some form of personal statement as to who they are, what their personal perspective is, where they are wanting to go on their life journey, but then perhaps that is what social media is for.

Illustration: August Babberger. 'Bildausschnitt', 1928.

As to the artist statement specifically, it is a statement of intent, a statement of sensibility. It is, in word form, their understanding of the world around them. It is their perspective on life; it gives others an insight into that perspective, and a subsequent understanding of the ultimate projection of that understanding, their artwork.

An artist statement should always be approached with honesty and without fear of ridicule. Ridicule is the clumsy tool of the misinformed, the frightened, and the bewildered. Ridicule can hurt, but studiously ignored it is surprising how ineffectual it becomes.

Above all, an artist statement is a message of being, that is transposed to the outside world. This is me, you are saying, and this is my creative journey. Share this with the world and you share the core of who you are as an individual and as an artist.

Further reading links:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn/Fall and the Rhythm of the Planet

Illustration: An Autumnal Morning. Photo by John Hopper, September 2014.

As we approach autumn/fall, at least in the northern hemisphere, we start to think about battening down the hatches for the coming winter. As summer begins to fade into a glistening misty memory, and winter becomes an ever larger factual projection on the horizon, we can often dismiss autumn/fall as a season of intermediacy, one between the sensory and sensual warmth of summer and the harsh and sometimes bitter bleakness of winter, between the life affirming expansion of the summer months and the bleak small death of winter. But in fact, these few weeks between summer and winter are special, a precious part of the year for nature. These are the few weeks where life is literally, poetically, and practically abundant. Fruit is heavy on tree and bush, harvests are ripened, and we all grow fat on the produce of the land, whether we are bird, mammal, fish, reptile, insect. Life at this time of year is one full of the potential to be both rich and full.

Illustration: The Start of Autumn Leaves. Photo by John Hopper, September 2014.

Autumn/fall days are often ones that are mellow, with hushed, mist-laden mornings, slow sunny days, and crisp, silent nights. The transition from summer into winter can in many cases give this autumn/fall season a fuller, more varied feel. Admittedly, days are becoming shorter and nights longer, but those days and nights can often drift between the coming coolness of winter to the touching warmth of summer and back again, often in the same day. Skies can be high, blue, warm, and inviting, or they can be low, full, grey, and brooding. At this time of year warm and cool weather fronts pass over the land, making local climates minutely changeable.

The observation of nature during this time of year can be one that is infinitely rewarding, irrespective of whether you are an artist or not. Each season gives us an opportunity to witness the breathing cycle of the planet, with spring and summer symbolising the temporary inhalation of new life, and autumn/fall and winter symbolising the temporary exhalation of life. Each season bringing with it a memory of the time before. The wonderfully never-ending cycle always continues as winters exhalation is of course followed again by the inhalation of spring. 

Illustration: Canadian Goose on the Lake. Photo by John Hopper, September 2014.

Nature is always within and without, giving us a vital and fundamental understanding of the interconnected network of life. This is represented by a deep feeling, one that entails both an emotional profoundness, and an all-embracing expansion of consciousness. It is an understanding, one rooted in all of us naturally, and it is one that we all share alike whether we are an amoeba, tree, bird, fish, or human. All creatures, no matter their make-up, their position on the planet, their life path, intrinsically know that they are attached, enmeshed in the nature of the planet, of the known universe, and of the unknown universe. To understand this is to be aware of the ebb and flow of not just the physicality of life, of the rhythms that make up our lives, projected as birth, death, and rebirth, but of the force that is at the core of the essence of life, the breath of the spirit.

So it is important that we take notice of the passage of seasons, not on the socially human level, as in noting the passage from summer holidays to the build up to Christmas, but on the natural level, the massing of birds for migration, the storage of food by small mammals, the cascading of leaves by trees for the coming winter. By understanding and connecting with these timeless rhythms of nature, we tie ourselves into the pulse of the planet. Rather than spending our time trying to tear ourselves away from our connection with the natural world, we should be embracing that natural breath of the planet, which of course, is the breath of life itself.

Further reading links:

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Inspirational Magazine from The Textile Blog

A new project from The Textile Blog will be launched soon. It is to be a regular magazine that will project aspects of the creative arts through the work of regular artists from across the disciplines, not just textiles. Therefore, artists will be chosen from backgrounds in ceramics, glass, mixed media, 3D, fine art painting, basketry, land art, printmaking, illustration, and so on. I must admit that I have been mulling this idea over for a while now, and at last, it does seem that its moment has arrived. 

The title Inspirational was obviously not chosen by accident. The fact that inspirational and aspirational are also one letter away from each other is also not a coincidence. The magazine is to be one that shows the best that can be found within the human creative outlook on life, one that helps us understand the perspective that we all deeply share with the world around us. The magazine will be inspirational in sharing the importance that creative artists find in their understanding, through their work, of the value to be found in the non-material over the material, the unchanging over the immediate, perception over supposition, and so on. It is about the value of the perception of life, rather than over the perception of things.

In this respect, the magazine will not dwell so much on artist techniques, where work has been shown or sold, or what the artist had for breakfast. Instead, the magazine will concentrate on how each artist perceives the world around them and how that unique perception in turn becomes projected back onto the world through their work. It is the unique journey through life that we must all take, that in the end is of real importance. 

The first issue will feature articles about the work of Elizabeth Bunsen, Melanie Ferguson, Louise O'Hara, Shannon Weber, Jude Hill, Dietmar Voorwold, Amy Genser, and Joanie Gagnon San Chirico. All articles will be written by me, which I know is a lot of work, but to get this unique magazine out there, it has to be done.

This will be an online magazine, and not a paper one. There are a number of reasons for this. It means, for example that the magazine can be bought quickly and easily anywhere on the planet. Another and more personal reason is that I have a particular policy regarding paper. As far as my own writing output is concerned, whether through The Textile Blog articles or books that I have published, my paper trail is minimal, in fact I no longer own a printer. The more trees I can leave standing and huggable, the easier I will sleep at night - I have a thing about trees! However, as stated, this is a personal stand and not one that is judgemental of others. We all use materials that we need and value, and that is as it should be.

I have no intention of seeing any of the other rich and varied creative arts magazines that are already on the market, as rivals. I don't do competition, and therefore see the Inspirational magazine as an important addition to the media, not a replacement. However, I do think that this particular magazine will be able to show another facet of what it is to be a creative individual, and to allow people from varied backgrounds, to share in the experience that is that of the creative artist. I hope you will agree.

The magazine will be out on sale in October, but I will be regularly putting publicity out there on The Textile Blog twitter, facebook, and google+ sites, so no one will be able to miss the launch!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Curiosity and the Creative Artist

Illustration: Mark Rothko. No. 14.

Curiosity may well be a species trait, we are after all where we are today, and know what we know, from the micro to the macro world, because of a collective curiosity about the world in us and around us. But curiosity is also very much a trait of the individual. Through curiosity comes an expansion of personal perspective, the breaking through of barriers that contained your own limited projection of what you knew, and perhaps more importantly, what you thought you knew.

In many respects then, curiosity is our default setting, and although the popular conception is that 'curiosity killed the cat', that shouldn't hold us back from exploration. Yes, an individual may well get burned from time to time, but where would a life be without quizzical exploration, certainly it would be one that would be infinitely narrower, contained and certainly lacking in any meaningful expression of the true multiplicity that is life in its reality.

To grow as an individual is often not encouraged as rigorously as perhaps it might be. It is often seen with suspicion and scepticism by many. It can be surprising how narrow are the confines of 'normality' when it is preached by those who would save you from too much self-exploration. But curiosity, which is such a vital part of personal exploration, is by its very nature, growth, and growth of such significance that the individual involved is very often not the same person that others are familiar with, which can have a tendency to disconcert family, friends, community, particularly if that exploration dives within, rather than out.

Illustration: Midday wispy clouds. Photo by John Hopper.

Personal internal exploration, whether it deals with a wonder as to the reason for being, or where am I going and where have I been, which to be honest can amount to the same thing, is internal curiosity granted, but curiosity nevertheless. The world within can and is infinite in its variety, its meaning, and its dimensions for change. Nothing can ever be the same again once the curiosity for internal exploration is piqued. It is an enormously rich vein for externalising creative self-expression and should never be underestimated.

The creative world of course, thrives on curiosity. Each and every individual involved in the arts has their own personal creative journey to make, and each and every one uses curiosity as their guide. We notice and observe the pattern of nature, whether through leaf or season, bird flight or cycle of life. But the curiosity of our inner lives is also vital. Contemplation, calmness, an innate understanding within the framework of the inner self, the soul if you like, guides many artists along their journey and this inner curiosity towards inner exploration cannot be easily dismissed as some form of poetic licence. It is a tangible quantity, one that has guided the arts for countless generations and will continue to do so for generations to come.

The feature of outer and inner curiosity, material and spiritual, makes a creative artist the individual they are. It gives them a perspective not necessarily shared by all, and in some cases, can make life difficult for them. But this inner and outer life balance is a vital and anchoring element of what it is to be human. Balancing your inner reflective world with your outer substantial world is a way of understanding what it is to be a whole person, one that collects the feelings and moments in time that make up the journey of life, reflecting on and understanding those moments. 

Illustration: Early evening moon. Photo by John Hopper.

Curiosity then is the lifeblood of what it is to be human, but not merely the curiosity to know what lies over the next hill, or why a flower blossoms, or how a rock transforms, it is also the curiosity to know how you relate to all of those things, and perhaps more importantly, how they relate to you. Creative art is not just about expressing yourself as the ego; it is also about expressing yourself as the larger you. The understanding that you are part of the complexity of life and the universe, known and unknown is probably the most important voyage of discovery and curiosity that you will ever make, That you can then express that innate curiosity through creative artwork, in whatever discipline appeals to you, is a gift not taken up by many, but a vital ingredient in the outward perspective of us all.

Further reading links: