The Laws of Nature

Monday, March 15, 2010

Your Excitement Meter

Wendy Richmond

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 8: "Your Excitement Meter"
section 1: "Excitement Meter"

It's good to be back again and to catch up on your lively and informative discussion during my absence. What a wonderful group!!

I've moved ahead to the final chapter in Richmond's book, which I hope to complete and summarize by the end of this week. You'll notice that I've skipped Chapter 7 altogether, and parts of Chapter 6 because of the particular interests of this group, but highly recommend that you all purchase this book and read it.

The first section of Chapter 8, "Excitement Meter," begins with a paradox: Why is it that artists, who are innovative, self-motivated, nonconformists, become less inventive when they become career artists? That is, when an artists decides to turn pro, he/she will often follow a more conventional path that is paved with stones molded by the experiences, practices, and advice of others at the expense of fashioning their own unique path. The artist transforms in order to fit. This is an interesting paradox.

Fledgling career artists frequently seek Richmond's advice, and her solution to the paradox is not to give conventional advice, but to talk about her "excitement meter." This meter is defined as Richmond's internal gauge, an indicator of what I find interesting and positive and worth pursuing. When I have a positive reaction to something, I take care to notice it. I don't try to come to any conclusions; I just register the reaction. At some later point, I look at this collection of seemingly unrelated ideas or events, and I usually find a pattern that reveals that I didn't see when I experienced each element in isolation.

This solution to the paradox yields the greatest chance for innovation. I like the way the author reveals the recipe for innovation as the intersections of seemingly unconnected ideas or interests that the artists feels strongly about. Perhaps this is one good reason for artists to keep a journal. We need to look for and find those connections in order to be truly innovative and unique. The work of our good friend PAMO is a very recent example of Richmond's idea. Just recently, Pam linked together her cartoons and videography in a truly unique way that brings to life her work and the reactions of others to it. It's a multifacted approach to cartooning that involves the viewer to a large degree. That's innovation!

Richmond telescopes her idea to include a more personal kind of innovation... a new way of structuring a job, a career, a school, or a way of life. As she points out, innovation isn't exclusive to technology. We can fashion our careers by combining the things that excite us most. For an example, Richmond cites a woman who launched an innovative jazz dance studio in New York city with a sumer retreat by the ocean, thus combining what she loved.

The author concludes with the admonition to give attention to our excitement meters because, with vigilance and time, we'll read it more accurately. I like that advice.


Before I close this post, I'd like to turn your attention to an interesting article about Rothko that was forwarded to me by our good friend Deborah Stearns. The article, from the Washington Post, is entitled "National Gallery exhibit challenges traditional view of Rothko's black paintings" and provides some wonderful insights that add to our recent discussions. To access the article, just click on the photograph below.

And now, your thoughts??


Deborah C. Stearns said...

Welcome back, Kathy! I hope you had a good trip.

It sounds to me like Richmond's strategy is to notice and attend to the world and one's responses to it, but avoid coming to premature conclusions or theories regarding what those responses might mean. Our tendency is often to try to explain our reactions, and that explanation can drive our perceptions. By avoiding early closure of the explanatory process, we keep our minds open to the possibilities. I see this as very related to our discussion of introspection.

However, I wonder whether that is the main driving force behind the greater conventionality she sees in career artists. It seems to me that this greater conventionality derives from the higher stakes that come with a career choice. It's easy to be unconventional as an artist when your next meal doesn't depend on selling your art, but once the rent and food are contingent on successful sales, many of us might look for the more conventional path. It has worked for others, so it might work for me. It seems less risky, more assured of financial remuneration.

What do you think?

Unknown said...

Hi Deborah - I think you're correct! Avoiding starvation, homelessness, and poor health is important to artists whose only income is from their art. Since the "taste" of the general public who buys our work is somewhat shaped and molded by the established conventions, much experimental and innovative work has no market. It doesn't mean that artists don't produce both types of work. I have paintings that have never been publicly exhibited. I'll save those for a time when they might be more marketable (if that times ever arrives!).
I like the way you state your ideas. Thank so much!

-Don said...

Happy Monday, Kathy!

There are some great things to digest here - your words, Wendy's words and Blake's words... I'll be digesting them as I work on my own innovative, self-motivated, nonconformist project today and come back with something - hopefully relevant - later today.


Unknown said...

looking forward to it, Don! (It's great to be back)

Angela said...

Or maybe it's the opposite - maybe it takes more 'innovation' to stand out from the crowd and get noticed in the first place...but once there's a market for work with their name on it, artists are free to paint the traditional things that people have always loved to paint in the boring old traditional ways people have loved to paint them.

I have no idea actually, but I just thought I'd play devil's advocate for conversation's sake. :)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if the alleged "conventionality" might come from an artist finding their best means of communication. For example, when Georges Braque "co-discovered" Cubism, according to a book I read about him, he knew he had the style best suited for him. After WWI, he was not as innovative. To hear it from him, he was where he wanted to be, communicating what he needed.

Anyway, that's what popped into my head. Wonderful post as usual, Kathy!

Deborah C. Stearns said...

Or the really successful artists might have come to define convention -- they are now mainstream because they created the major trends in art. I doubt this applies to all artists, but there are certainly some who are critiqued as conventional only because they created the very conventions against which they are now judged.

I also think that we can become trapped by our own success. When one is just starting out, we aren't expected to succeed, so failure is not so damning. Later on in one's career, after establishing a pattern of successful artistic choices, there is often a greater fear of making a choice that isn't as successful. What will the reviewers say if my next book isn't the best-seller my last book was? Early failure or flops may just mean we are still on a learning curve toward greater achievement. Later failure is often interpreted as being on the decline, our greatest abilities being behind us. Of course, this need not be true, but we may fear it nonetheless. Safer to take the conventional route. Safer to do what worked in the past. We've got a lot farther to fall now.

I agree with you, Kathy, that many artists just do different kinds of work -- the work for sale and the work for artistic growth. But even here, we get used to a particular way of working and even if it doesn't sell or receive acclaim, we can count it as a success if we achieved our artistic goals. So conventionality might creep in here, as well, as a way of reducing the risk of failure, even if that is only in one's own eyes.

Unknown said...

Hi Angela - good point! It does take innovation to stand out from the crowd. Thanks for offering the opposing opinion! We need to keep on our toes :-)

Hi Peggy- another good point! Looks like this gem of an idea has many different facets. Thank you!

Hi Deborah - there's truth in what you write, and I always keep the Picasso approach at the forefront of my consciousness as an artist. Having notable "periods" or times of concentrated efforts in painting in a particular style and then shifting to another after awhile is the approach I follow. Since I paint in a series, I tend to move on every so many years and reinvent my approach. This allows me to change and even abandon a successful series of paintings so that I can remain interested and challenged. However, I am concerned to a certain extent about whether the new body work will sell or be juried into an important exhibition. This definitely inhibits my ability to innovate. I save the innovations for my private paintings. Thanks for more insight!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I think I was absent when conventional paths and excitement were passed out. I have been around, though, when supposedly unconnected ideas and interests merge--pieces just fall into place when you're not looking.

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Stan Kurth said...

Oh my! So much to post and so little time. Maybe it's because I'm old and been doing this art gig off and on for as long as I can remember, but I just don't seem to have a problem with reading the excitement meter correctly. I know myself pretty well and that's really not important to anyone but me. It is after all, what has gotten me to the place I am at today regardless if it's on track or not. I've been an artist all my life and when I have repressed it, I have suffered for it. It is what I was born to do. It is me. I can no longer even pretend to deny it. My creative process is simple: I work. I don't suffer from creative block. When I start working the excitement meter is like a Geiger Counter oscillating between a tick-tock and a high pitched scream as I create art culminating in a representation of a variety of places, people and things that have induced a squealing pitch on the excitement meter over the years, months, days, minutes or seconds (I often listen to music while I work). I pursue the path. I don't compromise in the creation of fine art. It is freedom. My audience wants to see it. It is my only chance to make an impact. For the remainder of my life I will not miss that chance. I put food on the table by selling graphic design. It is not fine art! It is pretty pictures that say, "look at me, how pretty I am. Won't you buy me, I won't let you down. Once you've used me you can toss me out!". It sucks! It is full of compromise and egos. If my clients read this it won't matter because they like the pretty pictures and they know what they are for. Fine art says, "look at me, I have something to say and it may enhance your life; it may be epiphanic, it may enlighten you, it may make you wonder, it may make you cry, it may make you laugh, it may make you mad or it might just make you THINK!" Fine art is relevant to what matters most in life. Its intent is eternal. It touches one's soul. I've started a series that touches on the gist of what is being conveyed here: giving meaningful explanations and purpose to my work without compromise. It is in a sense, a review of the earliest squealings of the excitement meter and a correlation of those readings with current readings. If I were to make an analogy with Venn diagrams there would be a surprising amount of intersections of squealing components in this series. I continue to take the chance. I admit sometimes the meter is whaling out its screams and I'm not sure how to gitterdone. So I just slip into work level (of consciousness) and work it out

Thank you Kathy for a wonderful series of posts on Wendy Richmond's book ART WITHOUT COMPROMISE. It's been a blast and enlightening as well. There are so many wonderful artists making relevant post here. What else should I expect from a bunch of artists?

-Don said...

OK, Kathy, I'm back.

I think this particular section in Wendy's book - and your blog about - it all are about me today. (Of course, I'm selfish like that :-P) One of the reasons I haven't been involved as much in discussion recently is because my excitement meter has been running pretty high with the experiments I'm working on. I have several "seemingly unconnected ideas" coming together all at once as you'll see in the near future. It's like several of those things I've found "interesting and positive and worth pursuing" have all burst forth in my creative process in the past couple weeks. What's funny is, I have nothing really to show for it yet, except a studio with every surface covered with experiments. At the same time, I'm continuing to expound on other experiments which have proven successful, but need further investigation.

I like my "own unique path" and hope that people with deep pocketbooks will start liking it too. Likewise, I hope that when those pocketbooks start opening I do not end up following a "more conventional path". We'll see... As you know from my own writings, I never say never...

But, enough about me...


Celeste Bergin said...

"Why is it that artists, who are innovative, self-motivated, nonconformists, become less inventive when they become career artists?" <---I wonder if it is because the public and gallery owners love to see work that they can "ascribe" to particular artists. They aren't particularly happy when an artist goes off on a tangent...they like it better when a body of work looks similar. "Cohesion" is not the type of thing that makes an artist an artist!

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - I think your work demonstrates unconventionality at its best!!

Hi Pam - you're on a wonderfully creative path, so just keep going!
Jasper Johns once wrote that he "resolved to stop becoming an artist, and instead to be one." That's what you're doing. Yay!

Hi Stan - I can feel your excitement and it's contagious! Your new work is a wonderful expression of who you are and is expertly rendered. It's fascinating to watch it appear on your blog and to imagine where it might lead. Thank you for explaining more about who you are and how you create. I'm inspired.

Hi Don - yes, this part of Richmond's book applies to you (and many of us)! You're at that place where I see the intersections expressed and your work is taking on a whole new appearance and meaning. It's exciting to see!! Keep going ....

Hi Celeste - So true!! The work that is selected for purchase or exhibition has typically gone through many filters. Thanks for adding that!

Unknown said...

To ALL - another great conversation!! Thank you.