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An “art” a day

Just about a month ago, I mentioned that I wanted to do ten minutes of art a day.  I wanted to report back that I have been surprisingly successful.  Oh, not that I actually manage a conscious ten minutes of set aside art time every. single. day.  But that I’m doing it often enough that I feel like the mental muscle of just “doing art” is returning.

I’ve been reading a variety of “creative’s self-help” style books lately, and many revolve around this idea of doing a short art exercise every day.  Maybe at some point I’ll do a comparison or review of some of these books.  Anyway, regardless of format, each of these books comes back to the same point.  Do something creative every day.  Make it a habit.

So I have two little checklists in my planner:  Yoga and Art. I’m trying to notch each one for five of seven days a week.  When I can make time, I even do them during the work day.  After all, two ten minute breaks is not unreasonable, it takes less time than hunting down a latte, and I come out on the other end just as refreshed as if I had the espresso alternative.  I’m not trying to downplay my appreciation for a caffeine boost, but I might argue that art exercise also keeps my head clearer for longer as well.  Even if most days there isn’t time for either while I’m at the office, at least then I know I “owe” myself those activities after work.  My little 4 year old is quite happy to do the yoga or art along with me, if I can squeeze either of those in between work, dinner, and his bedtime.

So far, I haven’t felt the need to work through the exercises suggested by many of the “_____ a day” types of art books.  Though I’m glad they’re out there because if this becomes a life-long habit (I hope!), I might eventually want some suggestions.

So far, I’ve sat down and sketched images from my phone.  Or I’ve used a travel watercolor kit to play with color.  Or I’ve even put in effort on some larger art journal projects.  I just pull out the journal and spend ten minutes adding color or lines or shading.  Or I’ve done some very preliminary composition thumbnails for a larger project.  I’ve been so surprised at how much I can accomplish in ten minutes or less.  Some sessions, I even find myself finishing a planned activity quickly, checking the clock, and then pushing myself to spend the other 3 minutes refining the idea or moving onto another, quicker sketch.  It’s nothing brilliant, nothing worth showing off, but it feels good and any of it or none of it might be prep work for something more elaborate down the road.

And this effort pays off when I find myself with a little time between other activities at home too.  Instead of reading on my phone for a few minutes, I pop up into the craft room and put a little more effort into whatever is on the table.  I feel more mentally prepared for longer spans of creative time, more ready to find creative solutions to visual problems because I’ve been “thinking visual” all week.  And in some cases, I’ve been able to do the prep work of sketches or background color ahead of the larger block of creative time when I can break out the messier acrylics, inks, gesso, or gel medium.

It feels like the start of a great new journey.

What art or craft activities do you make time for each day?

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Definition of artist

I was talking about card-making recently and someone asked me if I was an artist because they knew someone who made beautiful watercolor cards.  I quickly said “no, I’m not an artist” and then paused, and said “well, maybe”, and then finished lamely, just to explain the cards, “I make cute cards with paper cutouts and stamps from kits and such”.

When did I stop thinking of myself as an artist?

My best definition of artist is “a person who makes art”.  So maybe I stopped being an artist when I stopped making art.  I make time for crafts, and sometimes artistic crafts.  I am creative, I create things.  I don’t make most things from a kit, though I do like kits for notching quick handmade projects.  Do I make time for “art”?  I really don’t.  I still have ideas, but I don’t take the time to practice creating.

Art is that it’s a skill that gets rusty.  Not just the fine motor control, but the mental muscle that allows you to feel natural playing with your chosen media to get visual ideas out there.  Just knowing what makes good composition isn’t enough, practicing creating compositions is necessary to create good compositions.  Getting your hand to do what your mind’s eye envisions takes practice, practice, practice.

I’ve had lots of big ideas in the past few years, but I can’t execute because I’ve let the skills grow rusty.  My kiddo is big enough now that I can squeeze in 10 or 15 min of practice in a day while he plays, after work, before I’m completely wiped out and just want to sit on the couch.

I hereby challenge myself to an any-art-a-day.  I’m a mixed media person, so anything can count as practice, as long as I’m creating/sketching/doodling/photographing something that does not lead to a gift, memory-keeping, or other practical “craft” item.  We’ll see how this goes!  I’ve also challenged myself to a 10 min yoga per day routine.  Time to get that back on track too.

What is your definition of art?  What is your definition of craft?  Have you tried both?  Has life or an internal pendulum swung you one way or another?

To check out some of my related unravellings on the definition of art, I posted some thoughts in March of 2014.

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How do you define art?

I was reading through some of my favorite blogs recently, and I ran across Dina Wakley’s blog post about “It’s ok if you don’t like my art”.  That post, along with an email exchange that she kindly took up with me afterward (which was super nice of her, considering I’ve never met her in person), really got my wheels turning.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of art versus craft in my life.  I have always done a lot of both.  In my life, I think of art as that which I do for myself for self-expression and craft as that which I do for a purpose (gift, decor, wearable, etc.).  But I also have projects that float in between.  I don’t worry about what it is when I make it, I just make stuff.  Not sure where my graphic design fits either – I think it’s something else altogether – if nothing else, it’s the skill that pays the bills!

I’ve been thinking about why it is that I am happy to make crafts for others as gifts.  And in craft, the things that I make are often very flawed, and I’m not ashamed to give them because I know I’m doing my best.  I know the recipients will value what I made because I made it.

But my art hides.  I make my art for me, and most of it, even some of my favorite pieces, I have never even framed to put on my wall.  As an exercise in bravery, I went on a jag of hanging my pieces a few years ago.  So visitors to my house see a little of my work.  But I only ever once tried to get my work into a juried show.  I was rejected and have never tried again.  But what is weird is I KNOW my work is “good enough” for me, and probably for some galleries.  I am tremendously proud of the pieces that were rejected.  But I don’t feel brave enough to put my art stuff on a wall outside my home.  Or on my blog, apparently.  And for the last few years, I haven’t made any time for art, only craft. But somehow, I still think of myself as an artist.

Am I an artist if I haven’t produced anything?  Am I an artist if no one sees what I do?

I think I’m harder on myself as an artist than I would ever be on others.  I want to convince all of the art dabblers and self-proclaimed art-posers that their work is ART too.  That all art is ART, and to elevate some art as “fine art” makes all art less accessible.  And I believe art should be accessible.  I believe that everyone should be able to experience art (like in the wonderful and FREE Cleveland Museum of Art in my neck of the woods).  And I believe that everyone has the capacity to make ART, if they can open themselves up to trying.

The first time I ever wondered “What is art?” was in high school, when my wonderful drawing teacher showed us a photo of Meret Oppenheim’s furry cup, saucer and spoon set called “Object”.  The teacher defined art as ‘that which provokes a reaction from the viewer’.  The furry cup created an instant reaction from me, a shivery revulsion and fascination imagining a furry spoon on one’s tongue or a furry cup wet with milk and tea.  A lasting impression of “art” was formed, and I think that’s when my love of modern art began.

In college, I took an amazing “Art since the 1960’s” class, where we talked about the foundations and progression of modern art.  Although Marcel Duchamp turned the art world on it’s head long before the 1960’s, our class started with his challenging and controversial Fountain because it challenged the very definition of art.  Fountain, in my belief, is most definitely art.  It made everyone think and feel something.  And even today, nearly 100 years later (!), it makes some people angrily say “it’s not art”.  While I want to attribute the following statement to Duchamp, I haven’t been able to google up any corroborating evidence, so whomever I’m paraphrasing, I learned my favorite definition of art in that class:  ‘Art is that which is made by artists’.  It certainly fits with Duchamp’s cheeky sense of irreverence about art.

Fundamentally, Duchamp’s statement in Fountain is about choice.  The act of art-making is the act of making choices.  A photographer chooses what portion of a scene, and what lighting, and what filter to see that scene through, so photography can be art.  A “Readymade”, as Duchamp called the category of art that his urinal fit into, is a choice of an object and how to display it.  The choice of a manufactured porcelain urinal, of course, made a far more provocative statement than the choice of a manufactured porcelain vase would have.  Putting the urinal on the floor or the wall did not make as much of a statement about the nature of art as the choice of putting it upside-down on a pedestal.  Intention makes art.  Choice makes art.

I also don’t believe in “good” or “bad” art, those terms are way too loaded and have as much to do with personal preference as they do with skill or value.  Far too muddy to be useful in discussing art.  But I do believe in effective or ineffective art.  If one’s art is out in the public (as mine, largely, is not), then the art WILL necessarily interact with the public.  Art in the public becomes a dialogue with the viewers.  (Is that why I haven’t put my art out there?  Do I fear the dialogue?  I feel like I have things to say, do I fear that those things are not worth saying in public?  Is it peculiar then, that I’m not afraid to say words about art in the semi-public forum of this blog?)  If art is interacting with viewers, then there is a valid question as to whether that art is effectively communicating what the artist wishes to communicate.

There is a sculpture in front of the building I work in called “Politician:  A Toy”.  I have yet to meet anyone who likes this 2-story semi-kinetic sculpture, and I have yet to meet anyone who understands anything about it without knowing the name.  Most people think it’s a badly-rendered and poorly maintained robot chicken, a few people get the “toy” idea, and absolutely no one gets the “politician” aspect.  There isn’t a placard or a title or any words to identify what it is.  The text on the fence around it seems to be an unconnected poem of some sort.  So while many people visiting my office claim that it’s “bad” art because they don’t like it or think that it is ugly, I argue that it is merely “ineffective”.  Certainly it provokes a reaction, just not the one the artist seems to have intended.

Ugly art can be effective, and art that many people don’t like can be effective.  For me, if my art is ineffective at communicating what I want to communicate, I must either start over, or embrace the unintentional effect or message that I have produced.

So while this post is peppered with my own muddy musings about my own art journey, I think we’ve fully covered the essential question of the day – what is art from my perspective. What do YOU think art is?  Is Oppenheim’s furry cup and saucer Object art?  What about Duchamp’s Fountain?  What about Lawless’ Politician:  A Toy?  What do those pieces make you think or feel?  Do you think they are effective?  Is there a famous “art” piece that you don’t think should be considered “art”?  Or a piece that you think should be called “art” that you have heard people say is “not art” or “bad art”?