Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Daze of Whine and Poseurs PT.4 (Artists in Candy[ass]land)



“I see myself and many artists like me as the torchbearers through these dark ages.”
- John Zorn

Hello Blogiteers!

It continues to be a simply wonderful day in the neighborhood, let me tell you, and not just because my house is well stocked with Ding Dongs and skim milk.

Granted, part of it has something to do with being asked to possibly host The Firehouse’s FFNL show in May, but my overall feeling of warm fuzzy squishy happiness comes courtesy of my last magnum blog, which chronicled the end of a three day long road trip to Yuma and the subsequent bitch-slap that I meted out to NT’s so called travel review of this charming little city.

When people have a different point of view and are willing to actually express it without hiding under the Internet’s bed, that’s when I absolutely love my Email. Intelligent and civilized debate- it does make my life rather interesting, to say the very least. This time around was no exception. After all was said and done, the total responses defending New Times or it’s Managing Editor, Amy Silverman was...  Zip. Zilch. Nada. Claire Lawton on the other hand, had close to fifteen supporters.

It seems that Claire possesses a strong and innate ability to make (and keep) actual friends, whereas Amy Silverman in contrast- seems to have no such personal knack. I’m starting to believe that the only way* she could make and then conversely keep, a friend is if she snuck up behind a total stranger with a chloroform-soaked rag, and then proceeded to imprison them in her basement...

*Allegedly, of course.
In all honesty, I don’t know for sure if she even has a basement, so I’d hate to talk out of school. But enough with the Schadenfreude for now, this blog is all for, and all about- the Artists. In two previous blogs, I gave my insiders’ advice about two crucial cogs in the PAS (PHX Art Scene), the Patrons and the Galleries. Reactions were mixed, to say the very least.

Who would have guessed that suggesting we should adopt a business model approach in regards to the PAS might be considered somewhat incendiary? Not I, naturally, mainly because it happens to be COMMON F*****G SENSE. No other industry I can think of so willingly shoots itself in the head in the manner of a suicidal cow as much as this particular scene does.

Yes, yes… I’m being a tad bit curmudgeonly, but I’m also right, and I’m pretty sure I can prove it yet again.  For instance, the last FF opening I attended was located at Willo North Gallery where they were showing new work by artist Steve Gompf and sculptor Hank Fries, and it was great.

It’s what a typical PHX Gallery could be if it decided to… you know… grow the hell up.

Oh yeah- I said it. Granted, while a facet of my career is dependent on Galleries, it’s not entirely so, and therefore, I’m not too worried about whose nose gets bent out of shape on this one. Something has to change in regard to the marketing and business aspects of the PAS, and soon- or we’re all gonna be wearing flannel shirts, living in *Portland, and making god-awful tofu shakes before you know it.
[*No offense to Portland, but this city is responsible for being the spawning ground of god-awful indie-rock audio suckfesters, The Dandy Warhols, and I just can’t forgive them for that anytime soon, nor should I really be expected to.]

But as usual, I’m getting a tad bit ahead of myself, so let’s return to Willo, where I was privileged to meet my “FB Friend” Marshall Shore in the flesh, in conjunction with making the acquaintance of the very delightful Kate Nolan, the former Managing Editor of the Phoenix New Times. Surprisingly, as Amy’s former boss, she didn’t want my head on a plate, and we had a quite pleasant chat on the subject of the newspaper and magazine industry, and best of all; I got some incredibly useful feedback regarding this blog from several keen and intelligent reader. 

It seems that I’m both funny and snarky… who knew? Apparently, I’m not dead sexy, but I’ll take what I can get. Overall, a very cool night with very cool people in a very cool space, and that’s what the PAS needs, NOT the rolling street party that FF has become- a solemn fact that was ardently stated to yours truly by more than a few people in attendance.

However, this situation is not wholly the Galleries fault- after all, they’re just a component of a much bigger system, one in which Artists have a lot more influence than they think. As I once solemnly wrote: “There is no Art Scene without Art.”, and that is why the Artists easily have the edge in taking the reins and steering this so-called scene into actual prosperity.

All they have to do is get over themselves first.

Of course, for that to happen, they would have to actually give a damn about their fellow Artists, and that’s where the Phoenix scene gets seriously screwed. If apathy were porn star hookers, the PAS alone could supply Charlie Sheen for the rest of his life, which theoretically, could be anywhere from twenty minutes to fifty years. Yes, I am aware that I’m being somewhat expansive here with the tar and feathers, and for that, I must apologize to some of you. However, to not condemn the pitiful level of indifference I’ve witnessed over the last few years among some of my fellow Creatives would smack of hypocrisy.

But before I get into some long overdue advice for my fellow tribesmen, the Artists, I’d like to introduce you to someone not affected by the malignancy that underwrites our scene and truly does put his money where his mouth is- Alexi Devillers.
Web: http://www.facebook.com/people/Fish-Liptz/100002260682386
Cel: 480-567-6666  Email: Fishliptz@Yahoo.com

I first met Alexi when my GF Ashley and I went downtown for Phoenix’s monthly Third Friday Art Walk, where he was selling Tin Can Artworks that were crafted to look like dogs, crocodiles, sharks, and my personal favorite- robot men lamps. Ok that all sounds pretty neat, you say- but it’s actually the reason behind Alexi doing what he does, that’s the really inspirational part.

In his own words: “The proceeds from the sale of my Tin Can Artworks go to purchase more food. From which I then make more Tin Can Art, so I can purchase more food for the homeless. Both of my parents are from Havana Cuba, before Castro took over. They settled in New York, but later moved to Hialeah, Florida when I was five. Being one of five kids, my mother had to stretch every dollar,  but one thing I remember is that she always had more than enough food for all of us.
 
We had great food full of flavor and you could taste the love that went into making it. As I got older and learned to cook, I started to give my extra food to the neighbors. After a while, I thought that my neighbor didn’t really need the food, started giving the extra food to the homeless.

On a Saturday, my wife and packed up all of our leftovers and went to the park near our house and fed the people who lived there. We started out with twelve meals on that Saturday, and then the next Saturday, we bought 24 frozen dinners and cooked them in our oven.

Then I thought…”I can make as twice as much food, better- and for half the price, if I make it from scratch.” So now every Saturday, my wife and I get up at 5:30 AM and cook 100 to 125 hot and fresh meals. We then pack them up into the back of my Ford Explorer and head off to the parks.

Recently, we have found a shelter on 10th Avenue and Jefferson that helps out people who are 55 and older. I try to make fun meals for them, meals that are hot and homemade.”


That right there my loyal Blogiteers, is one truly selfless Artist, which is why I’m throwing mad Artbitch props his way, and letting you know that if you want to donate to his cause, be it canned food or money, please contact him using the info posted above to do so, or go one step further and acquire one of his amazing creations just like Ashley and I did.

BTW, our Robot’s name is “Campbell”, he’s copper, he’s retro, and he’s awesome.

Just like Alexi.
But to be brutally honest, “awesome” is not how one in the know would describe the overall manner of the PAS, in regards to it’s ongoing preservation and future success. Swear to all that is holy, if I overhear one more whiny faux art poseur rant that “true Artists don’t care about money”, I’m gonna prove their theory erroneous by creating a couple thousand dollars worth of necessary dental work for them to pay off when we bump into each other again.

Obviously, I’m kidding.
Violence is not the answer, change for the positive is- although it’s sort of comforting to know that random mindless carnage can still be a fallback option just in case that whole shiny happy vibe fails to work it’s magic. Again, I’m obviously kidding… somewhat. In my 2008 blog; “Thank God it’s First Friday”, I suggested some simple guidelines for my fellow Artists to observe. Without completely rehashing, they were:

1) Quality IS job one.
2) Presentation- try it, you'll like it.
3) Professionalism is never done half ass.
[Link: http://waynemichaelreich.blogspot.com/2009/10/thank-god-its-friday-parts-one-and-two.html]

Good rules of thumb all, but there’s always room for improvement, and fortunately- I’m not alone in this belief. On my personal FaceBook page I asked my fellow creatives the following question: “I'd like to know what you think PHX Artists need to/should do in order to create a more financially stable scene to work within. Not gallery suggestions, this is for the Artists alone, thank you.” And the responses came flooding in. Some were identical to opinions I’ve been espousing for quite some time, some were approaches I honestly hadn’t even thought of.

So, in the spirit of fostering an open and civil discussion, I am turning over the floor to my fellow Creatives. I’ve also included links to their respective websites, so after you’re done reading my latest magnum opus, I’d recommend that you go check out what they’ll all about.

You’ll be glad you did.

Ryan Avery: “Art buyers shouldn’t fear spending money on art they love. Artists should be willing to sell their more expensive pieces through payment plans & installments
[http://ryan.thegoodshows.com/]

Tony Blei: “My suggestion would be to find ways to build value into your product, focus on building relationships by making people feel important. Unfortunately, people in Arizona don't give me the time of day. I’m more popular in New York, France and Germany
[http://www.tonyblei.com/]

Debra Jones: “I really don't think people in the West realize that a PORTRAIT is not always a photograph. You picture takers are all welcome to your own art, but institutions and businesses and homes and schools should work hard to find a place for the traditional art of portraiture. I have a talent not a mysterious zap from the gods! I just want to work.

I am going to be a little contra here. I produce small and affordable. I believe everyone (down to Picasso endorsing a $10 check) can produce to the market they target. I agree that it is mostly marketing. But again, it is educating the public. Most of the non-artists I know actually FEAR First Friday for the dark circus they have experienced and been scarred by ONCE.

It is not how to market some piece of art to be adopted into a home. Public needs supportive information, and artists need to not be competitive. ONE sold piece admired by a friend of the purchaser is marketing. Coops and helping each other is great, but we HAVE to move outside the ART community. I was fantasizing a day of walking around to businesses, looking quite normal, passing out portfolios and introducing myself saying "YOU now know a real artist!"

We are people who make things they need. To isolate and attempt to be flamboyant only buys into our difference. Sure, we are very unique and valuable, but we function in the same market as the plumbers and lawyers. We are small business people and need to take ourselves as seriously.

For me art is more like drugs. I really mean it. Doing art has always superseded any money (HAH) and "getting back" to it is where the ability to crawl into my studio and never come out is what tends to create more of the money problems. "If you build it, it will stay in your studio and become a fire hazard, UNLESS you tell them where to COME!"
[http://www.debrajonesart.com/]

Randy Kinkel: “I want to work and get better at it and I want to sell my work. In my experience, (and I include myself in this) most artists don't really know how to market their work or themselves, who to target, they (we) aren't thinking like business people. I think you can do that within the artistic realm and not have to sell out or sell your soul. the gallery model does not work anymore, for most of us. I would love for someone who knows how to do these things and has had success at it to give a workshop or something for interested artists".
[http://randykinkelart.blogspot.com/]

Joe Jankovsky: “I think make art affordable by producing prints. No not 'giclee' please. Woodcuts, linocuts, serigraphs, intaglio, photography. The German Expressionists did this very thing to make art more affordable to regular folks. Limit edition sizes and don't give them away either. $30 to $50 per print could work. Maybe do some co-op print press thing --find an affordable used printing press and charge artists time on it to pay for the space to house it.”
[E-mail: thesingingprint@gmail.com]

Paul Jones: “I've always liked the word "juxtaposeur." Flip through the magazine Juxtapose from 10 years ago while walking around a First Friday and pick a random painting out of the lineup and try and imagine it as a naive newborn kitten who's lost it's mother, and ends up following around a dog trying to bark, not knowing its whole life it's a fucking cat and that could serve as one possible introduction to this theory.

Any way you look at it, Phoenix is the new kid on the block, and behind 10-100 years in its art scene (depending on medium, I meant to say) compared to the rest of the big cities of the world. The sad part is, no one tells it.”
[http://smilepaul2011.blogspot.com/]

Deus Ex Machina Gallery [In response to Paul]: “There is a recognizable school of art that Phoenix has spontaneously generated, the results of decades of creative work by independent artists operating under the radar. It is not a bland repetition of the kind of the international postmodern style that has strangled art into cultural irrelevance.

We are not behind, and it's not happening 10 years from now-it has already begun. See January 2012 "A Young City in An Ancient Land," at the Trunk Space.”
[http://sites.google.com/site/improbableart/]

Luis Daniel Gutierrez: “Ok. Maybe we stop focusing on sales and get back to the love of doing. All this "woe is me stuff" is a financial killer, for sure. I think, We need to make stuff that is Badass and is stuff people can't imagine themselves living without. We are contemporary artists and as such, need to be working with the world in mind and not just our broke ass community.

The place is a breeder of new Art. Not all babies are cute but we gotta agree everybody loves a brand new baby. The possibility of new life is precious. That is what Phoenix art scene provides, a fresh new lab for creativity to grow.”
[http://www.luisdanielgutierrez.com/]

I readily admit that I truly respect all of the opinions given on the overall situation, and by and large, I agree with most of what’s been stated above, albeit with a negligible tweak or two. A positive attitude can do wonders, and that- along with a whole new approach to the business model of the PAS, might possibly arrest the current malaise that afflicts it. The one unwavering commonality I see throughout the various remarks is this: while the creative process is key, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t turn a buck doing what you love to do.

GASP!!!!!! Did I just suggest that MONEY should be a consideration in how the PAS operates?!?!?

You bet’cha, bucko. It’s about time the PAS gets over this archaic art school mindset of “money is so beneath us”, and instead adopts an attitude of professionalism, like a real business would. The cold hard reality is that until we willingly do this as a whole, no one of high merit can or should, ever take us, this scene, or our innate talent seriously.
I’m not implying that we don’t have some amazing Artists here, I’m flat out saying that our business acumen is fatally abysmal. Naturally, I just might have a few suggestions regarding this unfortunate (yet fixable) situation.

In my previous writings, I’ve offered some pointed guidance in regards to how Artists ought to deal with Galleries and our so-called Patrons. This time however, my thoughts are all about how we as an artistic community should market and sell the fruit of our labors, the end result being a solid base of financial stability within the PAS. And yes, it’s going to be just as exciting as it sounds, because in my humble opinion, nothings sexier than sitting around and talking shop- especially when it’s all about making a respectable living doing what we would normally do for free. 

Woof. I’m truly tingly all over. I may actually need some alone time and a cigarette. Like I said, nothing is sexier than talking shop, so let’s get to it.

I’ve never actually bought anything at K-Mart, but I do like their pretty blue lights.

The definition of layaway: A payment plan in which a buyer reserves an article of merchandise by placing a deposit with the retailer until the balance is paid in full: I bought a suit on layaway. Given the past history of turbulence between Ryan Avery and I, it’s kind of nice that we both agree on this one. Artists really should make buying their work as easy as possible, even if the stated price range is out of a potential Patrons’ financial comfort zone. Hence, the concept of layaway, which I’ve presented as an option to my clients for the last several years.

If you want to own one of my pieces, I’m gonna find a way for you to buy it whatever it takes, and that right quick. Unless I’m trying to collect source material for a future sculptural mixed media work entitled “Dust Bunnies”, my art really doesn’t do me any favors sitting unsold in my studio.

I really don’t care how long someone takes to pay off a piece of my art, I’m just delighted that they bought it. What's more, it’s always useful to have some cash trickling in, even if it arrives in small increments. My bills don’t stop just because the commissions do, and when you factor in the cost of my daily Ding Dong habit, I really can’t afford the luxury of kicking back.

Like most overbearing stage parents, I want my kids to leave the damn nest and start sending me support checks, and if I were to be brutally honest- I’d rather all those were paid in one nice lump sum. However, understanding the fact that I work in an industry that serves a want, and not a need, I really can’t afford to be too choosy- and neither can the PAS, when you get right down to it.

Unless something has changed recently, art supplies still cost money. So does rent, food, electricity, car payments, booze, health insurance, ammunition, really good drugs, clothing, cable, internet, cell phones, and Ding Dongs. Especially Ding Dongs. Answer me this- it’s a cream filled, chocolate covered, hockey puck of sinful goodness- why the heck are they so damn pricey? Is the chocolate mixed by waterfall and then harvested by musically gifted Oompa-Loompas? A question for another time, I guess.

Getting back on point, maybe certain elements of the PAS want to starve to death for the sake of an outmoded sense of artistic nobility, but I sure as hell don’t, and neither should anyone else who’s serious about making Art their chosen career, and not just an after work hobby. Money buys opportunities. Money buys options. Money buys artistic and personal freedom. If you doubt this, just think of what famous (IE: rich) people are allowed to get away with in this society.

Being a successful anything buys you a boatload of breathing room, and just because you really like making money, it doesn’t mean for a New York minute that you’re a sellout, or that you’ve gone and bastardized your principles for the sake of making a buck.

[This of course does not apply to Thomas Kinkade or Shepard Fairey, both of whom possess the integral artistic strength of microwaved Velveeta.]

I create commercial work to fill my coffers, I craft fine Art to fill my soul, and at the end of both of these varying processes, I’m still an Artist, no more, no less. In order to pay the bills, I chose to adapt, rather than sit and whine in my darkened studio about how malicious the world is. Money greases the gears of business and life, and it always will. Money doesn’t give a damn about how talented you are, or how wondrous your artistic vision is, all it cares about is how much more you can make of it.

Yes, it’s unfair, heartless and rather narrow minded, but it’s also reality. You can become a Deus Ex Machina, using your acquired influence to force some positive changes, or you can waste vital energy attempting to chip the paint of an unrelenting juggernaut which will eventually crush you and your spirit- s
peaking from personal experience, it’s a heck of a lot easier to throw a spanner in the works from inside the machine. As an additional advantage, it’s also a much shorter distance to chuck that sucker, and that’s always a good thing, I think.

Andy Warhol once said: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Using that quote as a base for comparison, I’d have to say that the PAS is batting one out of three- we may be working, but we surely aren’t making money- and business is definitely not good. If I were in charge, and the PAS were a horse, I would have had it rendered into a case of Elmer’s Glue Sticks just so I’d possess something tangible from this scene that could be considered truly useful.

And no… I’m not going to apologize for that slam anytime soon, unless it’s to an actual horse.
[Feel free to insert your favorite Frau Bleucher joke here.]

We need to adapt, we need to explore other well-established options for making it easy and desirable to purchase our art, and we need to do all of this sooner than later. Not as random individuals, but as a united whole.
Or we can stay noble and artistically pure, follow the status quo, and slowly starve to death. You know… just like “real” artists would do.

Leggo my Ego…


Oscar Wilde once glibly stated that: “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”

This is a sentiment that I can get behind 100%, and not just because it’s cross-stitched on one of my studio couch’s throw-pillows.
What this quote has always represented for me as an Artist is quite simple: believe in yourself, even when no one else does- and you’ll eventually have the sweet satisfaction of proving them wrong. I’ve always truly believed that you should never allow yourself to publically validate any inner doubt about your talent, mainly due to the one question that will eventually arise: if you don’t trust your abilities… why  the hell should anyone else?

No one ever bets on the unconfident horse or business, and there’s a very good and logical reason why- they rarely win, because they’ve been hobbled by their own self-doubt. Being a professional Creative requires a thick skin and dogged determination, along with an ability to self-delude on a level that Sarah Palin on her best day couldn’t even begin to touch.

And those are two of the best qualities that an Artist needs to succeed, far as I see it.

To be fair, there has been many the day where my Ego far outpaces my aptitude, but that’s spot on of most people who work in this profession. The reality is that if it weren’t for my oversized sense of self, I’d be one of those sad colorless drones wearing a name tag, working in a tiny ass gray-lined cubicle poring over spreadsheets, and praying hourly for a quick and merciful death.

Speaking from the vantage point of a non-stop self promoting machine, I find that it’s imperative to continually keep the furnaces stoked as it were. If Artists want to be taken as commercially viable, then they have to do their best to keep those fires burning, and continually self-promote.

In a place like the PAS, this need to do so is crucial, due to the lack of two things: quality galleries and professional representation for Creatives. I never pass up the chance to talk about my work, or if the rare need warrants- someone else’s.
Save your cynicism. I have been known to throw someone deserving a bone every now and then, believe it or not.

Come to think of it… save your off-color jokes first, then save the cynicism.

Call me naïve, but I still find it astounding how many Artists fail to see this as an important skill to learn and/or master. Along with all the other talents that your discipline may demand, this ability to market yourself is too critical to deride as pointless Ego stroking, just because it asks you to pass out a few cards and make some small talk every now and then.

There isn’t a moment in my life when I’m not within easy reach of my digital portfolio or business cards, and theoretically… this might include the time when I’m sleeping. True opportunities are manufactured by the Machiavellian, and seized by the swift.

In other words-you snooze, you lose. And as a rule, I hate to lose at anything, especially when it comes to my own personal goals. Now, as you can imagine, this minor tendency of mine to network nonstop does sometimes get misconstrued as undiluted egotism or at worst- purely unbridled narcissism.
It’s neither, actually. Whatever you may think, it's not about ego. Really. If it was ego, I'd be telling you about my awesome... oh, never mind. Once again, what I do is more of a want, not a need, and is therefore easily dismissed when viewed as part of the much bigger picture of life.

Art and it’s numerous creators rarely get the respect they deserve from your average Joe Six-pack when it comes to the true value of such creative endeavors. If you have a talent, don’t hide it under the proverbial bushel- show it off.
If you’re so inclined to exude false modesty and remain an unknown when instead you should be strutting around like a glittered peacock and attracting the success you’ve earned, that’s your personal call, and I won’t dissuade you.

But you’ll also put aside the right to any future bitching about your lack of achievement when you’ve done nothing to bring attention to your life’s work, because I will call you on it, mercilessly- and often. Nothing aggravates me more than someone who complains about their problems, while simultaneously doing zip to affect a more positive outcome regarding their situation.

Unless you step into an errant puddle of dumb-ass luck, no one will ever know what you do unless you tell them. And in order to do that, you have to also be out and about, hence the reason why it’s pretty well known in the PAS that I’ll show up to the opening of a cereal box. 

Art openings and Gallery events are key to your possible success, because these twin events will put you in contact with the people you need to connect with, that being your fellow Creatives as well as their patrons, which is a winning prospect where a career is concerned.
No matter what, I NEVER stop trying to make vital connections.

Granted, I can be somewhat insufferable and intense regarding my chosen livelihood, but I honestly do believe that there is NO such thing as bad publicity, since whether they love me or hate me, at least they’ll be talking about me, and that’s what counts.
Taking up space in someone’s head for free- you just gotta love it, since the best hype will always come from your worst detractors. Why is that, you ask? The answer is simple: because they in turn, will never cease bitching about you. It’s sort of like having your own artsy version of the Truman show.

When you inspire that much venom and/or jealousy in others, it stirs the rest of the herd to become exceedingly curious, and that inquisitiveness is quite easily manipulated if you’re savvy enough to take control and ride the wave.
Case in point?

The “Hi, My Name is Ryan” documentary I co-starred in. The only person who’s ever seemingly profited off that thing so far is me, as the film has no distribution deal at this time. However, while I can’t even acquire a personal copy due to various ensnaring legalities, I did make damn sure to milk the experience for all it was worth when it was making the rounds of the festival circuit.|

Hell, the only reason I did the movie was for the exposure, and it paid off in buckets. I still get E-mail about it, and I was only in the damn thing for nine minutes. Everybody loves a bad guy, and thanks to that hardwired quirk of humanity, I was able to fatten my bank account for nearly a year.
I’d rather be thought of as a raving Egomaniac, rather than be labeled a talented near-miss, any day of the week.

As someone famous* once said: “It ain’t bragging if you can do it”, and after 150 shows, I’m pretty sure I’ve got that base covered, more or less.
[*I think Yogi Berra may have said this, but I didn’t have the time to check the ol’ Google. Have at it!] Opportunity seen, is opportunity seized- and to be truly successful, you must understand that it is absolutely necessary to present your best sales pitch at some point, whether you like it or not, and that's what stops people from networking effectively most of the time: the fear of failure.

However, while this is a valid concern, it doesn’t have to stop you. You can fall down ten times, provided that the number of times you get back up is at least eleven.
Keith Haring once noted on the process of creation: “When it is working, you completely go into another place, you're tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That's what it's all about.” Being paid to do what you love to do simply by getting your name out there? In my modest opinion, that possible reward is worth taking the risk. You can always decide to be really humble after you’ve made it.

Woof. I don’t know about you, but I am kind of tired.
So, let’s take a break here and go get some rest. And when I come back...

Playground rules. Art Cliques. Michelle Laudig covered in honey, and the Artbitch Field Guide to spotting Critics.

“Business Art is the step that comes after Art.”- Andy Warhol

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