Back Among the Living

Well, here I am after all this time.  The first couple of months of absenteeism were self-declared.  Nothing to say in the fall of politics and rage.   I just didn’t feel like it.

But then, the hacks began.  Somewhere, there are people who enjoy inserting words such as Viagra and erectile dysfunction into online posts having nothing to do with Viagra or erectile dysfunction.  I can’t quite comprehend the thrill or commercial advantage or whatever it is that would make someone do this.  It has taken several months of effort by a superhero technician, Jeff Langlais, to make things right.  And there is still more to go.  All images were dropped.  Most punctuation was obliterated, as well as formatting.  But bit by bit we’re getting back to normal with several safeguards in place to protect us in the future.

Now, of course, I have to get back into the habit of thinking that I have something to say that you would want to read.  I’ll do my best.

The $20,000 Question

Several years ago, I found myself in a hotel room late at night with several fellow basket-makers.  Jan Hopkins, Kate Anderson and Susan Kavicky (perhaps more?) were there.  We were in Chicago for SOFA and had reserved rooms for the group of us.  After the long day of  being “on”, talking with folks, looking at work in other gallery booths, expending a lot of energy in hoping that work would be purchased, we had kicked back with a bottle of wine and philosophical conversation.As usual, the subject of price vs. value came up.  In art, the value of a piece is based on…what?  Why did some of the works we had seen that day merit four-figure or even five-figure prices while others, similar in many ways, merit only triple-digits?Possible reasons:

  1.  Materials.  Gold is more expensive than paper and so the resulting objects made from them tend to be more or less expensive.
  2. Size.  It does seem to matter.  Bigger generally trumps smaller.
  3. Number.  If one makes ten $10 pieces that go together, the logical price would be $100.  If one makes one hundred $10 pieces that go together, we have a $1000 piece.  That doesn’t always hold true, of course, but the logic is there.
  4. Medium.  Every medium seems to have its day.  Glass is still the big dog.  A mediocre piece of glass will sell for far more than a mediocre piece of wood or clay or textile.
  5. Reputation of the maker.  The baseball card mentality.  A Babe Ruth is worth more than a Ziggy Fitzgerald.
  6. Social currency.  Has this work been talked/written about?  How many “likes” does it have?  Has a celebrity been seen looking at it or, better yet, buying it?
  7. Rarity.  The fewer pieces there are made by a coveted artist, the more expensive they will be.
  8. Representation.  The reputation of the gallery or agent carries weight in the pricing game, too.  If a well-respected gallery or agent values the work sufficiently to represent it, that counts for something.
  9. Timing.  There is much to be said about being in the right place at the right time.
  10. Magic.  There is always the possibility for that ineffable quality that appears when a maker is truly an artist.  And even then, it’s rare.

Many of these elements are beyond one’s control but we can control some of them.  What if we thought about the “value” of the piece before we made it?  From that idea came this:  What if we had an exhibition in which every piece had to sell for $20,000?  What would each of us do to make a piece that would cost that amount?  Use gold as an element?  Learn glassblowing?  Fill a room with ten thousand objects?  Call upon a childhood friend who has made it big in Hollywood to talk about our work at LA cocktail parties?  Just put a price tag  of $20,000 on anything we made?It flipped the ongoing question of pricing on its head.  Instead of looking at our work and saying, “What is it worth?”, we would set out to control what we could to make a piece worth a certain amount.  People do this all the time in order to make work that sells for less but rarely to make work that sells for more.  I would still like to think that artists make work for reasons other than the price tag but what I like about the practice is that it asks us to be scrupulous about what we value in our own work and in the work of others.Above is “Journies”, a piece that is in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.  I’ll tell you more about it next time.  

Good Stuff

How do you understand a man who speaks only Chinese?  You look at his work.  Bai Ming, a master Chinese ceramist and painter, is teaching the ceramics class this session.  He made a presentation this evening in Gateway.  His daughter, Jessica, translated for him as he spoke of his home and his influences and then there was a video which had subtitles.  It was in looking at his work that you could get to know him.  He is of a generation that bridges the enormous past of Chinese art and the emerging contemporary scene.  I especially respond to his paintings.  It’s not often that you are in a place where you can chat with a modern master.

The day flew by.  The class has covered many techniques and experimented with many materials.  Of course, there are many more that we could cover if we had the time and inventory.  Beginning today, we are approaching the design of an object from the point of view of an idea, of influences and content.  After this week of quick and sketchy assignments, each person will come up with a direction that she wishes to pursue.  That’s when the good stuff begins.

The byword for today was, “All art is learning.”  It started as “All my art is learning”, which a student expressed when she was talking about an assignment, but it seemed that it could be simplified to include all art.  The artist is learning through her pursuit of her practice and with any luck the viewer of the art is learning something about him or herself and the world.  Lofty ideals but worth pursuing.

The Map of Somewhere

Think of rain on the roof.  The smell of spruce and wet leaves.  The intensity of the colors of wet lichen, moss and tree trunks.  Think of silence giving way to footsteps on boardwalks and then the increasing occurrence of voices and laughter.  All seemed an unfolding, a slow approach to the beginning of the session.  Finally, ninety people gathered in Gateway this evening, the largest meeting space at Haystack, used for presentations and orientations for the welcome.

I don’t know if it’s because I have done this fairly often or because Haystack presents a sense of community that is immediate and strong, but as I looked around the room, I felt as if these people had been together in this place for days already.  About half of this group has been here before, the other half first-timers.  And yet all seemed comfortable and at home.

We were given the rules of citizenship…no alcohol in the studios, watch what you flush down the toilets, the location of the library, etc….and then were sent on to the studios to meet each other for the first time as groups.  I am once again pleased and a little humbled by the people in my class, all interesting, lively, curious women from 20-something to 70-something in age.

I told them about a man I met yesterday morning as he was preparing to leave Haystack.  He was sitting in his car, diligently looking at a map, moving his finger along a proposed path.  I laughed and said that it seemed an old-fashioned thing to be doing.  He laughed as well, picked up his iPhone and said that he was using GPS to get to his destination, but that he wanted to know where it was.  I thought that it was an apt metaphor for what we are doing.  I will be the GPS for a while in class, the woman’s voice that tells you where to turn and how far to go.  But they will be looking at their own maps, determining where they are and coming up with their own destinations.  Each will have a map of a different somewhere and a different landing place.

Connect/Contain

\Another trip to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, this time to teach a two-week session in basketry.  Not basketry per se, but more the idea of working with what comprises a basket:  multiple elements, mechanically connected, to create (traditionally) a vessel.  That leaves a lot of latitude for interpretation, and that’s the whole point.

Here is the description of the workshop as it appears in the summer 2016 Haystack catalogue:

Baskets are traditionally made with natural materials, using mechanical connections, creating vessel forms. We will extend the tradition by using unusual materials and non-traditional connections to make expressive vessel forms. After exploring the possibilities of many materials and ways of connecting them we will spend some time generating ideas and creating strategies for putting it all together to come up with individual work, which may be connected to your current work or completely new. Be ready to rip, stitch, twine, staple, rivet, fold, notch, paint, draw, laugh, think, succeed, fail and tune your own voice. All levels welcome

I’ll be writing each day to take you along on our journey in exploration. This is my favorite way to teach, being in a room of talented, eager people who are willing to take chances and to commit to their own inner visions.  It’s not always easy but can be so rewarding.

Upcoming Exhibition

BowlsandCrow1 - Version 2It’s not often that one is called a master.  My theory of the value of doing something adequately well for a long time holds true once again.  An exhibition called Two Women Masters opens on July 1 at CRAFT Gallery in Rockland, Maine.  I share the spotlight with longtime friend and wonderful artist, Jan Owen.  Here is the news release from the gallery.

Two Women Masters: The work of Lissa Hunter and Jan Owen

CRAFT Gallery dedicates its new show, opening on July 1st, to two women masters of fine art and craft, Jan Owen and Lissa Hunter, and to their achievements and contributions to fine art and craft.

Both Maine artists pay special attention to detail, depth of thought, storytelling and metaphor. Each uses composition, design and craftsmanship to create works that honor their craft methods. Their work is recognized and collected by major art institutions as valued works of art. Among them are The National Museum of Women in the Arts, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Museum of Arts and Design in New York, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution and The Library of Congress.

Calligraphic artist Jan Owen draws upon the art and methods of early medieval scribes and her love of color, music and poetry. Every stroke of the pen and brush on handmade paper and hollytex requires meditative deliberation and concentration. Her panels, scrolls and books use the power and beauty of words to take on a contemporary form.

Artist Lissa Hunter uses basketry, porcelain and drawing to tell stories, express emotions and ideas, often in metaphor and often incorporating all three disciplines in a single work. This show includes her charcoal drawings. porcelain vessels and wall mounted assemblages with niches holding coiled basketry. All are examples of Hunter’s dedication to exploring materials and forms.

With no gender bias intended, there are many other Maine women craft artists who deserve recognition and show their work at CRAFT: Autumn Cipala, Sara Hotchkiss, Hanako Nakazato, Christine Peters, Nisa Smiley, Amy Smith and Fiona Washburn.

Two Women Masters opens on July 1st during the Rockland First Friday Art Walk. There will be live music and refreshments in the courtyard during the evening. The show will continue ?until August 3rd. CRAFT Gallery is in the courtyard at ?12 Elm Street in Rockland, Maine. FMI call ?207 594 0167 and visit www.craftonelm.com

It would certainly be a pleasure to see you there.