Creative Source or Distraction?

The large bulletin board that occupies a wall in my studio. Today it’s a mishmash.

What I stare at each morning before I begin work is the huge bulletin board pictured here (about 4’ x 8’). It once occupied my studio at McColl Center for  Art + Innovation when I was fortunate enough to spend 11 months there as a resident several years back. Later I decided to hang it in my home studio.

Throwbacks Can Be Helpful

While the contents change from time to time, the simple structure and its flexibility does help to keep me focused—and inspired. I’m sure there is an app for doing the same thing, but I still need the quality of touch. We know writing something down helps us remember. And as a former writing instructor, I believe something happens between yours eyes and fingers and your brain.

When I look up this morning, the bulletin board contains in the center a picture of my brother who died last year and to the side photographs of my mother and me when she was less confused. There are quotes that inspire me, and awards that gratify me. Artwork by my grandsons is tacked along the bottom. It is a mishmash today. I doubt that I would focus anyway this close to Christmas, but I have noticed that it helps to constantly look at elements of my current projects.

Sometimes the Switch Is Always “On”

It is amazing to me how many artist friends say that they are ADD, that they have difficulty focusing. I’m showing my age here, but I’m not certain there was such a diagnosis when I was in elementary school or perhaps it was the small size of my school. From the comments on my early report cards I certainly had the symptoms of this “ability.” I won’t call it a disability because as current research indicates,  it is just seeing the world from a different perspective—and don’t we all do that in some manner. 

From the second grade on my report cards would say,“Patricia can not seem to sit still and focus. She will wad up clean paper just to get up and throw it in the trash.” In the third grade, there were at least three comments about talking too much. The final was “Patricia is a good student but she does entirely too much talking!” Talking continued to be a problem for me. It wasn’t until high school that I became really good student and surprised many teachers by being a member of the National Honor Society. I had figured out a few ways to focus that worked for me. Go figure.

So this large bulletin board is my saving grace for both creativity and focus. If I only want to think about color, I can fill it with color. If there is a subject that interests me, I can pin up everything about it (and I help the pushpin manufacturers).

But for right now, the bulletin board is a jumble of all sorts of ideas and so is my brain. All I want to know is how many more days until Christmas.

What Being A Caregiver Taught Me About Art (The Last One For Now)

“Reflection,” 16″ x 20″ x 2.75″, mixed media on deep wood panel, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2018

Doing What Is “Right”

Even with help and support, when you are guardian for someone like my mother who has dementia with Lewy Bodies, you never feel you have done enough or even the right thing. You feel that you should always be there, always be in control. It means I travel very rarely and usually within a few hours of home. I do not want to put this burden on my daughters who have young children. Still they occasionally get the calls. Life doesn’t work on my schedule.

Just this past week there was an “episode.” I was 15 minutes from my mother’s assisted living facility and had planned to visit after my swim at the Y. With 10 laps still to go my husband hovers over the lap lane with phone in hand.  My daughter has texted, and he has called the EMTs who are ready to transport my mother to the hospital.  The aides are concerned that my mother might have had a stroke, but she is combative and doesn’t want to go to the hospital. Since only one person can be guardian, I am the one who must make the decision. They describe her symptoms, and I make the call not to transport her.

My mother decided long ago she did not want to be bed-ridden and on a feeding tube like her own mother. So I dutifully filled out a MOST form (which indicates wishes for scope of treatment). I also know from two previous experiences there is little the hospital can do. They will run four or five hours of tests and may possibly strap my mother to the bed. Making these decisions never gets any easier.

Thirty minutes after the phone call, I am at the facility, and she is napping in a chair. When I wake her, she is angry and not rational. She points at the bouquet of flowers in my hands and yells, “no…out of here.” My mother now has language difficulties and primarily indicates displeasure, not pleasure. She complains frequently about the food, the staff not responding, etc. Today she is simply not happy at all. I spend time thanking the aides and the techs who are doing their job the best they can. They are strangers, yet most of them remain patient and kind even under difficult circumstances.

I do not know what the aides, the med techs, or the facility director thinks of my choices for my mother. Some days I think I have failed. Making decisions for someone else’s life is hard.

The Opinion That Counts Is Yours.

Making decisions about art is also difficult. You not only must choose what to paint, what colors you should use, or what tools, but also you must select what shows to enter, what pieces will grab a judge’s or a collector’s attention. Others may suggest that you should enter a particular show or art fair, but right or wrong, you are the one who must decide.

Like a lot of artists I get rejections. Enough that I could wall paper a large bathroom if the rejections did not arrive by email (Yes, I can remember when they arrived by mail.). I could tell you it doesn’t hurt, but it does. It can ruin a morning. I want to be in every show I enter. Realistically, I know other people’s opinions are only that—opinions. They matter for the moment because they are judging a show or deciding whether to buy a painting. What’s left is only the disappointment. There is a whole world of judges and buyers out there.

In the end, my art must please me. It must occupy my mind, delight and heal my soul, and communicate my feelings to the world. Truthfully, I make art for myself, and if I get to share it with others it is an additional blessing.

What Being A Caregiver Has Taught Me About Art (Part III)

Remembered
“Remembered,” 10″ x 8″, mixed media collage on board

Make Mistakes—It Means You’ve Tried

There are laws in every state designed to protect the elderly, especially in situations where their judgment may be impaired. I was grateful to learn this when I began this caregiving process 9 years ago. My mother needed help, mine and also the help of many others. Unfortunately, few people, especially attorneys and court clerks, knew much about dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD or DLB) at that time. They understood memory loss and Alzheimer’s, but not LBD, which is defined by fluctuation in cognitive functioning, impaired comprehension and lack of judgment. Even many physicians and directors of assisted living facilities lumped all dementia together.

When my mother was first diagnosed with LBD in 2010, I was urged to seek guardianship. I began that process immediately, but soon found that her appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) was focused on whether my mother knew what day it was, whether she could identify who was president, and whether she could perform most daily living tasks. The GAL was not really interested in whether my mother understood her long-term care benefits, could prepare her taxes, or make appropriate investments to secure her future.

Work Hard and Be Prepared for Change

Realizing that my mother needed some protection, I convinced her to give me Power of Attorney (POA) and Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)—but only after she had injured her leg and could not physically get out of her apartment for several weeks. What I didn’t understand (and what is the law in my particular jurisdiction) was that POA status only gave me some control. Even though documents were filed with the court, my mother could change it without warning. Also, if my mother disagreed with a decision and could identify herself, she could reverse that decision no matter how sound the decision and how risky her own might be. Yet there was little option at this early stage.

Luckily with art there are always options. Each day I work on my paintings, filling my tables with “wet work and markings” before I begin any reading, research, or writing. I am at my best early in the morning, and unless I am working on a specific piece I make every effort just to let the paint flow and to work in the moment. When I make a mistake, I am prepared to use my tools and my skills to change it. It’s also what you do in life

Make Connections That Are Meaningful

For five years, my mother and I just kept plodding along together for the most part. Most of her days were good, though because of her medication and diagnosis, she was limited in her activities. She did not look different, but she now had some awareness that something was wrong. She rarely wanted to go out. The Parkinsonian symptoms began to be more pronounced such as a flat expression and shuffling feet when she walked. When these symptoms occurred, I began to panic a bit. While current research does not indicate LBD is hereditary, my maternal grandmother had Parkinson’s Disease. At the very least I have a higher chance.

Everything that is happening, every worry, every concern, makes me glad for my art.  I believe there is a physical connection that happens: Whatever is in my subconscious thought passes through my mind and my hands, healing me and bringing richness to the paintings themselves. Once the paintings are dry, I add another layer (perhaps something I learned reading) that may be symbolic or literal. After all, it is human nature to attempt to impose order. We want to see a pattern. We want to make sense of things even when they don’t, even when we fear our own threads are not connecting, but unraveling instead.

So I work my back and forth process, putting on a layer, taking off part of another, adding a bit of drawing or sgraffito. I am building a painting. I am constructing and describing a life.

 

What Being A Caregiver Has Taught Me About Art (Part II)

detailcrosstobear
Detail, “Cross to Bear,” ©Patricia Steele Raible, 2018, Mixed Media on Deep Wood Panel

 

No matter how hard you try, you may not always get it right. Two years ago my mother who has dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD) was at a relatively steady point. I forgot about how the disease tends to “ebb and flow.” So I readily agreed when her doctor suggested changing the medication that helped prevent hallucinations. At the time I was her Power of Attorney (POA) and her Healthcare Power of Attorney. I managed her money and usually just provided input on her healthcare. The hope was that if she was unable to make decisions, I would be in place to do so.

Results May Vary

In order to change her medication, my mother had to come off the current medication for at least a week or 10 days. But once she was off the medication, my mother declared she was “cured.” She refused to take any substitutes. This resulted in increasing paranoia and inappropriate, almost aggressive behavior. As HCPOA I did not have the power to correct this, and she became increasing agitated even with the staff at the assisted living facility. She even became convinced I was stealing her money.

To calm her fears, I (along with other family and professionals) tried many things. We brought out copies of her “papers.” She was showed bank statements and financial records. Everyone assured her that all was in order. I’d like to tell you that all was well in the end, that she began taking medication that helped control the paranoia, that she started trusting me again. But there was much more to come.

It May Be A Bumpy Ride

Someone with LBD will not get better. Their decision-making and ability to understand complex problems will only decrease over time, even if their memory remains mostly intact. And without the correct medication for them, they are more likely to be paranoid and have hallucinations. It is important that that family take legal action early and find the right person to be guardian. While the process varies from state to state and county to county, it is not easy. In some jurisdictions family is rarely appointed.

Often the person with dementia strikes out at those closest, accusing them of acts they have not committed (Of course, this must be verified because unfortunately it does happen). But for the innocent caregiver, this is frustrating, embarrassing, and time-consuming. And yes, it’s like a “slap in the face.” The person with dementia may even seek legal counsel. They may call social services. They may also call the police. Each time the response must be immediate, careful, and blameless. Careful documentation and thoughtful observation are the key here, as well as much patience with the process.

Once You Gain Altitude…

Art is very similar. Every encounter, every challenge connects you more closely. You may work diligently on a piece, sometimes painting over portions, other times sanding the entire board down and starting again. But every once in a while, even as tenacious as I am, I have admit my efforts will not work—at least not in this way on this particular piece. It especially hard to start on the same painting again when you feel you have just failed. Some times I wait and give myself space to figure how I might compose the piece differently—what I liked about the piece, what needed to be changed.

In the case of my mother, I ran to my studio and shut the door. I applied quinacridone gold (my favorite) to a canvas and hired an attorney. I tore pieces of old drawings and outdated books and hired a geriatric care manager. I applied layer after layer to numerous pieces of art and went to court along with my mother, her aide, and her guardian ad litem. Luckily, after almost three months and a postponement, all agreed on the need for a guardian.

Sometime even when creating art, or maybe especially when creating art, we have to do things we aren’t comfortable doing—because deep down we know we must. It may mean many wrong pathways, but in the end, there is nothing else we could do.

 

What Being A Caregiver Has Taught Me About Art (Part I)

watertimpani1 2017MKRcafe
“Water Timpani,” 48″ x 6″ square, Four-sided painting, mixed media on wood

Making Connections

You create your best art when you are focused, motivated, and care about your work. I can photograph beautiful waterfalls, lovely sunsets, and expansive views of oceans and be truly moved by these natural wonders. But my best work is not capturing the light or the movement of the water, but rather making connections—personal connections. Connections with places, sounds, smells, and memories.

When I take photograph for a study, I always try to learn something about the area, even if it’s just about the topography. When I kayaked in earlier years I knew that straight line I saw across the river was a fall line, the hard ledge across the land that indicated where the water fell vertically into a pool below. I’ve since learned a waterfall is formed when a creek or a river flows from soft rock to hard rock. And of course, the size of the fall and the formations within the fall area continue to change over time and sometimes with each season.

Noticing the Little Things

For someone with dementia, especially dementia with Lewy Bodies like my mother it is similiar. When she was first diagnosed, trips to the doctor were much the same as they had been before—except I was there to listen and guide her. Now taking my mother to the doctor requires at least four hours. Because she is a fall risk I have her transported by the assisted living facility, and I meet them there. Once we are done with the doctor and all of the various tests, I again contact the facility and they meet us to transport her back. It wasn’t always this complicated, but in the last year while she can walk with a walker, lifting her feet more than a few inches is impossible.

While I am with her at the doctor I often work in a sketchbook or play in my head, connecting the photographs I have taken to the process of caregiving, illness, and dementia. In some ways it’s easier to see the changes in land and water than in a person you care about. The changes are so small, so subtle that you dismiss them at first as just “aging.” There are no piles of dead leaves, fallen limbs, or huge boulders that alert you to the changes. But they are there. And I believe we sense the changes, although we don’t always acknowledge them.

Finding Ways to Let Go

When I get into the studio, I have learned to focus, to let go of the problems outside the door, and to hopefully find ways of putting those feelings into the artwork. So while I am applying textures with brushes and palette knives and fingers, I am both painting a river and painting a life.

I am remembering and recording the physical and emotional changes in my mother and in the leaning tree, in the broken branch, in the free-flowing water, and in the symbolic windows and doors I place throughout my work.

 

 

 

The Naked Truth: How to Get Into Museums If You Are a Woman Artist

duetweb
“Duet,” 16″ x 20″, Mixed Media on deep wood panel, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2018, patriciasteeleraible.com

You are an artist and you happen to be a woman. You have accomplished many of the career goals you set when you began. Sooner or later you are going to want to be included in a museum’s collection or at the very least represented by a top gallery.

Here is what you should know:

Don’t Forget Your Tread Wheel

You may work 10 times harder than your male counterparts— but according to Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine, artwork by women artists makes up only about 5-8% of that on major museum walls in the U.S. Of 590 major exhibitions by nearly 70 institutions in the U.S. from 2007–2013, only 27% were devoted to women artists (The Art Newspaper). Are women artist not as good? Or is it gender bias? A 2015 article in Apollo Magazine questions whether the under representation of female artist is exactly that—a story and a history always told from the male perspective.

 Men Sell At Saks, Women at Sears

When asked how well their art is selling, female artists should show numbers of pieces sold, not the total price. You see, women artists on the whole don’t receive as much money as male artists. In 2018 NPR Hidden Brain podcast reporter Shankar Vedantam interviewed Renee Adams, a finance professor at Oxford University. She and her colleagues found that art done by women sells at a discount of over 42 percent.

You Cannot Hide Behind Technology

As part of the research Adams and her colleagues made up computer-generated paintings and asked volunteers to determine if they were painted by a male or female artist. Even the volunteers could not determine the gender of the artists. Yet, if the volunteers perceived the art was done by a male, they found the work more compelling.

At Best You’re Just Treading Water

Many artists work several part-time jobs both to make ends meet and to be involved in the art community. Guess what. The women in art jobs make less than their male colleagues performing the same or similar work. In another Vedantam interview, social science researcher Danielle Lindemann, a sociologist at Lehigh University, and her co-authors Carly Rush and Steven Tepper analyzed wage disparities in the arts and found that while there was no motherhood penalty in the arts, women earned about $13,000 per year less than males. And the disparities were even greater in nonprofits.

The Five Cards You’ve Drawn Are Strangers

While networking is never a bad idea, women artists will have to boost their energy levels, attending twice as many events and making sure their name gets to the right people. And in most cases those “people” are men.

In 2005, women ran only 32 percent of the museums in the U.S. The good news is they now run 47.6 percent, although this is primarily the smaller ones. Only 30 percent of artist that are represented by commercial galleries are women. And when it comes collecting art, most of the the collectors are male (as much as three to one), and and most often they invest in male artists.

Is it just that more men are affluent and they truly believe male artists make a better investment? Or, are affluent women buying into this practice as well? If we are touched emotionally by a piece of art, is it immediately devalued because “a woman must have created it”?

Without Bad Luck You’ll Have No Luck At All

For now at least, if you believe the numbers, you might want to take advice of the Guerilla Girls. They tell us the best way to get onto the walls of a museum is to take your clothes off. Research shows that while female artists are under represented in museum collections, between 75 and 85 percent of the nudes in museums are women. Since 51 percent of all artists are female, this is difficult to understand. Perhaps museums are simply mirroring the power structures in our society. The National Museum of Women In the Arts was created in 1987 to help rectify this and to present the work of only women artists.

But seriously, what should you do?

Perhaps it’s time to speak up—nicely, of course.

Go to galleries and ask them how many women artists they represent. What is the ratio of male to female artists? Ask them what percentage of total sales women represent.

Go to your local art museums and ask how many women artists are in their permanent collection. What is the ratio of male to female artists? And if that number is low, ask them why.

If you are a guilt-ridden gallery owner or museum acquisitions director, please look much harder at female artists (and yes, I am one) to both show and acquire.

And while some of you are perhaps familiar with all of these statistics I quoted, here are some links that might prove valuable to others:

National Museum of Women In the Arts https://nmwa.org

Guerrilla Girls website at http://www.guerrillagirls.com

National Association of Women Artists website thenawa.org.

Woman Made Gallery website womanmade.org

ArtTable website arttable.org

 

 

 

Church Can Be An Art Blessing

I’m really glad I went to church today. I discovered an incredibly inspiring artist who painted more than 7 decades ago.

helene_schjerfbeck_-_self_portrait_1942
Helene Schjerfbeck, Self portrait 1942

I’m really glad I went to church today. Yes, it’s always a comforting place where I can find friends and words that normally uplift me in this crazy, confused world. And today, I found an incredibly inspiring artist: Finish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946).

I guess I should explain that in our Unitarian Universalist Church we use art, music and poetry every Sunday. When we removed a hand-made tapestry from behind the pulpit several years ago and added a large projection screen, I was concerned that we were becoming too computerized and maybe a bit cold. But they use this wide-screen to project poetry, words of songs, and yes, art every Sunday!

An Artist That Inspires

My newest artist that inspires painted more than 7 decades ago, and while she is best known for her early realistic paintings, the ones that mesmerized me are her later paintings that are nearly abstract images.

While unknown to me, Helene Schjerfbeck is a Finnish national icon. Her early style was very naturalistic, honed during her studies in France. Her talent was recognized early and she was widely traveled However, in her later years she spent much of her time in a quieter atmosphere.

Next year (2019), the Royal Academy of Arts will exhibit over 60 of her portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Their exhibit publicity calls this a “long-overdue survey  that traces the evolution of her remarkable career.” They plan to highlight a sequence of her self-portraits, which they believe reveal her “lifelong fascination with the physical and psychological process of aging”—what lies beneath the skin and bones.

Influences of My Current Work

I too have found that as the years pass, I am simplifying my paintings. While a lot goes in at the beginning, much gets covered up and painted over. I am finding I must be honest and clear about my intent, and I must spend a lot of time journaling and observing. It is not linear, but rather a process that allows for overlap—a back and forth, a push and pull, an addition and reduction approach.

In particular, I am observing women artists because I believe they are best at distilling ideas and objects to their essence. This is a challenge I have given myself: to find what means the most to me and to simplify the imagery until only the important elements remain.