More Than Pretty Pictures

“Two Heads Are Better,” Diptych, 8″ x 16″, Mixed Media on Canvas, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” when I write this, but in case you’re not an artist, remember this:  art isn’t just pretty pictures and music isn’t just for dancing. There are benefits beyond what we can see with our eyes, and now someone is finally studying this and asking the right questions.

Art Lasts Longer Than A Fizzy

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Arkansas National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab (https://nea-research-lab.uark.edu/about-university-of-arkansas-nea-research-lab/)  working with Atlanta Public Schools and Woodruff Arts Center ( home to the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and High Museum of Art) found that art experiences are clearly important in the “formative school experience.” This means that the experiences go beyond the technical learning process and include gained social-emotional skills.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned fourth-and-fifth graders to receive three field trips each to Woodruff’s Art institution in a single year. A control group within the same school and adjacent grades did not receive the same treatment. In this first for arts field trips research, the authors connected survey responses with student administrative data such as attendance, discipline, grades, and standardized tests scores.

More Pretty Pictures Please

According to the Northside Neighbor, here’s some of what they discovered with students receiving the three field trips:

  1. Higher levels of social-perspective and tolerance primarily through the survey item “I think people can have different opinions about the same thing.”
  2. More interest in school and positive academic gains.
  3. Higher test scores on standardized tests in math and English than the control group.
  4. A higher level of attention to detail by female students (and those who attended 6 field trips in two years showed even higher levels).

In general, they also found that students in the “field trip” group had a more positive view of school and more engagement in general than the control group—and they also had fewer disciplinary infractions.

Perhaps we could all use well …more music and pretty pictures.

Elevator Speeches for Introverts…Like Me

“Seeking Warmth,” 20″ x 16″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on Deep Wood Panel,
©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

I really don’t like elevators with or without speeches. They make me nervous, and no matter how hard I try to relax I always feel like I’ve left my legs on the floor where I got on. So I tend to smile nervously, face the door, and think there is no way I can turn and talk to another passenger.

No Infomercials

Having read advice in books and blogs from quite a few marketing gurus, I’m always thinking about what I should say when someone asks what I do. If I say, “I’m an artist,” I am usually asked a follow-up question about what kind of artist. If I say mixed media and leave it there, I know I’ve missed out big time. I have learned that this is an opportunity to share myself and to get to know someone if only for a very short time.

If you listen to the experts, they would have you prepare a two-minute statement that tells someone “why you create.” Unfortunately, I have found that doesn’t work for me. As an introvert, I come across as stilted, pompous, or stuffy. What I’m learning to do instead is tell them something about my current work. Chances are I’m excited about it and that comes through in my body language. It doesn’t come across as prepared or memorized.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

I’ve got less than a couple minutes, so I have to keep it really short. Second, if I want this to lead to a look at my website, a visit to my studio, or a possible friendship, then I need to know at least one thing about this person. So after describing my most recent work, I ask a question. “Are you involved in art, who is your favorite artist, what kind of art do you like?” Then I have a real conversation that I can continue briefly when the door opens or I can exchange information for a later date.

In my excitement talking about what I am working on, I have to remember not to overwhelm them. They don’t need an artist statement or a curriculum vitae. I try to connect with them by using descriptive language they can understand. If they seem sincerely interested, I invite them to a show or just to my studio.

Being Real

While I believe in being as prepared as possible, a canned elevator speech just doesn’t work for me. I can’t make it sound authentic. I have found it is far more important for me to be genuine—to be myself and talk about something that I am passionate about. That makes me sound…well, like me.

When Technology Goes Bonkers

An abstract collage painting called "Earthshine" shows line, texture and some color though not perfect taken with my smart phone.
I took this photograph of “Earthshine” with my telephone (not an iphone). It’s not what I would use for a juried show, but it’s fine for sharing. It shows texture and line—though the color is bit off. I love the ability to see what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.

How do we respond as artists when the technology we have been depending on goes a bit…well haywire? While most of my artwork is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, I do depend on my computers, various programs, and my printer.

When You Least Expect It

This morning I watched my husband as he dealt with the Bluetooth in our car. He said he was riding along when suddenly the Bluetooth announced that it was changing the language to French. He swears he pushed no buttons and even tried to fix it by calmly asking the “French woman” to change the language back to English. Instead, he got a terse, “Pardon?”

It was not quickly resolved. Even with manuals, the internet, two telephone calls to different car dealers, and a plea to a daughter fluent in French, no one could offer much help (though the daughter offered a few choice words he could say in French when it didn’t work). So like any good American he went out punching buttons. The first punch got him another language, but it was Spanish. No problem, our other daughter is fluent in Spanish!) All he had to do was figure out which buttons he had pushed in which sequence. Finally, on the third try he was able to get the car to talk to him in English again. And incidentally, the only car dealers that called him back wanted to know if he would like to trade the car in for another one.

Obviously, the younger artists are most comfortable with technology, but I have seen a few of them get frustrated when something didn’t work “as advertised.” I guess the reality is that when it works, it makes our life easier and probably more creative even if we produce primarily with our hands. I know being able use technology to view and discuss the work of other artists influences my work. Videos teach me about new techniques, and the simple means of communicating allows me to share my own work with thousands of people even in other countries.

Our Art and Soul

In some ways adaptation to different circumstances is the heart and soul of art. I recently discovered that Matisse began his “cut-out” series after cancer forced him to use a wheelchair. While the work was a departure from his large paintings, critics often refer to them as among the best works of his entire career. 

While I would miss technology, I believe artists are among the most adaptable people in our society. Perhaps it would be a good idea for all artists to develop their “other left or right hand.” By this I mean develop more than one method of creating, challenging ourselves to go beyond our daily borders.

Stepping beyond what has worked for us in the past might open the door to even better work in the future.

“It’s Something Else Now”

After Time, © Patricia Steele Raible, triptych, 9″ x 24″ x 1.75″, mixed media on board


Space Is Limited

It’s getting crowded again, but not in a bad way. As I look around the studio, I see a lot of unfinished work, but I also see what may be politely referred to as “reworked paintings.” Does this say something about my current work habits (well perhaps) or does it also say something about many of us who just enjoy creating. Artists are finished when they are finished. But after living with a artwork for a while they may simply feel the need to change it a little, or change it significantly.

In a 2014 article in ArtNews, author Ann Landi wrote, “choosing when to stop altering a piece can be a highly individual decision, as idiosyncratic and personal as style, and there are instances in which a work is never fully done, at least in its creator’s mind.”

I lean in this direction, but I am also afraid of a painting being “overdone.”

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

In Landi’s article, she describes sculptor, Nari Ward, (http://www.artnet.com/artists/nari-ward/) who recycles pieces of one sculpture using it in another. He says “simply changing a venue for a particular work can mean it has to be re-formed to fit its site.” And he admits that sometimes the original artwork can disappear. When a gallery asks if a particular original work is available to sell, he often has to admit, “no, it’s something else now.”

Does the Art Change Or Is It the Artist

I believe that unfinished work and work that is being recreated  may actually be a sign of changes in our own lives—not just in our art, but in ourselves. We are not the same person at 30 or 40 that we were at 20 and different events change us. We don’t even stay the same when we are much older, so neither should our artwork. Our artwork would or should reflect who we are in that moment.

The artist is the real story here, that and their ability to put it on canvas, or metal, or wood, or whatever materials they converse with. And if that conversation changes over time (as surely it must), we the listeners are the richer for it.

 

Recycle/Reuse Applies to Art

Having started out with little or no money, I have always known how to stretch a dollar. It never occurs to me not to at least reuse something.  As a painter, mostly on deep wood panels, I do a twice a year survey, determining not just which paintings are sales worthy but which I deem of lasting quality. This means I would hang them on my museum wall if of course I had a museum.

Second Chances

I don’t do this lightly. Normally, I put the ones I have chosen or maybe it is “ not chosen” in a corner of my studio on the floor where the wall is low and they can be seen. That means I will be looking at then a lot before I actually begin my “deconstruction” so to speak. Occasionally, I take paintings out of this pile. But once the day arrives, I begin the work. It’s mostly sanding, something I do a bit of anyway since I like my sides relatively smooth. I look at this as a “second chance” for me and the painting. Many of my paintings, some of the best, are just that—a second chance.

I begin by removing any attached objects, whether a vintage yard stick or just the wire on the back. If there are really thick areas of collages, I might take a paint scraper and attempt to remove a bit of these elements as well. But then the real “fun” begins: sanding, sanding some more, brushing them off, and yeah standing again. For most jobs I use a hand sander, but this requires the belt sander and both rough and smooth surface sandpapers.

Always Take Care

The idea is to take it down almost to the natural wood, removing all the paint and mediums. On mine you may see some matte paint that I have used to seal the wood. But sanding well is the key to ensuring that the surface of your next masterpiece will adhere correctly. I should always wear a mask even though I rarely use highly toxic materials. But I do use adhesives that are labeled “known to the state of California to cause cancer.” Another artist reminded me of just this at an event recently. You just never know.

Does this work with canvas? Yes, but obviously you would not use the heavy belt sander. I haven’t “reused” but a couple of canvas paintings, and those had no collage elements only acrylic paint. Making sure the back was properly supported, I was able to sand the canvas with lightweight sandpaper. I then prepared the new surface with gesso. There are many good instructions on the internet for preparing canvas for reuse.

A Little Work Benefits Everyone

This is only a small step in helping the environment, but it is one I can do gladly knowing that it not only benefits future generations but also my own pocket since buying canvas or building cradles is not inexpensive. I always encourage students to buy the best materials they can afford. Sometimes they are already in your studio.

How I Found Time

Just playing on paper on the new easel.
Just playing on paper on the new easel.

Actually the phrase “found time” is ridiculous. As far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day. The biggest difference is how you use your time.

I Get Up Early

My husband and I get up at 5 a.m. No we are not runners or photographers who like the morning light. We are grandparents who want to make certain our grandsons are cared for until school begins at 8:15 a.m. and this particular daughter can get to her job as a health care professional by 7 a.m.

While occasionally it feels a little like a burden, that is rarely the case.  It usually feels like a gift—a gift of time we hadn’t counted on. And while we do this only four days a week, we tend to maintain the schedule most days. I get the luxury of the “extra” time every day, but my husband gets the “benefit” of an hour with his grandson. We wish this were the case for all three of them.

I Do Not Focus on Emails

On the days we linger in bed until 5:30 a.m., we both get to enjoy the quiet of the morning. This  means we can get things done without the interruption of phone calls. My husband writes music and reads, and I try to spend as much of this time as possible in my studio reading, writing, and painting. With no one else up you feel that you are hours ahead of most everyone else. I also know artists that paint at night, usually after 10 p.m. Again, it is quiet and they can focus on the brush strokes, the colors, the composition without a plea for their attention.

Of course, there are days I get to paint a lot more, but this morning time is time I can generally count on. The trick is that to accomplish this, I must not look at emails or facebook, etc. until at least 9 a.m. or at the very least be disciplined enough to limit myself to 10 minutes. It is way too easy even for me to get sucked in to the magic hole of the internet.

I Still Get 8 Hours Sleep

Trust me; I am not suggesting you get less sleep. You will find us in bed by at least 9:30 p.m. almost every night and often before that. In the end, it is a matter of choice. Finding time is about prioritizing and rescheduling. So while our choice is eliminating most television and a bunch of internet, it may not work for others.

I Focus on the Rewards

Even if it is an hour a day, for me it is worth the rearrangement of a few things. The older I get the more I hate hurrying and hassle, so anything that makes life a little calmer is worth trying. And believe me, the time I get provides pleasure, insight, and sanity. Not bad rewards.

Front Row Girl

Keeping A Promise, 18″ x 20″, mixed media

So 2019 is upon us, and it is time to make those changes, those new year resolutions. And I have decided to occasionally be a “front row girl.” Now this is a term I heard in yoga class, when I teased another woman about moving up to the front row. She replied, “I’m not a front row girl. I don’t like the attention.” (I go to the front row because I can’t see.)

Wearing A Hoodie Through Life

Now, if you look up “front row girl,” you will get blogs and stories about a Milwaukee Brewer’s fan named Amy Williams who comes to most of their home games and sits…well on the front row. That’s not the front row I’m talking about. I’m talking about a different type of “front row,” one that includes taking more risks and being more involved in the things that matter to me (or to you) whether it is art, education, affordable housing, or fighting those who insist on speeding and running red lights.

Too often I find myself not doing things because it makes me uncomfortable— even though I realize that it’s something that could make a difference in my life or someone else’s.  If it is a problem, I complain, but still take a back seat because I’m an introvert and don’t like making a fuss. And sometimes even when I believe I have a good solution to a problem, I don’t speak up for fear that it can’t really be that good or someone else would have proposed it, or even for fear of rejection. A hoodie is nice when you’re cold, but it may feel good to throw it off once in a while.

Peaking Through

But this is the year. At least once a week I will be doing something I haven’t done on a regular basis—whether it is as simple as introducing myself and talking to someone I haven’t met (but should have), or speaking in a more public forum. Already I am pushing myself to change my paintings, adding more contrast, more color. I am also pushing myself to write more, about art and about life.

While winter is just beginning, I’m going to pretend it’s spring and that I’m always a “front row girl.” Some of us are late bloomers, admittedly very late bloomers. But our flowers are just as beautiful.