Jun 162010

Paradoxes Purposes and Ponderances

I have been participating in a pilot Artist Boot Camp program for the past several weeks, where artists come together with business people in the community in a unique educational partnership. The purpose is to enhance the business skills of artists so that our burgeoning Canton Arts District can develop solid sustainability. The business people volunteer their time out of an interest in the arts and from a desire to see the arts further develop the economic standing of the city.

In last night’s Boot Camp session, a comment was made by a fellow artist that struck a nerve with me.

“Your work has a real man on the street appeal.”

I don’t think it was intended to be a compliment or a criticism. But the reality is, most artists think “man on the street appeal” is a negative thing. My experience is that most artists and art enthusiasts think that art should have a deeper meaning and higher levels of experiential quality than the average person can comprehend.

If the average “man on the street” can appreciate it, than it must have less value or less purpose in the overall scheme of arts and culture.

Aside from the overt sexist nature of the comment (my collectors tend to be both male and female, perhaps more females than males), I find the whole notion sort of elitist and offensive.

I admire the works of my peers who pursue imagery and  intellectual purposes that are beyond the grasp of a novice. But is there not room for both in the great landscape of creative expression?

I have spent 19 years as a professional clinical counselor working in various public mental health settings that serve children. As a result, I have learned much about deeper levels of human experience. I know all about contemporary angst, violent impulses and the vast range of human sexuality–all themes that tend to pervade the work of many artists today. I have worked with survivors of some of the most horribly tragic and traumatic experiences, and I have listened to stories of intense pain and anguish.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Art, and I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling. I have a strong academic background in both art history and creative expression, as well as human psychology.

It’s not like I am an intellectual lightweight.

I choose to create artworks that are accessible and approachable to the average person because of my experiences working with extraordinary every day people. These people have shared their experiences with me–experiences of incredible strength, resilience and recovery, and my artwork is greatly influenced by their resilience. I think it would be somewhat disingenuous to create out of that experience in a way that was not accessible to those who inspired me.

I don’t create artwork for galleries and museums. I believe that the whole system of artist representation in galleries and museums is broken and not advantageous to artists. I create what inspires me. I seek to translate that in a way that both serves my artistic ideals and is attractive to a wide audience. And I find ways to promote it myself to the people who appreciate it.

I am making art that satisfies my artistic curiosity and need for self expression. I am challenged creatively and intellectually in the work that I do.  And I am selling a lot of it to people who enjoy it.

I am not making a lot of money, but I am moving towards more profitability.

To me, artwork is about life, and it needs to be a part of the world–living with everyday people in everyday situations. It should not be hanging solely on museum or gallery walls where an exclusive crowd will see it. It needs to be in homes, in businesses, in public spaces where it enhances the landscapes of our lives.

Because, no matter how talented or smart I may be, I am not too brilliant for the rest of the world. I am just another extraordinary every day person.

I am just another woman on the street.

Life is an Adventure!


  No Responses to “Paradoxes, Purposes and Ponderances: "Your artwork has a man on the street appeal."”

  1. Well said!

  2. you do not have to explain your artwork to anyone!!! Nor should you EVER let someone's opinion define you!
    To me I really don't think the individual meant the comment as an insult. (I can see however how you took it that way). That is a compliment to infer that everyone can enjoy (and DOES enjoy your artwork) It is a compliment to appeal to the “masses”.
    My father was a very well known Editorial Cartoonist for The Plain Dealer (for 30 yrs) Ray Osrin, when you are an Editorial Cartoonist there is always someone who is insulted because you weren't “Politically correct”….he was hugely successful though because his work appealed to the “masses”. He didn't have your pedigree (master's degrees and such) but he was a genius at what he did (using a phrase and a drawing to evoke intense emotion), that is no small task. His work was in Time, Newsweek, The National Observer, etc……some people loved him, some hated him.
    You can't please everyone but you should never, EVER feel that you have to defend your artwork, talent or your creations……we are all unique!!

  3. Thx so much for your comments Caren!

    I agree–No one's opinion should define you. Unlike many artists, however, I do enjoy explaining and talking about my work. To me, it is a dialogue that I enjoy, and part of the process of the artistic experience.

    Many artists DETEST talking about their work, and I get that. I have some more introspective and less “mass appeal” work that is less easy to talk about. My comments, though, were directed at those who try to box in art in general. If art doesn't have some kind of deep mysterious message or angst to it, they seem to think I am “selling out”. If I am making art that has commercial value, then it is of less artistic value.

    i am not necessarily defending myself per se. OK, maybe I am. But more than anything, I am making a statement of defiance to the notion that art has to be one way to be of value. I am chagrined that so many artists feel that their own work has to be one way to gain credence by their artist peers.

    I am saying, if you don't like it, tough. It's what I do, and will continue to do, whether you think it has value or not.

    I personally think editorial cartoons are powerful and very much an active part of our world. I don't think art should just be a static picture on the wall, it should be inspiring, provoking,activating, motivating, etc. people. for better or for worse, editorial cartoons do that, and it takes a very special sort of artist to create them. kudos to your father!

  4. I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your response to me and I agree with you 150,000%!!! Soooooo true and so well stated!
    Thanks so much about my Dad, he passed in 2001 (but you didn't know that so that is ok!!!) He was my Idol…….

  5. Fantastic post. I am a photographer and writer and agree with your points throughout. There is a prevailing snobbery in some circles that stops creative conversation. It's too bad. One can tell by viewing your art that you absolutely have talent and know what you are doing from a technical standpoint and from a creative standpoint. Keep creating those beautiful works and thanks so much for expressing what needed to be said.

  6. Thx Lou! Artwork can be so many things–it is a crime to limit it and the creative conversation. I find it ironic that artists fight to throw off the limits placed upon them by others, yet place so many limits on themselves and other artists. So often, we become the monster that we try to slay in others.

    BTW–I love your work as well!

  7. I am enjoying reading the discussion here… I don't think the comment is necessarily negative either but people do like to categorize things. I have heard people describe certain work as commercial vs non- commercial. I've understood that to mean commercial work has a wider appeal and non-commercial does not. If your work is non-commercial you have to work harder to find a niche. Say for instance you decided you had in your heart to paint cockroaches instead of dogs and cats. You'd have to hunt pretty hard to find people who appreciated what you just created even though I suppose a cockroach as a subject could be a work of art… didn't the Egyptians have some kind of sacred insect in their artwork? The comment could of simply meant there are more people who are out there who appreciate their pets than there are people who appreciate a less common subject. If you are being challenged and streched by what you create and it makes your heart sing when you do it than nothing else really matters all that much. If you are selling work and people are happy with it than thats all the better. I've made a point to intentionally think as if I have blinders and ear plugs on when I get to feeling like I somehow have to justify what I do or create because of someone else's expectations or observations. Art is really one of the few things that can purely just come from a person's heart. Why mess with that?

  8. Thx for your comments, Sue. As always, your words are brilliant and soulful.

    The person who made the comment was making an observation, not a criticism. I am actually glad that they said it, because I think they were putting voice to thoughts that others are afraid to say to me directly. I am not at all ashamed of the fact that my work appeals to the average man or woman on the street. I am proud of that–I have outlined in my post that this is central to my purposes.

    What bothers me is that many artists suggest that appealing to the everyday people is a bad thing. I am not saying that everyone should do that necessarily. We should each do what sings to our souls. But having broad appeal does not necessarily mean that your work is less credible.

    Part of the reason that I pursued another career for 19 years was because I was not comfortable with what I felt was an elitist culture in the “Art World”. Back in the day, artists had few choices in showing their work, and had to play the games of the museum/gallery scene. I like bringing deep concepts to a basic level so that everyone's awareness can be broadened, so that scene was not a fit for me.

    Now days, I don't have to play that scene. I can take my work directly to the people who appreciate it, and I can enjoy sharing the artistic dialogue with them. If the arts bourgeoisie don't like it, so be it. You are right–I do not need to justify myself to them.

    The men and women on the street deserve art too. And I intend to give them the best there is. 🙂

  9. It looks like you've resolved this issue very nicely BZtat. I think the root of that is being clear on why YOU create and not worrying about anything or anyone else. If you can get to that point as an artist than you are golden! I think part of the dilemna is that most artists are constantly re-evaluating their work and their goals because motives change. There really is no right or wrong way as I see it– to each his own. Keep doing what feels right and good for you! Best wishes as always.

  10. I am not sure that it is an issue to be resolved for me personally, Sue. Rather, I am thinking of this in the broader context of how artists narrow their opportunities by putting their own preconceived notions out there as barriers. Artists, like all human beings, are paradoxical. We fight boundaries and limitations, yet create our own boundaries and limitations as we go. The irony is a constant source of curiosity, and sometimes irritation, for me.

    Thx for keeping the discussion alive!

  11. I am not sure that it is an issue to be resolved for me personally, Sue. Rather, I am thinking of this in the broader context of how artists narrow their opportunities by putting their own preconceived notions out there as barriers. Artists, like all human beings, are paradoxical. We fight boundaries and limitations, yet create our own boundaries and limitations as we go. The irony is a constant source of curiosity, and sometimes irritation, for me.

    Thx for keeping the discussion alive!

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