Hope you had a great holiday! This is the last part of the Building Your House portion of my Learning Series, which started around the 5th of December. But it’s not the last of the series. Oh no. I’m writing at least a few more articles. (I told you I had a lot to spill.)
So to recap so far, I’ve talked about a bunch of things. Maybe you weren’t paying attention, but here’s what I’ve been going on about:
- Values before goals
- Writing Mission Statements
- Demystifying beliefs
- What not to focus on
- Commitment and discipline
- Your sacred art space
- Setting policies
- Making a schedule
I have yet to cover other things like documenting your work, writing an Artist’s statement and a bio, websites, administrative skills, researching galleries, and a couple of creativity exercises. See? I have a ways to go yet!
Since I’ve never organized this stuff into a proper curriculum, I’m doing the best I can in writing these articles as I go based on a bunch of notes I’ve made over the past several months. Maybe someday I’ll streamline the whole thing and create some kind of applicable workshop out of it. You nevah know! But my notes do have an actual order to them. At least that part has been organized.
Today I want to talk about building a body of work. There’s a lot that goes into this. For a beginner, this is quite an undertaking, as a matter of fact, because it might feel like an abstract concept at first. And, to break it to you (not so gently), you might not be there yet.
I’m not saying you can’t do it. Anyone can do anything they put their mind to. I truly believe that. I’m only sharing my own experience here. That’s all I can do. My personal opinion is that it takes a lot of concentration and experience. It’s that patience I was talking about before.
As far as galleries go, they do look for “consistency.” I am not a fan of this word per se, but understand that, when getting your foot in the door, one’s work should have some kind of cohesive voice, if you will. A gallerist wants to see who you are, visually. They want to know if they can sell your “look” (or what you’re saying in your art) to their pool of collectors. It’s a business, after all.
As for voice, I spoke about this in a post not too long ago. And trust me, I have my own hangups about this subject, too (as stated in that post). A lot of artists do. But I believe all artists already have their voice readily available. It’s just a matter of making them clearer and using them with some freedom and confidence. Doing this happens over time. Your voice gets revealed through working (and more working).
Personally, I don’t think I was able to recognize myself as an artist until I completed at least two hundred pieces, and that was still in hindsight once I made a couple of different series beyond that. I didn’t really think much about it. I just painted. I was also pretty naive. I really didn’t know shit about art in general. A lot of those early paintings were “practice” pieces and singular experiments of exploration. I just went on pure instinct. I just made art.
But I tried a few different styles along the way. Style and voice are two different things, by the way. I’ve said it before, but voice is more like your natural handwriting. It’s something you can’t help. In art, “style” usually falls under type or even categorization, as in a baroque or abstract style. I was especially attracted to abstract art and mostly dabbled in that style.
I also tried many subject matter too, like portraits, landscapes, nonrepresentational, and cartooning—combining those with the styles I was comfortable in. I did this until a kind of pattern developed, though I hadn’t truly noticed all the similarities occurring until I got into using oils around the early 1990s.
Evidence of my voice began to materialize in the colors I kept choosing, the way I applied the paint, the shapes I made, how I was outlining things, and some of the subject matter. Other people were pointing this stuff out to me before I even noticed it myself. I think I began to see it as the years went on, maybe twenty years in. But it’s still hard for me to see it.
I’m not saying it’s going to take you twenty years, I’m just pointing out that it takes a lot of experience and a lot of paintings under your belt. And I’m saying it took me twenty years to start noticing my voice.
In any case, I started to grab onto ideas in the work that inspired me to dive deeper into exploring certain aspects, whether it was the look and feel of something or the concept/meaning behind it. And each of these explorations began to take onto a separate thread. Those things became a series, or a “body” of work. It’s when a number of pieces like this begin to accumulate, say ten to twenty, or maybe more.
In working this way, something naturally cohesive begins to develop. Personally, I’ve never been one to work on a series in chronological order. I think it’s because I have too many ideas existing at once. I get super antsy, wanting to work on whatever inspires me as soon as possible. I don’t want any specific (new) idea to die out, so I tend to work on multiple ideas, or series at once.
A body of work can come from ANYthing. The universe is the limit. You do NOT have to make ten to twenty pieces that all look exactly the same for the sake of making a “cohesive” body of work. You can chase any idea, any premise, any prompt, any concept, any circumstance, theory, hypothesis, palette, look, subject, person, place, outlook, emotion, outcry, experience, news topic, or whatever! It doesn’t “need” to hook together visually, necessarily. Not always. It depends on the concept. Use your imagination. Get wild. Take a risk! Start building, but be patient with yourself. Don’t pressure yourself, especially if you’re new to this. Get to know your materials first and experiment with your media for a while. Don’t rush right into building on a series. You’ll get there.
But, eventually, the absolute best way to tap into this kind of stuff is to WRITE ABOUT IT. I urge you to write about your work and how it’s developing. Journal your thoughts about it. If you hate writing, take a few notes. Historically, many famous artists have written about their art in their journals and sketchbooks. Without this, we’d actually know little about these amazing artists from the past.
Get a dedicated journal, notebook, or anything for writing about your work, and jot down notes about your thoughts and perhaps the meanings you wanted to portray with the work you’ve recently accomplished. Look back on the work and assess whether or not you’ve succeeded, which pieces you feel are more successful than others, and how you arrived there. Try to be objective. This will help you to develop yourself as an artist and strengthen your relationship with your work. You don’t have to show anyone anything you write either. Not if you don’t want to. It’s for you.
It’s all part of building your practice and self-awareness. I’m telling you, this journaling shit is definitely a positive thing to do. It gets you more serious about your process, confidence, and focus. And isn’t that where you want to be? At least try it for a month and see what I’m talking about.
Next up, I’ll tell you how to keep track of all your masterpieces, or at least how I’ve documented my work over the years. It’s good to start this early before it gets out of control because it certainly can and will. And what about pricing? Now that’s a complex subject if there ever was one. I’ll cover that soon too, I promise.