The Joker, by Lee Puffer

The Joker, by Lee Puffer

One of the most baffling mysteries about artists is that when we want to do something, when we really want to, it takes so long to get started. We stall, even when we know exactly what we need to do.

We stall even when we have done all our research. We have carved out the time for artmaking and justified it to everyone who might care, including ourselves. We’ve analyzed. We have prioritized. The sink is clean, laundry done. We know that this activity, this step in the process is the thing to do at this moment.

Furthermore, we’re convinced that making art is our soul’s calling, that it is important work.

Why then, do we still stall?

There is that myth that making art is always pleasurable, and although it may be good for your soul, it is really kind of a luxury. Like getting a massage.

This is not an idea I buy into for two reasons. First, making art is not always pleasurable. Like any work, it can be challenging. It can be drudgery. Secondly, art is not a luxury. If art is important to us, if our practice adds meaning to our lives and helps us contribute to the world, it is not a luxury. For me, and perhaps for all of us, this is a necessity. Sometimes doing important work is fun, sometimes it is not.

This is a tricky position to be in. We have to find and justify the time to do an activity that, while critically important to us, might be difficult. Additionally, with art, there’s no guarantee your time spend making it will produce a favorable result. So much of what we do is experimental, problem solving, and speculative. And sometimes the problem doesn’t get solved right away. Sometimes the problem gets worse.

This is a lot of pressure. This is why we stall.

The Campus Art Gallery

Kundalini, Ceramic wall piece, life size.

Kundalini, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic wall piece, life size.

It is flattering and exciting to be invited to exhibit artwork at a gallery, especially a gallery at a college or university. College and university galleries are funded by their affiliated institutions. This allows the curators to focus on presenting challenging work that is useful to their student body, instead of focusing on sales of artwork in order to support themselves. Some of the most interesting work I’ve seen in recent years was at college art galleries. Often the curators are young energetic faculty from the college itself. These highly educated academic thought-leaders find cutting-edge art that is fresh and interesting. Exhibiting in the company of these artists can be beneficial. You may be invited to lecture during the exhibition, further expanding your visibility. The gallery will also produce a postcard and promote your exhibition to their community. Networking potential is good. College and university art galleries are great places to meet interesting, like-minded artists, in the form of faculty, staff and student body.

There are several downsides to showing your work in these spaces. Because the galleries do not rely on sales in order to survive, they will make no effort to sell your work. College art galleries are usually staffed by students and faculty, and although they may be enthusiastic and educated, they are not professional salespeople. Colleges and universities are always in a financial crisis. You will not be compensated for your efforts in delivering or installing your work. You may not be insured. You may be asked to lecture for free. Another drawback is that these galleries have terrible hours. They serve their student body primarily, as they should, and are therefore only open when school is in session. Most are not open weekends or evenings. This can be frustrating for the professional artist. Many art enthusiasts, buyers, and regular folk are only able to go visit art galleries on weekends and evenings. Also, these galleries often have terrible accessibility and are hard to find. Campuses are notoriously unfriendly to outsiders. Parking is often impossible. Signage is limited. Maps are incomprehensible. This may be why arts writers and critics rarely review campus exhibitions. Lastly, the postcard for your show could be either awful or terrific, depending on the skill of the design student chosen to create it.

Despite the negative factors, I find it worthwhile to exhibit at college and university galleries when I am asked. This may not be true for everyone. I think of myself as an artist and an educator. I believe in education for everyone as the best path to improving our world. It may be the only path. Too many college students have never been in an art gallery or museum. Very few have ever been exposed to contemporary art at all. Because of this, I gladly shoulder the burden of making, delivering, installing, and speaking about my artwork at educational institutions.

A Snake Eating its Own Tail


This gallery contains 4 photos.

I was asked to participate in a fundraiser for the Sugar Museum, which involved creating new work and donating it for an exhibition and sale. The work was to be enclosed in a jar, and artists were asked to use … Continue reading

Jars Exhibition

A crowdsourced fundraiser featuring 100+ artists, including Lee Puffer.

A crowdsourced fundraiser featuring 100+ artists, including Lee Puffer.

If you are in San Diego this weekend, check out this fun event. There’s more information in this CityBeat article here, that mentions me by name.  I have donated 3 pieces I made just for this exhibition.


"Sanctimony" by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and mixed media, life size.

“Sanctimony” by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and mixed media, life size.

There are qualities inherent to each art media. We call these qualities Material Properties. These days, when artists are not bound to one medium alone, material selection for completing and artwork is challenging and important. We can choose a material because it is the one most suited to fulfill the physical demands of our vision or we can choose a material because of its inherent conceptual implications.

When I was in graduate school a fellow classmate returned to the studio after a walk in the hills with an armful of fallen eucalyptus bark she had picked up on the hiking trail. This artist had recently moved to Southern California and was unfamiliar and with this tree. She began to sew the bark pieces together with wire to form large boat-like platters. The bark was already curved to imply this form. This artist’s work has always been about nature and community. This idea; the boat form implying her recent voyage, the platter signifying togetherness, the bark connecting with nature, was in keeping with her process. Almost right away, however, the bark began to dry and turn very brittle. Within a couple of days it could no longer be handled without breaking into shards. There was no way to sew it and doing so would be an exercise in futility. The material properties of this tree bark were not suited for the project this artist had in mind.

I choose clay for the construction of human faces because to me, clay is like human flesh. When wet, clay is malleable and moist to the touch. It warms when we manipulate it. Clay gives to gentle pressure while holding its overall form. What better choice for creating the expressions made by skin and muscle over bone?

Ripe. Palomar College Faculty Exhibition

Just a few days left to see the Palomar College Faculty Exhibition at the Boehm Galleryfaculty exhbition

Exhibition view, Palomar College Faculty Exhibition, with works by Lee Puffer and others.

Exhibition view, Palomar College Faculty Exhibition, with works by Lee Puffer and others.

"Road Rage" 2014, by Lee Puffer. At the Palomar College Boehm Gallery through Dec. 10, 2014

“Road Rage” 2014, by Lee Puffer. At the Palomar College Boehm Gallery through Dec. 10, 2014

You Are A Conduit

"Push" 2014. by Lee Puffer. Ceramic. Courtesy  of the Boehm Gallery, Palomar College.

“Push” 2014. by Lee Puffer. Ceramic. Courtesy of the Boehm Gallery, Palomar College.

Your work is not you. You are a conduit. The art that you make flows through you from the convergence of the Three Factors. Using the diagram as a tool, you may be able to analyze your own work objectively, be receptive to constructive criticism, and be capable of offering useful critique to other artists.

For many artists it is challenging to accept criticism or suggestions from others, whether they are strangers or experts. Criticism from anyone may feel very personal. It takes bravery to make art. In doing so we are making our ideas, thoughts and opinions physically manifest, and offering them for the world to see. This is a bold endeavor. There are many people who dream of doing, writing, making, speaking their truth that never work up the nerve to do so because they fear criticism and judgment from others.

If we are fortunate enough to have access to individuals who support and challenge our work by offering insightful criticism, then we must hear their thoughts. We can learn to differentiate the thoughtful learned criticism of someone who is interested in helping us grow as artists from the careless criticism of people who do not have our best interest in mind.

Because art asks us to bravely state who we are and leave a record of our experiences as a cultural legacy for all humankind, it feels very important. Because we put so much of ourselves into the work, set aside time for artmaking, put in effort, and overcome obstacles, our art can feel very personal. If we can objectively analyze our own artwork using the Three Factors as a tool, we may be able to benefit from the input of others without fear of hurt feelings. The tool gives us a common language. The tool helps us to remove ourselves from the conversation.


The Enemy of Good is Better

One of my colleagues in the ceramics studio at Coronado Clay is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. That’s his day job. As an artist, he’s a perfectionist. I watch him regard with disgust his recent creations; nothing he makes is good enough to keep.

One day while working he asked me when or how I know when a sculpture is finished. I said I never do know but I stop when I believe the piece to be good enough. If the piece seems to be working, I consider it finished and move on to the next one. I do this not because I don’t want to push myself to make the work better, but that I do not want to go too far and ruin something that is already good. I have a tendency to keep adding layers of imagery and information to my sculpture. In recent years I have been trying to pare down the work, spread the ideas a little thinner and simplify the sculptures both formally and conceptually. This is tricky for me. I am a “more is more” person.

Ceramic and stitched vinyl

“More, More, More ” Ceramic and stitched vinyl

Luckily, there is always another sculpture to make. It is in subsequent artworks in a series where I am allowed to challenge myself to take additional risks. Because I always work in series, I can exhaust an idea thoroughly and/or allow it to lead me to the next piece, always trying to improve and evolve.

My surgeon friend understood this idea. Evidently in surgery they say “The Enemy of Good is Better”. Surgeons are perfectionists. They use this phrase to remind themselves to stop when the procedure is “good” rather than invite risk by trying to make it “better”. In art or surgery, we stop before we go too far.