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  By default we think of drawing, both noun and verb, as dragging pencil across paper or the evidence of that action. That is not untrue. If we also consider drawing as anything that works in parallel to, or in preparation for, an artist’s primary practice, then these collages are also drawings. Using cut paper, […]

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On Originality, Part 2

Contemporary painting by Lee Puffer

Neon Yellow, by Lee Puffer. 2016. Watercolor on paper.

Recently I wrote about the urge to be original, observing that young artists are especially  concerned with making something absolutely “new”. I believe that research and study is an integral part of art-making. When artists have done thourough research,  they almost always find artists who have made work similar to what they are making.

Indeed the point of research is to find the other artists, either historical or contemporary, whose work shares qualities with our own work. There are several reasons why this matters:

Most importantly, other artists will inspire us. We call this inspiration “influence”. We will see how other artists approached issues, materials, and expression and learn from their progress.

We are required to know who our influences are. Our first influences are usually our teachers, parents, or peers. As we develop the practice of research, our influences will grow and change. This is a valuable, even critical, part of artistic identity. We are all members of a continuum, it is important to remember that.
Also, from other artists with whom we share certain qualities, we will find out where our markets might be, who our audience is, and which galleries may like our work.

Ideally, when we connect with these artists we will find friendship and camaraderie. Trade secrets will be shared. We will know what to call our style or movement. Importantly, we will be able to put our practice into context.

Just as a singer needs to have musical knowledge, an artist must study art.  Knowledge should be both broad and specific. A broad art historical education includes at least a basic knowledge of all major art movements in human history. Ideally this would include art from all continents and cultures on earth. Along the way, specific movements and genres intrugue us more than others and we naturally develop a deeper knowledge and affinity for those.

Contemporary painting by Lee Puffer

Neon Red, by Lee Puffer 2016. Watercolor on paper.

Regardless of our personal preference, it is also important to be aware of art hierarchies even if we choose to disregard them, which many contemporary practitioners do. We must familiarize ourselves with the arguments surrounding Art versus Craft, for instance. It is valuable to be able to differentiate between High Art and Popular Art, for example. These distinctions are becoming less and less relevant to artists, but the philosophies that form the basis of those arguments still effect us.

Fortunately there are many channels through which we can acquire this knowledge if we are motivated. While Art History courses at a college or university may be useful and enjoyable, they can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. With a little effort we can educate ourself with books and essays easily obtainable through libraries and reputable internet sources.

The Human Eye

I took the theme of Eyes literally for the exhibition, Through the Eyes of an Artist, on view at The Studio Door Gallery until June 29th, 2016. As it happens, my most recent sculpture and painting feature an abundance of oddly placed human eyes. The human eye, in absence of the face and body, appears throughout art history in a variety movements and traditions. Here are a few.

False-mirror

False Mirror by Rene Magritte

The eye is ubiquitous in Surrealism, an art movement of the 20th century that concerns itself with depicting dream states, desire, nightmares, and the bizarre world of the human imagination and subconscious. False Mirror (1928),above, one of the most famous paintings by Rene Magritte, seems to imply that human vision is limited, a mirror of our subconscious and a symbol of selective and subjective personal view. The eye in this painting has multiple functions, looking, looked at, looked through.

markryden14

The Apology by Mark Ryden

Contemporary Lowbrow or Pop-Surrealist painter Mark Ryden’s The Apology (2006) features a human eye in the center of a cut tree trunk. With themes borrowed from surrealism and painted in old masters style, Ryden’s paintings both defy and define the categorization of lowbrow art.

obscura_big

Obscura by Tony Oursler

Eye imagery proliferates in the work of contemporary international art star Tony Oursler. Here in Obscura, a multimedia installation 2014, video of human eyes are projected onto sculptural orbs suspended in the darkened gallery. Eerily subverting the art experience of looking at art in a gallery, Oursler’s installation is looking at you.

Tears-of-Joy-alex-grey

Tears of Joy,  by Alex Grey

The human eye is a common feature of folk art, mysticism, and psychedelic art as a symbol of higher power and consciousness. In Alex Grey’s Tears of Joy, the eye image is repeated until it becomes a pattern.

current exhibition of new sculpture by Lee Puffer

Through the Eyes of An Artist, and exhibition featuring Lee Puffer at The Studio Door, North Park, San Diego

Who Cares About Originality?

There are artists, especially young artists, who tend to focus on originality. These artists try to do things that “haven’t been done before” or something “entirely new”. This is a waste of time. I’d like to say that originality doesn’t exist, that it is a notion based on a failure of research, which I do believe to be true, but with technology moving so quickly I have to allow that there will be new, utterly original ideas, tools and objects.

So I guess my argument is, so what? SO you were the first to use a material or technique? Who cares? Other people will do it; some will even do it better than you. After a while it won’t matter who did it first. Quality works of art that resonate will stand the test of time and be examples of their form and style.

Young students, especially those who have not had much exposure to art and design history, often think that because they have never seen something like what they have just made, that it is something entirely new.

I tell them newness is irrelevant. Not good or bad, just not relevant. The more research we do, the more real looking, the more we are able to recognize elements of other artworks in our own. This is a good thing. Acknowledging these influences and investigating them is deepens our engagement to the work and the rest of humanity.

Humans have been around for a long time. All along we have been making things. We are all connected by those objects and images.

Originality doesn’t matter, quality does. For an original object there has to be no other before it, the only one of its kind, never been done before. As soon as something is invented in the world, artists begin to adopt the new material, style, equipment or technique to use in their own way.

Ceramic Sculpture, by Lee Puffer

Snake Dream Brainstorm, by Lee Puffer. 2016. Ceramic and mixed media.

The point is to do what you do in your own way. Do not be too concerned about whether or not is has been done before. If you are working on making your most authentic work, you will be creating a unique artwork, even if it may share some qualities with an existing artwork.

New Work at Art Produce – Looking Back/Forward

Tomorrow, May 21st  is the North Park Festival of Arts. During the festival, the Art Produce Gallery will be open with the Looking Back/Forward; An Art Produce Retrospective on display. Here’s some information about the exhibition:

Lee Puffer at Art Produce Gallery Anniversary Exhibition

Invitation to Looking Forward Back at Art Produce Gallery. Lee Puffer at Art Produce Gallery Anniversary Exhibition.

Join Art Produce for a 2-month celebration of the past 15 years of exhibits and the launch of new cultural activities and engagement opportunities for the neighborhood of North Park in San Diego, CA. Looking Back/Forward is a retrospective group exhibition of 25  artists who have previously had solo exhibits at Art Produce. This rotating exhibit will include site-specifici nstallations, and performance based/participatory interactive pieces in the Art Produce Gallery, the Community Room and the Art Produce Garden. Additional weekend activities in May and June include all ages art workshops, artist talks/salons, pop-up dinners, social dance in the beer garden, and the community wide North Park Festival of Arts on Saturday, May21 st 10am-10pm.

ceramic scuplture

Dream of Snakes by Lee Puffer. At Art Produce Gallery in North Park for Looking Forwar/Back. Ceramic Sculpture by Lee Puffer. 2016. The exhibition is open to the public from May 14 to July 3, 2016

 

 

 

 

The Exhibition is open to the public from May 14th through July 3, 2016

Opening Reception: Saturday, June 11 th 6-9pm

Gallery Hours: 11am-6pm, daily. Entry through Tostadas and by appointment.                   Art Produce  3139 University Ave. 619.584.4448  San Diego, CA 92104          www.artproduce.org

 

 

Art is an Open Country

 

Red Brainstorm by Lee Puffer 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Red Brainstorm by Lee Puffer 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Art is an open country. Everyone can stay. In a creative environment where everyone is welcome, there are bound to be differences of opinion, differences in modes of expression, and delivery systems.

Sometimes there is chaos in my classroom. I see it as controlled chaos, but some may see it as out of control. I am aware of that. It is ok. Some may think that I am lazy and that is why I do not take control of my class. Or perhaps I am inexperienced and lack the ability to deal with the disorder. It may be that I don’t notice it.

I assure you, none of those things is true. I see who gets annoyed, who sighs and judges and shakes their heads. I see you. I value your comfort, I do. But I value the chaos more. No one is getting hurt. No one feels threatened either physically or emotionally. It’s all ok.

Blue Brainstorm by Lee Puffer, 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Blue Brainstorm by Lee Puffer, 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Art is an open country. Everyone can stay.

Even the noisy ones. Even the ones who mutter to themselves. Even the ones who ask the same question over and over again. Even the ones who need a ton of extra help just to get through the day.

All opinions are valid. You get to have yours, I get to have mine. That guy who is going to vote for Donald Trump gets to have his. We all get to express ourselves in art class. That is why we are here. We may not love the chaos. We may prefer a more serene environment in which to practice our art. Sometimes I prefer that too.

If you want silence, go to a library. If you want an open forum for self-expression, come to my art class.

Blonde Brainstorm by Lee Puffer, 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Blonde Brainstorm by Lee Puffer, 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Music, theatre, literature, and visual art can all represent the highest form of human expression. In fact, entire ancient cultures are evaluated based solely on their artistic output. Perhaps art is not valued so much these days, but that’s a topic for another time. Art matters and always will, despite current fashion.

Human expression needs an open forum to grow. An open forum can, at times, be chaotic. Controlling that chaos could limit the potential for human expression to grow. I’m not willing to risk that.

Green Brainstorm by Lee Puffer, 2016. Mixed media on paper.

So what if we are uncomfortable? Art thrives in discomfort. If it doesn’t, it should. Sustaining an artistic practice demands we be resilient. There will be many things in life that to try to distract us form our practice. Partners, kids, and jobs come to mind.

If we can learn to create within the chaos, we will be better artists. If we can accept and appreciate a variety of opinions, diverse manners of expression and different temperaments, we will be better spokespersons for our culture.

Brown Brainstorm by Lee Puffer, 2016. Mixed media on paper.

Gallery D

Tonight is the closing reception for It Takes an Artist: A Show About Mentorship at Gallery D in Barro Logan.

Gallery View with sclpture and drawings by Lee Puffer.

Gallery View with sclpture and drawings by Lee Puffer.

Gallery D is an exciting newgallery for contemporary art in San Diego. Yhe gallery is located at 1878 Main Street, Unit D, San Diego, CA 92113. The reception is from 4-10PM tonight.

Surprise Video

The San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies students stopped by the studio for a vist and seruptitiously recorded me talking about some recent work. Dia Bassett recorded and edited this video. I’m glad I didnt know it was being captured at the time, but I’m happy to have this clip now. Thanks to the San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies program for the visit and for all great work you do supporting artists and arts professionals.

Benefit Auction Tonight a Bread and Salt Gallery

Tension, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and rope.

Tension, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and rope.

Compression, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and rope.

Compression, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and rope.

Poster for the A Ship in The Woods Benefit Auction.

Poster for the A Ship in The Woods Benefit Auction.

A SHIP IN THE WOODS will be hosting a Silent Auction / Indiegogo Launch Party on Saturday June 27th @ Bread & Salt in San Diego. As you may know, the A SHIP IN THE WOODS gallery is currently seeking a new location to house its innovative contemporary programming. Come show your support for this groundbreaking cultural institution. Get yourself a sculpture or two while you’re there. I donated the above works, Compression and Tension, to the cause.

Kids These Days

 

At the moment it’s very contemporary to be cross discipline, as an artist and an all around human. The changing economic situation for young people has caused them to focus on multiple income streams instead of just one job. As full-time, career path jobs with benefits such as health insurance and retirement, paid sick days, and vacation, dry up and a become memory of how previous generations lived, a paradigm shift has taken place. And young people do not seem to interpret this as a bad thing. Never having had job security, a salary, or employee benefits of any kind, they don’t miss them. Also, many young people witnessed older folks lose everything while focusing on just one job or career. Young people see no reward for loyalty.

The Joker, by Lee Puffer

The Joker, by Lee Puffer

We have a new generation of freelancers. The ones I know are very liberated by this. They follow their hearts. They do what they want to do and they do whatever they have to in order support that.

Choosing to do what you love is no longer a terrible career choice as “sure thing” careers no longer exist.

Artists have always been this way. Very few of us make our entire living from making and selling artwork. We have always had a bunch of other jobs, skills, and talents.

Just to sustain a career in as a visual artist, and not even fully support ourselves financially, we need many abilities. Obviously we must be disciplined, knowledgeable about our own art as well as the contemporary and historical context of our art. We must be experts at our chosen material, as well as many other materials. We write blogs, articles, statements and thesis. We lecture about our work, using presentations we create. We teach, and we handle the administrative duties related to teaching. We do our own marketing. We are able to interface with and charm gallerists, curators, journalists, the general art public and one another. The list goes on.

These are the things we do; in addition to the studio work that is the core of our practice, in order to be able to continue making our art. Even the most successful among us still need additional income to survive.

So we do the jobs that earn us a living. These other jobs require a host other skills. In this way we are like the youth of today, freelancers, multidisciplinary. Artists always have been. Artists have always found creative and individual solutions to the challenge of making a living and sustaining an art practice. Who is to say one way is more valuable than another? Now that other more stable career choices have lost their promise of security, we artists are more equipped than anyone to adapt. Just like the young people for whom security has never existed in their lifetimes, the same has always been true for many of us artists.

The youth of today are artists but they do not define themselves as such. It used to be that if you were a painter, you couldn’t be taken seriously if you also enjoyed fashion and beauty. If you were an actor, you wouldn’t also be a fashion designer. If you were a potter, you wouldn’t also direct music videos, or be a food stylist, or have a handbag line. As artists it was even worse if you had a professional career. Then you were a sellout, abandoning your art. Painting on the weekends was not good enough. It used to be that having multiple interests or a conflicting career defined you as a dilettante or a hobbyist. Not anymore.

There’s a reason freelancers are bright-eyed and bushy tailed. We have to hustle. We have to take the best/first offer instead of waiting for that contract that may never come. We don’t expect our tenured colleagues to understand, but we kind of wish they did. Our experience is different than theirs; it is in fact a lot more like the challenges that face their students. Tenured Faculty, there’s a benefit in making an effort to comprehend your freelancing/adjuncting brethren, you’ll understand your students a little better, too.