RIPE: Faculty Exhibition at Palomar College

There are only a few days to see RIPE, the Annual Faculty Exhibition at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.

Poster announcement of art exhibition

RIPE Faculty Exhibition at Palomar College . 

My installation/wall piece, Duende, will be on view until next Tuesday. I’ll be there Monday,December 12th at 11:30AM. Join me for a guided tour of the exhibition.


Duende, by Lee Puffer. Installation view.

I’ve donated a couple of sculptures to the silent auction that supports the art department’s visiting artist program, including this small work (below).

image of snake/hand sculpture by Lee Puffer

Snake/Hand, by Lee Puffer 2016 Ceramic Sculpture



Summer Workshop Registration Now Open

This summer I have the pleasure of leading a two-week Ceramics handbuilding intensive for artists of all levels in the beautiful mountain retreat center, Idyllwild Arts Center.

Plans for the workshop include working from the live model and 24 hour studio access.

Class sizes are small so register now! I can’t wait to see you this summer in Idyllwild. for more information and to register.

Workshop Flyer for Lee Puffer Summer Ceramics Intensive

Catalog image for Ceramic Scuplture: Anything is Possible! A two-weel ceramic workshop led by Lee Puffer at the Ifyllwild Arts Center in California

Reaserve your spot in my two-week ceramics intensive in the beautiful mountains of Idyllwild California. This summer, July 4-15, 2016. Register at

Reaserve your spot in my two-week ceramics intensive in the beautiful mountains of Idyllwild California. This summer, July 4-15, 2016.
Register at

Push Into Your Certainty

Do not avoid conversations about your artwork. When you are asked to explain your work to others it helps you to clarify and distill your ideas. you benefit from these interactions, especially when the people asking are truly interested in the work. When you are asked to defend your ideas, you define them, hone them, and invest in them. You may state your thoughts and opinions, but you wont truly know where you stand until you are asked to defend your position. This is why presidential debates, and debates in general are important. It’s great exercise to defend oneself. It makes you stronger. In art you will be asked to explain your choices, be it material, subject matter, or style. Embrace the opportunity to have conversations where you are asked to defend your position, or to justify your choices. See this not as criticism or evidence that your choices are wrong or invalid, but as an opportunity to be pushed further into your certainty.


BlowTorch by Lee Puffer. 2016. Watercolor and collage on paper.


Wisdom or Fear? by Lee Puffer. 2016. Watercolor and collage on paper.


Attachment by Lee Puffer. 2016. Watercolor and collage on paper.


Dream of Snakes by Lee Puffer. 2016. Watercolor and collage on paper.

What is Contemporary Art?

In its most basic definition, Contemporary Art means art that is made today, by living artists. It may suffice to stop there because although there are many more detailed and specific definitions, there are often contradictory definitions as well. If contemporary art is distinguished by any one factor, it would be that it defies definition. Contemporary art can be made in any material or media. Contemporary art encompasses all current practices, cultures, methods, and technologies.

Contemporary Art, Watercolor and collage on paper, by Lee Puffer, 2016

“Thinking” by Lee Puffer, 2016. Watercolor and collage on paper.

There are some common threads that run through most contemporary art practice. Contemporary art usually references culture. This can happen in a variety of ways. It can engage with its culture of origin, or offer commentary on world events. Sometimes the artwork will reference history. Sometimes popular culture is a latent or overt theme.

Contemporary artists are keenly versed in art history and the artwork reflects this through subtle references or direct quotations either in method or image.

Contemporary art practice is not necessarily materials based. Artists are free to use any media and technique and often use multiple media. The use of new technologies, or at least and awareness of new technologies is essential. There are as many ways of working as there are artists. Art materials vary widely from the traditional (paint, clay) to things not usually identified as art materials such as found objects and the human body. It’s the artists utilization of the media that makes it art.

Contemporary Art, painting, watercolor and collage on paper by Lee Puffer 2016

“Sculpture” by Lee Puffer, watercolor and collage on paper, 2016/

The unifying factor, if there is one, in contemporary art, is the artist’s concern for meaning. To take it one step further, I would say that art, for the artist, is a way of interacting with the world that makes life more meaningful for the artist and uncovers meaningful truths about the human experience for both the artist and the viewer. While meaningful experience has always been the result of interaction with a successful artwork, the notion of meaning being primary to the artwork is a contemporary idea.

This a very exciting time to be an artist as there are no limitations to what or how art can be. While some artists find this liberating, the lack of parameters can seem overwhelming to others. Artists must decide what methods and materials to use to say what they need to say with their art.

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.

Anything Goes


Anything Goes, by Lee Puffer. Watercolor and collage on paper. 10" x 12"

Anything Goes, by Lee Puffer. Watercolor and collage on paper. 10″ x 12″

Style, if there is such a thing, develops over time. Each artist is an individual and in the course of a lifelong practice natural propensities begin to emerge regardless of the material, subject matter or techniques deployed. No matter what they do, if artists are earnest, thoughtful, and true to themselves, the art that results will always look and feel like their work. The look and feel of an artists work can be called their Style. Developing a style takes a while, and is very personal.

Young artists often think that they should develop a style and, once established, they should not deviate from that style. This is a somewhat antiquated notion. In the post-postmodernism era, anything goes. Artists are free to use any material, subject matter, and technique they want. Artists are free to change all of that at any time.

Style is not a preconceived thing. The artist doesn’t sit down one day, perhaps at the beginning of freshman year of college and decide “this is going to be my style!” and commit to it for life. On the contrary, as artists continue to make and research their art, and to learn skills and experience life, the look and feel of their art becomes more discernably their own. Eventually, art made from any material, technique or subject matter will yield results unique to that artist.

The Artist Gets to Decide

How We Measure Things:Difference, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and found object.

How We Measure Things:Difference, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and found object.

Ostensibly, Art is concerned with meaning and Craft is concerned with function or use. It is my opinion that the designations Art and Craft should be retired entirely for the sake of dissolving the hierarchy they imply. For the sake of simplicity, I propose that all objects and images made meaningfully be called Art. All idea generators and cultural meaning makers and value adders can be called Artist. The bulky and awkward word Craftsperson should be replaced by more specific terms such as Furniture-maker, Potter, Glassblower, etc., if desired. These people are Artists foremost. The additional, media-specific designations allude to the years and decades of study and practice necessary for excellence in each of these fields.  Ultimately, however, it is up to the Artist to designate herself or himself as such. One calls herself Artist, regardless of a mastery of a specific material or not, if she believes her work to function an intellectual and/or spiritual level in addition to its physical attributes and abilities. In other words, it is Art if it is meaningful, and the Artist gets to decide.

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.










Critique vs Coaching

At its very best, an art critique is a very high-level and personal conversation with professional(s) who care about your work and development as an artist. As an artist and an educator I have been present at many critiques, both as participant and facilitator. In a traditional art critique the goal is to more deeply understand the artwork in question. This deeper understanding helps art instructors evaluate the artwork, often for a grade. Critiques in art departments are frequently scheduled in advance and serve as a deadline for the completion, or near completion, of an artwork or series. Participants include the artist and the instructor. There may also be other professors, invited guests, and other artists in the class or program. Usually, everyone present at the critique is invited to ask questions and contribute to the conversation.

Ideally the artist presenting work at the critique will come away satisfied that he/she was able to adequately explain the artwork and that it was evaluated fairly. Even if this is true, critique seldom gives an artist the kind of feedback useful in improving and moving forward with a body of work. It is not the goal of academic critique to help an artist to overcome obstacles, find meaning, or to hone ideas for future work. The formal critique process ends when formal schooling ends.

Hoarder, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and mixed media.

Hoarder, by Lee Puffer. Ceramic and mixed media.

Traditionally a coach helps an individual player and/or a team to succeed at a sport. Coaches work to improve the performance of athletes and push athletes to achieve at high levels. There is more of a focus on developing the athlete and preparing for and maintaining a productive career. Artists could benefit from the sports coaching paradigm. Here’s what I envision a coaching-based critique to do. Since coaching discovers useful and meaningful strategies for improving output, sustaining production, overcoming obstacles, and growing as a human being, and critiques evaluate the work,

I propose combining elements of critique with insightful coaching to better serve the artist. The word critique is useful, and lends an air of academic legitimacy to the conversation so I suggest we continue to use the word critique moving forward.

We could now define critique as a thoughtful analysis of an artwork or series with the goal of improving understanding of the artwork and encouraging artists towards their best, most authentic and mature work. As artistic practice is a continuum, regularly scheduled critique keeps artists going and growing, while providing benchmarks and deadlines along the way.