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  • Artists - Make Effective Use of Your Studio Time

    A key component to surviving as an artist is to work everyday-- not when you feel like it, not when inspiration strikes. In this realm, you make your own inspiration. Being an artist is a fulltime job just like any other profession. Either get serious about making art or find another calling. So let's take a look at where you're making that art-- your studio-- and at those countless hours you'd better be spending diligently drudging away, producing copious boatloads of work. The endgame here is figuring out how to channel your boundless creative fervor, thereby maximizing the value of your aesthetic stock.

    Your studio is in a sense like a laboratory. You go there not only to make art, but also to experiment with new mediums, applications, compositions, types, styles, methods and even ideological aspects of working. Allowing yourself complete freedom to create-- both to succeed and to fail-- inevitably leads to confidence and certainty about your art and your direction. Through the painstaking process of trial and error, you discover where your strengths lie, what you want to pursue, where you want to go, and what's better left by the wayside.

    One of the goals of this "research and development" process is to establish a sense of mission, a purpose to your work. Most artists start out basically making art at random, mapping out their studio time with an agenda like, "I think I'll make one of these, then I'll make one of those, then I'll make one like this," and so on. Now randomness is fine, don't get me wrong. Exploring the vast expanses of your creative muse and letting your artistic inclinations run wild is integral to your evolution as an artist. But at some point, you better begin to zero in on the essence of what you're about as an artist, and what you want to communicate with your art.

    Some of you might take issue here, maintaining that making whatever you want to make whenever you want to make it is the only true path to true artistic freedom. And perhaps it is-- for you, but not for us. This is assuming of course that you intend to show your work in public, and in particular, to impress, impact or communicate to viewers in some way. You see, the problem with the "I make whatever I want to make whenever I want to make it" approach is that you essentially end up producing and ultimately dumping a great big pile of unrelated artworks at viewers' feet, the implication being, "Here's my art; you figure it out." You understand it, but they sure don't. And how do they typically respond? Either they're utterly befuddled or they lack the time, knowledge, desire, or energy to sift through your disparate accumulations in search of significance or meaning. You have to provide that kind of explanatory up front, organizing and presenting your art in ways people can understand and appreciate or better yet, making it self-evident through the appearance of the work. Making sense out of it is not their job; it's yours. Don't force other people to do your dirty work for you.

    So how do you get there from here? Well, that takes us right back to the studio and how you make use of your time. For example, while in the process of random creation or experimentation, monitor yourself and the unfolding experience. Take mental or physical notes, maybe even talk to yourself as you go, or just plain think about what you're doing, what's going on, and what you might want to investigate further. What fascinates you the most? What catches your attention? What types of concepts, ideas, subject matters, mediums, compositions, styles or types of art might be worth exploring more in depth? Even accidents or encounters with the unexpected can be fortuitous. On the other hand, what doesn't work, what gets you nowhere, what could you care less about following up on now that you've done it once or twice?

    The main reason for maintaining this level of awareness is to keep an eye out for that special something-- whatever it may be-- that intrigues you to the point where you want to look closer, learn more, and most importantly, approach and present from various perspectives as a series of stand-alone works of art. Artists may recoil here, saying they don't want to get locked into assembly line modes of production, painting the same composition over and over again, for example, but that's not what this is about. Exploring a specific theme, topic, issue, style, philosophy, concept or any other constant with commitment and focus over time and through multiple works of art is actually more like looking at something under a microscope. That intense level of inspection precipitates a progression, an evolution. The closer you look, the more you see, the more effectively you can nuance each subsequent piece, the more convincingly you can get your point across, the more profoundly you can involve the viewer, and the easier it becomes to clarify and explain your intentions and keep everyone in the game. When you do it right, you ultimately become the expert, the teacher-- and your art becomes the vehicle whereby knowledge is imparted, perception is deepened and consciousness expanded. Incorporate intangible goodies like this into your work and people will welcome it to their lives (aka art for them, $$$ for you). Guaranteed.

    Spending your studio time doing one-offs or flitting around from this to that might be satisfying in the moment, but in the long term gets you nowhere fast. It's like starting over again every single time you make a new piece of art. Creating unified bodies of work, on the other hand, really gets you in touch and informed about what you're doing, where you're headed, and above all, about how to convey whatever it is that you want to communicate in an increasingly compelling and convincing manner.

    Those of you who have little or no experience with this approach may have to force yourself at the outset, but once you begin thinking in terms of overarching ideas and bodies of work as opposed to one at a time, the rest will come naturally. Sooner or later, whether by accident or by design, you'll latch onto some notion or concept or idea that you'll want to devote some serious time to creating artworks around. When you reach this point-- and just to make sure you don't fall into old behavior patterns or wander off into irrelevancies-- you might want to write up a statement, an outline, a plan, or a set of guidelines or parameters to keep yourself focused and on the path. Perhaps frame it all up like a laboratory experiment. State your hypothesis and consider the body of work you're about to produce to be the experiment itself, the test of that hypothesis. The conclusions, whatever they may be, will follow directly from visually or critically considering that art (maybe you know or suspect those conclusions in advance; maybe you don't). In other words, think of the art as the means whereby you intend to demonstrate, investigate or elaborate upon your contention, prove your point or otherwise progress the viewer from point A to point B. Whatever you do, stick with program until you're satisfied with your results-- that you've produced enough examples and presented the matter from enough different perspectives for viewers to understand, appreciate and get somewhere with.

    As for all that art that seemed like such good ideas at the time, but simply doesn't fit the master plan-- those dead ends, false starts, misfires and other calamities that just plain don't work for you-- file them away in the catacombs. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe dust them off every once in a while to see whether they have more moxie than you initially thought, but leave it at that. Many artists throw lost causes up on their web sites, trot them out at open studios, or otherwise continue to show them in hopes of someday exorcising them out of their lives forever, and that's never a good plan. You don't have to show every work of art you've ever made. You know what happens when you do? You drag yourself down by refusing to let go of your failures and worse yet, you confuse people-- yourself included-- about what you do, where you're going, and who you are as an artist. Now get back to the studio; it's work time...

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