Saturday, 22 February 2014

A thought from the train

What is it about conceptual art that so winds me up? It's almost irrational. Perhaps it is because I do not have the necessary kind of imagination. When I see an everyday object in a gallery, I see an everyday object. I don't see beyond that. It does not speak to me.

These are ideas made flesh, which could easily be a description of all art however these are ideas seemingly without the aesthetic considerations that have underpinned art through the centuries. The aesthetic has been burned away, sacrificed at the alter of ideology, forsaken for the desire to be shocking. In being refined so, conceptual art has lost the appearance of skilled creation. It has been refined so that its language has become so etheric as to be near invisible. 

For those uneducated in, or simply unaware of this language, it can easily be interpreted as an inside joke, part of a clique to which you are not invited. Of all the art forms to exist, it surely must be the most exclusionary. 

It becomes an elitist practice, made by a small group of people for a small group of people. For the majority it can therefore reinforce the idea that art, all art, is only for the elite – an idea only further bolstered when conceptual art is almost the only contemporary art to, somewhat ironically, be given mass media exposure.

It could be argued that its prominence is in part due to a mess-media built on, and hungry for, short term sensationalism, scandal and shock. Few art forms can so readily feed that maw.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Why am I an artist?

Why am I an artist? I don't know if I really have a good answer to that. A better question, at least to begin with, might be 'Do I want to be an artist?' It is a straight and yet hard question. I am pretty sure, most of the time, that I do indeed want to be an artist, although I don't know that I am always capable of being one. Certainly it does not feel as if I have been one for some time now, with my artistic life lying somewhat dormant.

Being an artist is about the only thing I can really remember ever wanting to be (other than a spaceman, which did not last far past the end of Return of the Jedi). I've been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. However, there is a world of difference between having an aptitude for something and being able to do it as a career. Being an artist is not simply about being able to create the work, and goodness knows that is enough of a challenge in itself. Being an artist is to be a small business, requiring a whole host of business-related activity, all whirring away behind the smiling face of the artist, or the works created.

It's a hard road to travel and one that pretty much requires an almost sociopathic level of self-belief and drive enough to circumnavigate the solar system. I exagerate, of course, nevertheless the point holds, in that self-belief and drive and essential. Without them, paintings, when they get made, build up slowly in storage and the world has no idea that they are there. Viscous negative cycles commence.

Once again, I am writing in the third person, but I am fooling no one. Why am I an artist? It's a good question. I'm going to need to think about this some more.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Boundary

A few weeks ago I relaunched my Etsy shop, to showcase my new linocut prints of vintage cars. I decided after much deliberation to change the name of the shop from the rather prosaic Stewart's Shop to The Boundary.

Usually when naming things, I prefer something straightforward and descriptive, hence my earlier shop name. However, having decided that I wanted to brand my shop in a way that made it distinct from my fine art, clearly something different had to happen.

I settled on The Boundary because, to begin with, it is simply where I live: on the old boundary between Leith and Edinburgh. (For a long time these were separate towns, however as Edinburgh grew to a prosperous city after the Second World War, it swallowed up many surrounding communities.) Of course my physical location is not particularly relevant to an online shop, yet The Boundary handily also described something of what I do. Given that I create what some might call fine art as well as craft art, it does rather seem that standing with feet in both camps I am on a boundary.

With two reasons, then, and the fact that I like how the words The Boundary look, I settled on the name. Next, I'll need to try to generate some attention for my spanking new shop. That, however, is entirely another story…

Friday, 2 August 2013

Never the same one twice

I've had something akin to a recurring dream for many, many years now. The dreams don't come all that often – sometimes years can go by without one – and they don't come in the same form each time, however there is a common element in each of them. They are the kind of dream that sticks, that stays present in my consciousness once I have awoken, a message from the subconscious.

© 2010 Craig Munro & Stewart Bremner
The dreams are of aeroplanes, although never the same one twice. They always crash and I, on the ground below watching them, try to avoid being hit. Sometimes it is just the one plane, sometimes the sky is full of them. They crash and explode, past the horizon, in the city, in a river or a school.

It finally occurred to again today, after having another of these dreams last night, that it might be time to consider these dreams as material for my paintings. It has been a while since I last painted and at this point I need something to rekindle my painting fire. I've no idea if these dreams are it – for I cannot imagine how I abstract art and plane crashes could ever be brought together – nevertheless it is something to consider and that is better than nothing!

Friday, 26 July 2013

The only constant

I've only made one painting this year. It has been seven months and I have made one painting. At the beginning of the year, I took some time off after a very busy few months at the end of last year. However that was months ago and in another country and I'm home now and all I seem to do is watch my studio gather dust.

That one painting I made was finished three months ago. On a piece of twelve by twelve inch panel, I painted and I hacked and I slashed. I made marks. They were in part angry. That anger is somewhere else now and the painting has been finished for so long that, like my studio, it has become dusty. I have lost my momentum.

A few days ago, I showed that painting, along with the ones from the end of last year, to Steven Heaton – the director of Cross Street Arts where Megan and I had our two-person show in May. It was good to see all the paintings again, however for me it was not a positive experience. I became aware that all of this work, with the exception of three pieces, has been sitting in my store since I made it, slowly sticking to its bubble wrap.

Perhaps this would not be so bad if I had any other shows lined up. Sadly, I have no shows lined up and I am not even looking for any. It is not just my momentum that has diminished, but also my motivation. I simply do not have any. I have all but stopped being an artist at this point. I am not happy.

There is a misconception, held by some, that an artist has to suffer to make art, that a happy artist does not work. (Van Gogh would almost certainly become an example for such a hypothetical 'some'.) It is not true. No one does their best work when they are suffering and, for an artist who has no strict deadlines to adhere to, doing any work at all is unlikely.

I'm going to stop using the third person now, before my sentences become too convoluted. I doubt anyone reading this is under any illusion about whom I am writing.

I have been suffering from depression for almost three quarters of my life. While there have been plenty periods when I have not been affected, it is nevertheless something of an unwanted fellow traveller, a comet caught in my gravity, always to return and cast its shadow. I saw the last bout of it off some years ago and for some time life was going along nicely, yet due to reasons that remain unclear, it returned a year ago. Since then there have been good days and bad days, although no free-from-it days.

My motivation to not just paint, but to do anything, has slipped, reaching close to a flatline. No drive, no ambition, nothing. I'm no longer an artist, just a man with a heavy salted snack food habit, surrounded by a lot of art. It is a situation that needs to end.

So. I'm taking steps. I want to be an artist again. I want to think and act like one. I want to make paintings and get them seen, get them out, out into the public eye. I realised again this week that without an audience it is hard to keep making art. Without some form of recognition, be it a conversation, an email or a comment in a book or online, a feeling of pointlessness can arise. My art is part or me. If no one sees my art, no one sees me.

Seeking validation from others feels like a weakness, the act of the emotionally immature. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. I think of other jobs I've had in the past, before I was an artist. Often in those my work was never complimented, however those jobs tended to be low-paid, and mindless, barely worthy or praise. A well-trained animal could undoubtedly have done them. In jobs where I was employed for my specific skills, I received compliments when I did my work well. Still, those were jobs and the work was simply work, not at all on par with painting. In my paintings I invest more of myself than I have in anything else I've ever made or done, yet when I am painting there is no boss around to compliment me on a job well done. I could as easily be shouting into a hurricane for all the notice the world takes. And why, indeed, should the world take notice? I have no right to attention or praise, no matter how much I may desire it. Without attention or praise, however, the urge to keep going diminishes. Without it, the motivation to keep getting my work out there decreases and without that, the chances of attention or praise grows less. It is a shrinking circle that is hard to break from and in the middle of an extended bout of depression I can see no exit sign. On top of that, I am my own boss and I do not ever seem to be happy with my work. Sometimes, of course, I think too much.

There are days when an endless spiral of negativity are all that I can see. Today, unlike so many blog Fridays this year, I am looking at the negativity, recording it and, in some small way perhaps challenging it.

I've been fighting to keep face for a year now. It has been hard and I am tired. I'm taking steps now. Small ones, admittedly, and maybe not yet steps upwards, yet they are steps. Things change and I know that I too will in time.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Hot hot heat

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on a series of linocuts, that will form part or all of a planned relaunch of my Etsy shop in the not too distant future. This week, my work rate has dropped notably. It's the heat, you see. There's a lot of it. It's all rather unexpected. Edinburgh is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave and my studio, facing south into the brightest summer sunshine every to hit this city (that I can remember), is Very Hot Indeed.

Just now I fetched the thermometer from my film developing cupboard (by which I mean the place I store my developing kit and chemicals, not the place where I develop film, which as you may well know I do in the kitchen sink) and it is reading a little short of 30ÂșC in here. It has never been that hot in here before. I read that it is easier to make linocuts when the lino is hot, however I dare not try. While the lino may well be softer, my brain is slower and the tools are oh so sharp. I'll wait until the room cools before I do that.

I'll leave with a competition, this week. Over on my Facebook artist page, I am nearing 350 likes. Everyone who likes and shares my page between now and 350 will be entered into a draw to win the lovely '51 Plymouth linocut print pictured. This is a one-off piece of art that I hand-inked after hand-pressing the print. Good luck!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Of necessity

Sometimes even when you're doing stuff all the time, it can feel like you're making little progress. The past week feels very much like this. I know I've been doing something, yet looking back it is hard to tell what it was. There is certainly no new artwork around, that I can see. All there really seems to be is a vague plan to do art business things, without anything as concrete as a timescale attached. A scribbled-on piece of paper, a spreadsheet and a lot of Facebook updates and tweets does not make for a satisfying week. Am I not meant to be making art?

Or course, a successful art career needs both good art and business plans – either that or just a shed-load of luck and since I'm not feeling particularly lucky, I'll be needing plans. Right now, I think I'd rather just do some drawing.