15 October 2020
There are many times as an artist, creating paintings and sculptures, that I feel I have been constrained. This has been mostly my own doing through various choices and decisions. I always question what are things that constrain an artist.
I think the most prevalent constraint is time. I am always battling time. I am always saying there is not enough time to make art or that I wish I had more time to finish a painting or sculpture. As of this writing, I am trying to finish three paintings from the Meseta Sequence. I stopped working on those paintings in the summer of 2017. Now that I have retired from teaching, I feel compelled to finish them and finish the series.
Oddly, besides time I don’t really feel constrained at this point in my life as an artist. I have no galleries or representatives per se. When I did, I always felt I had to keep creating paintings in the same way – over and over again. That was what the collectors were buying. When I was being represented by five galleries, I didn’t feel very free. My work was stagnating – not evolving. I was not taking any risks. My work is not slick for certain tastes. Some of it does not look well over a sofa. I try not to make it “sophisticated craft“ – a derisive term we used in graduate school when talking about certain artworks. Many art gallery owners that I had in the past did not like it when my work would change. Oddly, I am still in business and they are not. It was great to sell work but that’s not why I create it. Money is a constraint but that is another story. . . .
The other big constraint I have put on myself from time to time is what people will say about the work. It is great that I am retired from teaching and have saved some sufficient money in order live and to create what I want. I really don’t care a whole lot about what people say anymore. Professors are no longer teaching me. Many of my peers are not around. The good thing was I did listen to my peers and my professors. I learned a lot from them in what they had to say. You can probably see their influence in my work. I’ve still see my influence in some of my students work years later. But there is a constant battle to get past voices out of my head that can affect my work.
How free can I be? I have made a lot of good work that hangs on walls or is installed around the country in schools, colleges/universities, museums, galleries, homes, public parks, etc. Sometimes I felt constrained when I was making that artwork. I have also made a lot of artwork that is sitting at the bottom of a landfill. Perhaps some of that work was good.
Some years ago one of my peers really gave me some harsh criticism about series of artworks. It was not about the actual aesthetics but how they could be difficult for a gallery to install the work. How does the work’s installation determine its aesthetic merit, development, and exhibition? It really doesn’t matter all that much if one doesn’t notice it. I don’t think Richard Serra’s peers say, “I think Gagosian is going to have a difficult time installing that 70,000 pound sculpture of yours, Richard.” I listened to that person and did not push that work forward. Years later, I see it is some of the best work I have done. I still have a few examples from that series. The rest has been cut up for scrap to be reused for other work. Sometimes, listening to bad information can be constraining but there is something within me that allowed that to happen.
Right now, I feel somewhat liberated from various constraints although some things creep in like daily chores, working on the completion of my studio, publishing work on my website, etc. I do from time to time like to be in a collaborative endeavors or discussing art with my peers but I try to keep doing what I’m doing by myself- most of the time. I try not to complain too much about art making or the art world. My effort is to remain unfettered as much as possible.