Tag Archives: art history

A Global Commodity

Art and pork bellies.

One hundred thirty eight years ago, in 1874, a group of artists gathered in Paris to show their artwork to the public inside a former photographer’s studio. Many of these artists had been rejected by the Salon, the royally sanctioned French institution that determined if artwork was acceptable, satisfactory and superior. The influence of the Salon was absolutely undisputed, and for an artist to exhibit in their space meant their artwork was excellent. The artist was almost fully guaranteed to be successful. After being rejected from showing their work at the Salon, several artists set up their own exhibition and the public ridicule commenced. Not only were their paintings thought of as crudely rendered, they had disregarded the element of line and changed the color of objects and landscapes from the appearance of reality! (Can you imagine!!) According to the historical critique, The Exhibition of the Revoltes, written by Emile Cardon for La Presse, the artists’ “scribblings” both sickened and disgusted. One can imagine how horrible these paintings must have looked to have received such a disparaging description. How embarrassing, right? Didn’t these artists know how horrible their work was? Why on earth would they go to such measures to invite criticism? Often, contemporary art is described in this way. You may be surprised to learn that these rebellious, seemingly untalented artists, who refused to accept the jurors’ assessment, are none other than some of the 21st century’s most beloved artists:  Monet, Degas, Cezanne and Renoir.

Throughout history, it is not uncommon for the public to disregard the cutting edge artwork being produced and exhibited in the current culture. We’ve all known incidences in which people say, when walking through a gallery or museum, “My kindergartner could have done that.”

But the fact is . . . they didn’t.

In The History of Impressionism, author, John Rewald says, “It requires tremendous courage and limitless faith to overcome such adversities…” He goes on to say, “How hard it must be for the timid, and even for the self-confident and ambitious, for the poor, and even for the rich, to stand up under constant derision without being paralyzed in their creative efforts!”

Over the past month, I’ve attended three contemporary art fairs. The first one was the Dallas Art Fair, where I live, and the other two were in New York: Pulse and Frieze, which are both international in scope. Granted, some of what I saw bewildered even me, a professional, contemporary artist who has been making and exhibiting art for 30 years. Yet, I was truly inspired by most pieces I saw. As a working artist, I know the dedication and courage it takes to both produce the work and then to put it on public display. My skin has become thick enough that negative commentary about my work bounces off, for the most part.

The courage that is necessary to produce and exhibit a piece of artwork is not dissimilar to the courage needed to break out of the routine life many of us find ourselves in. When people become brave enough to mold their lives in an unconventional way, whether through travel or career, many people are quick to condemn. Life is short. Do what your heart is leading you to do. Be brave. Do it. There may be many who condemn, but surprisingly, you are sure to find a community that will support you. And once you become brave enough to start forming words to verbally express what you are considering, you will begin to hear the applause from your fans and well-wishers.

Build it and they will come.

In this excellent episode on 60 Minutes, Morley Safer describes the current, contemporary art scene, as it relates to international art fairs and the global economy.  It is well worth your time to watch.

It is encouraging to hear that when our world economy suffers, contemporary art is thriving. Please watch and tell me how you’ve been brave!

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What I know to be true

Art and travel change lives.

The first day I stepped onto my college campus in 1978, as an anxious 19 year old, I declared my major as Art Education. I loved learning and I loved college – so much in fact, that I went year round. I never stopped for a break. I took classes in the summer, during Christmas break and spring break. I remember dreading to take the compulsory art history courses, however. All I’d heard was that they required lots of memorization of artists’ and paintings’ names, dates (oh my!) and hours of boring lectures. But two art history classes were required so I reluctantly signed up for them. And was I in for a surprise!

I loved them.

Sitting in that large amphitheater-like lecture room in permanent, worn, folding wooded chairs that perfectly fit my back, viewing hundreds of images, I learned about the history of the world, through art. It made me feel “connected”. It helped me understand the importance of art and why creativity makes us human. My imagination soared as I vicariously traveled the globe learning about different cultures of people, the objects they revered and the ways that they found to express themselves through a variety of materials. It was at the end of my sophomore year that I made the decision to change my major to fine art. I then continued to work to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I knowingly announced, “I want to be an artist, not an art teacher!” . . . little did I know that 20 years later I would find my way back to the classroom.

It was not until I began teaching full time, in 2001, that I understood what an incredible career path teaching is if travel is a priority. I have about 13 weeks off per year! Teachers don’t usually receive large salaries so I’ve had to learn how to penny-pinch. I save what I can, but I also sell my art. I work extra jobs at school like proctoring the SAT and taking tickets at our football games in the fall. Sometimes I teach private art lessons or hold garage sales. When I get money as gifts, I save it for travel.

I also pay for all my monthly expenses with credit cards and collect airline miles with each purchase. I’ve taught my college-age daughter how to do this, as well, and she now collects miles for herself. One of the cards I currently use came with 100,000 miles upon my qualifying and completing a minimum spend in the first three months. This translates into two, round-trip European airline tickets I’ve got in my back pocket. The other card accumulates points connected to a hotel chain, but those points can be transferred into airline miles and with every 20,000 I transfer, they “give” me a bonus of an additional 5,000. Being mindful to not get into financial trouble by overspending my credit cards, I treat my credit cards as a debit cards (in my mind). When I make a purchase, I always use my credit card and then, immediately, I note it and take it out of my checking account right then and there. At the end of the month, when I receive my credit card statement, I balance my checkbook, marking off the purchases, one at a time, that I’ve already subtracted out of my checking account. When I’ve gone through the statement, I know I can pay it off and write a check (or pay online) for the entire balance. I never carry a balance on my credit card. I never get charged finance charges for late payments or pay interest. This takes being responsible and organized, but right now I have enough miles for three, roundtrip tickets to Europe! It seems worth it to me.

Travel changes the lives of everyone involved. New relationships are formed and we influence one another. The study of art history provides a foundation for understanding what you are looking at when you travel to foreign lands. Through the art objects we learn to appreciate cultures that are different from our own. Many of the man-made items we see in our travels are artworks. All that we enjoy as tourists, such as palace and cathedral architecture, historical bridges and walls, woven fabrics, rugs and tapestries, marble sculpture and fountains, ethnic clothing, ceramic vessels, oil paintings and frescos is art! – – humans made that stuff!!! Amazing, isn’t it? And all of us have the capacity to create!

My next three weeks of articles will highlight three educational recruitment firms that I’ve been following for at least five years. I hope to describe the differences in them and how one might consider being hired to teach overseas if a life of adventure suits you. I had already taught art for quite a few years when it occurred to me that teaching was a ticket to live other places. Even though we Americans often hear horrible accounts of how bad our public school education system is, most of the world longs to learn from us and would be overjoyed for us to share what we know about education with them.

Has the study of art influenced your travels or have you been able to travel because of a creative job or adventure seeking lifestyle? Please do share!

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