What DOES it mean to be an artist?

My friend Eyvonne interviewed me for a class about artistic identity. The questions — and the process of answering them — got me thinking and articulating about my artistic process in a way I hadn’t for quite awhile. The interview questions and answers follow, puncutated with photographic illustrations.

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Instructor notes: Work to draw out detailed responses. Do not accept short
answers. Write a narrative summary of no less than three pages which
presents the information gained through the interview. You may summarize the
interview or present the narrative in a Q&A format. Your objective in this
assignment is to find out as much as possible about what it means to be an
“artist.”

Why do you do what you do?
Interesting question; could be very broad (why do I do art?) or specific
(why do I make sculpture vs painting) or even MORE specific (why do I make
sculpture of plants instead of people or abstract). Making my own art gives
me an outlet that nothing else quite does; not when I garden (which is also
a sort of creation) or cook (which is also a type of art) or marketing
(which is also a type of skill). I am lucky to be able to sell it as well;
otherwise I would drown in my own creations and probably end up stopping
making art, or switching to a non-permanent type of output (or give it all
away).

Cermamic flower magnets (some with glass flower accents).

Cermamic flower magnets (some with glass flower accents).

Who do you do your work for?
Mostly myself, but I think a bit about what I think people might enjoy as
far as variety (different colors / shapes) and what I know sells well (blue!
: ) When I am working on a commission, it’s a blend of “my style” and what
the client wants. I don’t do commissions for people whose style is radically
different than my own, because I know the dissonance would be apparent in
the final piece of art, and neither of us (me or the client) would be happy.
Usually people who request a commission are familiar and resonant with my
work; I’ve only had to decline a few times.

Tree sculpture commission: steel tree with glass flowers and painted leaves.

Tree sculpture commission: steel tree with glass flowers and painted leaves.

Why have you selected the particular materials you work with?
The metal, glass and ceramic I work with are nature based, just like the
work I make with them (flowered plants and trees). I specifically do
oxy-acetylene welding because its appearance is more bumpy and organic, vs
something like arc or plasma which would produce a very clean, mechanical
line that would look more machine-made than “grown”.

Flat plate steel and flame-cut / bent steel pieces, ready for use in sculpture.

Flat plate steel and flame-cut / bent steel pieces, ready for use in sculpture.

How would you hope that people would respond to your work?
I love it when people smile. Some of them get entranced; some fall in love,
some just glaze by (these impressions are from when I’m exhibiting at a
show). What I would HOPE is that it presents them with an idea they are
pleasantly surprised by.

GalleryShow

What does it feel like when you’re working? What is the process like?

Sometimes it is “itchy” and annoying, when I don’t quite know if something
will work out; sometimes it’s a chore (grinding metal -ugh); sometimes it’s
sort of busy-work, where I don’t have to think a lot but it’s still
pleasant.

"State of mind" map from 2008.

“State of mind” map from 2008.

How important is the final product? Are you ever completely satisfied
with it?

Usually I’m pretty happy. If I spent too much time tinkering with the
“final” stuff, I’d never make any new stuff! there are times when I have
gone back and re-done something because it just was not “right” – in balance
visually or physically. That doesn’t happen often though.

This is one of those pieces that just wasn't quite right at first go; too much silver on the trunk, which I went back and rubbed off.

This is one of those pieces that just wasn’t quite right at first go; too much silver on the trunk, which I went back and rubbed off.

What would you say are the personal benefits of being an artist? What do
you gain from your work? Are there disadvantages?

I always have a little befuddlement about people who don’t have much in their lives
other than TV and their jobs; I can’t imagine not being involved actively in things like gardening or community work or art work – something bigger than one’s own
self where you are interacting with the outside world. Especially when art gets sold
out into the world, sometimes to people i never see and don’t know (when I
sell via a gallery), it’s sort of the same feeling of immortality that I
think people with grandchildren must feel – that a little part of themselves
will continue into the world, long after they are dead and forgotten.

Welded steel spine with blown glass accents.

Welded steel spine with blown glass accents.

What does it mean to be an artist to you?
Above all it means creation, and translation – taking an impression in my
head and giving it physical form in our three-dimensional world. Then what
happens when other people look at it and get their own (sometimes radically
different) interpretations, is yet another evolution!

Community-wide project where each artist began with a hubcap to make their piece. Mine used welded steel, steel dust and lampworked glass flowers.

Community-wide project where each artist began with a hubcap to make their piece. Mine used welded steel, steel dust and lampworked glass flowers.

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