Thursday

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Friday

Why it's called a "work" of art.


Frida Kahlo

Why it's called a "work" of art.

Even though I am from a small town in the Arizona desert on the border of Mexico, like Frida I personally have come to travel the globe and greatly appreciate and respect why the work of artists is universally called a “work" of art.  Speaking from experience, I know that despite what others with very limiting beliefs often think, being an artist is not only arduous work but one that requires a life-long commitment.  So I can assure you that standing up for this line of work takes an immense amount of emotional strength, stamina, and courage but also a tremendous amount of perseverance, even when sometimes it seems like there’s no end in sight. So I often find that I must continue to stand up not only for the important role that artists and their work have in society but also for their capacity to inspire the world.  

In my home I display an important sign on the wall that says: “Love begins at home”. It is particularly meaningful to me because I don’t ever want to forget that before expecting to inspire the world with the "labor of love" we must first work hard to instill these important qualities deep within ourselves.  Rest assured at times this calling tests the depths of my soul and every fiber of the core of my being.  So I know “first hand” that being an artist is not for the timid and faint of heart.  But I am not alone.  I know that I am not much different from millions of others who struggle from being loved and accepted for being committed to putting their heart and soul in their work.  Nonetheless, despite this work a misconception continues to persist in the world that artists “do not work”.

In fact, even in my own family, I periodically experience being deeply insulted by this misconception.  So I thought I would take the time to write this article on the subject to shed light to the matter of why the work of artists is actually called a “work” of art, not only to educate those in my own family but also to be of service in educating the public.  While many artists find they must hold regular jobs instead of being able to answer their true calling of pursuing their art and purpose, I can certainly respect the responsibilities of honoring their commitments of running successful marriages and being supportive of their families.  Here, I can also speak from my own experience. 

In my own case, for example, most recently I received a call from a family member telling me that my mother wanted to send me a Christmas gift of money.  While that gift may have been fine if I were young, at this point in my life, that gift is unnecessary and would have made me feel very uncomfortable. In her own way I’m sure my mother was only trying to be thoughtful.  Usually when a parent gives a gift of money I imagine it is because they don’t know what their children need from their parents.  And giving money gives her joy. So, in principle, if this gift gives my mother joy who am I to take that joy away from her?  However, I was deeply insulted when my valued family member insulted me stating that the reason my mother wanted to send me money as a Christmas gift was because quote “I don’t work”. 

At first I didn’t quite know what to make of the insult.  Feeling awkward, I laughed at this insult.  As artists that’s what many of us have to do when family insults us for not truly valuing the work we do.  In fact, not realizing the value of my work was the main reason I had to stop giving my work away as personal gifts.

In my case, this insult that “I don’t work” came even after I founded a successful arts organization from the ground up as an Executive Director.  This organization continues to provide valuable community programs for low income families and the organization and the social contribution that I left there for others also deserves respect. In fact, I first founded the organization by sketching my organization’s logo on a piece paper with my own drawing skills as an artist.  This was long before I spent months using my experience in Arts Management and Graphic Arts designing the final logo, stationary, website, job descriptions, writing and receiving grants to support my community art programs, and establishing successful partnerships with local colleges and universities.  Now the organization that I founded by drawing on a piece of paper with my own skills as an artist continues to grow through out New England and is my legacy .  So the social contribution of "my work" not only as the Executive Arts Director but also as an artist is one I’m very proud of. 

And as expressionist artist I have even exhibited my work in Paris, and that occurred just one year after first picking up a paintbrush.  So after I hung up the phone I kept thinking about the insult that “I don’t work” and I felt that old temperature rising as it has through out my life when people not only disrespect and insult me but also my intelligence and underestimate the importance of my work and accomplishments, even when they claim the insult was not intended.  As I kept thinking about the insult, my blood began to boil as I was filled with anger. So it occurred to me that there are a lot of misconceptions out there that artists do “not work”.  That’s why I thought it was time to delve into this issue not only to educate only those in my own my family, but also the public in general why the work of the artist is actually called a “work” of art.

Fortunately, there are some members of my family who actually do appreciate art and are inspired by the “work” of famous artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, and especially the work of Frida Kahlo.  That’s when it occurred to me. I wonder if members of my family would ever judge and insult Frida Kahlo if they met her in person.  I could just imagine them saying:

“Hey, Frida.  Who do you think you are? You’re no Da Vinci,  Rembrandt, or Michelangelo.  Do you really think you will ever inspire anyone by creating images of yourself with little monkeys and blood coming out of your heart?  This artist thing. Come on!  Who do you think you’re kidding?  That’s not work!  You aren’t fooling anyone.  We all know artists don’t really work.  I’m sorry, Frida, but why don’t you update your resume and go out and get a real job?”

Fortunately, for all of us in the world, Frida learned to answer not only her calling but also her purpose and now even my own family is very inspired by her work.  And while Frida’s paintings are now valued in the millions my family certainly enjoys buying reproductions of her “work”.

So I speak not only in defense of Frida Kahlo but for the work of artists everywhere who also suffer from this unfortunate misconception that artists do not work.  Likewise, before I can even begin to think about creating a work of art, I must first work meeting my obligations to my marriage, my homelife, and my family.  Then, and only then, can I even begin the long and very difficult and arduous process of creating each “work” of art.  So contrary to what anyone thinks, I can assure you that I DO WORK! 

As an artist, I have personally spent a lifetime of hard work studying the work of other artists, traveling, taking countless drawing and painting classes, and spending a fortune of my own hard-earned income on my lifelong commitment to the arts.  I have lived in Paris, and even though I am an Expressionist at heart, I have also been greatly influenced by the works of great masters, and many great schools of art, such as the Impressionists, The Post Impressionists, The Fauves, The Nabis, The Brücke, and the masters of Modern art.  I have even studied masters of graphic art and design, such as the Bauhaus School of Graphic Art and Design.

Anyone who knows me would never question my commitment to the arts.  As with any profession I, too, must constantly be improving and mastering new skills. In fact, I am so committed to my work in the arts that recently I worked hard putting myself through school and earning another degree, this time from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  I chose graphic art and design not only for the sake of selling reproductions like the ones we buy of Frida Kahlo, but also for the sake of working in the medium of publishing to reach my ever expanding audience in the world.

Nonetheless, I am just like anyone else. I’m human and at times I suffer and also have to overcome challenges personally and professionally.   That's why I have great empathy for others.  In fact, recently I was going through a difficult time and I needed moral support.  Like many other artists in the world who cannot rely on the families they were born into for "spiritual" and "moral" support, instead I also chose to seek out a great and established institution for my own “spiritual” guidance.  Contrary to what others think, I happen to know the work artists do is powerful.  So powerful in fact that it actually has the ability not only to inspire the world but also to "heal" the human soul.  

As an artist, I needed to find a place that could address my unique need to use art to reconnect with religion. So that is why I enrolled myself in an intensive week-long spiritual workshop at the Museum of Russian Iconography.  While I was there I thought it was interesting to learn that Iconographers do not consider themselves artists at all. Even though they paint, instead they consider themselves writers.  So this was the perfect place to be for my interest in publishing and writing about the importance of the arts in society.  While I have already written a couple of small books before, I thought this would be a perfect place to further my own research and experience as an author.

Like any other profession, during the long week I spent each day in the “workshop” of the icon writer, each day I put in an honest day’s work from 8AM until 5PM.  Deep in the recesses of the chapel, out of respect to the museum and tradition of ancient iconographers, I had to commit to praying while I painted in silent meditation as I learned to create the sacred image of the Archangel Michael.  I spent the week “working” in egg tempera, and mixing my own color pigments directly from stones of the earth with egg tempura and white wine.

During the short breaks, I was reeducated about the texts from the bible and reminded how God had first given life to Man by using his own breath to give “life” itself to the clay of the earth.  My teacher was not only a priest.  He was also a fine and accomplished master of fine art.  So this religious figure and master of art spent the day instructing why I also had to learn to use my own breath to give life to my own “work”.  This was a symbol of the blessing of life that God had given to us as men.  He also taught me that the clay on the wood was a foundation and represented the “tree of life” itself.

So as I “worked” in earnest I learned to use my own breath in private prayer, painting in complete silence for hours in layers of egg tempera.  Through meditation I learned not only to control my breath, but also how to enter deep into the spiritual realms of my being.  My spiritual advisor assured me that if I listened with honest intent to my own internal dialogue eventually the “blessing of the divine” would appear.  So I did this absolutely faithfully the entire first day.  Unfortunately the day ended without any success.  At the end of Day Two, however, it finally happened. I was deeply involved in my commitment to my breathing exercises and my spiritual “work”.  As I committed my breath to the clay I can honestly attest that I was absolutely amazed when I finally felt the “presence” and “blessing” of the “divine spirit”. Right in front of me, the divine spirit in the form of the angelic spirit of Michael, the archangel himself, appeared not in a vision but in the living flesh.   

As I kept “working” and “reworking” on my own symbolic self portrait, I felt at last that I was finally given a sacred place of honor for my hard-earned “work”.  Through the week, I was so enchanted by the wonder of this “sacred” experience that I made sure never to talk to anyone else except Michael himself.  


ArchAngel Michael

How could ever expect my family to understand the value of my work?  I realized that feeling appreciated for my work was a completely unrealistic expectation.  So Michael and I continued to spend several days in meetings together having deep and very meaningful dialogues.  My teacher and spiritual advisor leading the workshop would no longer speak and interrupt me because he knew I was now in the hands of the divine presence communicating directly with the "blessing" of the divine. 

During my meetings with Michael he also taught me to paint, not with brushes, but by adhering real 24-carat gold into my symbolic image with my own breath.  I now had a mirror of gold surrounding my self portrait.  He informed me that the gold was so that I could always see my own reflection in his divine image.  I can assure you this “work” and experience was beyond what anyone will ever believe unless they have ever experienced it for themselves.  That doesn’t matter.  I don’t need anyone to believe me. For what I experienced for myself with the “divine presence” and “blessing of the divine” will be cherished as one of the most precious experiences of my entire life.  This visit and sacred experience with the divine spirit was nothing short of a “miracle” and it taught me about the wonder and beauty of life and what it means to be truly “alive”.

As I now could see my own image in the mirror made of gold, Michael then had me spend an entire day polishing this precious metal to make sure I could always see my own reflection clearly in his image made from genuine gold.  Despite when others judge, accusing artists of “not working” in earnest, Michael showed me that all I had to do was to look deep into the pure gold to know my own worth and remind me to stay true to who I truly am.  From my own first hand experience I can personally attest to why I now know deep down in my heart that as human beings we actually do have a divine “soul” within us.

Do you still think I don’t work?  That is fine with me.  If so, I will just come out from the depths of my spiritual experience and return to writing about my experience in the everyday conventional conception of reality. At the moment, however, I am only writing about art.  So let me now describe my experience with “realist” art.  I assure you I absolutely do have some experience with “realism” too.

Speaking of reality, I have also acquired a very deep respect for "realist" artists. Most recently I enrolled for a semester an Academy of Realist Art, which teaches the traditions of the French and Italian academies, such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo.  My work days at the Realist academy would begin in earnest by getting up very early before any rooster would ever crow to commute into Boston like any other 9 to 5 professional.  With this Charles "Bargue" method of drawing, I would spend my entire days for months working like a monk in deep focus and concentration in the tedious work of a single realist drawing.  Little did I know how many years of training were involved in becoming a classically trained realist.

In fact, these classically trained artists spend their entire days like monks for years working with fine pencils before they even are allowed to experience holding a paintbrush.  So at first, even with over 20 years of experience in art, I had to completely “relearn” how to hold and even sharpen a “2B” pencil.  I’m sorry.  No pun intended.  I don’t mean to quote Shakespeare.  But please do let me actually inform you of the actual work it takes “to be” a realist artist.

The classically trained artist must begin the work day by actually sharpening pencils with a sharp blade until the leads stand out at least 3-4 inches from the wood. There is good reason for this.  It is so we learn not only to respect the divine hand of such masters as Da Vinci, and Michelangelo but also learn to never press too tightly on the paper of the expensive high quality drawing paper.   I used to think that it was better to be bold as an artist, but boy was I greatly mistaken.  At the Academy of Realist Art I soon discovered that it's not about the boldness of the artist but actually about the "quality" of the mark we make that matters.  As you can only imagine, being an Expressionist at heart, I spent the first few weeks feeling like one of the little primates on Frida Kahlo’s shoulders as I broke countless number of my fine and expensive drawing pencils. 

As the Academy was only open 4 days during the week, I had to “work from home” two additional days, and on the 7th day I took to rest from my long work week as an artist.   Of course, I could never tell my family what I was doing during these months because, for all they knew, they were still too busy assuming that artists “don’t work”.  So knowing that my family would never understand and appreciate how I was actually spending my time “at work” there were days on my long commutes in traffic when my own trials would make me cry each day as I thought about my family and the hell I was living without being able to share with them how I felt like such a failure in my lifelong commitment to my work in the arts.

Moreover, after working hard to put myself through school and earning my degree in Graphic Art and Design, I worked hard studying the history of arts and science, including the work of Sir Isaac Newton, and his own work related to the laws of light, shadow, and how they pertain to color theory, not to mention perspective that an artist must master before creating a masterful “work” of art.  In addition to my own work, the realist artist has a vocabulary as qualified as a physician because realists are required to learn every bone of the human body not only from memory but by heart, and that is before they can even paint over these bones with the laws of light reflecting on the correct tones of the flesh. 

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, my marriage my homelife, managing my homes, and obligations to family is my first obligation.  So I was not able to complete the years of “work” required at the academy of classically-trained realist artists. I always honor my commitments to my marriage first. This work involves managing my homes and also another family business.  So I could not continue with the years of work required of the daily work required of my work at the Academy, but it was not for lack of desire to complete the work I started there.

Nonetheless, the experience taught me to have deep, deep respect for realist artists, and one I will be sure to have for the rest of my life, despite my family’s misconception that artists “don’t work”.  So I can assure you, truly appreciating the work of artists requires a dynamic shift in one’s perspective, not only as it relates to learning perspective for the sake of art but so we can actually learn to appreciate why the lifelong work of the artist is genuinely called a “work” of art.

In my many years of experience as an arts professional through out my career, I have also managed and been involved in hundreds of community art programs, charity events, and even used my own art to raise funds for important social causes, such as the poor, the homeless, the elderly, and even animals. To bring this appreciation to my family, in the past I have even donated original works of art when genuine enthusiasm and appreciation was shown to me.  

But it is important to educate the public that before creating a painting, many hours go into the process of sketching, researching, before I prepare and spend a fortune on art supplies, such as gesso, brushes, oil paints, canvases, and countless hours working and “reworking” my works of art.  As any artist knows, this work is not only extremely expensive but can take months, even years to complete.  This work is grueling, and tiresome, but an honest day’s work has never scared me away from my commitment.  Nonetheless, every artist knows much too often this work continues to be "thankless" and very much “under” appreciated.  So it is one of the greatest insults anyone can ever utter than accusing artists of quote “not working”. 

So I assure you countless “working hours” are spent in agony not only using our imagination, emotions, and experience but every fiber of our self expression at the core of our very being on this WORK.  As any artist knows, the work done with the artificial light of the night changes with the break of light of the day.  So the work that we thought was complete during the night in the light of morning leaves us completely disillusioned as we look and see just how unfinished it actually is.  So we never feel satisfied with our own work because it never seems to meet our own satisfaction and standards. Despite being committed to our work, sometimes we have to learn to leave the work aside and hope we can come back to it without ruining its redeeming qualities. Even when we are sure that our work is done, once we start putting the final touches, this leads to spending endless days, weeks, and months of work. In fact, there are times when I am so upset at the results that I paint over competed work despite the strong protests of others. 


Every artist knows that the “oil on canvas” also takes a long time to dry, and is very, very messy.  The days I have oil paint and smell of turpentine and solvents not only on my body, clothes, but also on everything I touch through out my studio and every room of my home.  Some days even I fantasize about going back into an office and what a relief it would be to be stuck in traffic on my way to work at least enjoying the scenery in my car.  So this endless process of the artist at work drains us not only physically but also emotionally.  Sometimes my mind and eyes burn so severely from the solvents that I am left emotionally exhausted and drained with my sight and spirit left completely depleted.  At times it takes me weeks to recover, physically, emotionally, and spiritually....  So after I recover I think twice before I decide to set out to sail into the oceans of my own self expression.

Once I recover, even when the work is complete enough to be given to loved ones, then of course I must now consider the time and amount of expensive costs I spend on the extremely high price of framing “my work”. Even after my work is framed I now have to then have my work photographed before it is available to be consumed for the public.  Naturally, the photographs don’t always come out well.  So this can take many hours and even days.  Once the photography is complete, I then have to make countless hours on the color corrections in Photoshop with the final adjustments and formatting.  Once the color corrections of my work are complete it is then imported into a software program called Illustrator for the next stage of the process called the Graphic Design “work”.  Then there is the Typography, fonts, colors, placement to consider with the time period of the work of art in the history of art.  

For me, once the typography and layout is finally complete, countless hours are spent creating products for reproductions at my gift shop on commercial products.  I am not an elitist so I sell my works on T-shirts, Coffee Mugs, and Art Posters in the giftshop of ZermenoGallery to make sure each work of art is finally “accessible” and “affordable” for everyone.

Fortunately, as my works are now appreciated all over the world, whether it be worn as ties on the subways of Japan, displayed as art posters in Parisian Apartments, on a coffee mug belonging to someone drinking coffee in Australia, or worn on a Tshirt in the heat of Brazil.  

The next time you wonder why the work of the artist is so expensive, I hope you please consider not only the amount of time and "work" it took the artist to master such things as reflecting light, shadow, values, fleshtones, edges, color theory, space, texture, geometry, and perspective but also pay respect to the amount of courage and tremendous amount of perseverance

For the sake of “educating the public”, I hope this sheds a little light the next time you should even THINK of accusing an artist whether it be Frida Kahlo or any other artist of quote “not working”.   I assure you, our work as just as valuable to us as anyone else who works and strives to inspire others with our work.  So the next time you want to accuse the artist of “not working” please learn to control your breath.  On behalf of all artists in the world, we would appreciate a little respect please. 

Saturday

"The Farm Boy" Oil on Canvas

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