The agony and the ecstasy


At Open Studio time in North County, when artists open up their studios (or more they open to the guts in their bodies, and the toil in their minds) to the public, I get to thinking about the curse and blessings of today’s fine artists. It’s a hassle to have to sell your art. I used to do it myself, and I don’t miss that part of it: The hustle. I always felt like I wanted to leave my art pieces on the doorsteps of deserving people, “Amelie”-style, but there was always that whole ‘make a living’ part that complicated the gesture. That’s why I can appreciate the yarn bombers, the graffiti artists, the renegade art installations rebels who leave free messages to the public in the belly of the night – they skip the selling part all together! Bravo! But wait – making a living means money has to come from somewhere, hence we have studio visits, gallery showings, and weekends packed with art fairs. It’s quite a production, and most of it takes plenty of business savvy – energy which many an artist might rather spend working on their art – alone in their studio, not with all of us staring down their necks.  

This is the artist’s agony, because no matter how much a big, fancy artist, or a little idea-maker tells you they really hope to market this or create a ‘brand’ (Ouch — how I despise that word used for human beings), or get themselves out there, in my experience – they don’t like that part as much as they optimistically let on. I believe it’s because the artist has already explained their work. The explanation – the truth, the expression, the actual something that makes an object a piece of art – is already in existence, but we ask them to give more.

I wish artists were on the city payroll. Or a rich patron would be assigned to support each and every brave artist who chooses such a path. I can’t imagine how much truth and authenticity would come from today’s artists if they didn’t have to actually market their ideas and sell their expressions.

At Open Studios I think of how difficult it must be to open your sacred art space to others. The artist’s cave is their temple. To share their workshop, they must clear out the stacks of books they were referencing and stuff them under drafting tables, and piles of mistakes and do-overs they were not ready to face, they might hide behind a latched cabinet. They must sipher through their works, decide what is up for viewing, and what didn’t make the cut, and then they must make peace with the works that didn’t.  When we enter their shops on Open Studio days, be it the rear end of their duplex, or top floor of an industrial flat, they have already spent hours and days of work organizing their space just for our viewing.

This week I featured two very different artists: Randy Stromsoe and Pam Haste. Stromsoe, a phenomenally accomplished silversmith, up in the ranks of the world-recognized gallerists, had been traditionally trained since age 19 – a true master – sought after by the White House and commissioned for the Vatican. And he lives in our little ol’ Templeton! Then there’s Haste in Paso Robles, a supermom, who loves to paint plein air with other painter friends – abstract watercolors with such vision you wonder why her online bio is so simple and humble. I don’t think she’s discovered how good she is yet. Perhaps someone needs to let her know. Both artists participate in Open Studios. When I visited their studios, alive with brushes and hammers, I was really inside their living rooms. I felt like they were both opening up their hands to their most precious keepsake: their process. I could hardly thank them enough. I hope our community will too.

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