So . . . a Fine Artist, a Folk Artist, and a Fiber Artist walk into a bar . . .

Some art-comedian should take that line and run with it, because there's a wealth of material there somewhere.

I can imagine just such a joke being told by Rob Reiner's character in this movie:

We've been having a little Woody Allen Filmfest at our house, which is a good thing to do in Minnesota in February. It takes your mind off other things. And one of the first films in the lineup was Bullets Over Broadway. It's full of such wonderful conversations about the nature of art, who is an artist and who isn't, what art is and what it's not, and its importance or lack thereof.

As in most of Woody's films, just when the quick-streaming dialogue seems to have delivered the sum total of universal human truth, there's the flash of non sequitur that makes you say, "huh?" Watching it is just like eating something that's full of really complex flavors you can't quite identify but that also tastes sort of like your favorite comfort food.

Best of all, in this particular film the artist turns out not to be an artist after all. And the uneducated thug turns out to be an artist who is actually willing to give his life for his art, when it comes down to it.

All of this comes up because we were at a lovely dinner party the other night with some friends who also invited their neighbors. We met and exchanged the usual pleasantries -- jobs, kids, Minnesota in February, etc., when it came out that his (the other guest's) novel had just come out.


So our hostess ran to get her copy so we could see it. Seriously -- a hefty hardcover volume by a real publisher with actual reviews on the dust jacket and stuff like that. And it required a lot of restraint to not say, "Wow -- congratulations!" immediately followed by a less enthusiastic, "You're living my dream."

It certainly shot holes in the premise I've based my life on thus far, that there's no point trying to be a writer because the chances of a regular person having their novel published are roughly the same as winning the lottery, and therefore it's really not a very smart investment.

And of course I was reminded of the scene from Broadcast News in which William Hurt says, "What do you do when your real life actually surpasses your dream life?"

and Albert Brooks answers, "Keep it to yourself."

A few minutes later, he (The Writer) asked me "if I considered myself to be an artist?"

Now that's a really big question for a first date, so I reeled under the weight of it for a moment before I started to answer, "I guess I consider myself to be a Folk Artist." But I never really got to give an explanation as to why I would designate myself as such. There is actually quite a lengthy and well-constructed one, now that you mention it, which has nothing to do with my "charmingly-naive style" but everything to do with my journey as a self-taught artist. Or whatever we call it.

In hindsight, I think the best dinner-party answer (and the one I plan to use should the situation ever arise again) would be, "it's complicated."

I do have a collection of artist-name-tags, which might help clarify things, but I'm not in the habit of wearing them to dinner parties.

I suppose I could have handed him one of my very first business cards,

printed way back when I was just beginning to peddle my wares in a few little shops and was still quite unsure as to

"whether I was or whether I wasn't,"

and certainly "whether or not it was."

I guess we've made progress in 20 years, going from "almost art" to "it's complicated." That's something, right?

My graduate-of-prestigious-art-school daughter once told me that she and all her friends lovingly refer to art school as "fantasy camp."

This made me laugh, of course, and I immediately assumed it was because they're all now drowning under mountains of student debt and un- or under-employed, but they could all draw unbelieveably swell pictures on demand, if only someone would demand it.

She later explained to me that my assumption was wrong. "The reason we call it fantasy camp," she said, "is that at art school you could take your pants off and hang them on the wall. And someone would stop and ask you what you were doing, and why, and what you were trying to say, and what the motivation was behind the concept, and then they would actually listen with interest for half an hour while you answered the question."

So I've decided that what it comes down to, this "being an artist or not being one", must be:

your ability to really sell your
"why-I-hung-up-my-pants" speech.

And I'm not sure where I stand on that ability spectrum -- somewhere between almost and complicated, I guess.

It reminds me of the old Peanuts bit where Charlie Brown and the others are looking at clouds and someone sees things about man's existential dilemma or some other nonsense and Charlie Brown says, "Oh, I was about to say I see a ducky and a bunny." Something like that.

So then (back to the dinner party) someone said, "Well, Susan writes a blog", and we discussed that for a second after which I immediately remembered our poor friend, Pig:

and it didn't really make me feel better to be able to say, "Yes, I'm Susan and I publish my poetry on my blog. Then I write reviews about me by me."

You can see what I mean, right?

Anyway, I am genuinely looking forward to reading a real and hefty novel written by a regular person that I just had dinner with and to whom I could potentially have explained whether or not I consider myself to be an artist. At our next dinner party I'm hoping to have "book club" with the author.

And I guess there must be an artist of some kind somewhere around here, because it's
Small Works Framing Week!

And I know just the thought of framing week is making my kids homesick.

Because framing week means frames in various stages of construction spread over every possible surface in both the kitchen and family rooms, accompanied by a fine layer of sawdust and punctuated with varnish fumes and paint splatter.

And for heaven's sake don't try to cook or eat anything in the kitchen during framing week! What's wrong with you?!!

ca. 1950 -- happier times before children were forced to endure the neglect of a mother's Framing Week

Framing week also usually means Mom's getting a little stressed, because where there are frames there's sure to be a show somewhere nearby.

And where there's a show, wouldn't it follow that there is probably art?

I believe we've established that nobody's sure whether or not there's art, but I can tell you that this week if I were a drinker, you would probably find me in a bar. With all the other maybe-artists.


VO said...

OMG...this runs quite parallel with how I think. I have 2 friends who are published and while I'm not a writer (nor aspire to be one) I do struggle with why I haven't put my own art out there. I know I've thought, "It's complicated" but I've also thought I'm just too afraid of something. I've only just now shown what I do on my facebook acct...which is a big step for me.

I think I'm going to write a blog post about this very subject.

susan m hinckley said...

You write it, I'll be interested to read it. I put my art out there to avoid putting my writing out there. Art is somehow less transparent than writing to me, and therefore less scary for some reason. I'd love to see what you create, so when (not if) you do get up the nerve please let us all know!

Anonymous said...

ok, follow-up questions:

1. did Mr Published ask you "if you CONSIDER yourself" to be an artist before or after you (presumably) asked him if he CONSIDERS himself to be a writer? and

2. cautiously playing the gender card here, do you think if you were a male artist, his question would have been the same? or would it have been, lovely to meet you Mr Artist, tell me about your work.

but maybe i'm jumping to paranoid conclusions.

for me, so much unease about claiming & owning "artist" comes from whether we think others judge us worthy of the title.

you're right, it's complicated. but for the record, i consider you an artist. for sure.

so next time, just say YES. yes, i am an artist.

you'll be setting a good example for the rest of us.

cheers! luanne

susan m hinckley said...

Thanks, Luanne -- in answer to your questions, it wasn't really asked in a condescending way, but rather a curious one. Although, since the hostess owns one of my pieces and the writer had just been looking at it, perhaps maybe he wasn't sure he was looking at "art?" I don't know -- but as fiber people, I do know we exist in a strange realm somewhere between art and craft, celebrated but sometimes shunned, don't you think? I think he wanted to know whether I think of myself as a "craftsman" rather than an "artist" in the most common sense of the word. I took no offense at all at the question, but I had some food for thought as to the answer when I couldn't sleep later that night. Baltimore insomnia. Thanks for your kind words!

VO said...

My beading blog blog (which is woefully behind as is my beading). Most of the photos of my work is far down the blog. You'll have to scroll down.

I do think fiber/sewing/beads/etc are not looked at as art. Artistic yes, art generally no.

Crazy for Art said...

Well, I don't know you personally but I consider you an artist just by looking at your art and by the shows you've been in. The label itself is pretty touchy isn't it? Your blog is very entertaining as well. Maybe you need to publish your blog someday?!

susan m hinckley said...

Well now that's a great idea . . . but the chances of that probably are roughly the same as winning the lottery, aren't they. But thanks so much for the words of encouragement, and for taking the time to read and respond to my silly "artistic angst" rants. I'm just sorry I got on the blogging bus a little late -- there are so many other nice passengers! -- and at the rate things change in this world, the blog wave will be over soon and I'm just getting started!

susan m hinckley said...

VO, your beading is really beautiful. I particularly loved July with the cup spilling out, I'm not sure why but I just loved the image and the idea and the colors and textures. Thanks so much for sharing! I always hate it when people ask me, "how do you have the patience?" But I seriously have to ask you. . . how do you have the patience?

VO said...

LOL, some days I don't have the patience. Mostly I don't notice time going by (my eyes do however) while I bead. I get into that Zen state.

I can get that way with embroidery too, although I haven't done that in years. Your felting has stirred a whole new urge for me. I'd love to combine the two. I barely delved into felting roving and beads back a few months ago. I found roving was not as fun to work with (as I worked it), I prefer felt fabric. I do like the hard and the soft of beads and felt together. I often use felt as a ground for my beading.

Your teeny stitches, layers of fabric, wire, etc are very similar in patience building. And we both have people who wonder why we do such teeny (read tedious) work.

And thank you for the compliment. I love that July piece. My cup truly does runneth over.

april said...

i've been saying "my sister-in-law is a folk artist" for years, and i damn well mean it (enough to even curse). your blog could stand up to any published novel anyday. (not that the author was trying to be competitive or condescending) - but really, susan, your writing touches and amazes me and even makes me laugh on occasion. it's a perfect read.

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