Archive | May, 2010

Musings on art and artists

Water Lilies, by Bessie Potter Vonnoh, c. 1913

There has been a very interesting discussion on the member forum for the Realistic Equine Sculpture Society about how the equine collectibles community and the artist who work in it are perceived by equine artists working in the fine art world. Some of the comments reminded me of something I saw during my last visit to Brookgreen.

One of the galleries there had an exhibit entitled “Fifteen Women: One Hundred Years of Sculpture”. One of the things that has always struck me about Brookgreen is just how many pieces in their collection were sculpted by women. It was also clear that many of the pieces were designed not for galleries, but for gardens. I have often wondered if the work these women did, often portraying children and animals, got the same kind of scorn from the “proper” art world. That proper art world was already turning away from realistic work; indeed, Brookgreen was established in part in reaction to that. Did the marginalized realistic sculptors of that era in turn marginalize these women for making expensive “lawn ornaments” just as some look upon artists in my field as making “toy horses”?

The museum card next to the sculpture pictured above had an intriguing comment:

“At a time when most sculptors produced monuments, Bessie Potter Vonnoh made significant contributions to small bronze sculpture and garden statuary designed for the embellishment of the home. … Concentrating on sculpture for domestic settings that combined naturalism and elegance, Vonnoh entered a male dominated field creating a pathway to professional success and making high-quality sculpture accessible to a wider audience.”

I have never had a lot of concern about whether what I did was considered “art” or “Art” – or even craft. Having been raised by a commercial artist, I was indoctrinated in only one important distinction among artists: starving or not-starving. The idea of a viable market was always front and center among my considerations. But I think the quote above talks about what has kept me involved in collectibles. For any number of reasons, the average person finds Art intimidating and incredibly distant from their day-to-day life. I like the idea that we are making “high-quality sculpture accessible to a wider audience”.

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Aging gracefully (mostly)

This is the girl that claimed aging would not matter to her. Easy for her! (The picture was taken by a friend twenty years ago because my “new boyfriend” Alan asked for a picture and I didn’t have any. The lipstick was a rarity then; it simply doesn’t happen now!)

I was encouraged by my friend Joan’s post about aging a few days ago. It is always comforting to know that you aren’t alone.

I always told myself I would accept aging gracefully. This seemed like an easy enough claim to make, since I’ve never cared much about looks. My approach to personal appearance would be more accurately described as “try remember there is a line between being low maintenance and being a slob.” Like my friend Sarah, paint- and mud-covered studio clothes and flip flops are my normal attire.

Obviously this meant that when I started graying, I would simply be gray. Of course it helped that my image of “gray” was formed by the way my mother’s lovely true-black hair turned a cold-toned salt-and-pepper. What I didn’t bargain for was a white streak appearing right at the natural part in my hair. Despite the young people in my life insisting that this was trendy and cool, all my mental images of dark hair with a white stripe are distinctly negative. I would have been okay looking older… looking old even. But I wasn’t cool with looking like I should be kidnapping some nice young couple’s Dalmation puppies. So like Joan, I found a talented colorist.

That may have been a blow to theory about aging, but the really difficult part has been accepting the increasing loss of my sight. I have always been near-sighted, of course. It was pretty moderate when I was younger, so I only occasionally wore glasses. As my husband used to say, we wore glasses when we really needed to see, and didn’t when we need to be seen. (I should note that he does have some personal vanity.) Over time that changed to “not seeing much without them” and then to “needs glasses not to trip over things”. Still, through it all my near vision was fine, which was for me all that really mattered.

In recent years, the near vision has started to go, too. When this changed Joan’s ability to work on small-scale horses a few years back, my husband (an optical physicist) helpfully explained why it was inevitable. I chose to disbelieve him.

But working on Vixen and especially Imp, I know my days doing really small horses are numbered. Ott lights and lenses for close-up work are working for now, but I know that consistently working small is probably not in my future. Even now I can only work on them for a while before my eyes simply stop focusing that close. I don’t plan to stop releasing mini-scale pieces. (I’m still dying to produce Sarah’s upcoming stock horse stallion!) It is still my favorite scale, and I will keep working on small horses for as long as I can. But it is likely that the upcoming Elsie and Oliver will mark a turning point at the studio, with a greater number of larger-scale pieces being released.

If only reversing aging eyes was as easy as changing hair color!

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