The word Nefelibata has drawn my attention recently. The word originates in Portugese, derived from ‘nephele’ (cloud) and ‘batha’ (a place to walk.) It refers to one who lives in their own imagination or dreams, or one who does not abide by the precepts of society, literature or art; an unconventional, unorthodox person.
One of the things I often repeat in my workshops is that I’m ‘not encumbered by reality.’ I am inspired by reality, but I don’t feel obligated to try to reproduce it. In fact, when I come too close to reality in my artwork, I’m often unsatisfied. I feel that the interpretation of that reality is more interesting than accuracy. I’m drawn to work that ‘riffs’ on reality. It is the individual’s response to reality that I find interesting in art, writing and music.
In looking for a painting to embody this concept, I chose one that recently returned from the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery. I found I’d never posted it on my site before! I often send pieces out into the world before I have a chance to promote them… and this piece is one of those. I’ve always loved the activity and detail of this piece. The texture and line work are so evocative of memories of ‘major’ (in my memory) thunderstorms.
This spring I was privileged to receive a critique of my work from an artist I respect. The artist giving the critique works in a realistic manner. One word they used to describe my abstract work was ‘facile.’ This has been bothering me for a while now… and I think I’m almost over it.
One reason it bothered me, is that I don’t find abstraction easy to do. Not at all! I think abstraction is more difficult than realism. I also feel that these particular paintings embody (for me) more personal meaning than many of my more realistic paintings.
Another reason this comment disturbed me might be more subconscious. With abstraction, I feel that I’ve found a way of working that feels natural. Not easy, mind you, but natural – suited to my skills, my aesthetics and my content. Maybe this is why the critiquing artist thought the work looks ‘facile.’
The definition of facile:
(especially of a theory or argument) appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial, simplistic, oversimplified.
I feel there is a fine line between capitalizing on our strengths and challenging ourselves to fit others’ expectations. However, I do want my work to suggest a mystery, a deeper meaning and a personal response to the world. I don’t want it to appear simplistic or superficial.
What are your thoughts? Do you find abstraction (particularly mine) to be less meaningful than realism? Don’t worry about hurting my feelings! I can take it… Thanks for joining the discussion.
Happy 50th Anniversary to the Watercolor Society of Oregon
This past weekend I spent three heavenly days at the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s 50th Anniversary. The exhibition and convention were held at the Oregon Garden Resort in beautiful Silverton, Oregon. Set in the rolling green hills of the mid-Willamette Valley, this gem continues to grow and change. Each time I visit, I notice new plants, artwork, water features and more.
But our main focus was on art. We listened to lectures, watched demonstrations, tried new products, made new art friends and strengthened old. We looked back at the history and the people that built our organization. Founders, board members, participants and jurors were all honored. The show was spectacular, juried by notable Michigan artist Kathleen Conover.
Kathleen Conover and Ruth Armitage
My Work Won an Award!
Thanks to Kathleen for the nice award! I was in the top ten at number 6!
My Award Winning Painting – “Camassia”
Oh Boy…. Another Rejection
I presented a lecture titled “Oh Boy, Another Rejection” and received so many heartwarming comments. A couple of folks asked me to post my slides. Keep in mind, the lecture is much more than a sum of the slides, but if you attended and missed a few things in your notes, click here!
Other Weekend Events
I really enjoyed the critiques by our juror, Kathleen Conover, as well as a demonstration by Judy Morris and a lecture by Michael Schlicting. But the best times of the convention were those down times, just visiting with artist friends from all over the state. We spent a lot of time remembering those who gave tirelessly to our organization, those who have passed or can no longer attend, and where we’ve been as a group. We also spent some time planning for the future and welcoming new members and taking in the beauty around us.
Judy Morris Demo
Michael Schlicting – on Sports and Art
I hope if you are close, you’ll take time to visit the Oregon Garden Resort Hotel. The paintings are on view throughout the month in the hallways of the hotel and the exhibit is free to attend. The 20 award winning paintings will travel the state for the following 6 months. I’ll keep the schedule updated on my Events page!
And if you’re a painter in Water Media, I’d encourage you to join us for our next convention, which will be held in October in Oregon City. There is more information on becoming a member at our website: WatercolorSocietyofOregon.com
A bit of background for the un-initiated: in an international, juried show like AWS, one sends a digital image, plus an entry fee, and a panel of 5 judges review thousands of entries to select a show of between 100-150 paintings from all over the world. Once the show has been through preliminary selections, the original works are shipped to the venue, and awards are selected, in this case by a different panel of judges.
GIANT DISCLAIMER: My hunch is that my friend asked me to write this post so she could glean my ‘secret’ to success. The secret is: there is no secret. The only way to success is through repeated ‘failures’ or rejections. I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
So far, my favorite Chapter is titled “Persistence.” If there is one key to succeeding here, that would be it!
Gilbert writes about “The patron goddess of creativity” and how she “can make really weird decisions about who gets her money.” “In short, she may show up for you, or she may not. Probably best, then, if you don’t count on her, or attach your definition of personal happiness to her whims.” This is how I look at it, and how I was able to write “Rejected Again, Hooray.”
I’ve been working to gain entry to this show for about 15 years. It is a tough nut to crack, and I’m not sure I have a lot of light to shed on how to do it. I think a lot of it is luck… Of course luck often finds me hard at work! But for what it is worth, here are my observations.
Believe in your work – this particular painting was rejected from the AWS show last year… I still thought it was among my best work and decided to submit it again… This time it was accepted!
Gain exposure by entering other high visibility shows – if the panel of judges have seen your work before and been suitably impressed, they are more likely to recognize your piece. This piece had been in a national show and won an award.
Save your best work for the most competitive venues.
Strong contrasts and Unity are big selling points – This painting has both.
Thoughtful design choices – this painting utilizes a z shaped design, and shape repetition.
Look for areas of complexity and areas of simplicity – this painting has both.
Listen to what peers say when they view your work. In this case, a respected friend said she couldn’t stop thinking about the painting, couldn’t get it out of her head. Another friend identified it as a quantum leap in my work.
I think there is something to be said for letting the ‘Hand of the Artist’ show… The gestural line work in this piece definitely qualifies, and contrasts with the more regular, geometric patterns.
I can’t stress enough that belief in oneself is the key- even when this piece was “Rejected Again” I still liked it and believed in it. Be persistent.
Go with your gut!
Another reason to believe in your work is that the perfect buyer for a painting might not surface immediately. Often it takes years for an artwork to find its forever home. In the meantime, it is easy for us as creators to feel doubt and insecurity creep in, regardless of the quality of the work, or how we viewed it when we first completed it.
This can be one of the most difficult parts of being an artist: being an objective viewer of one’s own work. Where does it fit within the body of work? Which opinions or critiques does one listen to? Ultimately, the artist must listen to their own instincts most strongly.
I’ll leave you with the words of Honore’ de Balzac:
“All happiness depends on courage and work.”
Why do I say Hooray? Well, first of all, I still love the paintings. I still feel confident about the work, regardless of the fact that one person did not think it stacked up to the competition in this particular show. I’m still pleasing the most important person: myself.
Secondly, I’m happy that I took the risk of being rejected and put my work out there for competition. I think you must have a certain number of failures in order to find success. So really, this particular failure is just putting me one step closer to success. I can now analyze the works that were chosen for the show, think about why my paintings weren’t chosen and learn.
“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide
Thirdly, I am able to see the big picture. I have had quite a few sales and acceptances this year, and this rejection puts me at about a 50% success rate. I think that is pretty good. Of course I’d rather be announcing that my work got in, but you can’t expect to get into every show. I’m only sharing this ‘rejection’ to keep it real.
Artists do face a certain amount of rejection and discouragement if they are actively showing. In this day and age of ‘sharing’ on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. there can be a real danger of projecting the image of perfection. If I only share the good news, perhaps you would think that I only receive good news! Not true…
Finally, I’m more motivated than ever to get into the studio and make the next, better painting.
If you’ve faced a rejection lately, what has helped you overcome it?
Have you ever wondered what to say to an artist friend when you are viewing their work? You don’t want to embarrass them or yourself by saying something awkward. Recently, a family member paid me one of the highest compliments, without even knowing it. I decided to give you, my readers, the inside skinny on some swoon-worthy words to lay on your Artist buddies.
try these compliments:
I’ve never seen anything like it.
Your work reminds me a little bit of _________________ (name a famous artist – but NOT Thomas Kincaid.)
You are really hitting your stride.
My friend/co-worker should really see this.
I recognized it as your work immediately.
I have the perfect place to display this! (Gets out Checkbook)
I saved the best for last: It makes me feel ____________ (fill in the blank.)
Asking specific questions about the work can be another way to let your friend know you’re interested in the work. Here are some examples:
* What inspired this work?
* Do you have a favorite area?
* How does this work compare to the last one?
My family member casually brought up an unexpected experience with my art. She was at a large group show, and came upon one of my paintings. She said, she thought to herself, “That looks like Ruth’s work.” And lo and behold, it was!
Why is this such a wonderful compliment for an artist? Well, we artists are always trying to create something new and original. We want our work to communicate a unique message and to stand out, and stand alone. However, we also want our work to be recognized as ours.
When someone says that they recognize a work as uniquely yours, it tells you as the artist that you have a recognizable vocabulary. Even though the painting does not look like your other paintings, the viewer can see your marks or color or design as yours alone.
This kind of compliment also tells you that the viewer is really paying attention to your work as a whole, and responding to it. The viewer has internalized your work to a point that they recognize other work that you’ve made.
“Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud. Any of us will put out more and better ideas if our efforts are appreciated.” -Alexander Osborn
Even if you’re not familiar with the artist’s other work, telling them how the work makes you feel or what it brings to mind is another way to let them know you’re really enjoying it. After all, each artist puts so much of themselves into their work, they deserve a little bit of time and attention.
what not to say…
Here are a few things that artists often hear that are NOT complimentary or helpful:
My Grandmother (daughter, aunt, etc.) is a painter too.
That curved area near the bottom looks like a whale (or horse or dog…etc.) to me. (regarding an abstract work)
Oh, are you still painting (drawing, sculpting, etc.)? Yes! Are you still practicing medicine?
How long did that take you?
For a few more, read this article on Huffington Post. I hope this insider’s guide has helped you to understand how to communicate more positively with your favorite artist! Leave me a comment and let me know: What’s the best/worst thing you’ve heard or said about someone’s art?
View some of my artwork: Click the image below to check out my galleries!
Yesterday I spent time in the studio preparing my painting, ‘Vessel,’ for the Watercolor West’s 46th International Transparent Watercolor Exhibition. You may remember this painting from the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s Fall exhibition in Bandon, Oregon, or the traveling show of award winners that toured the state in 2013.
I am honored that juror Judy Morris included it in this International Exhibition. This is my second inclusion in the show. Looking at the list of accepted artists is like reading the Who’s Who of Watercolor artists in the United States. While the last painting I posted, “Coming Through the Rye,” was not accepted to the NWS Open show, this acceptance somewhat makes up for it. I hope my painting arrives safely in Brea!
The show will run October 11 – December 14, 2014 at the Brea Civic and Cultural Center, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea, CA 92821. Awards will be announced at the Artists’ Reception, October 11, 5-7 p.m.