Sunday, August 5, 2007

Perpetual Motion

Yesterday, Amy Crawley and I went up to the New Hampshire Craftsman's Guild Show in Sunapee, NH. There were many of the same artists we see each year, but there was plenty of new work from some of those artists. The one that stuck in my head as we drove away, and was still in my head this morning was the new work by Kathleen Dustin. It is not on her website yet, so unless you can get up to the show, you will have to wait till sometime later this month to see this work. But be prepared to be wowed.

Kathleen Dustin has been one of the leading artist in the medium of polymer clay. And she just amazes me with how she continues to explore and innovate. She is still making purses and jewelry, but none looked the same as what she was making four years ago when I first saw her work in person. There are still purses with woman's faces, but they have a fresh interpretation. And there is so much more.

I am so inspired by this continual spiral of creativity. Her work is not static. There was a definite excitement and energy in her booth. She was excited to share the work and talk about it. Another bonus, as she observed...people will come to realize that they can not wait forever to get the piece they fall in love with. It will not be there forever. As artists and business people, we all need that extra push sometimes, to move someone from loving a piece to buying a piece. Kathleen is not just a very talented artist, she is a savvy business woman.

It made me think about artists who have seemingly built a box for themselves. It is possible to make this kind of innovation difficult or impossible if you start to define your work and your vision too tightly. I have heard people say that if an artist is wandering at all from their vision it reflects an amateurish approach to their art. That desire to play around is the sign of a hobbyist. If you subscribe to this, where is there room to stretch your creative muscle? Where is there room to react to whatever gets your brain churning in one direction or another? Consistency is important to establishing a recognizable look or style. But feeling like you have to stay married to that look or style forever forward, is not going to feed your muse, or fill your bank account. Most people change and grow in their lifetimes. Artists must keep this vitality in their work to keep themselves, and their audience engaged. Otherwise the scenario can play out like this....

"Oooohhh! I love your work. I haven't seen anything like it!" This may or may not be followed by a purchase.

The next year they may bring along a friend and point out your work to them. Talking about how much they like it, noticing details. But it may be more like visiting a museum than a store. Going back to see the exhibit.

After three or four years of this, all but the most die hard fans will likely pass your booth by with just a glance.

Unless, there is new work for them to see.

Our audience wants to connect with our work, but they also want that excitement of what is new. What have you done lately. Creativity is about energy. Designs from five years ago do not inspire or excite. And they do not get purchased.

Now before you panic, this does not mean reinvent yourself every year. Change can be incremental. Pinging from one media to another, or complete shifts in designs too frequently may raise questions about whether or not you have figured out what you want to do or say yet. But don't avoid change either. Craft has an element of fashion to it. Most of us do not change our entire wardrobe every year. But we do like to have a few new pieces. A few things that will invigorate our wardrobe. The few pieces a craft buyer will purchase in a year are likely ones that create that rush of excitement. The piece that stirs up the discussion in their head about how they can rationalize this purchase. Purchases of craft are made as much with emotion as with money.

Another permission slip. You have room to play, to explore, to check out those ideas that have entered your consciousness. Staying with a "look" is not always about maturing as an artist. Sometimes it is the death of the artist. Excite yourself, and see if it doesn't excite your customers as well.


Libby said...

Great post Judy! I think Kathleen Dustin is particularly amazing because she has reinvented her focus many times. Each time builds on the previous work, but seems entirely new and fresh. It's truly inspiring. There's a huge difference betwen that kind of evolution in art and the tendency of some artists (myself included) to flit from material to material.

Judy said...

Thank you for the comment Libby...don't be so harsh on your own path. The experience with different media can bring just what you need at some point when the inspiration flashes. I used to want to fast forward and see where all this exploration would get me. Now I am determined to just try and enjoy the ride as much as possible. Kathleen may be on a high speed train compared to the rest of us, but we can all be inspired by the motion.

artandtea said...

Hi Judy, Thanks for sharing your experience of the show. It sounds like there was a lot there to enjoy and be inspired by. Your words about the evolution and continuity of Kathleen Dustin's work inspired me. One of these days I would love to take a workshop with her. I hear it's a great experience.
Like Libby, I can feel the tendency in myself to flit from material to material. There is so much to play with and I want to experience as much as I can. But, lately, I have been asking myself and exploring what is it exactly that I want to say in my work beyond "see all of these pretty materials and how they go together in a pleasing design". Playing is very important as is connecting with who you are and what you want to say in that play. -Karen