When I was growing up my mother would always remind me to say “thank you” whenever someone complimented me. Actually, it wasn’t so much reminding as it was public nagging—as though it would never occur to me to show gratitude on my own. If I told her of praise I had gotten during the day she would respond with, “Did you remember to say thank you?” and I would always make sure to tell her that I did or else she would insist that I write the unnamed giver of flattery a Thank You note for their kindness.
It was a strange form of social punishment, as there is nothing more embarrassing to an awkward preteen than writing a letter to someone just because they liked your shirt that day. While this resulted in many people receiving bizarre letters in the mail, it fostered an ability to give thanks almost compulsively because my mother could very well be watching. The fear of maternal humiliation wasn’t the only reason these lessons came in handy, though.
I once heard another artist say that “being in the arts is consistently thankless,” and while I understand that this is mostly in regards to money, I still have to respectfully disagree. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted an image to Facebook or hung a show and been completely taken aback by the positive reception I get from people that have been following my work from the beginning and people who have just now discovered it. It’s a whirlwind of appreciation that feels like a big warm hug made out of cotton candy and kind words. I can’t explain it better than that.
It’s true that working in the arts is difficult and there are plenty of pitfalls that can hinder career development (just like in any profession), but regardless we—as artists—are incredibly fortunate to be able to do what we do. I have, thus far, never met an artist who was forced to become an artist under overbearing circumstances; we all chose our paths and we could just as easily be working at Walmart. While we should be paid for the work we make, we should also acknowledge the other forms of appreciation we receive because no one is obligated to care about the projects we take part in.
There is a natural desire to gauge our work’s importance to others solely by how much money we are able to rake in, but financial compensation in any creative endeavor can be rare, so it is imperative to seek value in other forms of gratitude so as to not become bitter. We are consistently surrounded by support, but it’s much easier to be thankful for the value others impart onto you if you first impart value onto yourself. It’s easy to tell when someone doesn’t love, respect and honor himself or herself; if you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to?
So, be extremely thankful for every compliment you receive on every image you post, every viewer who attends an opening, every exhibition you get to be a part of, every costumer who buys a piece, every friend, fan and follower and every human being on this planet who gives you encouragement, wisdom, critique, support, advocacy and shows a positive interest in what you’re doing because they don’t have to, they chose to. They chose you.
That is your appreciation and that is what makes all this hard work all the more worthwhile. That is your thanks.
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Earlier this week, well aware of the subject for this post, I went on an online pilgrimage of sorts. In 2005 the television network VH1 was host to a three-part miniseries titled Ego Trip’s Race-O-Rama, which satirized racial issues and viewpoints in the media. This was back in the day when VH1 hadn’t yet sold its soul and purged itself of anything that even remotely resembled integrity, and in this case they went above and beyond thought provoking and button-pushing to the extent that the Race-O-Rama miniseries is the only one of VH1’s many popular documentaries that I’ve not been able to track down a version of.
In fact, I think it’s the only one that hasn’t been launched into syndication; it seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. Every year or so I search for this series in the hope that there is someone else out there who, like me, has stumbled upon it within the annals of obscurity and unearthed it to share with the rest of the world. But all I ever find are the show’s many dynamic and stylized graphics; at this point it’s looking very unlikely that I will ever find it.
I was looking for this miniseries to reference one of the episodes in particular titled “In Race We Lust” which held the topic of racial preconceptions and preoccupations in regard to sex, especially inter-racially. While the other two episodes (“Blackaphobia” and “Dude, Where’s My Ghetto Pass”) were, in my mind, mostly played for laughs, “In Race We Lust” confronted the endless conundrum that is the cross-section between sex and race.
Looking back on this miniseries fondly, it suddenly occurred to me why it was so difficult to find. Race-O-Rama addressed racial issues in a way that was fun, funny, engaging, and all-inclusive. There was even a brief segment in which the interviewees were asked to guess the races of popular Sesame Street characters (who knew that Big Bird was a Vietnamese transvestite?). The producers of Race-O-Rama knew that its subject matter would likely offend, but they realized that if they brought everyone in on the joke and made everyone the butt of the joke at the same time that they could get away with addressing topics that leave most dumbfounded. But if that was true, then why can’t I find it anywhere?
Race and sex are still two elements of our culture that, at least in the western world, we’d much rather pretend don’t exist. People will gladly talk about their height, weight, and even their denomination before discussing either race or sex, and when you rub the two together a special kind of controversial magic is sparked. This magic opens a strange little door in the back of our minds that is often filled with stereotypes and fetishes, because as my mother would say, “When something new is brought into the world, the first people to get hold of it are the racists and the pornographers.”
Right now I have work hanging up at the Smitten Kitten for their Black History Month show, and while I’ve received mostly positive reception to my work throughout my life, that same work has also been the cause for me to be called a racist pornographer myself. I wasn’t always able to reconcile that; sometimes when your work confronts an audience in this manner, people lash out even if there is nothing inherently negative about the content of that work.
Maybe this is why I haven’t seen Race-O-Rama in so many years.
Since I want to encourage us to be more positive about race and sex, I interviewed the extremely positive and lovely Smitten Kitten curator Alicia Steele. You can listen to us talk more about it here.
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This Tumblr features the work of illustration students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
What happened to the inclusion of plants in exhibition spaces? Read more…
Image: 1964 exhibition at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Remember when the Walker had houseplants? Yeah, me either.
Jerome 12/13 fellows and local arts writer Jay Gabler meet at Bockley Gallery to see the work of Lauren Roche.Jay will be penning essays about each fellow for the exhibition catalog that will accompany the fellows’ exhibition at MCAD Gallery in October 2013. Dinner and planning continued at Common Roots. We are on a roll!
The Jerome Artist Fellowship at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is now on Tumblr! Follow them to watch the progress of these talented artists over the course of the year.
Every time a group of artists start a collective I have to admit I get excited. I like being around other artists, especially when we all have a similar interest. I like it so much that I’m quick to forget that despite liking to be social, when it comes to work I’m a creature of solitude. I can play well with others just fine, but working with them is a little more difficult. It’s hard for me to focus on work and socializing at the same time, so I end up having to do them both separately.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of successful artist collectives that have been around for decades, even centuries, I just can’t work that way. I know that all collectives have different values and comprise different elements that help them function well in the art world. No one collective is the same and any one organization can experience multiple changes over time. There will be new collectives that will crop up here and there, some of them may work and some may not. I even planned to start a collective with a friend once (however, we came up with this idea while we were high, which should give you some idea of its shelf life). Personally, being in a collective makes me feel like I’ve lost purpose, but what has actually happened is that my purpose becomes intertwined within the purpose of other; I lose myself within the group.
I really do like the idea of getting together with other artists and getting some work done, but a collective isn’t something you can dive into head first because you just want to have fun making art. As awesome as art is when it’s your profession if you’re in a collective it’s also the profession of others. It’s important to respect the fact that when you’re working within a group that it isn’t just about you, it’s about everyone. Artists can be very solipsistic; we have a tendency to forget that there are other people in the world doing things that are just a valuable as what we’re doing. When you’re working in a group you have a responsibility to contribute the best of your abilities to that group and its function. You don’t just have your career to worry about when you’re in a collective because it’s all for one and one for all; if one of you falls then the rest feel the impact.
You have to be careful when you attach yourself to something because it’s not only a sign that you’ve committed but that you’ve also contributed, meaning that you take partial responsibility for what the group puts out into the world. It’s also important to assess the values of the collective you’re joining; if you don’t agree with the way they operate or the way they treat you than leave or don’t join at all. Don’t let the possibility of recognition or awkward peer pressure make you feel like you have to work in a way that makes you uncomfortable. I used to think that joining a collective was an easy way to get into more shows, connect with people who could get me into more shows, and further my career. It didn’t take me long to realize that there is no easy way to do that; it’s hard work wall to wall. You just have to put forth the effort and not expect anything to come easily.
We all want to work with people we feel can help us and that we can help in return; people we can collaborate with on projects and work towards a common goal. But once that project is finished I’d like for us to go our separate ways professionally and not marry ourselves to the idea of working together permanently. It gives us the freedom to make moves and decisions without always worrying about how it will affect someone else. Joining an artist collective is cool if that’s what you want to do, but remember that it’s not just your dreams you have at your feet, so please tread softly.
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Art by Paul Rolfes (at Jerabek’s New Bohemian)
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Hairy Maple Seeds, a tiny sculpture by Jim Proctor, will be part of Edge of Camp, an upcoming exhibit at the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis.
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A photograph from Indian First, a new exhibit by Ho-Chunk photographer Tom Jones.
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