Sunday, 26 January 2014

Collaboration is in the Air

Has anyone else noticed?  Collaboration is one of the new buzzwords in both the arts and business worlds.  It is a rare instance when we really accomplish anything by ourselves. Although in the self-employed sphere it often feels that way because we are forced to wear so many hats.  We don't get the luxury of saying, "that's not my job".  Faced with a shortage of financial, human, and even inspiration resources, the solution seems to be:  collaborate.

Collaboration is usually based on the principle of each player bringing a mutually exclusive skill to the table.  It is not unusual for example, to find potters, sometimes life partners, who divide labour according to skills such as throwing, decorating, and firing and let's not forget marketing, promotion and retailing.  Often one partner prefers the isolation of the studio and technical challenges to the social world of networking and people.  I have said of Lucky Rabbit Pottery that each does what the other cannot.  I have marvelled over how little husband and wife Ray Mackie and Debra Kuzyk talk during their working hours.  We have even joked that may be the secret to their success (and how few arguments they have).

This February 1st, collaboration will cross generations in the instance of potters Isabella St. John and her niece Erin Callahan St. John.  I am looking forward tomorrow to getting an up close look at the pottery they have created in collaboration.  (Yes, I am lucky I get a preview.) Their shared inspiration has been the bird population in the Battery of St. John's Harbour, which is the world outside the window of their studio in Blue Moon Pottery.

This is from Culture Hall and shows Robyn collaborating with a member of the public.  The piece, SpinCycle, was presented at The Brooklyn Museum.

Robyn Love, a textile artist who divides her time between New York and Newfoundland often harnesses wider or less controlled sources of collaboration.  Volunteers, members of the public and social groups help her create installations such as the Knitted Mile.  Check out her latest presence on an interesting new curated

 Artist co-operatives are a form of collaboration that intrigue me because they come up with cutting edge art that might take years to percolate through to the exhibition calendars of conventional institutions.  Co-ops are not usually hamstrung by naysayers or bureaucracy.  I love them for their excitement and can-do attitudes; the creativity and fun does not get strangled by laws and concerns about liability.  

I admit that in these sentiments I am betraying myself and my affection for the days of Gertrude Stein and Picasso.  If we could only recreate a little of the creative and intellectual energy that must have animated the exchanges between the minds at Stein's artistic and literary salons!  There's a neat little video on that might help inspire you.

"Gertrude Stein," The Biography Channel website, (accessed Jan 26, 2014).

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Learning from the word NO

Nicola working on one of huge pieces in her Junkosphere show at The Rooms.

I learn more from rejection than acceptance and it is a lesson that I think worth sharing.  When I was pitching Nicola Hawkins' show to art magazines I was first turned down by C magazine.  As a rule of thumb, I respect an editor's decision not because they know art better than I do (I will argue that one case by case) but because they know their audience or readership better than I do.  Where it becomes useful is in the reason they give me. 

In the case of Nicola's show at The Rooms, it was the perception of her decorative impulse and more specifically in its designerly aspect.  What the editor said was true Hawkin's did create like a designer. There was an aspect of resolution that masked her content.  Thinking about that I knew which magazine to pitch it to next.  The rejection was useful.  We even ended up on the cover of Studio magazine, which was unusual for a review article.  That prime real estate would normally be reserved for a feature article.

Now, in terms of the tattoo project, the first gallery I proposed it to was Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's.  We got turned down.  Ned Pratt, whose photographs are the centrepiece of this exhibit of portraits, said wisely, "It is better to be turned down in the beginning rather than in the end."  I took his meaning to be that in the beginning you can still revise or renavigate.

In the case of More Than Skin Deep, which is what I called the tattoo project, the rejection and the one after it, helped me focus on what was important about the project.  Intuitively, I knew these things but the rejections brought them to the surface.  Eastern Edge told me that it wasn't advancing the practice of photography.  I took that to mean it was not "edgy" enough.  And I agreed all around.  The show is not trying to be avante garde.  The photography style is deliberately documentary because (and this is my opinion) that is what is needed. 
No, this is not one of our images.  Is a face tattoo a life-sentence?  Well, that's open to interpretation.
that  the show would be anti climatic given other body centred work they had shown.  It is true.  Our show is not sensationalistic.  We are not going for shock value.  No cheese cake photos of inked women, no side show freak guys, no one doing rude things to each other's bodies.  This is a show about respect.  It is about listening and documenting people's stories:  why they picked those images to be tattooed on their skin, why they wanted to spend the rest of their lives marked thusly.  It is showing the nuance, the dimension and the variety of tattoo culture.  I was really floored when the last comment I got on a tattoo illustration was about how tattooed people were more likely to end up in a prison.  Excuse me?  As much as I disagree with this cliched response I would be foolish to ignore it.  This is an occasion to rewrite, revise and rethink.  If I want to succeed I need to understand why I fail. Oh and the tattoo project was accepted by two other galleries– after a custom tailored proposal.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

WANTED: New Art Critics, New Blood for an Endangered Species.

I often joke that the only people who make less money than artists are those who write about them.  And if those writers are the specialists who interpret art critically, as opposed to those who generate the human-interest stories, that group gets even smaller and less well paid.  The exception would be the academics that regard critical writing as part of their practice.

One of the reasons why critical writing is so unprofitable is if done conscientiously it is labour intensive.  There is a lot more involved than simply going to an exhibition, making notes and drafting an article.  Knowledge of the issues that are relevant to the exhibition, familiarity with the artist's prior work, whose work to compare or contrast it with, and more is involved.  And then of course you have the writing, revisions and sometimes rewriting.

Kailey Bryan is bringing new energy and perspective to St. John's.  I reviewed her recent Rogue Gallery show for the upcoming issue of C magazine.

Reviews seem to come and go out of fashion.  They were once the mainstay of newspaper entertainment pages and art magazines.  Reviews could be favorable or negative.  The problem was that those same publications were often dependent upon the advertising revenues of the galleries whose exhibitions might get panned.  For a while they seemed to be replaced by human-interest type articles that focused more on how blue the artist's eyes were or where they grew up than the art they created.  Magazines ran shorter and shorter reviews and tried to include more.  One of the drawbacks was that reviews had a perceived shelf-life or stale-date, which was not conducive to seasonal publications.

C magazine is, in my opinion, the best magazine to publish critical writing about art practice and exhibitions in Canada.  It is lively, informed but not too jargon laden.  It uses interns and assistants to help writers develop their ideas and arguments and fact check.  I recommend them to anyone interested in critical writing.

And they are hosting an annual competition with a cash prize and an opportunity to publish!

The C New Critics Competition is designed to help develop and promote the work of emerging art critics. Writers must submit a review of an exhibition, performance, or site-specific intervention, between 800 and 1,000 words in length, by Friday April 11, 2014.

The jury for the award includes Amish Morrell, editor of C Magazine.

The winner will receive $500, editorial support in order to prepare their article for publication in C Magazine, and a two-year subscription to C.

All participants will receive a one year subscription to C Magazine.

Participants are not restricted by age or citizenship. To be eligible, writers must have published no more than two exhibition reviews or one article in a magazine or journal. Writers are not disqualified for having written for personal blogs or student publications. One submission is allowed per person and must be sent as an email attachment, in MS Word to Amish Morrell Mail or fax submissions will not be accepted.

Try this idea:    Are you one of us who has a pile of magazines associated with your art or professional practice that you never get around to reading?  This year a group of us are going to get together on a regular basis.  Each of us will read one magazine or book and tell the others about it.  We can then exchange based on interest.  We are hoping that being responsible to a group and a meeting time will help us focus, save time and money as we share tasks, information and subscriptions.  Not to mention that we get to socialize with liked minded creative types!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Why would you expect a tiger to be a vegetarian? Or Understanding Your Client – Basic lessons in marketing the arts

Want to pump up your success?  You will have to learn some marketing basics.  This image is taken from Google's stock file.

I get called many things in the course of a week; luckily for me most of those names are positive.  I was recently signing a contract that required a title to come after my name, which believe it or not, is always a challenge for me.  Now if you know me, you know it is not because I suffer for a lack of words.  That's not my problem.  My problem is which words to choose.  And I always ask the client, "What do you want me to call myself?"

The client in question, rather tongue in cheek, suggested that I put down "smart person".  Wouldn't you like a nametag with that one?  "Gloria Hickey, Smart Person".   I have another variation on that one: Wise Woman.  And that one came from my aversion to meetings.  I detest long, apparently useless, meetings.  Worse yet are meetings to plan meetings.  I don't know about you but I do my best thinking on my own doing something like staring out the window or walking.  Anyhow, the Wise Woman label fell off my tongue when I was turning down a request to join a committee.  "I do not want to be on your committee," was my response.  And I closed with, "But you are welcome to ask for advice anytime and I will be your wise woman."    This is what is called a "Yes, but…" pattern.  Never disagree with your client at the outset of the relationship.  (Maybe that position should come with special robes like a high priestess.  Sorry, I am having fun.)

Now before you think Gloria is completely off her rocker, let me tell you where this is going.  This is about managing perception through words in order to get what you want.  It is the basis of much marketing and something that we should all learn or be prepared to be very disappointed. Or at least that is my not so humble opinion.

At the heart of this is yet another axiom: stay away from clutter.  If the herd is charging off to one watering hole you have a much better chance of getting a drink if you go to another watering hole.  Years and years ago, I was fundraising with an artist for a major catalogue.  It was something of a disaster area as the gallery had missed the deadline for traditional funding opportunities and we were left to our own devices.  The artist said he had an "in" with the president of Shoppers Drug Mart so off the artist trots to approach this, not insignificant, player in the community.  We get turned down.  Why?  They were awash in requests for money.

Not only was there too much competition, we were out-gunned.  I learned we were coming up against Skate Canada, which was fundraising in the same community.  They had much bigger numbers than we did.  We would have been better off going to a smaller business that got asked less frequently for money. There's another lesson embedded in this example too.

How's this for an example of tailoring the same message for different audiences?

Corporate sponsors look at your attendance figures like the numbers on a profit sheet.  Think of it as a cost/benefit analysis.  "How many consumers does my charitable dollar buy?" or in terms of public relations exposure, "How much ink or air time does my contribution buy?"  Now, right about now you should be saying something like, "And you call this charity?"  My point exactly.  But let me put it to you this way:  why would expect a tiger to be a vegetarian?  Businesses are about profit.  No profit, no business.