Artistic Failure and the Dangers of Branding

Ikebana, Suzanne Edminster, gold metal leaf and acrylic on canvas, 15″ x 30″. This painting was part of a failed attempt to get into a local gallery.

I was going to write a completely different blog today.  But so many of my friends in the artistic community failed to get juried into our 2018 juried open studio tour, Sonoma County Art Trails,  that I wanted to bring up the topic of failure and the dangers of branding.

All four that I know are fine artists, with established reputations, patrons, and studios.  Also, coincidentally,  all are abstract artists or work outside traditional genre lines, and all are women.

In America, we have a fetish for success.  Our success-lust — there should be a word in German for this and there is, “Erfolgswunsch,”– leads us down many dark and sterile ways.  Our movies worship the thought that if one works hard enough, makes enough sacrifices, you too can SUCCEED!   There are genres of treacly, inspirational songs devoted to this notion.  We Americans are suckers for this one.  It has invaded our churches as prosperity theology, the notion that even God wants us to succeed at everything. God wants us to market ourselves.

In this spin,  the accusation is that if you have failed, you have simply not tried enough.  You need to try again. And again.  Apply to Art Trails again.  Get in those ten thousand hours, loser.  (Though those four women painters I mentioned already have put in their time to their art.)  We need to re-examine our blind adherence to the try, try again philosophy.  Tenacity is good. But what does it serve?

The American dream of success promotes guilt, and it promotes throwing a lot of time and money out to enter the palace of fame and fortune.   It promotes buying advice and spending more money to find out how you can get into the Academy, the gallery, the open studios tour– spend year after year applying and paying the fees to apply.  Take marketing classes. Give money to get online courses and gurus. Brand yourself, baby.

Goose game, Akua soy ink on paper, a failed monoprint.

Part of the current propaganda of Succeeding  is “branding.”  My own connotations with the world are of pain, burning, slavery,  hot iron and screaming calves, and ownership of cattle and humans.  Branding involves creating a consistent image and not deviating from it.  This means failure to conform to your own brand— say, an abstract painter deviates and paints vineyard landscapes– means that you have failed your brand.  It is a failure within a failure, a double failure, failure squared.  Loser!

The problem is that in avoiding losing, in identifying with our own brand, we lose the chance for personal growth.  Milton Glaser, in the video below, voices what artists have always known.  It is a seven-minute video and worth your time.   It’s also worthwhile using the link to his website, above, and taking a look at the series of his own quotes in the header.  It’s no coincidence that in discussing failure, he brings up branding as an issue.

Success, or personal growth?  Milton Glaser managed both, an enviable trick.  But difficult.   I think everyone really needs to discover their own way through, and that takes reflection,  and failure, not wholesale adoption of the images of celebrity and success our society promotes.   The internet provides ways of crafting an individualized success that did not exist when I was a kid back in the the 1960’s.   We only had print materials and TV.

I had a childhood memory of the show Branded,  the 1965-66 show starring Chuck Connors.  The theme song seems, well, branded into my brain.  It is a very scary theme song and image, showing a man stripped of all his honors, his good name, his sword,  and his regimental family, cast out due to apparent desertion of his comrades.  In fact, he is literally “drummed out” of the Cavalry, to the sound of military drums in the background.

The very last line of the song in the video below expresses my feelings about branding.  Remember listening to those TV theme songs and trying to understand every word?  In the last seconds of the final credits of Branded, we hear:

Branded! That’s not a way to die… what do you do when you’re branded, when you live with a lie?

Enjoy the video below.  I chose a black and white version,  the way I originally saw it.   Suzanne

Thanks to Austin Kleon for his incisive thoughts and for providing the Milton Glaser video.

And check out my summer painting classes at LocalsCreate, a new art venue in Geyserville.  Metaphoracards is really fun and coming right up on May 29. I need two more people… if you are the first two to  sign up online and email me about it,  I’ll give you a free copy of Salt Licks and Bad Birds, my book. Just remind me about the book as I’m only offering it here in my blog.  I’m teaching a 3 week series  Wednesdays in June and July on abstract painting and a wild little class called Dream Figure Intuitive Painting  on June 16. Email me at saltworkstudio@gmail.com with any questions.

 

How to Use Gold Metal Leaf in Abstract Painting, Part 1

Abstract Paintings with Gold Metal Leaf – Suzanne Edminster

Gold leaf always seems so complicated.  It makes us think of old masterpieces and secret processes.  How can you use  gold metal leaf in intuitive,  contemporary abstract painting?

  1. Prep the canvas first.  I like to use gesso and modeling paste.  Build a few bumps and ridges into the canvas.  This will make the gold metal leaf have interesting texture when you apply it later. Then drip on a few interesting colors in light, abstract washes. You can use Golden liquid paints.  Remember that you are not planning too much.  In intuitive art, the painting will form itself from the media. You will get ideas as you go along. Let the  layers dry.  You can see an example with texture under the leaf here.

    Detail of Danae by Suzanne Edminster. Note the different kinds of texture under the gold areas.
  2. Let the gold metal leaf tear into large and small forms.  Don’t try to control the shapes: that’s part of the process! Then use regular waxed paper from a household roll to pick up the “broken” pieces.
  3. Apply the gold metal leaf first or in the under layers of the painting.   I use  a Minwax acrylic deck varnish from the hardware store.  I brush it on, let it dry a minute so that it is neither wet nor completely dry, then apply the gold leaf.  Let each random fall of the leaf lead you to decisions on where to place the next layer.  Press the waxed paper to make the leaf adhere.

Now you have the start of a very interesting abstract painting!

But how do you integrate the gold leaf and make it a finished painting?

I will write more on the process next month.  I don’t believe in “trade secrets” in painting anyway.  I will always reveal media and techniques– because your painting process and finished work won’t be like mine anyway!

I am hosting a class in my Santa Rosa, California studio this month.  You can find the listing for Abstracts with Gold Metal Leaf here on my website.  Please scroll down.   Gleam on!   Suzanne

2013: New Saltworkstudio, New Classes starting January 27, and a New Start

Hubbub club in studio

A big tuba shout out to you, friends, readers, and painters, for 2013!  The Hubbub Club drove out all the creative heebie-jeebies during my new studio warming in the Uribe Gallery in the SOFA  arts district in Santa Rosa during Winterblast 2012.  It reminded me of the ruckus of a shivaree, and felt like an early New Year’s Eve party.  Thanks to all my friends who came bearing gifts, good wishes, and their presence to the new incarnation of Saltworkstudio.

How to begin?  I’ve been creating in fits and starts.  I like this time of year for brainstorming and planting seeds. In 2013 I’m thinking of the Caerus Artist Residency,  my studio classes, gallery shows, and more large mythological paintings.  What’s on your docket?

In 2013, there are a lot of open studio doors, more than usual.  I’m looking forward to showing regularly during Third Thursdays and the SOFA Strolls starting Thursday,  January 17, 6-8 PM.  These are fun, informal drop-in open studios, where you can wander around SOFA, catch up with friends, get a snack.

Sofa Stroll Poster

Come on over to my studio and visit.  I have a biiiiiig SOFA sofa to lounge on.

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On January 27 my Sunday Studio painting classes begin.  You can take all 3 monthly Sunday Studios for $150 if you register in advance.  I’m also doing a Spontaneous Construction  whole-weekend intensive class in April, for the springtime.  In the new neighborhood it will be easy to get a lunch out or stroll in the park between paintings. There’s room in the classes right now- send in the registration form or contact me to sign up.

On a personal note, it’s fun but challenging to be open so much.  It requires an open heart and the ability to go with the flow.  My introverted self squirms a bit. I just want to hide in the woods with my deer antlers.

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Antlers, because they are created and shed annually, are a symbol of renewal. I wish the best to you in your renewal  for the New Year.