PLACES (of the earth & mind)

Art not for commerce


Yesterday, I turned in the final draft of my LL.M. thesis. I returned home not so much relieved (after all, I still have to defend the thing) but just emotionally spent. Why? Well, there's a whole vortex of issues that go into that 103-page, heavily researched pile of massacred trees. And I'm not talking about the comparative analysis of California vs. EU Initiatiave systems (yawn.) I'm talking about the personal reasosn why I did an LL.M. at all, and what that decision has to do with the drawing above.

I could go on for days about my self-diagnosed psychologocal issues and why I did that LL.M., which I will not bore you with here. Let's talk about the drawing instead.

I think creative people need to create to live. I turn into a lump of gray goo when I'm not creating. When I got home from turning in the thesis, I sat like a zombie in my livingroom for a few minutes before telling John "I need to do something visual. Now." Blurry-eyed from too many small-fonted footnotes, I located my box of Prisma colors, which hadn't been used in over 10 years.

So, I have like, over a jillion beads hanging all over the walls of my office, because my chosen "creative outlet" for the last 10 years has been jewelry. But jewelry has always been associated with Jib & Genoa, my jewelry company. I can literally say I sold the first piece of jewerly I ever made. So why is that a problem, you ask? 

Venture back with me bit further. My father and mother have always been entreprenuers. I'm not certain when I first heard someone remark about a piece of art I'd made: "That's really good Jenny, you could sell that," but I know I was pretty young. I don't think my mother was really pushing the capitalist agenda, but I do remember her starting a line of hand-painted porcelain in her shop with a design I'd created at, what, 4? 5 years old? Talk about a confidence builder! Your stuff is good enough that it gets its own little shelf in the shop. Where all the adults can see it.

Here my mother was, pouring her creativity into her porcelain shop and successfully making a living from it. She took pride in every piece she made, and had sincere appreciation everytime someone complimented her work. And here I got to see a little collection of my design (or whatever it could have possibly been, at that age, probably very much guided by her hand). Someone buying your design was the ultimate compliment! So yeah, I got that message before I could tie my shoes: good art sells.

When I started taking metalsmithing at UCSD, my very first piece was this very large, dangerous looking metal tree. I almost cut several apendages off making that tree. I did not even know how to solder jump rings onto it from which to attach a necklace chain. So what did I do when the tree was completed? Did learn everything there was to learn about metalsmithing? Did I study the masters? Did I redo it and redo it until it was perfect? Nope, I took that tree home, built a website around it, and said, yup, I think I'm going to make a jewelry company out of this. And I did. 10 years later that crazy tree is still in production and being copied all over Etsy (to the ire of my Intellectual Property lawyer). So yes, tree=success story.

And yet when I desperately need a creative fix, my jewelry supplies lie dormant. The first thing I rush to when in dire need of visual stimulation: my box of prisma colors. I needed to make something that I didn't stand back from and immediately calculate the wholesale value of. I needed to make art for the sake of art. When you make art for commerce, you are not the only one in that studio. You are surrounded by buyers, retailers, customers, critics, competitors, magazine editors. They are hovering over your bench, smirking and offering opinions, usualy negative. They are guiding your brush strokes, manipulating your color choice. Reigning in your creative expirimentation until it fits snuggly within in the bounds of "Yes, I'd pay money for that."

Making money from art was always the ultimate goal. But in a strange way, having someone pay you for your art turns that art into a widget. How many widgets can I churn out? Where will this widget fit on the market? What's a good price point for this widget? Commerce robbed the fun from jewelry. The compliments and orders give you a high, but the lack of compliments and orders can get into your wiring and deplete you of your true vision.

At any rate, as I crafted the portrait, knowing I was creating it for no one but myself, I happily let the legalese drain from my brain. I could practically feel my heart flutter up out of my chest. It is the first thing I've drawn in over 10 years. And frankly, I don't care what anyone thinks of it. 

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Reader Comments (5)


January 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLJP

Tx, P.

January 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJ.Preston

Jenny...From the first time I met you , more than 9 years ago at my sister's/your best friend's wedding, you and I had an instant sweet connection, shared by our passion for creating, and I was so impressed in your artistic abilities. One of the things that has never left me was YOUR great encouragement of me as an artist. You loved the video and encouraged me to sell them, make a business of it. You were one of the people on my path, one of the voices of encouragement, that eventually led me to taking my creative gift and making a business out of it. White Dove Photography had a little piece of your 'mark of approval' on it. :) So thank you!
Really what I want to say is that your piece above is beautifully written and your drawing above is phenomenal and evokes emotion from the smallest of details, like the light reflection in the eyes. Using the gifts that we are given is one of the callings and lifebeats of every artist. You certainly are so talented and it's beautiful to see you express your abilities simply for the sake of expressing your soul. Great post! Love & Hugs, Michelle xo

January 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Jenny, I love this! your writing-your sentiments-and also the portrait-you are so talented! and you have not lost sight of what art should be all about.. xo, Pat

January 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersabina clarke

I love it! You should check out 'The Artist's Way' if you haven't already ... a lot of us (maybe all of us) have been in the situation you described.

February 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

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