Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Review: Connecting through art

Time to Move On
The young, Mexican man stared at “Time to Move On” for a long time, long enough that I thought he might have a question. I floundered around in Spanish for a few moments before he quietly replied in English. He repeated the question above the image twice because it was written in both languages … Time to move on … from what? … to what?

Searching for conversation, I explained that one section of the image was from Oaxaca … the massive buildings and the parades that turned the walking streets into rivers of people … and the egret was from here, at the lake. I was surprised when, after many more quiet moments of staring, he asked about buying it and said he had to make a call because she had the money. She apparently wasn’t home and as he was leaving, I asked his name: Roberto.

It was my initial conversation in the opening of Ajijic’s first digital art show: four artists with very different styles working in an arena that a lot of people don’t understand. “What is digital art?” was a common question.
Digital art is art made with electronic tools … cameras, Photoshop, Painter and other software. It can be super-realistic or wildly abstract. Digital art is not a style … it’s a way of making an image, sometimes starting with photos or scans, sometimes “painted" on the screen with a stylus or mouse, sometimes feeding algorithms into a software program. Like acrylics, oils, watercolors or pastels, “digital” is simply a media.
The underlying question of "Why?"

Recently, in one of those trying-to-figure-out-who-I-am exercises, I was searching for the underlying reason of why I make art. Below the sheer joy of putting images together to see what comes forth, I wanted to understand what my purpose was in making art and why I seemed to be drawn to putting it out into the world. Why wasn’t it enough to just make it and let it sit in the electronic attic of my computer?

I’ve now been in enough galleries and shows to understand how hard it is to sell art … especially wall art. I’m not particularly driven to do the work necessary to become a commercially viable artist. And, yet, having my work seen is important to me. It’s a part of being visible in the world. 

In my exploration of “why,” the word “connection" appeared over and over. Eventually I realized that making art is how I connect to myself and to the world around me. It helps me see what I wouldn't see just walking through my life. And, putting it out to be seen is an act of courage, of being vulnerable, being open to rejection, indifference … or connection. It’s a fragile tendril stretching toward the warmth and light of personal engagement.

Beyond the Boundaries
It became clear that connection is my “why.” To build that into my art and the digital art show, I adopted the tagline, Connecting through art, and devoted part of my wall to questions. People were invited to put their thoughts and answers on the board around the image (push pins, sticky notes, and pens provided). Not everyone did, of course, but some folks did, and some deeper conversations were prompted. 

At the end of the opening, my friend Marge had sold one of her paintings. I had sold none. In a judged show which opened at the same time, I received no awards from the judges. As much as I had armed myself for disappointment, I felt deflated, defeated. I had put my best foot forward and the Universe neither clapped nor showered me with fortune or fame. Afterwards, in the solitude of my apartment, I wanted to pull up the covers and quit.

Fortunately, morning came and I remembered Roberto and those silent moments when we had both stood staring at an image that had come from within me. In those moments, we were connected. I remembered that my “why” was not about sales or ribbons; it was about recognizing my connection to myself and to the Universe. Quitting would mean giving up a piece of myself and all those possible connections that might be sparked by my images.

Scientists have recently discovered cave art, done by Neanderthals 65,000 years ago. We may not know exactly why they made their art, but it seems obvious that they weren't doing it for money or ribbons, so perhaps I'm in good company ... or maybe, I need to find a friendly cave.

P.S. After I write about something, I like to see what others say. In this case, I found an article from Greater Good Magazine: "Why we make art."

There I found a statement by Harrell Fletcher which could be an intention statement for me ... as a matter of fact it is going to be my intention statement for 2018:
So back to the question why I make art. In my case, the projects that I do allow me to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet, travel to places I wouldn’t normally go to, learn about subjects that I didn’t know I would be interested in, and sometimes even help people out in small ways that make me feel good. I like to say that what I’m after is to have an interesting life, and doing the work that I do as an artist helps me achieve that.
Harrell Fletcher teaches in the art department at Portland State University. He has exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Berkeley Art Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park in New York, and in numerous other museums and galleries around the world. In 2002, Fletcher started Learning To Love You More, a participatory website with Miranda July, which they turned into a book, published in 2007. Fletcher is the recipient of the 2005 Alpert Award in Visual Arts.


  1. Joyce,
    I'm so glad you're my friend! Great post! I really like your pictures! They are wonderful! As for selling pictures - you are in great company! The most brilliant artists, who have embraced new ways of making art and thinking about art, have often not sold as well initially but they are the artists who, in the end, make a difference in the world - and they are the artists people remember!

  2. ..."so perhaps I'm in good company ... or maybe, I need to find a friendly cave..." Quintessential Joyce Wycoff insight-plus-funny! I'm so sorry I missed the opening. I completely spaced it as I was unpacking at my my place. The sticky notes comments and questions sounds fabulous.