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How to Support or Not Yourself as an Artist

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How to Support or Not Yourself as an Artist

While in art school I wanted to be a college art teacher. Life path and ambition took me in an apparent other direction. Still I always loved the exchanges in advanced painting classes at UC Berkeley where students would put their work up and we - students and teachers - would all analyze it, the infamous‘crit’ (for those that didn’t go to art school, that stands for critique). These were known to be brutally honest and thoughtful dialogues, to the point where everything was examined with scrutiny, like subject treatment scale texture psychological meaning relevance, and so on. Some found these quite disruptive and painful, others gained insight, sometimes both. I loved and thrived in that environment, and took for granted that when I got my MFA I would find employment in kind. Well, mostly you can only take for granted breathing and getting hungry every day, and sometimes not even the latter.

My career trajectory has gone like this: temping on wall street - carpentry - selling paintings - designing and selling streetwear and skateboards - selling paintings - designing websites / working for dot coms - selling paintings - designing clothing / websites - selling paintings.  What can be gleaned from this?

I got a facial, the first of my life, a few weeks ago, one of those up to the moment facial treatments where it’s actually quite psychologically probing - for real - and I came out of it like having taken a tropical vacation that was cut in half, and I was depressed and just felt I’ve been going in the wrong direction, and even if making a career as an artist has been extremely difficult, I needed to get back on my path, get grounded and align myself, I needed to work in the arena of the art world, even if it is one of my own creating. As there are many art worlds, but the only clear way to make a living as an artist without teaching is to get famous. The cliche is true. Absorbing the American myth is true. Who would think the purist goals of an artist could be tarnished by such crass desires? Yet, most artists feel entitled and expect to become famous. Such is the nature of an artist’s inner voice so profound is their connection to their process. Ego / entitlement, it doesn’t matter, for when the work is done it will have a life of it’s own. Although the artist’s promotion skills can have a lot to do with that life, whether it sits in the studio gathering dust or is allowed to see the light of day. The tireless promoter hat is another accessory an artist must wear.

'yo mommy'

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Mask!

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Mask!

This painting just found a home in NYC! It is from my current period, and I once described it in artspeak to a gallerist like this:  “This painting, in a sense, is an abstracted metaphor about shifting personas everyone has, and which we choose to present to the world. It is deeply nuanced with rich textures and atmospheric layers of paint.  In many areas, the morphing concentric circles made out of gels are transparent and reveal visual information like looking through a tidepool.  This piece has a strong visual and conceptual impact.”

A funny story about Mask!, it had been on display at my old clothing company’s showroom and an even larger painting hanging above it fell on it and caused an expressive red streak from the chin diagonally down through the hip. From the front it looked deliberate, but from the back it looked as if someone gashed it with the claw end of a hammer. Really violent looking, like a violation. So this brought to mind two things. One is the role gravity plays in my work. A lot of my ground building work (ground in painting parlance means the ‘background’ or surface or underpainting you are prepping to work upon) involves gravity - natural processes - in the sense I apply lots of thin layers of paint and observe and adjust how they drip and interact. So a painting of mine that falls and scars another one didn’t upset me, particularly because it looked good.

The second thing it brought to mind was the violence of the gesture in relation to the figure in the painting.  The red streak aligns with the gravity process, and maybe the violence finds its own alignment too, but not with process but subject. Someone said Isn’t that misogynistic, putting that [textured concentric circles] over the face? I said No it’s a mask, but to them it wasn’t, it was a defacement (no pun intended), an erasure, an insult. Pushing further, the painting was seemingly attacked (albeit by another painting)! Other comments that have come up involve exoticism and fashion, al la Gustav Klimt. Opened ended reads - the power of art is a magical thing, and the converse.

'Mask'

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Intro

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Intro

This is an age it appears where everyone is a writer, videographer, photographer, and commentator. Because the tools are there, does that mean we just become these pursuits if we use them? Like every child is an artist because they draw without hesitation or inhibition? So it seems I’ve become a writer in the DIY flavor of the day.  However, what can be more apt for an artist - a painter - with opinions and a dedicated practiceand access to the internet? If you build it they will come (as long as you stoke the coals), so to say.

These days it makes sense to be a DIYer, especially if you can monetize it.  For example, say I got 40,000 likes on FB and every time I recommended a brush and provided an Amazon link I would get 2% of every purchase or somesuch. A fine artist’s dream! The passive income stream! However, this would also mean my art / writing would have to be extremely popular, along the lines of Bansky and other stellar luminaries. As a fine artist flying stealth underneath the radar - and not a graffiti nor video artist - the net’s the best art delivery system, even though the reproductions don’t show scale, texture, or presence.

So here I go!  Social media skills must be engaged! Tags must be added (and I don’t mean graffiti tags!).  Friends must be asked to like and follow me! Hah, the presumptions! Email lists must be broadened and thickened to add to the social mix. And let’s not forget targeting the people we want to entice with our delicacies. Nor neglect to add assorted delicious media rich servings of videos and soundtracks. Yum. 

An artist without means must be many things indeed.  What isolated studio practice?  Invite the world in!, because the NSA and Google know what’s going on anyway…..But we must expect to start slow and build.  And not get discouraged.  Ah, the artist’s life.  Without the institutional support of universities, galleries and museums, one must act alone, the solitary trigger on a mission.

Please enjoy these photos and explanations of my art, opinions, and observations. If not edifying then I at least hope you’ll find them diverting.

- steve sas schwartz, 2014

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Architect Neil Denari Installation Shot

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Architect Neil Denari Installation Shot

Here are some shots of my exhibit at The Lowe Gallery in Santa Monica, 2008. The architect Neil Denari is featured in this portrait.

'neil denari', mixed-media, ©2005

'neil denari', mixed-media, ©2005

an installation shot of 'treewalker' ©2007

an installation shot of 'treewalker' ©2007

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"Motherlode" Used As Book Cover For Russian Lover

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"Motherlode" Used As Book Cover For Russian Lover

Author Jana Martin selected 'Motherlode' - a real powerful early white painting - to be use as the cover for her collection of short stories titled "Russian Lover".

ere's how they interpreted the painting for the cover.

And here's the original painting. The panel on the left is in relief, with a lot of nuanced white on white brush action.

And here's the original painting. The panel on the left is in relief, with a lot of nuanced white on white brush action.

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