Austin and the Dougherty Arts Center

A year ago, or so, I spoke at the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin. Now I really dug my tour of Texas: the Big Hair in Dallas, the Big Cars in Houston, the Alamo in San Antone. But Austin, man that was like coming home, like Berkley or Lawrence or Amherst–except better Tex-Mex.

Toured some studios before the talk, was taken out west to the Hill Country, shown the warehouse district, and inevitably the campus with The Tower, which you can never look at without thinking about that insane day in ’68.

But between the food, the coffee shops, the endless galleries and studios, I fell in love with that town. Now I know why so many people have moved there. Will I too? Naw. This is my home. But I’ll damned sure go back.

Column for Absolute Arts

I wrote another column for Absolute Arts, which as before is generating a fair bit of impassioned response, including a couple of posts from Europe. Well, that always keeps things interesting. The topic this time was on the never-ending mystery of pricing your work.

Memorial Day 2 / D-Day Sculpture / Civilian Dead

Death on Shore, by Jim Brothers

Today at the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia they’ll be dedicating a monument of Eisenhower, by Jim Brothers. I’ve been consulting on this project since 1998; Jim is the figurative sculptor, and did a fantastic job. Some critics, inevitably, complained that the figures were too literal–you know, those guys who aren’t veterans, except of sneering.

I consult on plenty of contemporary/conceptual projects. But when it comes to veterans, I’ll be damned if I’m going to install an avant-garde piece that the majority of them don’t get, and don’t like. It’s insulting to them, and to all they endured. I won’t force that on them just to please a couple of critics–unless the day comes where it’s a natural fit.

Maybe someday there will be a memorial to Civilian Dead as well, since in all of our hideous wars, it is civilians who suffer most, and who constitute the vast majority of losses. Better yet if we can just dispense with war altogether, but I don’t know if that will ever happen in this world. That shouldn’t prevent us from visualizing it though.

Memorial Day 1

There are few places that soothe me like the high prairie. Each spring my sons and I go there to camp, and always they bring friends. What do we find? A small town with an abandoned Art Deco train station, the kind that makes you want to head for Santa Fe. A swimming hole where I’ve taken friends for 30 years, and which is ringed with watercress. A distant spring that you have to hike to, where when you camp at night you can listen to its rush. Endless hills of bluestem prairie.

There’s nothing much to do out there; it’s just a place of quiet and peace. And that’s pretty much the point.

Excerpt from Cool Nation

This is the tenth section from the fourth chapter of the novel. All other excerpts are on the sidebar.

Lives Forming

Cary came home after the Holidays, to try again to make a start and find his place in the world. He took Jackie�s room in Jackie�s absence, living there with his open suitcase and Fantastic Four comics and bottles of Old Spice and Vitalis and Listerine. He arranged his things like he had arranged his room in St. Joe, the hair goop and after-shave intended to give him the appearance of a man, the comics betraying the boy that he was, and would always be.
In the evenings he would sit at the dinner table with us, big like Dad, with a face and eyes like Dad, but nothing like Dad. Quiet, shy, unsure of himself, he would sit there and try to join the conversation. But he didn�t seem to know how, and we didn�t know how to bring him in.
�Well,� Dad would say at last, �you�re looking good.�
Cary would gaze down at his plate, stir his peas around, and say, �Thanks.�
�Have you thought about what you want to do?�
�Not really.� A kid�s smile, a kid�s laugh, then Cary looking up and saying, �I�d kind of like to draw comics. I mean, I think that�d be fun.� Cary had no artistic abilities, not that we knew of anyway, and it was apparent that he didn�t think he would need any.
Dad glanced at Mom, Mom at Dad, then Dad said, �Well, should we go down to the Art Institute and have a look around?�
Again a kid�s smile, a kid�s laugh, then, �Naw. I don�t think so. I wouldn�t fit in there.� And just as quickly as cartooning had come up, it went back down.
Then they�d struggle for something else to talk about.
For awhile Cary tried working at The Place, going out with one of the crews as an installer, working with fiberglass batts all day. But it was miserable work, and the crews were made up of tough, unsympathetic men who didn�t understand Cary�s problems, and didn�t want to. He was ridiculed as the boss�s kid, criticized for being a poor installer, and in general derided in ways that many other young men would have overcome, or seen as a challenge, but which he could not.
In the evenings he would sit with Dad in the living room and read the Star with him, but really not understand it, or the issues in it, or why he should read it instead of the comics he loved. Dad couldn�t understand why anyone who was twenty-two would want to read comics, and could barely tolerate Cary�s poor performance at work, let alone his still living at home. He was losing patience with his eldest son.
Tired of the asylum, tired of Cary going back there, tired of him failing to shoulder responsibility for himself and to simply live, Dad didn�t know what to do with him anymore. He knew Cary was ill, but there were times when he didn�t quite believe it, or didn�t want to, or didn�t want to believe that someone like Cary was actually descended of him�especially after all the things that Jackie had put him through. The whole, long-lived ordeal had begun to wear him out. He wanted Cary to grow up. Cary I�m sure just wanted to be left alone to live in the basement bedroom for the rest of his years.
After he quit The Place Dad told him he would have to move out. Mom said no, he wasn�t ready yet. Dad told her he would have to damned well get ready, because it wasn�t going to do him any good to keep staying at home, and to always have home to fall back on. It was time, he said, that Cary learned to fall back on himself.
In March Dad presented him with the ultimatum: it was time to become a man. I don�t think he put it quite that way, but that was the gist of it, Cary knew it, and I�m sure it scared him.
What, he likely wondered, was a man? A successful guy who smelled of Old Spice and belonged to the country club and had a wife and kids and a large house in the suburbs? Or was it a guy who was tough enough to install fiberglass year after year, saving what he could, not necessarily having a large house but having a house anyway and likely a wife and kids too�as well as a willingness to cold-cock anyone who gave him any shit? Was it the guys in the Marlboro ads? The Budweiser ads? The Van Heusen ads? And if it was them did they also have suicidal depressions? Did they have insects crawling on their arms that were never there? Voices too that were never there, but were? Was it an everyday struggle for them just to get out of bed and face the reject facing them in the mirror? What was a man?
I�m sure he didn�t know. But I�m also sure he thought that every man he met was one, that he would never be one of them, and that he had been excluded from the club. He had known he would be from the beginning. I know he did because when I was a boy I had a good look at that same exclusion, and it terrified me, and I knew I would do whatever it took to avoid that kind of exile. I didn�t necessarily want to belong to the club, I certainly didn�t want someone else�s definition of manhood, but I had to know that I could gain membership if ever I applied, even if I never would. Cary was never able to summon that kind of independence, and Dad, no matter how he tried, could never seem to teach him how to do it.
In March Cary called one of his old asylum friends, who had left the asylum and moved to Miami, hoping for a softer world in the sun. The friend said he could help Cary get a job driving a cab. Dad bought him a plane ticket, gave him five hundred bucks so he could land on his feet, and drove him to the airport. They drove there alone. Mom couldn�t bear watching him leave like that, knowing what he was facing. The rest of us didn�t really understand, and were too young and self-involved to care. We had our own everyday challenges to deal with. Cary, who was so much older than us, was an enigma; we assumed we would be able to take care of himself.
I knew, after he left, that I would be allowed to move into the basement bedroom if I chose to. It was a large room with a bathroom, a door that opened outside to the redbud tree, and windows that looked out across the backyard. It would be mine if I wanted it. I didn�t want it. It scared me, or something that seemed leftover there scared me, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Cary and Jackie were my brothers, and I loved them, but I wanted to be different from them. I didn�t want to go the way they had, and at age eight I already began formulating ways to ensure I never would.
I never asked to have the room, it was never offered, and, except for occasional visits from Jackie or Uncle Galen, it was never occupied again.

Why You Love Them / Avoiding Conformist Thought

This shot was taken before Senior Prom, couple of weeks back. My oldest son’s in there somewhere. I’ve known most of these kids since grade school, and have taken many of them on various camping, canoeing, go-cart racing, baseball-playing, downtown exploring, museum-attending, other-region exploring escapades since they were small. Three of them are artists. All of them I have always encouraged to view the world in whatever unique way fits them, and to avoid conformist thought. Their parents have encouraged the same. In my way I love each of these kids. They know it, and we never need to discuss it.

Anyway, I think their smiles tell a pretty good story.

Friday Tips for Artists: Pricing Your Work

How do you go about establishing fair prices for the works you create�meaning fair to you as well as to potential collectors? Easy. Get a dart board, tape a range of prices to it, toss six darts at the sucker, and see where they land. The middle figure wins.
You don�t like that? Then try this: go to a series of galleries, find works by established artists that are in some way similar to yours, then set prices that you�re comfortable with in comparison. If the established artist is in the range of, say, $15,000 per painting, this is likely not a realistic comparison. If they�re in the range of $700 to $4000 per painting, depending on size, that will likely be more suitable. Even then, if you’re an emerging artist, it would not be practical for you to charge the same prices. The artist whose work you�re viewing has probably been at it a long time, paid heavily in her dues, and is now reaping her rewards. If you�re in the beginning stages of your career, it�s doubtful that you�re at her level yet.
The same rules apply to sculptors, ceramists, etc.
Of course I can�t tell you what prices to set, but I can say that initially they should be moderate. It�s unlikely that you�ll make a killing right out, and it�s generally unwise to expect to. I advise that you concentrate on placing as many works with as many people as possible, which in the beginning is normally achieved through moderate pricing. These clients can then be listed on your resume as collectors, which will lend you greater credibility as your career expands, and as you later approach galleries. In the beginning, you want to make it easy for those collectors to buy your work. In fact it should always be easy, it�s just that later on it should also be more expensive�in fairness to you, and all you�ve sacrificed.
In relation to this, I�m often asked by novice browsers why paintings and sculptures are always so �expensive.� In my gallery, prices currently range from $800 to $10,000 for in-house pieces. (Commissioned work is a different matter.) These are hardly expensive prices by New York standards, but they are expensive to the vast majority of the populace, regardless of where they live. Of course the question is a reasonable one, so I always try to give a reasonable answer.
I typically answer by explaining that my artists have been working in their disciplines for anywhere from twenty to forty years. They�ve established, through decades of struggle, techniques that are unique to them�meaning that their work is uncommon. They have now reached the point where they�re due proper compensation for all the privation they�ve been through, and, in most cases, that their families have been through as well. To charge any less would be a disservice to the artist. I carefully explain all this, then finish by asking the questioner that if they�d been down such a long, exhausting, risk-imperiled road, what would they charge for the work? Invariably the answer is, �More.�
I say, �Very good,� then proceed to close a deal.

Carol Peacock Opening / Consultation

We have an opening for Carol Peacock tomorrow night, her first here. And though she’s somewhat new with us, the response has been strong already. I expect a good crowd. Will probably sell a lot of wine–I mean give it away. Simple exchange of values: you give the clients wine, they buy paintings.

Ninety-minute presentation for a new prospect today. If we work with them, I suspect they’ll be a great client. What’s it all about? Ah, later; let’s see if we get the gig. I can tell it will be a blast if we do.

My oldest son graduated high school last night, in the same freaking stadium that I did 31 years ago. Very proud of him, feel he has a promising future. Already written his first novel; now he’s on to screenplays. Beautiful, golden evening. Gave him license for the night; he and his buddies dragged in at 5:00, about the same time I did all those years ago, which still seems like yesterday. Did I worry? Nay. He’s got a good head; we helped ensure as much.

Lonnie Powell

Lonnie Powell, Figure, Oil

Toured today the offices of one of my clients, who under my recommendation selected Lonnie Powell to create a figurative work for their reception room. Lonnie and I went to measure the wall, take in the space, and trade stories.

He told me what it was like growing up Black in Kansas City in the 40s and 50s, how much better it is now, but of course how much of life remains segregated–I mean socially. Still it’s greatly improved over what it was, though that’s easy for me to say.

Then Lonnie thanked me for “all I’d done for him.” I said, “Man, I ain’t done nothing. You earned all this a long time ago.” Sure I’ve paid my dues (like most of us), but next to Lonnie I’ve had a walk in the park.

One Meeting, Thank god / New Proposal / Birthday Party with Coheed and Cambria

Today, only one meeting. Man, that meant I actually got a ton of work done instead of being committeed to death. Tomorrow, four meetings. Well, I tasted freedom for awhile anyway.

Worked on a plan for a new prospect, fueled by double cappuccinos. Complex, challenging, and sure as hell fun. Will dig it if she flies.

Screenplay writes beautifully. Always start my day with that–and no interruptions.

Now? Home. Birthday dinner for my 16-year-old. Celebrate his coming of age with gifts and gags. Great kid. Music: probably Coheed and Cambria, System of a Down. Oh boy. But he and his older brother will love it. And frankly these things are more important than all the art deals in the world–though those do pay for the CDs and guitars. Must remember that.