Canoes, Screenplays and Hillbillies

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Went canoeing over the weekend with my kids and some friends. White River, northwest Arkansas. Worked on the final draft of the screenplay when we weren’t canoeing, sipped bourbon evenings after writing. Got in a little cliff-diving along the way (the boys are posed on one of the cliffs), and several opportunities to observe some locals in full Hillbilly Excess, booze, dope and all.

My Dad’s people are from the Ozarks, where I spent much of my boyhood. I dig the people of the hills, at least those that have dignity, wisdom and respect for others. But the other type–the hard-drinking crackers that are steeped in ignorance and violence–I ain’t got much use for. These got way out of line, which a simple confrontation resolved.  It doesn’t require violence, just absolute firmness–like a parent correcting a child, except with profanity. Such a waste of energy dealing at that level, but it’s the only thing those people understand.  Entertaining either way.

Spent our final night in Eureka Springs, a very good town to write in.  Some great artists there as well.  Visited two of them.

Friday Tips For Artists: How Will You Know When You’re Ready to Show Publicly?

By this I don’t necessarily mean showing in a gallery, but just in public venues.��If you’re an emerging artist,�you’ll likely deal with galleries�later in your career.� But the truth is,�before most of those galleries will even look at your work, they’ll want to know whether you’ve exhibited publicly.� So, how will you know when you’re ready?

If you’ve done your homework, if you’ve paid a good portion of your never-ending dues, and if you’re more or less pleased with your work, then you will know.� You’ll also know it if you trust your inner voice, and your critics.� Friends, by the way, tend to make lousy critics.� So do lovers, people who owe you money, and family.� For criticism, rely on people who owe you no form of loyalty.� Rely on people with a good eye and appropriate sophistication and a feel for what you’re trying to achieve.� This means that if your work is avant-garde, then a devotee of Maxfield Parrish would likely be a poor choice of critic.� Whoever your critics are, consult them, and the harsher aspects of your inner voice, before you commit to exhibiting publicly.� After you’ve consulted all of these sources, then I suspect you will be ready.��

You may still be in art school when this occurs, or you may be several years out.� However the timing works, you can be sure of one thing: there is no way that you’ll be as well prepared for your first show as you will be for your fifth.� But diving in and undertaking that first show is how you’ll learn to prepare for the later, and more important, ones.

Example: In my case, how did I know when I was ready to begin approaching agents and publishers?� Because after having written for seventeen years, I had become confident in my work, and my critics felt the same.�� Once I had achieved that confidence, I went after the New York agents, since I knew publication would be impossible without one; four offered me representation.� I selected the one that I was most comfortable with.��Unfortunately he didn’t work out, but landing him did confirm to me that I was on the right path, and that my work had power.

What if I had approached him three years earlier?� I’m quite certain that he, and all the others, would have turned me down.� Why?� Because my work wasn’t mature enough yet.� Similarly, I advise that you don’t push too hard for public exhibition until you know you are ready, however you arrive at that conclusion.

Painting and sculpting are a little like writing books: you never really finish one, you just reach a stopping point and realize you’ve done your best.� You reach a point where the work cannot grow any further, and often resists any attempts to make it do so.� At this time your instincts should be telling you that if you persist, you may disrupt the initial spontaneity of the work and create an imbalance.� You can polish it, you can refine it, but further raw creation may well be a mistake.� Or it might also be, like my early books, that the piece simply isn’t worth reworking; that you learned from it all you could, and it’s time to move on.��

Whatever the case, you must know when to stop, when to let a work go, and how to determine when it is finished.� Your instincts should tell you this, even more than your critics.

All that aside, let’s assume that you’re ready.� How do you begin the actual, step-by-step process of putting your career together, gaining a following, and achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself?� Well that’s a tough, complex question to which there is no single answer.� I can, however, provide you with some methods and approaches that will help you find answers in this strange, unpredictable, lovable business.� I’m not claiming that my methods are the only ones.� I am claiming though that I’ve utilized them to great success, for both my gallery and artists.�

I’ll�touch on�those methods in greater depth in future Friday Tips.

Jane Pronko


Toured Jane Pronko’s studio last week with one of my committees. We’re considering her work for a corporate collection. I sure hope she’s voted in. Dig her night scenes of NY. Dig her East Side scenes of KC even more.

Screenplay, Final Draft

Got my script back from the critics last week–veteran screenwriters who have been sufficiently jaded by Hollywood to make them first-rate as critics. Consensus?  They all loved the story, provided I change the beginning and ramp up the conflict/tension.  So I started the rewrite last Tuesday.  Will have it finished in Aug.  Then it goes to the agent in NY.  Should be an interesting fall. 

Title? Trading in Souls.  Storyline?  Ah, you’ll have to wait for that. 

Television and the Mass Media


The best thing to do with a television, in my opinion, is to place it on the receiving end of a baseball bat.� Very little that’s good has ever come from TV, and the longer it’s with us, with its multiple channels and opiate influences and passion-draining hypnosis, the worse it gets.� Oh you can make sound arguments for public television and documentaries and certain dramas and sitcoms, but the bulk of the programming is corrosive, the kind of corrosion that is slowly eating at the foundation of our culture, our educational system, and our ability to relate to one another.� This anyway is my opinion, based on years of travel, discourse and observation.� I don’t think it’s an inaccurate one.

Own a TV if you must, just exercise restraint in watching it.� There’s so much else to experience, to touch, to know.� Television will keep you from doing this.� Your job is to be out experiencing the world, and questioning it, not to become another spiritually numb victim of Madison Avenue.���

Example:� In 1997 I flew to New York to meet my first literary agent.� I hadn’t been in the city since 1995, and was happy to be back.� I also noticed, with pleasure, that the mood of the place had changed, becoming more sane, and upbeat, than it had been in the Seventies and Eighties.� It was a tolerably civil town again, which both Mayor Giuliani and New Yorkers in general must be given credit for.� Whatever the cause, everywhere people tried to be� considerate, and often even succeeded.� There was a sense of optimism about the town that I don’t think New Yorkers had felt since the early sixties.� Many of the natives, sensing I was an outlander, asked why I was there.� I would tell them, and in every case they congratulated me and wished me luck.� I’d never felt more at home in that enormous, swaggering, frenzied metropolis.

I rode the subway across town to my agent’s office, and as I did, packed in with the executives and fashion models and Hasidics, I gazed up at the advertising placards.� And there, above me, was Madison Avenue?s whole mission laid bare.� Ads for one of the big networks, they were presenting arguments for why you should watch TV:
�It’s a beautiful day.� What are you doing outside?
�Scientists claim we only use 10% of our brain cells.� That?s way too much.
�Hobbies, Schmobbies.
�Eight hours a day, that’s all we ask.
�Don?t worry, you?ve got billions of brain cells.
�And so on.

I could almost see the group of miserable souls who, together in some soulless board room, composed these passages.� It was so New York.�

So if you’re an avid watcher of television, just be aware of the networks’ ultimate values.� It doesn’t matter which network posted those values; in my opinion they’re all interchangeable.�

Newspapers and magazines are different, yet similar.� We are daily bombarded with information from a growing number of well intentioned, but basically superfluous, periodicals and websites.� If you try to subscribe to too many of these, you’ll wind up being informed on all kinds of issues that you can do nothing about, have no influence over, or any involvement in.�

Your job as an artist�isn’t to become a master of current events.� Your job is to live outside the world at the same time that you live in it.� There’s nothing wrong with being well informed?I skim through the paper each morning, and listen to NPR each day, but I don’t advise that you get sucked into the vortex of global information.� It’s all too vast to keep up with, and often the way it’s presented is too absurd to bother over.

A conversation with a new friend, a debate with an old one, a bout of volunteerism, a long jog, a brief swim, an engrossing book, a bad play, or just a good night’s work.� You’ll get far more out of these things, and others like them, than you ever will from an evening of news magazines and canned laughter.�

Keith Kavanaugh and The Late Show


“Highway 78, #3,” Encaustic on Hardboard, Keith Kavanaugh


I recently acquired, with the able assistance of one of my committees, a painting by Keith Kavanaugh for a corporate collection.  The top photo is one of Keith’s pieces.  The bottom photo is that same committee at The Late Show Gallery, discussing the work there with Tom Deatherage, director, showman, bon vivant.

Yeah, I do love this biz.  Not as much as writing, but I do love it.

Missing the Desert




These are shots taken in and around Arches National Park, and this of course is family.  Like most of you, it’s for these people–and many others–that I work so hard.  It certainly ain’t for me.  If I had my druthers, I’d be a lot lazier and living at a much slower pace.  Well, one day I will.

Love the desert.  Can’t seem to get through a single year without going there.  It does something for me, and my work, that I get from nothing else.  We just returned and I miss it already.  Maybe sneak in a quick trip to NM in the fall.

Friday Tips for Artists: Getting Accepted by A Gallery


In the beginning, I advise that you start with galleries that are located in a major city or resort near you. Visit them and browse. Dont mention you’re an artist, don’t mention anything. Just walk around and get a feel for the place. Will your work fit in with the collection? Is the gallery well laid out and well lighted, or is it dim, dusty and reeking of disorganization? Does the place exude contentment and confidence, or despair and ineptitude? Most importantly, are the director and staff snobs, or are they considerate and helpful? If the former, I advise you stay away.

Snobbishness, like so many negative traits, is rooted in insecurity. If the director is this way with you, chances are he’s this way with clients, which will only lead to lost sales and commissions I have to admit though, some snobs do make excellent art dealers, they�re just a pain-in-the-ass to work with. In the end it s a personal call.’ If you feel you can work well with one of these folks, go aheadjust watch your step as you proceed: snobbishness, by my experience, is often an indicator of a lack of integrity, not to mention a lack of enlightenment.

After you’ve sampled enough galleries to know which you want to approach, drop by and make an appointment to see the director portfolio in hand. Why do you do this in person? Because requesting an appointment in person normally works better than making a call, since it’s harder for someone to refuse you if you�re standing in front of them.

If the staff member tells you the director is not looking for new artists, talk the staff member into looking at your work anyway. No, don�t hand him a satchel of paintings, hand him the portfolio with one of your originals nearby in case it’s needed. If you’re already talking to the director, so much the better. If not, and if the staff member is impressed, try to make the appointment. If one can�t be made at that moment, take a business card and call later, persisting until the director either agrees to see you, or gives you an unequivocal no.

If the only way the gallery will view your work is by your mailing them visuals, fine.� Type a brief cover letter on quality stationery, enclose the slides and prints, your resume, at least one postcard (remember those?), and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.� Also include any press clippings that you may have managed to garner.� Give the recipient seven days, then call and ask if they�ve had time to look everything over.� If they have, try to get an appointment to go in and show your work.��

The first gallery won�t see you?� Try a second, then a third and fourth if necessary.� No matter how many rejections you get, you must persist.� As I�ve already pointed out,� if you�ve got the talent, and have paid the dues, you will find the right gallery�but only if you�re persistent enough; if you�re not, you won�t.

When you do get your appointment, arrive on time, be brief, be confident, and reflect certainty in your work.� Take at least three of your best originals with you.� Dress any way you want, just don�t go in looking like you�re desperate and starving.� You want to go in looking like a success, even if that success is only expressed in the mastery of your medium.� Make sure your presentation is neat, organized and professional�with quality frames on your paintings if frames are needed, or refined bases (marble, granite, finished wood) on your sculpture if bases are needed.�

In my gallery, when an artist walks in the door for an appointment, he�d better be prepared or I�ll lose interest fast.� Sure I�m primarily looking at the work, but I�m also looking at the artist, and gauging whether he�ll be responsible in his obligations.� If I see real possibility in the work, I�ll help him organize his career, but only if I sense that he�ll carry his weight.� If he strikes me as being unreliable and undisciplined, I�ll politely show him the door�no matter how brilliant the work might be.� Headaches like that I just don�t need.

Equally important is the manner in which the dealer treats you.� Does he treat you with respect?� Is he considerate?� He may be busy.� He may be in debt up to his hindquarters.� He may be having one awful day.� Even so, you deserve respect for the years of sacrifice you�ve paid out in mastering whatever it is you do.� Bear that sacrifice in mind, and be proud of the accomplishment it reflects.� Pride, when wielded wisely, will carry you a long way.

You must also be the same way with the director�starting by making the appointment first, and not by just showing up and expecting him to drop everything for you.� Most directors are very busy, operating their gallery on a thin profit margin, assuming they�re making a profit at all.� It�s difficult, vexing work to run a gallery.� Just be glad you don�t have to do it.� All you have to do is paint, or sculpt, or whatever.� But the gallery, if they take you on, has to convince the public that you�re worth investing in�no mean feat.� That�s why when you meet the director, it�s important that you�re aware of the reality he grapples with every day.

What I mean is, when that first meeting occurs, it is critical that you show some form of respect, and that it be returned.� Later a deeper sort of respect will have to be earned, and it will have to be mutual.� You both will need to achieve this if you�re to have a good working relationship; if you don�t, you won�t.� As you�re talking with the director, keep this in mind.� This two-way street will be one of the most important you�ll travel in your career.� It involves all the give-and-take of any successful relationship.

Brent Sommerhauser


“Gifting,” Sculpted Glass and Rusted Steel.  Brent Sommerhauser.

Helped one of my committees select this very cool piece for a corporate client last week.  It’s by Brent Sommerhauser, and is made up of a found object (rusted steel), sculpted glass (hot process), and rust particles.  All this mounted very cleanly on aluminum.  Yeah, it’s going to provide a fantastic contrast to the sleek corporate environment for which it’s headed.

Brent himself is headed west.  Vegas.  No not to play the slots, but advance his art career (not unlike gambling in many instances), and teach at UNLV.  I’m sure he’ll be an asset to the town, which could stand a little less glitter, a little more substance.  Man I envy him, being surrounded by all that great desert, Death Valley in particular.  But my gig’s in the Midwest for now.