I “cold-called” many of the artists I interviewed, some people didn’t respond, but many did. I have to admit, it always felt a little like I won a prize when someone responded with a “yes.” It also helped to serve as a reminder of just how generous people are, because it wasn’t just that artists were saying yes to be interviewed, they were also inviting me into their studios and homes, and then sharing their life stories with me. Pard, who came to me through one of my favorite librarian comrades, Carmen, was a perfect example of the generosity I experienced. Despite being a virtual stranger, inside of 5 minutes of showing up to his house, Pard said “my house is your house” as he was inviting me in - it was meant sincerely. As a result, I immediately felt comfortable with him and we were able to dive right in. I believe his warmth and generous spirit do come through in his interview.
I’m now able to look back on all of the 19 people I interviewed last summer and fall and see a pattern of sorts when it came to themes and topics that came up. One of the themes that came up fairly consistently was artists’ experiences with serendipity (or coincidence, or being in the right place at the right time, or whatever you would like to call it) when developing their artistic skills or just coming into their artistic career. I especially enjoyed Pard telling how he came into sculpture. In his first year of college he had to take an intro to sculpture class to satisfy a requirement, which he wasn’t too happy about as a student in graphic design. Not only did that class change the course of his education, but it also put him in a cohort of students who were talented, motivated, and inspirational; being able to study with those professors and alongside those students proved to be a magical combination for him and he credits these experiences to being a successful artist now. I want to bottle up this story and give it to students who complain about various requirements that they see as irrelevant.
Another discussion that came up frequently was what happens when artists make changes to their work, either in materials or subject matter. I plan to write a much more in-depth blog post on this subject because I realize this is something that every artist comes up against, for better or worse. I also began to understand that there is often not a lot of support or encouragement for artists to make changes in their work. I heard stories where gallery owners outright discouraged an artist from making changes by threatening their inability to sell the new work. So I became very interested in artists’ stories around change - how the changes came about, how they dealt with them both within their studio practice and with collectors, and what they learned in the process. I found Pard’s story about a major shift in his work especially interesting, which was derived from 9/11. Those events caused dramatic changes nationally and internationally, and I think something small changed in everyone who remembers that day. I was very moved by Pard’s ability to articulate the change in himself and how that change affected his work:
I used to work in wood in college and a lot of text-based and image-based work, and after 9/11 I totally dropped image and text in my work…spiritually cleansed the palate and was drawn to minimalism. The genesis of 9/11 and the aftermath is, to a large extent, religious-based - based on idealism and fanaticism - and I thought that it might be that the text and images that I had been drawn to were conveying some of those thoughts. And I was so drawn to minimalism because you really brought to that experience what you wanted to bring instead of having an experience being forced upon you in a sense. So it's kind of like getting back to this spiritual cleansing, and cutting out the clutter.
Pard’s work represents very unfamiliar territory for me. First it’s sculpture, which, until this project, I didn’t understand or fully appreciate (I was lucky enough to interview 3 other sculptors). He also incorporates a minimalist style, which I knew nothing about. However, I did know that I liked his work that is posted on his website and especially enjoyed the photos of his installations on the prairie. I generally like any kind of visual contrast, and this contrast is so stark; it’s fun and startling all at once. I enjoy it even more after hearing him talk about how he came into that work.
I think most people, artists included, see creativity and art as a solo endeavor. Creating art is generally speaking (though not always) a solo act; how that art is experienced by viewers is done so on an individual level and based on personal taste, context, and so forth. Pard reminded me there is an inherently “human side” of art. Despite being a self-described introvert of sorts, he spoke again and again of his enjoyment of interacting with people through his artwork. When I asked him what inspires him, without pause he said “people.” Whether it is with gallery owners or the artists and teachers who mentored him into his career. His perspective was nice reminder that art is, ultimately, for people. Even if an artist is driven to create regardless if it is only himself that is his audience, art is still created for humans.