I was having breakfast the other morning at a local Missoula haunt called the Catalyst. On the walls were silk screened canvases of the images from the opening credits of the ever classic "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly".
I posted this image on FaceBook and had a number of responses from students regarding the theme song and the "OoooOooooOooooOooooOooooo Wa wa wa" we all know and love. Well those folks who have ever taken a class from me know that this is no ordinary song. This is the song I always play at the end of class to indicate that it's time to drop what you're doing because a class critique is about to get underway.
Here's a photo my friend KD took at ArtFest...Nail Fetish Bowling Pins Critique:
She also took this photo from our critique in Oaxaca during Day of the Dead a few years back.
I gather the class around and look and talk about all the work. I go through every single piece of art, finished or not. I make sure every single student is involved in this process. Now I know the term "critique" sends shivers down some peoples' spines but my critiques are a bit different. In this forum I focus on the things that "work". It's about encouragement. It's about letting folks grow by learning how others resolved their artistic "issues". Of course I mention things that might help the student grow, but I believe that most things can be approached from a positive more effectively than a negative. My goal is to encourage people to embrace and create art...whether professionally or otherwise. I truly believe if everyone did some sort of art form, the world would be a better place. A good many of my students are trying to find their creative side again after years of career or familial duties, thus, my goal is to try and welcome people back into the art world. There is plenty of room for everyone.
Now contrast my critique sessions to those in Art School; truth be known though I loved critique day. It was fun....sort of...sure it could be painful but I would say that it was the thing that I truly gained the most from my college years. Thinking critically about work...what works...what doesn't...why it doesn't and who are you to say that about my art you !%@#%&#@!!!!! Ahhh those were the days. Yes it is true there were times when feelings could get hurt. Of course, back then me and my fellow students were a bunch of twenty somethings that were totally convinced that we would be the next Picasso or Van Gogh. New York galleries would line up for us...limos would await....rose petals would shower our every endeavor...bubble gum on the bottom of my shoe? My new series of work! Brilliant! Genius! It's no wonder the Profs were so harsh on us. They needed to rattle our cages a bit, if for know other reason than to prepare us for a bleak reality that awaited us after graduation...a tiny percentage of artist make a living off there skills. Ouch!
It is a sad fact but true...I struggled for 15 years before I became fortunate enough to earn a living doing what I was trained to do. I'm not the bajillionaire that I expected to be, but, hell, it's a big deal to make any sort of living doing art. Back then, the years were spent bar-tending at night and creating art in the day. Galleries, and exhibits when I could get them, but mostly work and struggle. It was hard but it was not without reward. I grew...I learned...I honed my skills...I blended Margaritas.
I'll tell you an interesting story...about or 7 years ago I was getting home from an evening of mixing Martinis and Manhattans. I walked across my yard to my studio. This evening I was feeling a bit melancholy, a bit low. I had been in an internal struggle about whether to give up on the art thing. I had struggled and struggled but nothing ever seemed to click. I was tired of the fight, I was tired of being poor. I was considering going back to school for something...though I had no idea what. Above me a starry sky glowed bright bright bright. I just stared upward. I remember how amazing the sky looked. I could see more stars than I could ever remember ever seeing.
At that point I knew I had to make a decision to make: either I needed to go down a different path other than Art or I needed to be okay with my struggle. I either had to reinvent myself or I needed to say: "I'm going to follow this artistic path wherever it leads. If I'm ninety and still struggling then that is what I must do, but I must be okay with it" In other words, no regrets. I recall thinking this and deciding that I would ride out the artistic life. I decided that mostly because I knew that if I chose the other road I would always wonder "what would have happened if....". I knew the "what if" would have driven me crazy. I knew I would have been haunted by it until the day I died. The interesting epilogue to the story is that within a year I was sustaining myself as an artist. I recall getting home from my first year of teaching ArtFest. I broke down into tears to my then wife Cindy. I had finally found something that eluded me for so long. I had finally arrived. I can't help but think about what would have happened if I chose the other path. Now it is true someday I may be faced with more crossroads like I did on that starry night. No one knows where this life will take us, but I know that I am blessed that I have experienced what I have experienced so far.
Art is an amazing force. It is the closest thing to magic I know, and perhaps the reason that I am so determined to run those critiques in every single class is because I want more magic in the world not less. I want more folks to find the value of their creative thoughts. So the question, is since my goal in the crit is to focus on the "Good".....why the theme song "the Good, the Bad and the Ugly"? Well the long and the short of it is...sometimes you have to do something simply because its cool...and that theme song is pretty darn cool. Plus it's pretty hilarious to watch the last minute panic with that song playing in the background. So with that I leave you with an inspiring bit of amusement, The Ukelele Ochrestra of Great Britain and there rendition of "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".