Saturday, November 27, 2010


I got beat by a 69 year old man.

A lot of people beat my 5K race time but this guy stood out by being 30 years older than me and a couple of miles per hour faster as well. Actually, I knew this guy was going to toast me when I saw him before the race and I knew lots of other people would too. I told myself I just wanted to finish the race well, that I wasn’t trying to beat anyone else, I only wanted to improve my time. In other words, I lied.
During the race I found myself accelerating when I’d get behind other runners. Something about running just behind someone else made me want to pass them. And if I’m really honest I can say it felt pretty good to cross the finish line and then watch all the people I passed finish behind me. Perhaps I’m shallow, but I’m honest.

I usually get to have the conversation about competition in art about once a year. Sometimes with a student, sometimes with another artist, but always the same conversation. Usually the other person throws the first stone with something like “I don’t believe in competition in art”. Which to me is like saying, “I don’t believe in trees”. Things do not need you to believe in them in order to actually exist.

Competition in art exists. I can show you documentation. I get emails and snail mail each week offering to let me take part in these competitions for a small fee. Each year I enter several of these competitions, also called “juried exhibitions” just as my artist forefathers have done for ages. It’s part of the deal whether you like it or not.

I realize that’s not exactly the kind of thing the person on the other end of the conversation is saying. Generally they are talking about the idea that art should be seen as the emotional and conceptual expression of an individual and that there’s no universal criteria for judging such a thing. On the surface I’d like to agree with that argument….but I’d also like to win another prize for my art.

Recently my Sparkle City friend Kerry brought this quote to my attention: “The real reason that literary prizes are so prized, however, is that prize-giving is intrinsic to the purposes of poetry. From birds to bards, the urge to outdo the other singer is what makes us sing. Since the first strum on the oldest lyre, literature has been about competition and the possibility of recognition. Pindar, the father of lyric poetry, took as his chief subject the winning of games, and the spirit of the end-zone dance has been with us ever since. Horace satirized everything except his own appetite for fame. Milton mourned Lycidas not because he stood beyond all prizes but because he died before the prizes could be won. The subtlest souls still show up in Stockholm to make the speech. Fame, honor, the laurel, and the bays, this more even than getting back at the girls, or the boys, who left you for another—the writer’s other great motivation—is the poetic passion. (Even the idea of posthumous fame is merely the thought of a prize given while we are sleeping, and have left our muttering to others.)” -partial quote from Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. (link - )

I’ll admit that it sounds nice to say that no two artists should be judged on how they struggle to reveal inner truths about their own life experience. But to agree with this side of the argument would also mean that I’d have to convince myself to believe that my conversation partner would elegantly and articulately refuse any Best in Show award offered to them. And we both know that’s not going to happen. You can’t hate competition in art when you lose and revel in it when you win. I mean, you can, it just makes you a hypocrite and a bit of a jerk.

I’m barely a runner and there’s no danger of me winning any awards for it any time soon. Still I’ll nearly give myself a coronary to pass you in a race. Humans are competitive. That’s how we got this spot on the food chain. We want to be as good as we can possibly be at whatever we love to do. We want to be great and we want someone else to notice. There’s a word for an artist who does not want to be the best. That word is “hobbyist”.

Of course it’s problematic to judge works of art. Even after you break contests down to one particular field of expression (poetry, music, visual art) and then further break them down into categories (drawing, painting, sculpture) you still have to wade through various approaches to style and content. Then there’s the issue of separating the juror or jurors from their own personal likes and dislikes. I’m aware of these problems each time I enter a contest just like the hundreds of other participants….and still we enter to compete against one another.

Another piece of knowledge we all share is that winning does not mean we are any better at being an artist than the other entrants. It only means our work connected with the juror(s) on a different level than the other work. Maybe we got lucky with one particular drawing or painting. We still may not be as good at drawing as another person. We may struggle to mix that particular color or we may have no idea how someone else goes about the process of casting plastic. Whatever our chosen process, we are simply striving to pass important information along to others. When that connection is made, be it in the form of winning a contest or having an 8 year old tell you they love your sculpture, it feels like victory. And think about it: that 8 year old had a room filled with art to choose from. She probably wouldn’t describe that choice as a competition but by definition that’s exactly what it was.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

five more kays

After getting my forehead a tad toasty during the Raku firing I put in a couple of last minute practice runs getting ready for my second 5k race on Saturday.

My, I guess big is no longer the correct word. My 'older' brother Daniel, the most famous Comic Store owner in the area wanted to run a 5k some time this year. In the last year he's lost over 100 pounds and he's been running and working out like a crazy person.

brother daniel

We arrived early for the race and stood in the cold morning air with a huge crowd of people. My first race last year was attended by around 100 people. This one had several Greenville parking lots filled with cars and a huge mass of people waiting to run.

There's something different about running in a race. You know that you can run the distance and you pretty much know that you're not going to finish first or last but something about it makes you nervous. You start thinking about all the weird things that could happen. You second guess the coffee you had for breakfast. You fear those side cramps that never happen when you do a normal run. You wonder if that man with the walker is going to finish faster than you.

Seeing the ambulance parked in front doesn't help.

Once the race started I forgot most of the fears. There was a wall of slow people at the front of the line...I still do not understand that logic....but after passing them and getting my regular pace down I was fine.
Brother Daniel had been running longer distances on a regular basis so I was not worried about him either.
And then, right on cue....the splitting pain in my side came along. Following that - the very real fear that I was close to losing my coffee. Just as I talked myself down from needing to heave, the guy in front of me peels off to the side, doubles over and loses his coffee.
But the cool thing about running is that the faster you run, the sooner you get to stop and rest.
And I managed to get my sweaty phone out of the shoulder strap fast enough to get this photo of brother Daniel reaching a major goal...

Sure we were beat badly by senior citizens and adolescents alike but we finished well and didn't have to ride in the ambulance. And I managed to shave 8 minutes off my first race time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

fun with fire

Reason # 473 why 3D artists have more fun than anyone else:

Meet the Raku Posse.....

They actually look more like they are preparing to rob a train than create elegant ceramic surfaces. So this is (L to R) Jordan, Adri, Sarah, Doris, Morgan, Kristen, Cate and Kelsey behind the camera. She's responsible for the blurry photos you're about to see.
And this is what they decided to do when I told them the temperature was right and they should get over to their places quickly. They paused for a group photo while I stood tapping my foot impatiently.
After properly preparing for the event with pizza, cookies, and some kind of little kid crackers you're supposed to dip in icing (don't ask me) we took our places and got ready for the opening.

the view inside the kiln

Once the cones fell correctly the temperature was right and we cracked open the lid of the kiln. The idea is to heat the glazed pots to a high temperature and quickly open the kiln and remove the pots from the intense heat. The pots are placed directly into metal cans on beds of newspaper. The newspaper flames up when the pots hit the cans and the lid is slammed on to extinguish the flames. The removal of oxygen from the chamber and the carbon from the fire work to create effects on the surface of the glazes.

Jordan and Doris handled the kiln lid and I used tongs to snatch the pots from the heat.

The rest of the crew handled the cans and lids working like....well, since you were not there I'll say they worked like a ballet group in complete unison with one another. That's mostly true. They were impressive with their response to the flames and heat.

Grabbing fragile and red hot pottery with metal tongs while dodging extreme heat is not an easy task. In fact, all of this process was a bit of an ordeal and there were many obstacles to overcome.

The flames and smoke and protective have to wonder why anyone would go to so much trouble just for clay pots.

And with Raku you don't have to wait long to see why it's worth the effort. We left the pots in the cans for the rest of the night to cool and this is what I found first thing the next morning. Brushing back the ash I found some pretty cool surfaces.

White Crackle glaze and Ferg Blue glaze fresh out of the cans. Add a little water and some soft scrubbing with steel wool and you get this.....

I've overheard people wondering out loud why anyone in their right mind would want to take art classes or better yet...why anyone would want to be an art major.

Aside from the fact that artists learn how to communicate the impossible, the fact that artists find ways to tap into emotions most people can't begin to express, the fact that artists create objects of unspeakable should also know that while artists are working their butts off in those studios they are also having more fun than you could ever imagine.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

gardening at night

I made a couple of trips to Augusta in the last couple of months. The first trip was dropping off a sculpture and the second trip just a couple of Fridays ago was to pick the same sculpture up and give it a ride home. There sure are a lot of cows between here and there.

I tried to enjoy the long ride each time and I have to say it was tough. It was just me and the sculpture and some podcasts. This last trip there were also some leaves and that was pleasant. About 5 minutes of what feels like 50 hours of driving is a quick trip along I-520. It's a new stretch of interstate that sits up on a ridge overlooking the Savannah River valley. The view there was interesting and I would have taken some photos but I was pretty sure if I tried that I would lose the nice computer-lady's voice telling me exactly when to exit the new interstate and head back toward the cows. I like my phone but it's beyond me.

We also had some Halloween stuff. Blue wanted to be a football player so he was a USC Gamecock for half the night to appease his mom and then he was a Steeler the rest of the night to appease his dad. I would have preferred something scary but I guess this jersey could have been scary to some.

I do take not-so-great photos most of the time but I can't take all the blame for the blurry kid photos. These children will sit or stand still for hours until you pull out a camera and then it's like they are dancing on hot coals. Forget positioning them in the frame, you'll be lucky to catch even a limb in the shot and even then it will appear as a blurry flash of skin.

Seven photos of her coming down the steps and this was the only one where she wasn't blurred beyond recognition. Cute though.
We only had a few trick or treaters come to our door this year and that includes the car full of kids who were apparently dressed up as "kids from another street". No costume, no "trick or treat!" shouted at the door....just kids in regular clothes ringing the bell and standing there looking at you. Is it possible to lose the true meaning of Halloween? I wanted to call Linus in to read them something meaningful from the Bible but he was out in the pumpkin patch waiting for someone.
Speaking of driving.....
My daily commutes have had me on sun's schedule this semester. The sun peaks up on one side of the road and slips down on the other pausing briefly to flash a little color before continuing on his way. These little shots of kindness usually bookend my days.

Our friend Ginger is talented enough with her little phone that she can make decent videos with it. She grabbed this video from the Langhorne Slim show last week: