The New

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Large companies can pour millions into new products each year, hiring experts called consultants to help direct them in their dream of new products and new directions for their businesses.  In the world of the artist, this too also happens, but on a mini-micro scale.  You wake up one morning and you say to yourself that an old idea that has been rolling around in your head and heart needs to be embarked on.  For an artist, this means hundreds of hours  of learning this new kind of work and who knows how much money poured into the effort.  When it comes to something like this, there is absolutely no guarantee of any sort of return.  You go by your instinct, your gut, and your wits.  And you want to know something?  My experience has been that many of my most compelling and interesting designs that I personally love often find only a luke-warm reception at least in the beginning.  I have actually shelved what would later become one of my most popular pieces for over a year before returning to it.  When it hit the shelves people looked at it like it was something from another world.  That is to say, they didn’t see it as the unique thing that it was; they saw it as unrecognizable.  This is sometimes the problem with the new.

Before a line of new work is even hot off the presses, it comes under no scrutiny, no flag waving crowds or lines of adoring fans.  Unless you can do something that often strikes most artists as utterly distasteful: you hype the living shit out of it.  You hype it so that normal people who have never bought art before sit up and take notice.  They take notice because, well, they are so tuned into the hype.  I am not talking about what an artist normally does to promote themselves. I am talking about what some people will do in order to bring in the crowds, people who might not have come in the first place.  These people are more drawn by the interest of others, the crowd, the feeding frenzy.  To do this on a large scale means celebrity or the feeling of possible celebrity.  And who doesn’t love a celebrity?  A quiet unknown who is rising through the ranks?  Still, its hype most often, anew form of hype that doesn’t look like hype but still…it is.

The truth is, there is a very small number of people who don’t see the hype, don’t care about the hype and buy with their heart.  And these people are actually the visionaries, the people there when the work was not hyped, was actually affordable, and are often of modest means.  the people who come rushing for the hype are the folks who will put down $40,000.00 for the “next big thing” because, well, it looks good on them or in their house.  What we are talking about is status.  It is also worlds away from authentic art making (unless you create artifice  in order to pander to the rich).

Artists are often caught in this odd cross-fire of authenticity meeting popularity when things take off for them.  The desire to hype can get the better of some art dealers and gallery owners, and artists too.  Look, we all want to prosper, but at what price does this happen?  For those who “make it” there are now funds that allow a person to do so much more than wonder if they will make the bills this month or the next, whether the six thousand poured into the new line of work will yield anything of substance. The number of artists who were obscure in their time is right up there with the fervency of hype.  Renoir would say how he bought his villa with a painting of an empty vase sold ten years previously.  Picasso would sign checks knowing they would never be cashed because, well, his signature. It is indeed a strange world.

But look, the lifeblood of an artist isn’t the money.  It is the excitement over the next new thing, the new idea, the new process, the new way of saying perennial messages that have been born into each generation and recur in slightly different ways from one century to the next.  Our dreams are those of the Romans, the Greeks, the Pelleponesians, the Shakespeares, the kings and queens of Ur, all told now in a recognizable dialect.  Before it is a “thing” we are there in the innocence of the moment in the studio, scribbling on napkins, sending notes to friends, or making the discovery that could change a lifetime.  We were the true believers before anyone dared to even dream it.  It is this piece of our lives that the beloved collector wants a piece of…the early work, albeit a little rough around the edges, but is work that suggests that there are more pieces that will follow, and if the artist is lucky enough to sell enough to fund the next round of work, they do, and the work evolves.  And hopefully, the work evolves fast enough that it stays ahead of the curve so that the artist can turn enough of a profit so that s/he can make more….and survive to make for another day.  This is not an easy proposition because artists have to be both lovers and shrew business people.  I can tell you that it is hard to do both equally well, and as history shows us, artists tend to be lovers over the shrewd type.  This is so because it takes a huge amount of passion just to get your through the 80 hour days, weeks, months, that are required to become good at something.  And for an artist, this can mean remaking yourself with new techniques and ways of working every once in a while.  You don’t get there with shrewdness.  You don’t calculate passion or love.  You simply have to have it in you as a lover.  And like all great lovers, you can’t be thinking about dollar signs when you are throwing yourself into the next big thing.  To do this requires a singular sense of authenticity, passion, and love.  Anything else simply robs the work of the life that animates the work, that gives it that presence that is often unnoticed by the great unwashed but that the lovers of art pick up on and see.  It takes a lover to know a lover, even if one does not make art and the other does.

So it is that yesterday I had this “congealing moment.”  I know how that sounds, but I cannot think of a better term that feels so equal to what actually happens….The moment involved an idea I have had in my head literally for decades that involved a type of work that I have considered doing in glass.  I just wasn’t completely sure how I would do it.  My mind had been putting these pieces together off and on for a long time, but I just didn’t know exactly what the end result would be.  It was a bit like staring at Monet’s paintings of haystacks early in the morning…..they were images that had some shapes, yes, a suggestion of form, but were largely vivid blurs in my mind.  That really is how these kinds of pieces can be in our minds.  I know that other artists do the same thing because I see it in my art students.  They draw a quick sketch and then say, “I will “art it up” Mr. Stafford….you know, I will make it awesome!”

So really what is happening is there is something that is not completely fleshed out for the artist in their mental conception of the work that they just know they will get worked out in the final work. They just know, right? So sometimes that golden moment happens, that bit of genius that flows out into the work, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes we kind of waive our hands in the air, explaining a new idea without really knowing what it will be like.

(“Insert some kind of colorful awesomeness here _____”)

It isn’t that we are fooling ourselves as artists.  In fact, this sense we often have, that it will be awesome, is quite simply derring-do.  It is born out of confidence in ourselves, and it is ballsy.  As a result, I am loathe to be too critical of it. I was in fact in just such a place, parked with my idea for over a decade (at least) while this idea, apparently, gestated very slowly in my mind or creative spirit.  And then it happened.  It happened very quickly, almost too rapidly for me to even notice.  If I had been too distracted, it would have been gone and I might not have even noticed it.  Look, I have hundreds, thousands, of ideas a lot like this fleeting through me.  It is just how it is.  And most often, this happens in a state that is different form ordinary consciousness.  As a result, unless you sit with the idea and hold it there, it can literally just evaporate in exactly the same way that a dream you had last night is  nearly impossible to recall.  Steve Jobs once described all the things he “knew” when he was on LSD that he completely forgot when he came back down to ordinary consciousness….but he knew that it was something and he wanted to add a little piece of that in his work, which he did.  So, yeah.

I didn’t need LSD to get to that moment.  It was all there, fleshed out in the moment clear as day.  It was so complicated that I knew that in order to work it out, I would have to possibly spend months developing enough elements just in order to develop the work.  These pieces depart completely from everything I have done and dip into art.  How they are done is through a series of layers of imagery that are literally carved out of layers of glass at room temperature and then layered into the glass.  On the one hand, I could wind up with a cheap Venetian looking “fish bowl” (you know those….they look like fish in a bowl and are made by layering all these elements in them) or I could on the other, push the idea so far that I come up with the level of complexity I am looking for, which is not unlike a multidimensional “trip” through a dream world that actually is beginning to look a lot like how complex our lives have gotten today.  The trick, I know, as I waive my hands in the air, is to invest the “landscape” of these glass pieces with the level of complexity that keeps them from being cute or quaint and pushes them into new territory altogether.  And that, dear reader, is the hard part of art.  It separates the girls from the women and the boys from the men.  Hopefully in the end it serves to unite us all in a new kind of vision.  😉

So that is what is on the plate for now.  Naturally, I can’t say too much about it right now, not until I develop the work because until I do that it is much too easy for people to take an idea and run with it.  And that is the other side of the coin, but I will spare you that dimension of our work as artists.

The new work will mean that I will do something unusual, which is I will need to create photographs, images, and drawings, all of which will be put down on paper to form the basis of the imagery that will be cast into place with these pieces.  And to do them well will mean that the imagery remain crisp. That will mean selecting certain colors over others.  There will be choices that will have to be made that will be exacting, like building a three-layered canvas made of glass that you will be able to see through.  Some will seem like dreams, some like memories.  Perhaps some will fill the space with a sense of life.  Will they?  That will be up to all of the efforts made in the studio and out of it.  For now, there is a lot that needs to be done in the moment that will lead up to determining whether this work will be worth the time and trouble.  These are the untold hours, the invisible hours, that go to make a new line of work what it is. And this is the life of the artist.  More than money, more than anything else, this is what gets my blood pumping.

New Work

Perfumer2

©Parker Stafford

If you are an artist then you know the importance of new work.  Developing new winning designs is a way to not only generate renewed interest in your brand, but it serves an integral effect of helping to keep you creatively vital.  I know that for me I get a big bump behind developing new work that helps to push production for a while.  I feel better.  Life just FEELS better to me and my mind is working in a much more fertile way as I wonder just what might be next on the creativity front.  Its as if the world moves from few options to one where options are just bursting at the seams.  Such is the effect that inspiration has on us.

The last four years have brought unprecedented change to my life.  From a severe shoulder injury, to a divorce, to managing an eight-entity partnership to being without a home and without income.  Being instantly disabled was no fun. The doctor explained I would not do anything except therapy with my shoulder for an entire year.   The combination of pain killers and discomfort and my inability to work was like a depth charge in my world.  It shook my confidence, it took me back to square one, and it also gave me a solid period of introspection into WHY I was doing what I was doing and caused me to step back and look—really look—at the who when where and why’s of all of this.. When the tree was shaken in this way I had to look long and hard and honestly at WHY I was motivated to do the things I was doing.  Why was I running a business in production glass?  It isn’t as simple an answer as you might at first expect.  Having a marriage break up during this time was itself a double-whammy and was made much more difficult by a spouse who sought to put children in the middle of it all while also limiting my exposure to them.  The economy was in the doldrums and I had few options available to me as I recovered just enough to wind up in another pot of soup.  And in the midst of all of this very terrible stuff was a center of clarity and purpose…..and even design.  I don’t believe in destiny.  I believe we create much of this.  A life can have a design that often escapes our notice but emerges in times when we allow ourselves to grow quiet.  If you step back and look at our culture and world as a whole, we really aren’t known as the species that quiets itself.  What we take as quieting the mind is akin to a brief distraction from the normal rush of inner dialog that goes along with our days.  You just never realize just how much you do it until you are suddenly without it.  Boom.  The sound goes off. The lights go out.  You are suddenly suspended within a deep blue buoyant ocean of a place.  What happens to you in places such as these?  In sensory deprivation tanks the mind is known to feed information out of itself for its own consumption just in order to keep the information loop it is so used to having supplied to it, going.  We never realize any of this until something comes along to put the brakes on things.  Its relative, so breaking the frame of reference just a little does a lot to begin to shift awareness, feeling, and being.

So, putting away the violins for a minute, I want to say that one of the few things that has helped me get through this period has been the ability to create.  During this time period I have had some of the biggest outputs of writing in my life.  I amassed a 700 page manuscript for a book, wrote several children’s stories and began developing new work and classes for my studio business.  I have written music, poetry, maintained up to three blogs and wrote an article for an online magazine on the subject of nonduality.  I was asked to teach at two colleges locally.  Now I teach at just one.  Part time and perfect.  It keeps me in the mix with young minds that want to be involved in new and different projects in a collaborative way, much as was done this past semester with my sculpture students in making blown glass sculptural forms for the Glass Garden project that I wrote about a few posts down the line.

Being able to have friends who serve as inspirational source-points can be incredibly important for turning the boat in your life around.  I know that for me, the creative was the one force that made the difference between madness and great joy.  It wasn’t a crutch; it was a means for changing how I thought, how I felt and how I reacted to the world around me.  A curious thing happens in the brain when we choose to feel differently; we do!  Our bodies stop pumping out things like adrenaline, which is a stress chemical and begins to pump out things like endorphins, dopamine, and other feel-good compounds.  The body is actually a loyal servant to our own minds and feelings and will most often mirror our thinking and feeling state as precisely as it can chemically. If you care to know just how fast this change can take place, observe as you allow your feelings to shift from one mood to the next. Our bodies can shift on a dime for us if we realize that it is we who control the boat and where its sailing!  Too often, though, we wind up being mastered by our feelings, and this can put people into quite dismal places indeed.  At the end of the day, though, until you understand that YOU are in control of all of this, even your own so very crazy emotions (that feel out of your control), you wont develop the sense of personal responsibility and self mastery that is necessary to have the confidence to take charge of your interior life and put it into a more positive direction.

Shell form 5 -b sizedSo art and creativity was a powerful way through all of this for me.  This was good, too, because I like simple and nondogmatic.  I happen to believe or feel that all of this here was not meant to be difficult but can actually be amazingly simple.  Like falling off a log.  Instead, though, we often set up barriers to our success.  I know I have.  Lots of them.  Why?  it all comes down to self love.  Not selfish narcisism, but rather a reverence for your own self as a gateway to worlds of wonder and boundless joy and love.  We tend to mess it up somehow, self-sabotaging most often.  Somewhere along the line we begin to feel that we aren’t good enough.  We are then on the lookout for any suggestion that we aren’t.  Our minds actually are on the lookout for ANYTHING that matches this pattern turning in our minds or hearts.  The thing about these patterns is that they are like plants; they will continue to self-propogate and can wind up getting worse.  You can also in that moment choose to go in the other direction and actively change the pattern into something different.  You can literally change your mind.  You can change how it operates, how it responds, how it chooses from a list of behaviors.  One of the most powerful ways to change these negative patterns is through creativity.  By being creative, you are granting yourself permission to be happy and to enjoy what it is you are doing as well as to begin to consider not just new ideas but also allowing yourself to enjoy something that you may have felt edgy or uncertain about (because maybe you felt like you just weren’t GOOD enough at it) for some time now. Sitting down with a guitar and playing music alone might at first seem like a lonely thing to do, but it can also be an incredibly nurturing thing too. Giving yourself the freedom to dream wildly and creatively is another way of honoring your own insides. It can be a game changer, it really can.  We now know that the very substance of our brains actually undergoes change as we begin to rewire the brain by developing different thought and feeling patterns.  We can see how different parts of the brain begin to light up when we move away from anxiety and uncertainty and allow ourselves to play and have fun. Play and fun are not mere idle activities; they are the very substance of what gives us long lives, healthy hearts, bodies and minds, and productive relationships.  When we are happy, when we are engaged, everything moves so much more smoothly.

As a result of all of this I remind myself that I need to stop what I am doing periodically and design new work.  Already I have begun some very different things.  Who knows if they will be of any interest.  When it comes to developing new work you do what you like and what winds up selling helps to support the business and more innovation.  Its not unlike a publishing company or movie producer that has blockbusters that help subsidize the less successful but just as worthy lesser known movies or books. I can remember making some of the ugliest suncatchers ever.  They were an experiment that went wrong.  I took them to a show and placed them in a basket on the floor.  They were the first things to sell and were gone within the first hour of the show.  So there is no way to gauge popularity; do what you like, make what you love and leave the rest to the fates.  Really.  If this is about pleasing other people, you are going to spend many sleepless hours trying to do just that when the only thing that ever made any sense or works is pleasing yourself.  I know maybe that sounds self centered, but you know, I have noticed that when I am happy, those around me feel that happiness and respond to it.  If I am not right then those around me are most certainly affected.  Instead of seeking to fill your cup from others, fill it yourself so that you are overflowing.  If we each did this we would each be in a lot better shape emotionally, and socially as a species.

This year I have embarked on some very divergent ideas creatively.  I wanted to do fish for my home.  I made some out of ceramic.  I wanted a garden because of how being amidst living things make me feel.  Last week I had a hummingbird buzz around my head as I stood stock still watching it move through the garden.  Bees and butterflies by the dozen are zooming in and out of this garden and it just lights me up to watch.  It lights me up to watch people enjoy making art, enjoying what they are doing.  I am making new work in glass, more different than anything I have ever done and yet its also some of the most satisfying so far.  I am breaking away from the vessel more and pushing blown forms into sculpture.  I am beginning to make water fountains; this was something I had NEVER considered but once I saw the results of what I and my students had created, I was hooked.  I wanted one in my yard, too. I wanted TWO.  One in the front, one in the back yard!  Here is glass and color and water all in one place creating sound and movement. Maybe its not highbrow, but I am a simple man.  Sometimes the sublime speaks to us through the ray of light peeking through the trees, or in the particular pthalo green we have on our pallet for the day.  In each moment, tucked between the obvious and the esoteric there is something and it is waiting quietly for us to recognize it.  When we do, it doesn’t require grandiose visions.  Its as simple as a smile, as grand as a waterfall.  It is in both, and it waits for all of us.  The gateway is in allowing ourselves, which is so very much like what making great art and invention is all about.

The New Precious

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford

Over the last few weeks  I have been busily working developing a new line of work. This work employs a process made popular by Louise Comfort Tiffany in the 1800’s called fuming or irridizing.  This process became a signature of the Tiffany style and has been repeated many times over because of its intense popularity.  I have always said that I would not fume my work, and quite recently I went back on that promise in order to investigate this method to see if I could create new interesting forms that break some new ground.

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford

Doing that is not easy to do.  There is a lot that has been done…millions of processes and combinations….Some would say there is nothing new under the sun.  Perhaps it is true….until we actually come up with something new. To that end, I am giving it my all.

Yesterday I went into the studio with the intention of doing what I have always done in glass, which is to bring a

sculptural sense to my work and giving the forms a different kind of quality that sometimes departs from traditional vessel forms.

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford

The forms I came up with were an effort to create seashell like forms with the abalone shell being one of the chief forms for inspiration.  I grew up on the beach as a child and can remember many small oblong and rippled shells that had beautiful mother of pearl interiors.  I am in truth recreating that moment of discovery on the beach some 45 years later with this body of work.

Shell Form 5 sized

What I am doing are making relatively small-scale pieces that I can control and work into shell inspired forms.  A lot of this has to do with making the pieces off-center and breaking a lot of the rules that make blowing glass feel comfortable and “right.”  So much of what we learn about glass blowing has to do with keeping a piece centered.  So much of what I am doing now is knowing how to let a piece drift of center in just the right way in order to develop a sense of asymmetry amidst the natural order that is symmetry.  The work is in its infancy and yet I have enough ideas and directions to keep me busy for a lifetime.  Lucky for me, I am impatient and like to try new things and make new work so I guess I am making work for someone else to do in another couple of lifetimes!Shell form 5 -b sized

I hope you enjoy looking at the pieces.  They change so much in light, as some versions of the same piece in this post reveal.

All of this is fun and exciting and there is so much more to do, to make and to explore and discover.  This really is the most interesting part of design work because everything is so new and the possibilities are endless.  The key to creative viability I think is remaining fresh and new.  As old lines of work are being retired in my studio work, new lines, like this one with a decidedly oceanic bent to them emerge.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  In the interim it leaves new treasures for us to see and explore….seashells and all manner of flotsam and jetsam to pick through….

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford

If you like this work you can see more of the earliest work that was first done a few weeks ago in the post Breaking New Ground.  You can also see and interact on my facebook business page by typing in staffordartglass.

I hope everyone is having a great summer!

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford