“Where do you learn all this stuff?”

I’m a reader. That’s answer I give to this question, which I get at shows all the time. Usually after an excessively rambling account of the way Catholic and West African beliefs combined in diaspora religions, the history of the term “burking”, popularity of postmortem photography in the Victorian era, or the feeding habits of corvids and their relation to mythological traditions in northern Europe. Or, “I’m a nerd”. This is very true. When other kids had video games, I had a library card. Well, I had video games too, but after I won Contra I lost interest in the whole thing and never picked up a console again. My very first book was called “Misty and Me”, a feel good little bit of fiction geared towards that age group in between Cat in the Hat and Miss Peregrine, about a girl and her puppy. And I picked it out at the book store at the age of six, after convincing my dad that I was ready for a “real book” as I called it. That is, one without pictures and huge type. Dad didn’t believe me, which, fair enough considering my age, and asked for a book report when I was done. Then I started making my way through Nancy Drew, and they never argued with me about my reading habits after that. I think they were disappointed that I didn’t turn out to be some genius prodigy, but I guess that’s a parent’s lot in life sometimes.

Since Misty broke the seal, I’ve been – consuming, is really the appropriate word to describe it – literature at a high rate. I never don’t have a book. If I can’t find a good book I will read a crappy one, but I have to be reading. SF/fantasy, biography, comic books, poetry, history, biology, anthropology, religion, memoir, physics, criminology, field and survival guides, sociology, chemistry, fiction, huge ass picture books of art, entomology, big, sexy word combinations with hyphens like socio-biology and ethno-botany. There isn’t anything I won’t read. If it’s crap and I have options, I won’t finish it, but that’s about the only deal breaker. Genre doesn’t matter a bit, so long as the writing is tasty or the subject so interesting the writing isn’t an issue.

I find “autodidact” to be a clumsy and ugly word, but it’s what I have been since the alphabet began to make sense to me, and I never looked back. College was a nightmare of intellectually stifling maze running for this rat accustomed to following her nose over hill and deep into thickets of connected subject matter, wherever the path, beaten or otherwise, seemed to most interestingly lead. The problem with a system like the educational one for a person like me, is that they want your brains to function on a track, like a well managed freight train, while mine is…not. It’s like a thing that wanders around quite a bit. Insert preferred metaphor here. A brook, butterfly, squirrel, jabberwocky, nargle. Whatever makes you happy. That’s my brain. A wander-y thing that is very VERY hungry and has to eat information constantly to stay content. I have in my bookshelf subjects as diverse as the history of table salt and its effects on the development of cross continental trade routes and human culture, and a boxed set of Bunnicula books. Does this make me a better artist? I dunno, but it does make me a hoot (or a nightmare, depending on the sorts of guests you have and how easily they are made uncomfortable by discussions revolving around the finer points of dermestid beetle feeding habits) at dinner parties and an epic pain in the ass in an argument. It makes me take a very macro view of human culture in my time and place. A mixed blessing, that I won’t wander into here because time management. I’ve been called smart, but I don’t know that I’m smart, or just have a super absorbent brain. Like a Sham-Wow. Things that stimulate me lodge in my skull and become part of my world. My brain is a nomad before colonialism threw arbitrary borders on the map. It goes everywhere. It sees all the things. And it gets nutso if it has to stay still, overgrazing the same territory and contributing to desertification. Alright, maybe I took that particular metaphor further than makes sense, but you get my drift.

So next time you’re in my booth and somehow the conversation turns to coming of age ceremonies in Pacific islands tribes or why fortune cookies are so ubiquitous, and you’re all, “How the hell did we get HERE?”, now you know.

 

 

Advertisements

Imposter Syndrome

A friend asked me a question in a letter not too long ago. One that I’ve asked myself a million times, and I’m sure every artist/san/crafter asks themselves too. “Are my friends just being nice?”

Over the course of the last two shows I’ve had several friends drop many dollars in my shop and walk away with multiple pieces each. It’s wonderful and humbling and makes me all verklempt. After the last such multiple piece purchase I turned to my bestie and said, “Man, maybe I don’t totally suck at this?”

It’s interesting that validation from strangers is easier to accept, but validation from loved ones brings up this kind of insecurity. Do we think, what, that we’re tricking people, and strangers are ok to trick? Or strangers have worse taste than our friends, who of course wouldn’t want the shabby products of our hamfisted attempts at creation if they weren’t just being nice? Why do we think that way? I’m not saying you should go around thinking you’re all brilliant and Aaahtist-ing all over people, because ego like that is gross. But can we at least go around trusting our loved ones judgement? We don’t have to agree with it. We should learn to give it the same weight as our own in this case though, even when it conflicts with ours. Maybe their perception here is right and yours is completely whack. It can happen. You could be…wrong. You might NOT suck!

Ok, if you can’t accept that at least accept your potential whack-ness of perception.

While we’re at it, accepting things that is, lets get something straight. Loving you is a perfectly valid reason to support what you’re doing. You are the work, the work is you. Art is an expression of the self. So supporting you is supporting the work, whether the work is something they’re totally into or not. If someone loves you enough to buy a piece of art they think is hideous or that just doesn’t speak to them, you’ve done something right in one of the most important relationships in your life. Someone values you and your path a lot. “Take the doughnut”*, as my new favorite book on living a creative life advises. Go you!

But lets get pragmatic, because love is lovely but I’m a cynic. Unless your friends are very wealthy people, nobody is buying art just to be nice. The scale of being nice is a very short one and your friends are probably on a tight financial leash like most everybody else. Your broke ass peeps will maybe spend a fiver on being nice. Maybe a ten or even, possibly, in a good week, a twenty. Additionally, whatever they buy from you has to go somewhere. Nobody spends money on something they’re gonna bin. So in addition to parting with funds, they need to negotiate for space with all the other things in their home. I don’t know about y’all, but I have neither money nor space in any great supply. Most people just don’t. And when they budget enough of both for your work, that’s more than loving you. That’s a sincere appreciation for the work you’re doing and a desire driven impulse to support it with their filthy lucre. Which is awesome.

But either way, the question of if your friends are sincerely loving your work, or just loving you? They are of equal value here. They both say good things about you and what you’re doing. Take the doughnut.

 

 

*In Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, she tells a story relating to this subject. I won’t go into a lengthy explanation here. You can get the whole thing by reading it if you like (and I recommend you do because it’s a great book). Short version; the “doughnut” in question becomes a metaphor for help and/or validation in whatever form it comes. Just accepting that help without making it into a “Do I deserve/am I allowed” kind of thing. You deserve it. It’s allowed. The art police isn’t coming for you for impersonating an artist. You are one. No papers necessary. Take the doughnut.

“How did you get here?”

“Here” being doing street shows for a living. The questions come phrased in a number of ways but basically boils down to wanting to know how this is my job. And there’s no simple answer. I didn’t decide when I was a wee lass that this would be my life. Some people do. Some people have a Thing. That Thing is their focus and driving force and what they work towards for a goodly portion of their lives. I don’t have a Thing. I am fascinated by All the Things, which makes for a hell of a time picking a life path, lemme tell you. If I could manifest my perfect career, it would be reading books and going places. I would be a Book Reader and Place Explorer. But that’s not a career anyone is going to pay me a salary for. So here I am.

There is a sensible path from there to here. It probably involves art school or business school. Or both. At least it must involve being able to do math and knowing how to draw.  But that’s not how I came to be here. Like most major decisions I’ve made, I just kind of went for it with no real idea what I was doing. That fact aside, this didn’t just occur to me one day as I was wailing on a heavy bag or having my morning constitutional. It actually started as a notion a former roommate and I were batting around over coffee at a Denny’s in Metairie, Louisiana about 20 years ago, the first winter I spent in New Orleans. I wasn’t a leather worker yet. I was barely even a nomad. I think it was my second year on the road. I just wanted to be the boss of me and hang out with art, not thinking for a minute I might be the one making it. At the time, I was dreaming of a brick and mortar shop of some kind (it was the far back times, when nobody had computers and the internet was a geek thing, but not something most people used or even knew about), where I’d just like, get really great makers to sell their stuff out of it. I remember saying to my roommate, “It would need a name so people would know it was about art and traveling.” He looked up from his grilled cheese and said, “As the Crow Flies”. We thought we were brilliant. And promptly forgot all about it.

Many years later I’m on a back deck at my best friend’s mom’s house, enjoying delicious grilled foodz and having a nice yak with a lively assortment of folks. I was apprenticed to two master crafters at ren faire at the time, learning loads of stuff, on the road for nine months out of the year and spending my off season in New Orleans. This was the thick of the “no fixed address” portion of my adult life. Conversation turned to business and goals and such, and I was noodling with the idea of maybe having my own shop someday. Bestie’s mom asked me what I’d call it and I said, “As the Crow Flies” kind of out of nowhere. I hadn’t thought about my roommate or the conversation we’d had for years, but there it was right on the tip of my tongue. The talk moved on to other things, like it does. But then a few weeks later, she hands me a sign she found at a garage sale. It’s this country cute thing with crackle paint and a bird stencil and says “as the crow flies” on it, and she said it was for my shop someday. Kind of as a joke.

Instead of putting that sign in my basement or some other no mans land of gag-y gifts, I sat it on top of my bookshelf. Where it has been now for many years. Staring at me. Kind of like a dare.

Between that day and this came more years traveling, hurricane Katrina, living and marinading in the funky mojo of New Orleans, college, several personal disasters, some cancer (not mine), and my major depressive disorder trying to make me walk off a building when the tangle of Life Things got extremely unruly. I knit when I’m stressed out, so the pile of hats and scarves got huge and an acquaintance suggested Etsy as a way to deal with them and pay for the yarn. From there it was a natural progression of “I wonder if I can do -insert art thing here-“. I took some online classes (happy to pass along the links for anyone interested), and played with glue and got ideas from paying a different kind of attention to the world than I had previously been paying. Got encouragement and invaluable advice from a huge number of friendly artists at shows and art tours who were happy to talk about their work and the work involved with art as a job. Did a small, one day show to see what doing shows was all about. Had Mary not let some rando from out of state do her Market, taken pictures of my stuff with such enthusiasm and posted them on her Facebook page, had Maday not clamored to find out who the artist was who made it (first time anyone had called me that in a professional capacity), had the customers not been so positive and encouraging, I may have stalled out completely. But they did. I made friends and connections. I kept going.

Anyone who tells you that the art brain is inborn and it’s not something that can be learned is lying to you. Some people come from the factory with an art brain, which gives them a head start, but it’s definitely something you can learn and nurture in yourself, no matter what kind of brain you start out with.

And here I am. It’s not a consignment store or a gallery, and it’s not a leather shop at ren faire, though at some future point it may encompass both or either of those things (remind me to tell you about Awesome Idea For When I Win the Lottery #12 someday). When my roomie and I first hatched the notion I wasn’t any kind of artist that I was aware of. Though I’ve always written poetry (No really, since I was five. Eh-hem. “Fishy fishy fish. You are so pretty fish. I love your gold fishy fishness. The end.” My folks thought it was super freakin’ cute. They probably regretted encouraging me when it led to open mics at cafes til 4 am, but nobody is psychic.), visual arts came to me way later. I guess I did kind of have a Thing. My Thing was to be the boss of me in whatever way made sense. Super vague as far as goal setting goes, but hey, it worked, so…

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What’s with all the death?”

I’ve explored a large number of spiritual traditions. As a youngster, I was trying to find a god that didn’t offend me with its misogyny and bigotry. As an adult and an atheist, out of curiosity about how different cultures deal with the big scary issues facing a living, sentient being. One of the biggest, scariest issues is, of course, dying.

Everything dies, even mountains. So why is it so terrifying? Some Native traditions refer to death as the Great Mystery. That about sums it up, doesn’t it. I’ve had plenty of people in my life go off into that mystery. Relatives of great old age and friends of great tragedy or accident. Nobody has come to tell me what happens next, if anything. So I’m left to deal with the idea of non-existence in whatever way works best for me. We all hope to live long and fabulous lives, but the truth is that death is walking next to all of us, all the time. We don’t know when she’s going to put her hand on our shoulder and say, “Come now. It’s time.” And that’s kind of terrifying.

Even with the wonderful pragmatism of Buddhism in my pocket, it’s a hard thing to give space to in my consciousness. I don’t hold all Buddhist beliefs to be literal truths, but plenty of them hold symbolic water with me. Reincarnation for example. I don’t believe my spirit, if such a thing I do possess, will go anywhere when I die, but I will be in actual fact reincarnated. My body will be broken down into its individual elements by a host of fascinating and necessary creatures and fungi collectively known as “decomposers” and be taken up by the grasses and trees whose roots have found my remains below them (I’m a green burial advocate, so I mean, for all intents and purposes, to be composted), which will then be preyed upon by whatever eats them, and in turn by whatever eats them. So maybe “recycled” is a more accurate term than “reincarnated”, but whatevs. This, to me, is right and proper. I was borrowing those elements from the universe, and I must return them when they’re due. Like a library book. My elements aren’t mine to keep, but belong to the universe collectively, and in time must be loaned out to something else. I could be a nebula someday.

I’m not the first sentient being to deal with things like Life! Death! Universe! symbolically. Art has a long history of being a coping mechanism and method of expressing Shit Too Big To Deal With. So to be honest it always kind of surprises me when people ask me what’s up with all the death. I want to ask them how they deal with it. Not in a judgy way, but I’m legit curious. It’s not even really death, exactly. Just because there are a lot of bones and carrion birds (don’t get me started on bird mythology, because we will be here all night) and whatnot doesn’t make the story specifically about death. The story I’m almost always telling is about transition and in-between-ness (“liminal” is the dictionary word for those people or things in between two states, which spellcheck refuses to believe is a word, but it totally is, you can google it). Dying happens to be the big one for a living thing, so it shows up often, but there are many other liminal states to be meditated on though the medium of art. There is no such thing as an end, only a shift. People don’t cease to exist, they cease to be people. What they are next is pretty open to interpretation depending on your belief system, but the transition part is non-negotiable.  A mountain, when it’s no longer a mountain, is dust, sand, magma. It hasn’t disappeared though. People don’t. Planets don’t. Because Library of Universe. Many of my materials are well along the path to returning their elements to it, and I’m there to help. Like a good little decomposer/recycler/agent of karma.

For whatever reasons, people like to make huge, complicated ideas that belong on a continuum into either/or equations. I’ve had to deal with this personally as a card carrying mentally ill person. People like to categorize me as balanced or unbalanced, but the fact is that I’m both, either or neither, depending on the day (or the hour). Sometimes, when my chemistry is chill, I’m very normal. For years I refused to discuss my malfunctioning circuitry with anyone, choosing instead to pretend so hard to be balanced that no one knew what to do with the unbalanced me when it happened. It wasn’t a good way to deal, though it left me with a valuable skill set. To this day I pass so well nobody knows I’m whackadoo unless they’re around me a fair bit. I’ve learned not to have the inside conversations in my outside voice. I’ve learned to respond to being touched like mammals are supposed to instead of flinching, and stopped organizing the pasta alphabetically. Sometimes though, I’m laying on the floor talking to the people that live in my brain who aren’t me, or not being able to leave my house because, AAACK! WORLD! That effort needs expressing somehow, too. The things inside you can’t let off their leashes but that can’t stay inside indefinitely or you lose touch with the difference between subjective reality and the one we all more or less agree is real (don’t get me started on quantum theory or we’ll be here all night).

I’m also a first gen. My parents came here from somewhere else, and like lots of immigrants, they wanted their kids assimilated like, now. So I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of either place. My family was very different from the other kids I knew, but also not like any Latino family I knew either (which, growing up in a very homogeneous suburb, consisted of my Puerto Rican friends from summers in San Juan, so maybe I didn’t have a great representative sample for comparison). I sit between two cultures and don’t feel fully a part of one or the other. People who feel rooted in their culture express their feelings for it all the time through artistic mediums. People who don’t feel rooted though, also have feelings that need dealing with. Feelings of in between-ness and dislocation.

I’m not sure at what exact point I decided that this medium was a good one for expressing All of the Things. The weirdness in my head, my feelings about non-existence, the ways of being in between two sharp points in the world and still feeling authentic. But I did, and it works for me. And I have the huge compliment of being told at every show how well it speaks to other people. People who are liminal people, people who are members of one or another counter culture, but also people whose freak flag doesn’t fly very high at all. People who work with death, grief, or mental illness as part of their jobs. People who occupy places society doesn’t explicitly approve of, or that aren’t well defined. It’s satisfying as hell. I’m really just sitting in my basement playing with glitter and junk and wondering if anyone is going to get this, and it seems that, yeah, they do. Not everyone does, but that’s fine. Not everyone likes shrimp or BMWs.

We all have to deal with Shit Too Big To Deal With in some way or another.

 

 

Anthropologists, I beg you

Hire a ghost writer. Please.

When I first went to college, believe it or not, it was as a science major. I wanted to go into forensics. Not because I thought Abby Sciuto’s job was in any way realistic, but because I’m fascinated by the field. I read college text books on criminal profiling and medicolegal death investigation for fun (which, I promise, will always get you plenty of elbow room on the train). But I quickly realized that the school I’d chosen, the one I could afford in the city I wanted to live in, was not going to give me a good education for that particular life path. And because I’m one of those people who is not driven by one single passion, I simply chose another path. The path I chose was anthropology.

Culture is hilarious. No, it really is. Once you get outside of it and start looking at it like a story someone is telling you, the plot holes are epic and nothing the characters do seems to further the story. It’s a Shakespearean farce with a tragedy chaser. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a compelling one. The art, the music, the languages, religions. It’s all such poetry. Surrealist poetry, but poetry all the same. I’m a poet at heart. Even my mixed media work is a poem. It’s just not one that uses words. It’s a poem of objects in juxtaposition. And cultures are the same.

In my totally unasked for opinion, it is the job of anthropologists to interpret those poems so people living in other stories, other cultures, can understand each other. So maybe the people on this little experiment hurtling through space all alone (or are we…) can, I dunno, respect each other and the planet. Maybe. Just for yuks.

So. Imagine my DISMAY as an actual, living, breathing culture story interpreter in training, when I realized that anthropologists didn’t share my notion. At least insofar as making themselves even remotely accessible. I had to read dozens of ethnographies (200 or so page breakdowns of a particular aspect of a culture) in the course of my brief life as an anthropology major. Not a single one of them was even a tiny bit penetrable. Some because the language was so jargon-y and dense, and made important references to 600 other books that if you hadn’t read you would be at a loss to understand, but some were just flat out crap from a literary standpoint. In other words, they sucked the poetry right out of the thing they were describing. Broke it down to such a molecular level that it ceased to have meaning. And this is SOP. Anyone not making culture read like stereo instructions was deemed a dilettante, not a serious scientist. Which, ok if you’re talking biochemistry or whatever. Molecular level makes sense there. But a culture’s parts only make sense in relation to each other and if you excise them from the rest it has no meaning. The word “red” is just a word without the “rose”, “love” et cetera. I don’t even like Robert Burns, but I can recognize it’s a poem because context. It’s not a remotely good poem, but that’s neither here nor there and totally a matter of opinion.

I answer the question “What inspires you as an artist” with “everything”. And that’s vague AF but also true. The reasons we strive inspire me. The reasons we grieve. The reasons we create and love and work. Not, we in this country and people of my cultural background, but the capital We. All of us as a singular species that have taken what nature programed us to do and made it so mind bogglingly complicated and diverse. And yeah, stupid, too. We’re amazing and pitiful and our poem reads not like stereo instructions, but like an opera. And I personally think it’s criminal that an entire branch of science works to deaden it into something only a few can digest, leaving the rest of us to fail at a comprehension that could make all of us so much richer for the understanding.

So, Clifford Geertz, Huntington and Metcalf, and all the rest of you thick tongued, long winded, pedantic as fuuuuuck jerks, I’m saying to you, learn to do this species justice or gtfo and stop torturing us with your writing. Hire someone who can tell a good story. There’s a world of unpublished talent out there who would probably love a shot at getting paid for what they do that, even if they’re only good at potato chip fiction, will tell the story of humans better than you can.

/end rant

Deeper down the rabbit hole than usual

It’s been three years since I started this thing. This business, this art, this part of my life. Whatever it is. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but also, it does. I’m feeling a bit “Wtf do I think I’m doing?”.

I mean, how many people actually make a sustainable living making art? Way more talented people than me are not, in fact, making a sustainable living at it, so what makes me think I can? That question keeps popping up on me lately, from the sticky depths of my brain meatz.

You’d think it wouldn’t, because I did better this year than last year by almost double. That is not small potatoes. I have had so many validating things happen this season, too. So much positive reinforcement. The kinds of compliments that mean something on a professional level. Big sales, artists I admire wanting to trade. Which I will probably never stop being all, “For realz??” when that happens. But also the support of people who just believe in me and are are like, “Go! Do the thing!”, or my broke ass friends budgeting their tiny budgets for my stuff. That’s every bit as important as big sales. That’s huge.

You’d think it wouldn’t, because I’m like, a dynamo of “fuck it”. Flinging myself into a life I had no training for just because I was out of ideas and desperately needed something to do with myself is not a new thing for me. This is how I ended up a rennie leather worker. I’d never even been camping before I buggered off to go live without plumbing or electricity for an entire decade. If it looks good, I rarely pause to wonder if I can or should do it. I just kind of go. And I do that because I grew up a shy, awkward wee lass who never had adventures, but who decided she wanted to be Stevie Nicks if Stevie Nicks was also a pirate when she grew up. I’ve made some astonishingly bad choices because of this, but I’ve also had a pretty interesting life.

Really, I’m just as freaked out as anybody. I just try not to let it get in my way. I might not be if I were 20, but at 40, most of my cohort is at least able to pay their own rent. I have been at various points, but I suck so bad at sublimating it’s comical (Unless you’re the guy that fired me after I threatened to stab him in the head with a fork. True story. He totally deserved it.). I get fired like it’s an Olympic sport and I’m bringing home the gold for America. It’s not that I don’t like to work. Oh so au contraire. I go crazy cakes when I’m not busy. Happiest time of my life was as the aforementioned rennie leather worker with a ten hour work day and a six day work week. It’s just that if I can’t get passionate about it, or if the boss/coworkers are douche canoes, I lose whatever scant filter I have in place. I have a bullshit threshold of about two, and you need at least an eleven to get by in most jobs. So pretty much I’m the best boss of me out there.

I read somewhere that a lot of the most successful musicians, artists, and entrepreneurs claim they succeeded simply because they had no plan B. Which makes a certain amount of sense. If you have but one basket, you’re really committed to making sure that basket will hold all those eggs. People say “nay” a lot when you’ve got some cockamamie notion like you wanna start a band or make a computer and a cell phone have babies. I wonder how many people tried to talk them back into their day jobs. The negative stuff sticks with you far longer than anything else, and it’s hard not to let that turn into an ongoing question about whether or not you’re cut out for whatever thing. When I first started doing this, for the most part everyone was really supportive. But there was one person who told me what I did wasn’t art. This is not unusual. People will tell you that. It’s not art, it’s not this or that thing that they think defines art. And that sucked, because I thought highly of their opinion. And for a hot second I let that slow me down. Eventually I got over that nonsense, and it taught me a valuable skill set insofar as ignoring criticism that isn’t constructive goes. It’s really easy to say, “This isn’t art.” but it’s not useful. It’s an opinion, and opinions vary widely on the subject. You wanna add to my skill set or correct my execution, I welcome it. But that’s the difference between useful criticism and opinion.

That moment sticks with me, though I don’t believe it’s true anymore. I believe that nobody gets to say what is and isn’t art, because art is so personal. My position, in a nutshell; if you think it’s art, it’s art. If you show it to the world and they love it, it’s art. If you show it to the world and they hate it, it’s art. If you lock it in a closet, set it on fire, only show it to your cat, or seal it up in a wall for future generations to find, it’s art. If you went to school for it, it’s art. If you taught yourself from YouTube videos, trial and error, or you didn’t teach yourself at all because you think the only true art is unconscious expression with no direction, it’s. Still. Art. If it’s amazing, it’s art. If it’s horrible, IT’S STILL FREAKIN’ ART. If anything that sayer of nay propelled me forward because, well, because I’m extremely ornery.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of “Wtf do I think I’m doing?”. Like now. There’s that voice in my head that’s yelling “Impostor! They will figure out you’re faking it!”. It happens. But part of my process, and hopefully a useful part for other people who want to feel a little less insecure about their own feelings of insecurity, is just discussing what we all go through when setting off on an uncertain path with potentially no future as these things are reckoned, just because we had some idea that it could be awesome, and what happens when you’re not sure yet if it’s going to be. Because it helps, I think, to know that everyone feels this way. Even people who went to school and got good marks and everyone tells them they’re awesome at a thing, sometimes get impostored by their own brains. So it’s not just those of us who decide we’re going to figure it out as we go.

So relax, I’m saying. To you and me both. Wtf do I think I’m doing? I have no freakin’ idea. What an adventure. I like to think Pirate Stevie would approve.

 

 

 

I do not think it means what you think it means

As I further contemplate joining Patreon, I get really excited about what things like Patreon mean for the relationship between consumer and maker. I don’t know why any one else makes art, but I make it to tell stories, to have somewhere to put the manic energy that’s always lived in my hands, and to reflect an idea or state of mind. Stories are by their nature meant to be shared. Even if the story I tell with objects isn’t the one you’re hearing, as long as you’re hearing a story or getting an idea or emotion, I’ve done my job. And that’s awesome.

Music and literature in particular have often depended on middlemen to reach the consumer. Sometimes that’s a really useful relationship. Indie record labels and small publishing houses are wonderful things. But the big dogs are not wonderful a lot of the time. Those relationships can be really unbalanced to the detriment of the maker, with an overabundance of middlemen, higher prices for the finished product, a homogenization of the art, and not as much going to the artist as you might like. It’s really satisfying to me to buy or trade for art at the shows I do. I’m right there in the act of supporting the maker. I feel the same when I drop something in the hat of a performer. I’m helping them live their life so they can make art. And that’s awesome.

So this article I posted yesterday morning. Maria Popova interviews Amanda Palmer and they talk about this very thing. Art, the consumer, the relationship between the creator and the fan base. Palmer talks about a supporter on Patreon who withdrew their patronage because they didn’t want the money they spent on art to be spent on diapers. (For those of you who aren’t fans or don’t pay attention to such things, Palmer and husband Neil Gaiman have recently spawned.)

This brings up a very interesting issue. When you pay your plumber for routing out your drain, you understand, if you think about it at all, that he puts that money in the bank and then pays for his life expenses with it. Rent, food, kids school supplies. You do the same with your paycheck for whatever work you do. As far as art goes, when you buy a CD or book at the store, wherever that money goes, someone is paying bills with it, going on vacation with it, doing Life Things with it. But it’s at a remove. You don’t think about what your plumber does at home anymore than you’d want your boss wondering what you’re spending your paycheck on.

Patreon is different. The artists blog and post and share their lives with the patrons, creating an exchange that allows for the patronage relationship to work. Patronage is very different from buying a CD at the store, or art at a show. It’s far more personal and what you get for your money is sometimes less tangible. So Gladys knows that Palmer just supported her chosen political candidate and she knows that she pays Palmer $5 a month to make art. “Wait a minute? Is that MY money she just gave to that Socialist hippie????” Well, no. Gladys, you paid a wage to someone to make work, which you got your fair share of in whatever way Patreon has set up that you agreed to. You got what you paid for. Your $5, that is, Palmer’s paycheck, went into her bank account to pay for Life Things. Sometimes that’s going to facilitate making more art. But sometimes it’s for diapers and sometimes it’s for things you don’t necessarily agree with.

It leads to a lot of pondering about expectations, and why artists would be expected to somehow live differently than plumbers. I’d love for my art to completely support my life. That means that when someone buys my art, they’re directly supporting my life with this paycheck they’ve just given me in exchange for my work. My whole, entire, mundane detail filled life. Which involves buying more supplies and making more art, but it also entails having my oil changed and paying for my dog’s vet bills, paying my tax accountant and spending a weekend hiking at Devils Lake with my partner. If they don’t like that I have a dog with vet bills or sometimes need a vacation and don’t want to pay for that, it’s their choice. But are they so picky about the guy at the bakery, or the lady who dry cleans their shirts? Why, or why not?

But think about that. When I have enough of a customer base to actually consider Patreon, it’s going to create a different sort of consumer/maker relationship. Anyone who chooses to support it will be paying me a salary to just be here and make stuff. Such is the nature of patronage. It’s maybe just a dollar a month. But that dollar will get you access, rather than concrete objects. Workshops, blogs, bits and bobs. It’ll be different than buying something from me online or at a show. Though part of that access will probably be first dibs on new stuff. Can I then, with that dollar and many others, go and get a tattoo, for example, without pissing anybody off? Can I even fulfill a consumer/maker relationship at a higher level than what you’d put in a tip jar? Because visual artists on Patreon send their higher dollar patrons some great shit, let me tell you. Limited edition prints and whatnot, that only patrons get. But I don’t have prints. I’m a 3D girl. What do I send someone insane enough to put more than a buck in my hat?

The answer is, I don’t know. There’s a reason I don’t have “artist” on my business cards, but instead put “mad scientist” on them. Because this is all an experiment. I don’t know how many of you or anyone else are willing to get on board with me and see where it goes, but I’m totally willing to fling myself out into the void to find out.