Opinion: Toward a Better Understanding of High Auction Prices for Young Artists

March 17, 2014 |

By Calvin Siegel

A strange man walks into a bar. He knows no one. No one knows him. He approaches the bar and the bartender acknowledges him. The man orders a drink, and the bartender initiates conversation, “I don’t recognize you from anywhere, do I?” asks the bartender. “No, no,” says the man, “I’m in town on business.” “What kind of business is it that you are here for?” asks the bartender. “Well,” the man says, “it’s kind of hard to believe, but I earn a living traveling around and making crazy bets.” This piques the bartender’s interest; “what kind of bets are we talking about here?” The strange man looks around the bar aimlessly before answering, “Ok. For instance, I bet you ten dollars that I can drink ten shots of whiskey in ten seconds.”

Knowing full well that no one could accomplish this task, the bartender agrees and lines the shot glasses up on the bar, looking at the man as he pours them out. The bartender then lays ten dollars on the table to which the strange man reciprocates. They both look at the clock and the bartender says, “GO!” The man, looking all of a sudden uninterested, drinks three of the shots, wipes his mouth off and gives up. The bartender is a little perplexed by the situation, but collects his money and shakes the man’s hand.

The night goes on. The strange man stays for a long time and talks to all of the various people at the bar until it is time to close. After the bartender makes his last call, the man approaches the bar. “I have one more bet for you, if you are at all interested” says the strange man to the bartender. Charmed in a strange way by the strange man, the bartender agrees to hear him out. “I bet you,” says the man, “one hundred dollars that if you line up another ten shot glasses in the same formation as before, that I can stand at the other end of the bar and piss into every one of those glasses until each is filled perfectly to the brim without spilling one single drop, anywhere.” The bartender weighs this for a moment; one hundred dollars is the most money he has ever made at one time, but what has this man got up his sleeve? Deciding that the man, although strangely cool, must be a little bit off, the bartender nods his head and begins to set up the glasses, again.

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The strange man walks across the bar, and as the bartender finishes setting up the glasses and steps aside, he turns around, drops his pants down to his ankles and begins to piss all over the bartender’s entire establishment. This goes on for about thirty seconds as all of the people in the bar stare in amazement. Ecstatic at his grand new acquisition, the bartender leaps into action with rag in hand and starts wiping the mess up. The strange man slowly pulls his pants up, zips his fly and buckles his belt. “So,” the bartender asks the man with a smile, “What was that about?” “Well”, the man says calmly, “I just bet everyone else in this place one hundred dollars each that I could piss all over your bar and you would just smile and wipe it up.”

The Best Advice: Draw.

March 17, 2014 |

Q: What is the Best Advice You Ever Got from Another Artist?

A: Draw.

When I think about a single important sliver of information that I obtained from another artist, I realize that I got it from a plethora of amazing artists that have greatly influenced my practice – whether they know it or not.  So, let’s give credit where credit is due: Rochelle Feinstein, Sam Messer and Carroll Dunham.

Prior to obtaining my MFA, I really wasn’t much of a drawer.  I suffered through foundation drawing classes in undergrad and tried to find more fun in it through other courses, but it never stuck with me- I never felt like I owned my drawings.  I felt like they owned me, and it didn’t feel good. It was like I was always speaking a foreign language without the verbs! I wanted more feeling!

When I was making work to apply to grad school – let’s get real – I was making paintings full of color- color has always been my strength and I was sticking to it.  When I realized I had to make drawings to bring along to the interview, my solution was to “draw” with eyeshadow and lipstick and…paint.  Drawing is an open-ended term.  But it was like I was hiding from myself psychologically.  Why wouldn’t I just confront my one artistic fear?

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The first drawing I made that I can remember that I really liked was the most simple and complex drawing I could imagine: it was a pencil drawing on computer paper.  But this drawing was a composite of EVERYTHING, derived from a timeline of my life (both public and private).  To make something that is still so important to me out of something as dumb as a pencil and crappy computer paper was and still is miraculous to me!  Materials can often be excuses- constantly hunting for the right thing to draw with, the right paper to draw on- it’s far more simple than that.  You have to find yourself to draw.

After that, it felt like I needed to prove I could draw, and in turn, I would prove that I could confront myself and what was important and meaningful to me in my practice.  Sam Messer had me drawing on the wall, literally.  With charcoal.  I’ll admit- it brought me to tears.  This may sound fun to some, reminiscent of being a bad kid drawing on the living room wall.  But for me, the dry chalky charcoal coating my nostrils, smearing on my legs was not redeeming itself.  However, when I looked back at what I had done- a drawing of whatever I wanted on the wall, coming together in a bizarre mural accented by interjections by my peers, I found that I could have fun, relate my body to lines, and let go.

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The final installment of drawing encouragement that I received in academia- and the final push that I needed to become an artist that could truly consider drawing an integral part of their practice- was receiving one simple piece of advice from Carroll Dunham in a drawing workshop with my peers.

The simple phrase: Drawing Without Resistance.

There was probably a lot said before that and after that- but this simple three-word phrase turned on a light switch in my mind.  Suddenly I had no regrets!  Suddenly I felt like I was allowed to do whatever I wanted.  Why did I think I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do before that?  Well, probably because I was tormented by negative feedback that I just wasn’t doing it correctly.  But now, being given this simple allowance that I could do whatever I wanted, I felt so empowered!  If simply putting pencil to paper was right, how could I ever be wrong?

The hardest part is starting, whether it is drawing or writing or even exercising.  I’m working on constantly starting these three things- and I always feel like I’ve gotten through the hardest part already once I’ve gotten past the first mark, word, or step.

Apocalyptic Winter Survival Guide for Artists

March 1, 2014 |

Speaking from New York City, this winter has been the absolute worst. Storm after storm, checking the weather on your iPhone seems like certain doom.  Once you’ve avoided falling on an unpaved sidewalk or getting splashed with a, shall we say, “wintry” mix from a bus, get into your studio and try to believe that spring will soon come and grant us the relief that we need!  Here are 10 absolute studio musts to get through the winter doldrums without just painting every surface black and calling it a day.

  • Fingerless Glovesfingerless gloves

Fingerless Gloves are a Godsend if you want to do things with your hands while being able to grip, smear, and articulate while staying semi-warm.  They have been passed down by generations of bikers, bad boys, and Urban Outfitters catalogues, and have finally digressed to the simple artist’s trusty right and left hand.

  • Moisturizer

Most likely, you are washing your hands constantly because, well, maybe you are a mess.  Or perhaps you’re mindful of your health and manicure and wear plastic gloves in the studio.  Either way, your hands are D-R-Y.  You have to pick a great moisturizer for the studio to prevent cracking, bleeding, and all other unsightly winter skin conditions that become acute with exposure.  We recommend the following hardcore moisturizers for your soft baby hands to stay that way.  Some Amazon approved options are O’Keeffe’s Hand Cream: Working Hands and classic Corn Husker’s Lotion.

  • If your oil paint hardens, put it on a heater!

Try it, it works!

  • Should we mention space heaters?space heater_snow

Use with caution!  Please don’t use one that you found on the sidewalk or in your grandmother’s basement and it looks retro to match your studio furnishings!  Newer is safer.

  • Electric Hot Water Kettle

Possibly the most ingenious inventions known to man, hot water kettles that can be plugged into the wall for that boiling water effect are a godsend in the studio.  Not only can you make hot tea for your guests when the heat mysteriously kicks it, (see: you never had heat in the first place), you can also make easy mac, or oatmeal for that matter.  And you can use the warm water in the sink or to soak things- or to make rabbit skin glue- or so I’ve heard.

  • Studio Sleeping Emergency Kit: Get Cozy

When you are in a studio without windows, time can get a little…questionable.  Add in some massive snowfall that you just happened to not hear about and well- it looks like you are spending the night. Make sure to have a makeshift set up available to you in your studio should the cold outside become too much to bear.  Or maybe you just want that early morning start that you can’t get any other way! Beyond actual furniture, Ikea offers some cushion options that open up and fold up for easy storage.  A sleeping bag or old comforter from your childhood bedroom may also prove essential.  Please don’t use painting rags as your pillow.

  • Layers upon Layers

I keep a “studio closet,” which is a formal term for a reusable bag (way green) full of my clothes that have 1+ spots of paint on them.  In the winter, I will layer a t-shirt to a long sleeved shirt to a sweatshirt to a zip up sweatshirt to a weird painty stiff pair of leggings to really set off the whole ensemble.

  • Flora and Fauna: Remembering Things Can Be Green

Having something living in the studio besides yourself and unwanted visitors is an important morale boosters in the dreary months.  Hearty succulents and charming cacti are especially friendly studiomates as they won’t just die on you when you can’t make it to the studio for a couple of days.  Spring. Is. Coming.

  • Bright Lights

Clamp lights. Sun lamps. Need I say more?  Get that Vitamin D.

  • A Calendar

I said it once and I’ll say it again: Spring. Is. Coming.