Fiat!

A simple “Fiat” is the key.

I am a frugal artist. If something is useful, it should be used.  If art is worth creating, it should be on someone’s wall.  Sell it or give it away, but “use it.”  I simply cannot come to grips with the idea of creating anything at all unless it is for a purpose.  My left brain and right brain are equally vociferous! Some will say that art is not practical.  But who said that to be “purposeful” a thing must be practical?  Isn’t the joy one derives from seeing something beautiful practical enough?  So for years, I made art, exhibited it proudly in a large number of juried shows, then put it away in my closet. I was told that to get my art into someone else’s hands, I have to market it. Well that makes sense.  So I initiated my marketing plan.  I gathered up all the free advice I could find from the specialists in the “business of art.”

The first thing they all said was: “To be successful, an artist must spend at least 60% of his/her time on business and 40% on creating art.”  What?  When I broke my week down into these proportions, I found that I had an ever-evasive 20% of my time left for art, since cooking, cleaning  house, errands, showering, eating, paying bills, watching the news… etc. etc. – and my part-time teaching job took a big piece out of that 40%.

But the experts were experts for a reason, so I persisted with that carrot on a stick (future fame) always one step ahead of me. I researched and put into practice as much of the marketing advice I could glean from friends, conferences and websites.  It was taking a lot more than 60% of my time to get rolling, because it was all new, and I couldn’t afford to hire these experts.  I had to go it alone.  I kept telling myself that as soon as I sold a painting or two from my stored artwork, I could afford the materials to paint something new:  even a small amount of “fame” would ease the pressure and let the creative juices flow again.  For you see, they were not flowing any more.  I was discovering that artistic creativity and business savvy are like oil and water. Any artist who can pull off the two of them successfully must be a saint. I couldn’t. I stopped painting!

The end result of my extensive attempts to market my art resulted in more than ten pages of “Lorena Bowser, Artist” on Google, numerous personal and subscribed-to websites, an ever-growing number of excellent testimonials to my work, closets full of previously exhibited art sinking fast into obscurity  – and no sales!  Well, OK, that‘s not entirely true.  Family and friends, and a few anonymous purchases through a friend’s frame shop, represent actual art placed – on average about one artwork a year.  But I had heard the “experts” say many times: “You can make a living from what you love.”  Where had I gone wrong?  Where was the fine line between failure and success?  Was success measured by a few people loving your work and taking it home, or by making a living from what you love?

Fortunately for me, I love other things too. I threw in the towel on art and returned to my language teaching.  Was I giving up or just being practical?  My creative juices were dried up, and my stored art had nowhere to go.  Why continue to produce something that will end up in a dark closet forever.  I couldn’t even give this art to my appreciated admirers.  When I offered, I would hear: “I would feel bad taking your work without paying you for it,” or “Hold on to it.  It will sell one  day.”   Would that be posthumously?   It was time to put into practice my favorite saying:  “Happiness is not getting what you want but wanting what you get!”  After years of wearing myself out to be recognized as an artist, I changed my priorities and said “Fiat!”

Have you ever forgotten a word and tried every way possible to pull it out of your brain with no success, then when you are relaxed and no longer thinking about it, it just pops back in?  Sometimes I think that everything that we experience in life is related in thousands of ways to other experiences yet to be discovered.  Here’s the connection: I forgot art. Art then found me!

I had returned to my language teaching, Art was the furthest thing from my mind, and within a year, on inspiration from a friend from the language school, the art door opened wide and I walked back through. I was creating again, my art was “getting around,” and numerous artworks never saw the inside of my closet.

Where are they?  New artworks are on my language colleague’s wall, plus three old ones that came out of hiding – and I finished two more for him on request. He purchased another from my closet for his mother. One of my students from Germany took a number of my paintings and monotypes home with her and she commissioned two more for her parents’ home – in a little town on the Danube. Hey, I’m international!  Some artworks from my “stash” are now in my Redding friends’ homes, and, on inspiration from my Finnish class connection, I “Finn”ished a sizeable series of artworks on Finland for the Tori Market at FinnFest 2011, several of which sold.  I became a bona fide artist when I returned to my language. I now have art in Paris, Germany, Finland, Japan, Mexico and residing happily on some walls in the U.S.

Is there a moral to this story?  Perhaps it’s time we seriously considered that running circles around ourselves to accomplish lofty goals is not the way to achieve them.  If we do our best at whatever life gives us, what is meant to be, well….it will just happen!

But first, we have to say “FIAT!”

Fiat

 

Follow up article next week: The mercurial wiles of  “Fiat”

Sibeliuskirkko

Lahti, Finland, has Sibeliustalo, Sibelius Hall, that the Lahti Symphony Orchestra calls home. There each September, a celebration of music by Finland’s national composer, Jean Sibelius, takes place, with a select venue of concerts, followed by the customary visits to his birthplace, home and points of importance in his life by those who make the trip to Lahti. In this commemorative year, Finland, and the world at large, celebrates the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’ birth. Lahti was to see not the usual long weekend of concerts, but an entire week! All of his symphonies would be performed and a large selection of his most significant works, plus daily recitals and chamber works! It was an event that no one devoted to the life and music of Sibelius could miss. But I did! Finland is a long way off for me, so when we got news of a concert commemorating the 150th anniversary year of our beloved composer right here in San Diego, a dear friend and I, fellow devotees of the finer arts where Sibelius holds a particular place of honor, were excited.

les trois apres concert
Russamari Teppo, great great granddaughter of Jean Sibelius, with Erik Homenick and the author.

The flyer said “Sibelius Concert Service,” to be held at a local Lutheran Church. Of particular note was that one of the artists to perform was great great granddaughter of Sibelius, Ruusamari Teppo, an accomplished concert pianist. The word “service,” gave me hesitation: was I going to hear a concert or going to a religious service? The latter was not what I wished to attend. I spoke to my friend of my doubts as to what this concert-service involved, but he could not fathom the idea that I would miss the event honoring Sibelius, and particularly the opportunity to meet Mrs. Teppo, the closest to Sibelius “in person” we may ever come! He kept saying: “This will be our very own 150th anniversary celebration. Unthinkable to miss it!” I couldn’t resist the import of the argument or the forlorn look in his eyes as he considered the possibility that I might miss this event celebrating the master composer for whom we shared such a great love. I would go!

As we arrived among the gathering guests in the foyer, we were immediately engulfed in the arms of a Finnish friend who was instrumental in organizing the concert. She broke through the gathering guests, opened her chiffon draped arms like a mother swan gathering in her brood, and swept us both up together in a warm Finnish welcoming hug. I felt as if I had just been transported to Finland and from there on, everything had to go well. And so it did. The next couple of hours were full of music, but we were in church all right  -Sibeliuskirkko!  With the music of Sibelius, it is easy to touch the eternal.

There were a couple of spiritual songs in Finnish, sung by the small, but excellent choir, and one sing-along. The rest of the evening was pure Sibelius. Performing were, Ruusamari Teppo, piano, Jussi Makkonen, cello, Jari Suomalainen, violin, and Irene Marie Patton, vocal. The program was a full evening of delight, one work after another worthy of the Lahti concert venue, and the musicians could not have played more beautifully!

The evening’s program: Kuusi, Impromptu, Souvenir, Trio in A minor for piano, violin and cello, “Havträsk(unpublished, 1886), The Tempest: (Jussi Jalas arrangement, unpublished), Arioso, Masurkka, Valse Triste, and of course ….Finlandia!

Each work was an intimate visit with our beloved Sibelius, but the two that touched me most deeply were Valse Triste, and Finlandia, both played exquisitely by Jussi and Ruusamari. Valse Triste, so often heard before, found me unexpectedly a captive of the deeper thoughts that Sibelius’ life and music have so often inspired in me, and I sat motionless, alone with my thoughts, not wanting the moment to end.

But as the best things in life are often fleeting, as if to confirm their definition of extraordinary, the concert must end. But Sibelius, master of the “final note,” had one last grand statement to make. Finishing the program in the honored tradition of Sibelius concerts with the work so much a part of the Finnish soul, here was the great great granddaughter of Sibelius playing his Finlandia with passion and sensitivity,. This was no less than an historic moment! The acute disappointment that I had been feeling for months at being unable to attend the Lahti Festival, or meeting Jean Sibelius on his home ground, were no longer relevant. Like the good friend that he has always been, here was Sibelius come to us!

The music/art connection… inspiration: Akira Ifukube

portrait on piano iiThere is nothing I know of that inspires the creative spirit of a visual artist as much as music! Not the human drama, not wild imagination, not even nature, from which the most sublime music takes its cue. Perhaps that is because music, of all arts, is the one alone that touches everyone! If music touches everyone, then it stands to reason that great music touches what is great within us, and inspires us to greater action, whatever form that takes for each one of us. I have had the pleasure of knowing magnificent music, and none of my best artworks was created without music’s inspiration. So when my humble portrait of Akira Ifukube found its way to Japan, to be  placed on the piano of the composer himself, I was rather overwhelmed! So what’s the story?

Start with a discovery: A composer whom few may know beyond a brief mention of his name in the credits of a good monster movie – Godzilla.  Indeed, he is responsible for the scores of a majority of the Godzilla movies! but I seriously doubt that a lot of Godzilla fans ever looked past the story to the music, and the man behind it. I also doubt that those who did look past the scores were ever disappointed to discover the vast repertoire of classical works by this composer. I was not!

Gozilla and Ifukube came to me together, as I had the good fortune to be invited to see the 1954 original Godzilla movie, by my dear friend and longtime Ifukube devotee, Erik Homenick (www.akiraifukube.org), who is also responsible for my introduction to Ifukube’s classical works. I was struck by the stark, poignant scenes of the original movie, the relationship to a historical event that once brought Japan to its knees, and the end of one of History’s most devastating wars. Godzilla 1954, is more than a monster movie and a classic of cinematography – it is full of significance! Godzilla is my country, creating unimaginable destruction on another, as a result of clever war inventions used without full knowledge of their consequences. The music score is never more poignant than during the final scenes of destruction – a beautiful, soul-rending moment of truth. And so, my introduction to the music of Akira Ifukube began.  I was deeply moved!

Since my introduction to Godzilla, I have become an A-1 bonafide fan of Ifukube! The two are inseparable. I have since heard much of the composer’s work, far less still than I’d like as I continue to explore. As an artist who thrives on beauty for my best inspirations, the music connection is important to me. I have not heard a single work of this composer’s – orchestral, choral, or created for piano, koto, guitar, drum, marimba or violin – that I have not found exceptionally stirring. They have brought images to mind, still to be painted, of the beautiful places that inspired Ifukube’s music as a young composer; I have created a few to accompany some of his most beautiful works, on invitation from fellow-Ifukube fan, Tyler Martin, administrator of Kinema Sinfonia on You Tube; a couple of small pencil works of scenes from the 1954 movie; and the latest… this third portrait of the composer.

My first portrait of Akira Ifukube was a pencil rendition of the composer, followed bravely (moved though I was by determination more than portraiture experience) by a larger one in watercolor. Undoubtedly, this great composer has inspired the best in this artist, as only one other has been able to. As Ifukube has honored the music world, his Centennial celebration was the perfect occasion to say thank you, with a gift to the composer’s son, who resides in his father’s former home in Tokyo: my third portrait, small but lovingly created in graphite is a fitting image of a young composer, as his music is among the great works that never die.  Nor does Godzilla, to note his rebirth in all his glory – and more – in the recently debuted Godzilla 2014, as the 1954 film makes return appearances in our theaters, and the Annual G-fest toasts Ifukube and Godzilla with the first ever concert performance in the U.S. of the scores that made both famous.

That my simple portrait of Akira Ifukube-Sensei should rest on the piano that once brought to life countless Godzilla scores and an extensive repertoire of great classical works, through the fingers of the master himself, is a reminder to me of the connection between simplicity and greatness. I wished to honor Ifukube. He has honored me!