Archive for the ‘artist to artist’ Category

How Do You Talk about Your Art?

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Periodically, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

At some point, most artists are asked to either speak or write about their work and about their creative process. How much do they explain? What aspects do they steer away from discussing?

We asked artists in different disciplines, What do you strive to convey when speaking or writing publicly about your work?

Matthew Gamber, 3D GLASSES (2010), Digital Silver Gelatin Print, 20x24 in

Matthew Gamber, visual artist
Primarily: brevity. In that brevity, you have the opportunity to distill your intent to a specific focus. Unless the statement is an artwork (producing an effect), then the statement should be written with the intent to illuminate your intention for the audience. In my opinion, to write about art is to write about it as you would any other subject. Avoid cliché, and often repeated phrases – these are descriptive crutches that have lost all explanatory power.

Stefanie Lubkowski, composer
Much like the title of the piece, an introduction is an invitation into the world of the music. Many times when I am asked to speak before a performance of my music, my mind goes blank until moments before the preceding piece ends. This is not only due to a bit of stage fright, but also because any pre-performance talk has enormous potential to foster a more personal relationship between the audience and the music they are about to hear. I want my words to accurately and carefully address the issues of the piece, while at the same time conveying a sense of personal warmth. What you say has to get to the heart of your work, but yet contain palpable sincerity and emotion. For me, the most successful formula consists of a brief description of the piece’s inspiration, a simple explanation of one of the work’s key concepts, and an expression of appreciation for the performers, the venue, and the presenters.

Pat Shannon, STREET WORK: PARKING SPACE (ON SITE) (2013), sheet aluminum, 11x18 ft

Pat Shannon, STREET WORK: PARKING SPACE (PARTIAL STUDIO VIEW) (2013), aluminum sheet, 11x18 ft

Pat Shannon, visual artist
Writing or speaking about my work often feels like taking a step out from inside the art to offer others a way in. I prefer to talk about the questions that fuel my curiosity and process rather than attempting to explain the work. My goal is to allow people a way to get closer to the work while still having their own experience.

The Street Works project started with my reflections on touch as the most intimate sense, which then led me to form a key question: “What would happen if I choose a site and set up a system to literally feel my way across it? What would it mean to know – and record – a place by touch?”

I began taking rubbed impressions of the street in response to this question, so I guess you could say that communicating that question to others conveys something about the “Why?” of the work. I’m the only person who can account for why I made something. When I look at other artists’ work, I’m always curious about their inner reasons. “What motivated them to make this??”

As a visual artist, learning how to speak publicly or write about my work in a way that adds something more without distracting from the art is always a challenge, yet often one that furthers my own understanding of the work.

Paul Matteson, choreographer
I know it is important to talk and write about my creative work and myself as an artist, yet I am often resistant to public opportunities. I tell myself that my artistry is a fragile relationship with doubt and that addressing it critically will disrupt my growth. In truth, I am afraid that I am not smart enough to have a scholarly perspective. Also, it is hard work! Recently while preparing for an artist talk at the Salt Dance Festival, I saw in the mess of my index cards the potential to contemplate a searching life. I think the timing was right. A midlife view helped me add context to my naïve history as an aspiring dancer. I framed the talk as a type of self-reckoning with all of my intertwining influences, which allowed me to simply talk about everyone who has inspired me. And in the act of acknowledging others, there was the affirming realization that I have always had the intention to go as deep as possible.

Linda K. Wertheimer, writer
Speaking, like writing, is an art form. It takes work to woo an audience, and my goal is to fashion engaging talks that rely on more than just reading passages from my book. I’m a reading junkie, and authors that keep me listening tell their back stories. They spend more time chatting about why they wrote their book than they do reading what I can easily find on the page. They take me along on their literary journeys whether they are novelists or nonfiction writers. They sometimes use interesting props, like the model of an old stage wagon author E.B. Moore displayed as she talked about her novel set in Amish country. Or they show historical footage, like author Lou Ureneck did as he described a dramatic rescue of Armenians. I took hundreds of photos on reporting trips around the country for Faith Ed and will include some in my talks. “Reading” for me is a misnomer. I consider a book talk a dialogue with the audience. If I do my job well, hands will fly with questions and comments. I don’t want to be the only one talking.

Cover art from FAITH ED (Beacon Press 2015) by Linda K. Wertheimer


Matthew Gamber‘s photography was recently included in In/Sight at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University and has also exhibited at Gallery Kayafas, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Flash Forward Festival, and Fitchburg Art Museum. Through the first week of August, he posted photos on Instagram on behalf of Self Publish, Be Happy.

Paul Matteson is a Five College Assistant Professor of Dance. In June, he taught at the Salt Dance Festival in Utah and co-created the NOW Festival with Jennifer Polins, Andrea Olsen, and Peter Schmitz in Amherst, MA.

Composer Stefanie Lubkowski‘s piece for the bass clarinet/marimba duo Transient Canvas will be premiered at The Record Company in Boston (9/12, 8 PM), and her chamber orchestra piece “Bliss Whispers” will be premiered by the EQ Ensemble at the Cambridge YMCA (10/15, 7:30 PM).

Pat Shannon is a visual artist working in sculpture, conceptual art, and interdisciplinary forms. Her work is exhibiting in “VILLISSIMA! Des artistes et des villes,” at the Hôtel des Arts, Toulon France (thru 9/27).

Linda K. Wertheimer is a journalist and author of Faith Ed, Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance, (Beacon Press, Aug. 18). Linda’s first public reading for the book will be on 8/18, 7 PM, at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. She will speak at 7 PM on 8/25 at Tewksbury Library as part of the library’s summer author series. Find more:

Images: Matthew Gamber, 3D GLASSES (2010), Digital Silver Gelatin Print, 20×24 in; two images from Pat Shannon’s STREET WORK project (2013); cover art from FAITH ED (Beacon Press 2015) by Linda K. Wertheimer.

How Have Setbacks Impacted Your Art?

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Roughly once a month, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

This month, we’re interested in how setbacks shape (or don’t) an artist’s work. So we asked artists in different disciplines, Have you ever had a setback that had a major impact on your trajectory as an artist?


Toni Pepe, photography artist
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

Failure is an inevitable part of the creative process. It is something I try to welcome, understand, and put to use. After recently becoming a new mother I struggled with the balance between work, family, and art. That wonderful weight of guilt that settles in when I haven’t been in the studio started to become heavier and heavier. My previous method for shooting, which often involved locking myself away for hours and days to make one image, needless to say, was not feasible.

My time was no longer my own and I had to adjust my expectations drastically. I have always mined the family album and personal experience for content and incorporating my children into the work felt like a natural progression. At first, I failed magnificently. Each shoot led only to blurry baby arms and legs, and I was peed on more times than I’d like to admit. It took a full year before I made an image I was excited about.

Working with my children opened up a new avenue for spontaneity in my work. They are creatures with individual wills and while they’ll follow my direction, their interpretations are what make the images successful.

Emily Ross, writer
My biggest setback as a writer came during a meeting with an agent at a writing conference. Thanks to GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program I’d just finished the novel I’d worked on for seven years and was ready to find an agent. But I wasn’t ready for what I heard. After saying some nice things, the agent told me I needed to make my YA mystery thriller, set firmly in the Sixties, contemporary. Other sessions I attended confirmed that I’d inadvertently stepped into the Bermuda Triangle of marketing by setting my YA novel over fifty years ago.

It was hard to hear but I listened. I took a stab at making my book contemporary, but my story was intricately tied to the decade it was set in. Changing that would mean writing a new book. Then I put my novel aside for a while and read literary thrillers I hoped were like mine. They made realize that the most important thing was the dark story I was telling. When I finally started revising again I removed cultural references that weren’t essential and focused on strengthening my story. My setback had made me more aware of the market but also reinforced my commitment to the novel I’d written. A year after that writing conference, I started querying in earnest and found my wonderful agent Rebecca Podos. Half in Love with Death, my YA novel set in the Sixties, will be published by Merit Press in 2016.

Warren Mather, ceramic and photography artist
I don’t really want to answer this question because of the jinx possibilities in that I feel fortunate not to have experienced any recent “setbacks.” Contracting polio and nearly drowning as a child were wake up calls that happened too early to affect my art direction (unless now, subconsciously). Rejections in affairs of the heart during my 20’s pumped up the intensity and volume of my art production but there was no change in what I was doing. Now in my mature years, energy that fuels my working is more like water seeping downhill through rock ledges than, say, steam propelled geyser eruptions of years past. Recently, none of my emotional circuit breakers have been tripped by setbacks.



Warren Mather is a ceramic and photography artist who fires photographic, video, and computer drawn images in ceramic glaze. He has work in the Basic Black exhibition at the Concord Art Association (through 4/3).

Toni Pepe‘s photographs are incorporated into the newly published poetry book Bullies in Love by Jendi Reiter.

Emily Ross graduated from GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, and she has been published in Menda City Review and Boston Magazine. Her YA novel Half in Love with Death is forthcoming from Merit Press in 2016.

Images: Toni Pepe, UNTITLED (from the series ANGLE OF REPOSE); Warren Mather, ASPEN GROVE (2013), ceramic mounted on wood, 30.5×30.5×2 in.

Disrupting Norms, Defying Expectations

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Roughly once a month, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

Somewhere along the line, “disruptive innovation” became a buzzy concept in business circles. But disruption, innovation, and defied expectations have long been tools in the artist’s kit. We asked artists, Is it a priority in your work to disrupt norms or defy expectations?


Samuel Rowlett, visual artist
In my work I only ever try to disrupt the norms I impose upon myself. What my work prioritizes is its own business.

For me (I’m sure I’m not alone in this) my work begins as an idea. Often it is not even visual in nature; it is almost like a word I can’t remember. My work starts as more language than image. In this early, proto-art state, the work is formless, to some extent even boundless. Here, the work has a near unlimited potential, it is purely theoretical, it is something unproven by nature. I wish I could hold the work in this state for longer.

Inevitably, it is in fact “norms” (all the things I know and much of what I really don’t know) that actually give the work “form” and provide a bridge to the physical world. Norms, such as those fostered by the history and traditions of art and visual culture, constitute a complex vocabulary. Disrupting those norms is how artists communicate with each other.

As far as expectations go, I’m more of an expectation avoider. I have this theory that if I can avoid expectations, I might be able to defy disappointment.

Ryan P. Casey, tap dance artist
Because I find that people have very rigid notions or images of what tap is – Fred Astaire twirling with a cane, perhaps, or a Broadway musical – I make it a priority in my work to subvert expectations. I’ve combined tap with poetry; performed with basketballs; choreographed character-driven pieces that integrate tap into a narrative; and other techniques intended primarily to display to the audience tap’s (and rhythm’s) versatility. I want them to think, “I didn’t know you could do that with tap!”

It’s true that tap has a very distinct tradition, which so many of its practitioners strive to emphasize and inculcate in their students, but there is so much innovation within it already: Astaire’s firecracker routine from Holiday Inn, for instance, or the many Vaudevillian variations on tap (in roller skates, on stairs, etc.). Sometimes people think tap can’t tell stories or express emotions or accomplish other feats commonly associated with ballet, contemporary, modern, and other styles. It’s important to me to clarify that tap can, in fact, achieve those kinds of effects in its own way, and that, as a percussive dance style, it has its own special and equally worthy qualities.

Nancy Selvage, sculpture and interdisciplinary artist
I strive to create work that engages me and the viewer in a discovery process. The disruption of norms and defiance of expectations often emerge from these exploration processes; however, neither is the initial impetus or the priority.

In many of my installations the alteration of expectations has been an important factor (but not primary goal) in creating a compelling and emotional experience of space. (See reviews of Convergence, Nuclear Home, and Dwell for viewer responses.)

Whether I start with a plate on a table or a wall in a plaza, I am interested in the convergence of actual, implied, and symbolic content to express social and environmental concerns. (Read more.)


Ryan P. Casey is a tap dancer, teacher, choreographer and journalist. He’ll perform his show Gumshoes in Tap Shoes at the Dance Complex in Cambridge 2/6 & 2/7, 8 PM.

Trained as a painter, Samuel Rowlett‘s work filters sculpture, performance, video, and photography through the language and materiality of painting and drawing. He was just named as a 2015 MCC Artist Fellow in Sculpture/Installation/New Genres.

Nancy Selvage, a public artist and sculptor, has support from the New England Foundation for the Arts to create the Point Park Public Art Project in Lowell, MA.

Image: Samuel Rowlett, LANDSCAPE PAINTING IN THE EXPANDED FIELD (FIELD PAINTING) (2012), oil on linen, wood, backpack harness, 96×72 in.

What Kinds of Support Are Most Important?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

MCC is proud to support artists with Artist Fellowships for excellence, but monetary grants are only one among numerous ways an artist might receive support. We asked a group of artists in different disciplines, What kinds of support have been most important to you?

Lucy Kim, MARILYN MARKS (JON AND LUCY) (2013), oil paint and plastic on wood panel, 16x12 in

Lucy Kim, visual artist
The most critical support comes from my closest friends and family. It’s an emotional and intellectual support that I would be utterly lost without. They are the ones I trust to be brutally honest with me when it matters most.

There is also the more public kind of validation and support that have been tremendously important. A year ago, I met Lisa Cooley and joined her gallery. I learned what it meant to have the support of a professional and ambitious gallerist – someone with a vision and a long view of things. The MacDowell Colony and Skowhegan both provided residencies where I was able to retreat and make work for two months at a time. This year, I was honored to receive an Artadia Award, which helps so much with production costs as I gear up for my first solo show.

Kate Leary, writer
This year, for the first time, I received support for my fiction in the form of grants – from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. I’m a parent of two young children, and I’m spending almost all of this money on childcare so I can work on my novel. Financial support is concrete, quantifiable, and exactly what I need right now. Knowing that my work was judged to be deserving of support matters, too. I’m approaching this novel with a level of confidence I’ve never felt before. Winning a residency at I-Park a few years ago provided a similar boost.

For a long time, I’ve been supported in ways that are less official but no less precious. My husband has never made me feel as though it’s overindulgent to invest time and money into writing fiction. When our youngest was two and we couldn’t fit babysitting into our budget, he juggled his work schedule so I could always have five hours a week to write that year. Support in the early days of parenting came from friends who enthusiastically agreed to childcare swaps that I probably needed more than they did. Before that, it came from teachers who encouraged me, and from writer friends who still read my work and help me improve it. Support has come from my entire family, but especially from my mom, a librarian who drove me around to branch libraries tirelessly so I could read exactly the books I was desperate to read.

Eric Gottesman, photographic artist and organizer
I feel the love from many places: my friends and family, funders, curators that want to show my work, residencies and organizations that have helped me produce it, partners in community-based projects, etc. But the one well of support I find myself returning to again and again is my community of fellow artists. There are several groups of artists I have met (in grad school, at residencies, in cities I’ve lived in) that I stay in touch with and, whenever we get a chance to hang out, there often arises an uncomfortable moment when one of us asks the rest to look at a proposal or a work in progress and give feedback; then the avalanche begins and everyone chimes in “Me too!” We depend on each other. We are friends but an important part of our friendship is our desire to be entwined in each other’s practices. A kind of deep understanding over many years results from watching someone develop and change.

Vanessa Michalak, painter
As an artist, the emotional support that I’ve received from people in my life has been invaluable. My friends, family members, teachers and significant other have helped me achieve more than I possible could have alone. So much about being an artist can be paralleled to the dedication of an athlete that shows up day after day to practice. On the toughest days, filled with self doubt and fear, the kindness, love and encouragement of all these special people is what gets me through and keeps me coming back to my art again and again.



Eric Gottesman is a photographic artist and organizer. His first book, Sudden Flowers, was published in October 2014 by Fishbar.

Lucy Kim is a visual artist who lives and works in New York City and Cambridge, MA. She has a solo show at Lisa Cooley in NYC opening on Jan. 11, 2015.

Kate Leary is a fiction writer. She recently received a Sustainable Arts Foundation award (for artists and writers with families) to support her novel-in-progress.

Vanessa Michalak is a painter who recently returned from an artist residency at PLAYA in Oregon. Her work will exhibit at Boston City Hall in May 2015.

Images: Lucy Kim, MARILYN MARKS (JON AND LUCY) (2013), oil paint and plastic on wood panel, 16×12 in; Vanessa Michalak, HOME SWEET HOME (2013), oil on canvas, 36×48 in.

Challenges in Categorizing Creative Work

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

Often, creative work defies easy categorization. We asked a group of artists working in intriguing ways, What challenges do you face when asked to name a category for your work?

Liz Nofziger, site-specific installation artist
My work doesn’t fit neatly in any category. “Site-specific installation” captures the majority of it quite well, but if the person I’m speaking to isn’t familiar with the genre, this doesn’t help. I use a broad range of materials and practices to suit each specific project, most of which are short-lived. I find that I end up describing the process of making the work, and the physical/personal experience of the work. The end product is most commonly not tangible or fixed as it varies based on individual experience and interaction with the work. I think the most honest thing I can say about my work is that it is impractical, but I can’t help myself.

Kirk Amaral Snow, sculptor
The most important thing in my mind is to use a term that creates the right relationships. Intermedia and Interdisciplinary are terms that I use, but they are pretty nondescript. They lead to discussions that are about Art Practice rather than describing the work. These days I reserve them for my bio.

I have decided for most purposes that the work is Sculpture; it is materials in space, even if one of the materials is sometimes the body. This allows the pieces to engage the conceptual conversations that interest me (the shifting meaning and value of materials; the visual language of building and construction) without getting too bogged down in the minutia of categorization. Maybe the term simplifies the work, but I am all for a bit more modesty in the way art is written about!

Halsey Burgund, sound artist
The biggest challenge for me as a sound artist is not so much which category to choose but rather how to explain what that category means. As far as I can tell, sound art isn’t clearly or consistently defined (how is it different from music? can it be combined with visual/sculptural elements without becoming something else? etc) and more importantly, it is less well-understood by the public.

When having a conversation with someone, writing a description as part of a proposal or giving a talk, I often have to spend a significant amount of time establishing a baseline contextual understanding of the genre before launching into the fun part which is to describe what I do specifically, how I do it and what my motivations and hopes are for the work. If I was a painter, I could say “I make paintings” and then move on to the more interesting discussions immediately, but unfortunately, I find myself using up valuable time/focus/word-count on basic explanations first.

I will admit, however, that despite the frustrations, being forced into these sorts of descriptions and conversations often lets me see my own work in different ways that are enlightening, so as with most things, there are two sides.

D.K. McCutchen, writer
It’s challenging to articulate an “Elevator Pitch;” to quickly categorize my work in a fast-paced world that won’t wait around while I fumble to describe how multiple genres intertwine.

I’m fascinated by creative nonfiction (CNF), but don’t interpret it as simply using fictional concepts to tell a “true” story. I don’t really believe in truth. I do believe in Points of View, and everyone’s differ. That’s one soapbox.

Another conflation of genres, in my work, is science and experimental fiction. I did a CNF thesis for a Fiction MFA, with experimental writer/mentor John Edgar Wideman. I wrote experimental CNF and published The Whale Road, after repeatedly hearing from publishers: “Love the idea, love the writing, but why did you write it that way?” I still get that.

Now I’ve added speculative fiction into the mix. I teach science writing and keep up on the latest research. I write to imagine our world in the near future. As we remove species, add climate change, and stir, who will we be? I experiment with language, science and worlds. We lose language as we lose species. If cats are long-gone, what happens when Sandburg’s “… fog comes on little cat feet?” Everything’s connected.

Recently my pitch became: “my work is sometimes-erotic, post-apocalyptic, gender-bender, speculative fiction.” But then a prospective editor suggested it might also be categorized as YA….

Deb Todd Wheeler, sculptor, inventor, and media artist
So I guess the question I ask back is: who is doing the asking? If it’s me asking myself, which I often do, I tend to get caught up in the “expertise to enthusiasm” ratio. My projects lead me into arenas I feel I have no business sticking my nose or hand into, like say, photography (MCC finalist 2011), but once an idea takes hold, I can’t help but become as much of a sponge as I can, bothering friends and friends of friends for advice or collaboration, and let myself enjoy discovering the material. I suppose that puts me more in the category of Life Long Learner, with the acknowledgement that I will never really have any solid expertise. But if it’s a question about which grant to apply for, or which box to check, that’s a bit tricky. I imagine organizations need to keep the categories pretty general so that artists can be evaluated based on the relation they have to others working in a similar vein. For me, the challenge really is to stay on top of the conversation my work is engaged in, and leave the job of defining it for when I am at my desk and not at my workbench!


Kirk Amaral Snow ( is an intermedia artist whose practice investigates the relationship between the built world and performative aspects of culture. He is co-editor of the online arts journal Temporary Land Bridge and Director of Career Services at Montserrat College of Art.

Halsey Burgund ( is a sound artist, musician, and installation artist. His work was recently included in the group exhibition Twelve Nights at Boston Sculptors Gallery, and his audio accompaniment for Water Stories (with paintings by Anne Neely) is on display at the Museum of Science Boston.

D.K. McCutchen ( is a writer who teaches at U-Mass Amherst and was recently in residence at Vermont Studio Center. She is the author of the book The Whale Road, her essay The Zen of Kakapo Poo – Redux was published in the Fish Prize Anthology 2014, and her story The Greening was published in Route Nine Omnibus Edition in May.

Liz Nofziger ( is an installation and public artist who is currently Artist-in-Residence at the Boston Center for the Arts. BOUNCE, her mutant amplified pingpong table, is set up for play on the plaza at the BCA through 10/15.

Deb Todd Wheeler ( is a sculptor, inventor, and media artist. Her solo exhibition … in the atmospheres will be at Miller Yezerski Gallery 9/5-10/21, opening reception 9/5, 6-8 PM. She’s also in the group show Forecaster: Eight Artists Explore the Nature of Climate Change at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360 (10/1-11/5, opening reception 10/9) and will have work in Walden, revisted at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (10/31-4/26).

Images: photo by Melissa Blackall Photography at Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, Liz Nofziger: BOUNCE, July 24-October 15, 2014; detail of work by Deb Todd Wheeler.

Real People in Your Art

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, What special challenges do you face when incorporating real people from your life into your art?


Paris Visone, photographer
I feel to photograph truly, you should be engulfed in your subject. I have always felt more comfortable photographing people I know. The realest moments can be captured when they forget the camera is even present. I try to make photographing the least intrusive as I can, but still consider it a collaboration between the subject and myself.

I guess the biggest obstacle is them not liking themselves in the photos. As much as I am here to document and tell the truth, I don’t feel good about releasing a photo that the person doesn’t approve of. Once you lose that trust, you lose the real moments. I don’t like when taking photos gets in the way of photography.

Whether photographing my family, friends or bands that I tour with, I treat it all the same. They are all just people I’m happy to be around.

Steven Edwards, writer
When I write, I’m searching for the truth of an experience. My allegiance is to the work itself and not necessarily to whether it might hurt someone’s feelings. But sometimes it does – and it always has the potential to – so as I write along there are questions I have to reckon with. Is this my story to tell? Is what I’m writing something I would have the guts to say to someone’s face? Am I writing from a place of generosity or from a place of judgment? This question is especially important, I think, because every portrait is a double portrait. When you write about people from your life, you reveal your character. Whether kind, cruel, or indifferent it’s you on the page – your innermost life – as much or more so than whomever it is you’re writing about. The challenge, then, as I see it, lies in committing yourself to a process that leaves you totally exposed and vulnerable. But if you can do that, and do it well – hey, who could stay mad at you?

Christine Rathbun Ernst, poet & solo theatre performer
Respecting and honoring the unwitting participants in the story can be tricky. My work is all autobiographical – peopled/informed/illuminated by the family/friends/random strangers in my day-to-day – do I tweak her age? Do I use his real name? Have I overstepped? Should I ask her permission? Does it matter since he will never hear this poem?

I strive for candor – to accurately but compassionately portray folks (and myself), warts and all – not always flattering. I have many pieces that I needed to write but can’t perform – too upsetting, too scathing, too soon.

All personal interaction is fodder – rich stuff – where else does story happen? Mostly, I try to cull the funny bits, the bald fact, the crux (if I can find it) in these relationships – verbatim is best – never embellish – write true – sometimes mundane is sublime. The guy in the Salvation Army who said “nobody ever talks no more.” The neighbor who called me a fat ass cancer b****. The man who asked me which of my breasts was “the fake one.” The 5-year-old daughter who had an epic tantrum. So much material! So many leaping-off points! I just have to listen for the right stuff.

Molly Segal, painter
For the last year, I’ve been working on a series of portraits of men in my life. Each sitting begins with an uncomfortable conversation about sex. Then I paint their portrait.

I sat on this idea for about five months because I was terrified of incorporating real-life relationships into my work in this way. I feared it would hurt people I cared about and wreak havoc on my personal life. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew that anything that hit such a nerve in me was worth pursuing.

The first portraits were definitely the hardest. I stumbled and stammered through them. But the more I made, the smoother things went. The process began to feel more like work.

One of my biggest considerations in incorporating real-life relationships into my artwork is being as upfront as possible. Because of the implicatory nature of the paintings, I try to be transparent with each sitter. I emphasize that this is more about my perception of men more than any individual. I don’t want to water down the work, but I don’t want to railroad anyone either. It’s a delicate balance.


Related reading: How do you incorporate the “true” in your art?

Steven Edwards is the author of the memoir, Breaking into the Backcountry. His writing can be found in recent issues of Orion, Electric Literature, AGNI Online,, and The Good Men Project.

Christine Rathbun Ernst is a poet and solo theatre performer who recently completed a string of performances at the Cotuit Center for the Arts.

Molly Segal is in the group exhibition Out of Bounds at iartcolony in Rockport (8/23-9/23) and in the exhibition I Want to Smell Your Hair at New Art Center in Newton (11/21-12/20).

Paris Visone is a documentary photographer whose work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions, locally and internationally. As a music photographer, she has traveled with performers including Marilyn Manson, Blondie, Toto, Godsmack, Staind and Limp Bizkit.

Images: photograph by Paris Visone (2013); installation view of Molly Segal’s paintings for The Man Project.

What Do You Strive to Capture When Documenting Your Work?

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, What do you strive to capture when documenting your work? (And how do you so?)

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Dug North, automata maker
My sculptures are interactive and kinetic. It is difficult to capture the essence of a piece unless you actually operate it yourself. The best I can do is show the stages of creation and a video of the piece in action.

When documenting pieces for my website, I include some of my initial pencil sketches, photographs of mechanical prototypes, and in-progress shots of the finished piece. Together with some descriptive text, I hope this set of images conveys that each piece is an involved process – an artistic and engineering challenge.

When documenting my art on video, I work with a talented videographer. We try to show the piece overall, then close-ups of the hand-cranked mechanism. This is followed by close-up shots of the figures animated by the mechanism. The aim is to show how the machine works and the level of detail I strive to include in each piece. We select music for the video to help convey the tone of piece. Quite often, a waltz seems to capture the mood, tempo, and time period represented by my work.

Jennifer Polins, choreographer
As video technologies become more accessible to the artist, capturing work on video is an evolving process and a new frontier physically shaping concert dance.

I was just visiting old friends in Zurich, where I lived from 1993-1998. We reminisced and watched our work from 20 years ago, digitized from old tapes, remembering the video equipment back then was almost the size of an elephant! Editing programs were in an infancy stage and cumbersome, transferring materials to computers was not happening, there was no vimeo! Promoters preferred wide single shots, there was little reason for creative editing and video dance. DV8 Physical Theater and Rosas was on the forefront of integrated dance for video.

For me, the final goal frames the strategies and focus of the video process. Similar to 1993, documenting work to submit to grants and residencies calls for a high quality wide shot with limited edits that represents the work in its entirety. For artistic/promotional trailers, the goal is to create a fast, seductive product that gives a feeling of the theme of the work and makes people want to see more. I tend to choose material from a variety of perspectives; rehearsal-performance, zooms, durations, textures, and images that are not in the final work but support the theme. I collect video material in process, capturing a rehearsal or integrating a camera in the rehearsal for alternate perspectives. For dance films, I use rehearsal materials, and set up shoots based on a storyboard. My favorite use of video is still real time projections during live performance. I am forever fascinated by multiple and alternate perspectives. I use time-lapse technologies, projecting trace from a half an hour prior to a few moments back. This live projected work is captured during the show and then used as materials for projects.

At the moment I am at the Ponderosa TanzLand Festival outside of Berlin. We will capture daily events and post edited clips on our facebook page weekly. Although it is an exciting endeavor, I question if it is of service to our ephemeral and personal dance form to make this unique place with its smells and feels so accessible globally on a flat screen.

Watch Matthew Mazzotta’s OPEN HOUSE

Matthew Mazzotta, conceptual artist
When I make a video I try to hit three different types of ways people perceive the world – experiential, mass culture, academic. I want to make sure that if someone is seeing the work with no understanding of art that they can still find something intriguing and captivating about it. And for those that view the work from a more academic or art-knowledgeable point of view, I want to make sure that there is something in there that also allows for this type of reading or entry point into the work. It is very much how I think about making the actual work that I create for public spaces, knowing that there are people from many different backgrounds seeing the work and it should be accessible to as many as possible on as many levels as possible – one point of entry, many interpretations.

As for collecting footage for my videos, I have a somewhat nice DSLR camera for stop-motion animations and stills, but it is too cumbersome and a hassle to have hanging on me all the time while I am working, so I actually shoot most of it with a little point and shoot camera that I can just pull out of my pocket and flip open and shoot with one hand. This way if I am in a tree, on top of a house, or just anywhere that a nice shot appears, I can just capture it.

In terms of how I structure the video, it is much like a thesis; right up front I want to give a great visual sequence of what will unfold and main point, that way if someone clicks on the video they don’t have to wait to find out what the video is about. Since we are inundated with so much media now, I think it is important to use this technique so that people don’t lose interest right away and move to something else. Then the rest of the video gets to more of the details for those who want to a deeper understanding of work.

Ariel Kotker, sculpture/installation artist
My project is best seen and touched in person, but of course I can’t invite everyone for a studio visit. So I keep a blog, to tell how I’m writing a story in sculpture.

I aim to present the different ways I write the story. Some sculptures are cut and colored paper, with stenciled or drawn words. These I show in photos, and post links to running drafts of the text. Some pieces portray, say, a rabbit’s foot on a chain, but made of gilded clay, malleable plastic, milkweed and wire. These I show step-by-step, from armature to finished “fur.” Sometimes (but not very often) people mistake my sculpture for found objects, so it’s helpful to share how my work is constructed. I want folks to know that all the items are handmade.

His Room As He Left It is a work in progress, and a blog is handy for documentation and marking time. I add artist statements, inspirations, pieces in-process and done, or video of my work “in action” (e.g., me reading from Drey’s diary; a rolling toy car; pants which I can fold and unfold). I often revisit what I’ve posted when looking for a spark-plug to get myself working more devotedly.

Chris Fitch, sculptor and inventor
We contemporary artists can’t just make art anymore. The art itself is only the first step. Then we have to document it; then we have to have a website to document the documentation; and then we have to draw attention to the work by getting other people to document it by dragging it around from show to show… In the age of digital media it’s as if the artwork is really a vehicle for documentary evidence of itself, rather than a thing in its own right. So I try to treat the evidence, too, on its own terms. Because much of my sculpture is kinetic and video is my documentary medium of choice, I also have to be a filmmaker. The video becomes a second artwork, with its own soundtrack which has nothing to do with the original sculpture. I have to make still images of everything as well. There it is mostly a matter of getting the lighting right and finding informative angles. Again, a photograph is never just a document. It had better show the piece (literally) in the best light, but it also exists on its own as an image and must function accordingly. For my own reference I also document the process of making a piece so I know how to fix it when it breaks. Most people assume that an artist’s job is just to make art, but it is sooo much more work than that!


Chris Fitch is a sculptor and inventor. See his kinetic sculptures on his Web site and in Vimeo. His work was featured in a profile article in Russian Popular Mechanics.

Ariel Kotker is a recipient of an MCC Artist Fellowship in Sculpture/Installation and the creator of the His Room as He Left It project.

Matthew Mazzotta is a conceptual artist who creates permanent and temporary public interventions. His Open House project has won awards from Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network, Architizer, the Environmental Design Research Association, Architect’s Newspaper, Azure Magazine, and the Santo Foundation.

Dug North is an automata maker and kinetic sculptor. He currently has work in The Arts League of Lowell Gallery‘s exhibition “All Creatures, Real & Imagined” which runs through July 13th. Additional work is on display in his antique clock repair shop located in Studio 411 at 307 Market Street, Lowell, MA. One of his automata was recently featured on, and he will be profiled in the upcoming issue of MAKE magazine.

Jennifer Polins is a choreographer, dance artist, and performance artist. With Saliq Savage, she codirects Wire Monkey Dance, which has presented work at Jacob’s Pillow, DTW, Lincoln Center, Saratoga Arts Festival, Macua Fringe Festival, Ponderosa TanzLand Festival and Boston Center for the Arts, Cyclorama.

Images and Media: video of MEKANIKOS VS. THE MINOTAUR by Dug North, videography by Bob Quinn; still from RE, choreography by Jennifer Polins (pictured, with Saliq Savage); video the OPEN HOUSE project by Matthew Mazzotta; handmade pants and shoes from HIS ROOM AS HE LEFT IT by Ariel Kotker; photo of SPRING (2010) by Chris Fitch, wood, formica, aluminum, garolite, brass, hardware, 97x25x92 in.

What Technology Trends Are Impacting Your Discipline?

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, What technological trends are having the greatest impact on art in your discipline (for better or for worse)?


Timothy Kadish, visual artist
The Pixel. Digital photography and related technologies are having a profound effect on the 2 dimensional visual arts. I am referring to accessibility. The ability to readily adjust, manipulate, morph, and break down an image is affecting how the visual artist interacts with the formal and conceptual properties of a picture. Pixels are the “Legos” of our visual worlds and anyone can play.

Daniel Kornrumpf, fiber artist and painter
Using images that I’ve sourced from online profiles, I make embroidered portraits by hand stitching and overlapping different colored threads to create the illusion of form as well as a visceral, painterly texture. There are computer programs now that can use sophisticated sewing machines to create intricate, multi colored, embroidered images. You may have seen an example recently if you’ve been in a store that develops photos. They’ll have a blanket hanging on the wall, stitched with an image, typically a family portrait as a relatively inexpensive product, allowing you to create a blanket or pillow that can be stitched to include any image you want. There is a certain kitschy aesthetic to them but it is clear they are not made by hand. This is not a new “problem” for artists. The industrial revolution made is a lot easier and more affordable to make a lot of products from furniture to clothing, but there are still craftsman and designers today that make handmade, one of kind pieces. I believe it to be a more productive mindset to think of innovation as new opportunities and not as competition or hindrances.


Amy Archambault, installation artist
As an installation artist and sculptor, my work embodies the physical. It is an extension of my body and the space that I inhabit. I am interested in raw materials that fuse together the visual language of architecture and the physicality of athletic culture. Current trends in technology have influenced my field as some artists now employ diverse forms of new media into a given structural form. My work has utilized these tools minimally while striving to retain a raw and direct format. Suspensions (2011) explores the activation of multiple spaces that were void of human intervention. Each performance or survey of a given structure was documented using a Go-Pro HERO camera. This form of documentation yielded a raw “home-made” quality that could be shifted between surveillance and directly attached to the subject. I have continued to use this approach in more recent work. While new media continues to expand into the realm of installation, I am still most concerned with the materials themselves and their physical properties. My work takes me back to my childhood and what it is like to “touch” something for the first time. It allows the viewer to have a haptic experience and consider all the properties before them; color, texture, form, scale, dimension. Beyond the integration of video, sound (new media), installation art, I believe, will continue to be driven by physical experience.

Shane Savage-Rumbaugh, visual artist and animator
Today virtually anyone can affordably create animations. Photoshop lets artists try design permutations with unprecedented efficacy. Robotics, drawing programs, 3-d modeling tools, and Maker Bots promise a world of seamless, effortless craft. Material can be digitized and reworked. Screen glitches and pixilation are part of visual parlance, and high-tech terminology has permeated speech. Information is immediate and super abundant.

This is good because ideas find fresh embodiment and can be shared globally in real time. Inspired artists with insight, energy, and grit see technological leaps as new challenges, and as opportunities for surprises. Such individuals aren’t common, however. I think it’s a problem when people are convinced by the power of machines that making interesting art is easier than it inevitably turns out to be.

As an artist and as a teacher, I’ve tried to cultivate fluency in simple, ancient tools (charcoal, ink) believing that this enables one to more creatively exploit complex, new tools. It’s analogous to conditioning for athletes. This strategy has been succeeding, and I make animations with digital photographs of my drawings. New media has made this possible, and thus stretched me artistically.

That said, until we’re transformed by bionics, Nano-technology, and the omniscient connectivity of the Internet into something we no longer recognize as us – I’ll put faith in a need for the primal urgency of art wrought plainly by our own hands, bodies, and voices.
Installation artist Amy Archambault had a solo exhibition, Live-work, at 17 Cox Gallery this Winter. Watch a stop motion animation of the exhibition installation.

Timothy Kadish is exhibiting visual art in a dual show with Warner Friedman at Clark Gallery in Lincoln, MA (6/10-7/12, opening reception 6/14, 4-6 PM).

Daniel Kornrumpf is a fiber artist and painter.

Animator and visual artist Shane Savage-Rumbaugh will be doing a residency at The IdeaX factory in Springfield MO this summer.

Self in Art

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, How much of the “self” is in your art?

At what remove do you keep yourself (as a participant/subject), your experiences and memories, and/or your closely-held beliefs from your art?

Part two of a two-part discussion.

Alicia Savage, photographer
As a self-portrait photographer, my work is very much self-reflective and a source of how I process and document my experiences. But as an artist and human being I also recognize that many of the emotions and experiences that I am expressing through my images are universal – self-discovery, hesitations, curiosity, etc. My images reflect these internal focuses while refraining from exposing specific details in order to allow others to apply their own experiences and interpretations of it – emphasizing the core elements that I feel and hope we can all relate to.


Zachary Stuart, documentary filmmaker
As a documentary filmmaker, this is always a big question I ask myself. Most of the work I’ve done has focused on the personal, telling a story about myself or my ancestors. But anytime I decide I want to show something in a documentary frame, I must have a level of interest in it that reflects something of myself. My production partner Kelly Thomson and I have always been seekers of the truth, whether it be through social justice, introspection or education. The last film we made together was about my great-grandfather, a very important early anthropologist. This was incredibly personal for me. Yet it was a struggle to write my own voice and convey my thoughts because I was torn between having some level of objectivity about my ancestor as an historical figure and my personal connection to him. This is where Kelly as a co-director was very important. However at a certain point in the process, her personal investment in the ideas of the film became just as caught up in the material as my familial connection to the characters. Now we have begun a new project about Muslim women, a topic closer to Kelly’s interest and something I felt I would be quite distant from. But as we’ve entered the world of our subjects, mystical women who tell us that destroying the self is what leads to revealing truth, I’ve become just as caught up in their experiences, and have myself been transformed despite the distance the camera brings…

Kay Ruane, visual artist
Before starting a series of drawings, I often take a run through the woods and open myself with all of my senses to the world. It becomes a synesthetic experience. My sense of self merges completely with the world around me. This interaction and communication triggers images. Sometimes I collect objects that reflect those images. I begin to sense the coming drawings, as if they’ve already been completed and it’s my task to go back in time to make this future vision concrete.

Next is usually a photo shoot. If it’s a self-portrait, I surround myself with some of the objects. As my husband photographs me, he enters the work as I am seen through his eyes. I become and feel more like a subject, like one of the objects I’ve gathered.

As I draw, I often find myself merging with the drawing, as if there are no boundaries between it and myself. Yet at the same time, the figure becomes someone else. I have a sense of a personality, but it doesn’t seem to be me. As the drawing becomes more concrete and detailed, my “self” becomes more defuse, a surrogate for every self.

One question my work may be trying to answer is: How much of one’s self is the world and how much of the world is in one’s self.

Tara Nelson, film & video artist
Separating myself from my artwork has never occurred to me. Perhaps this comes from many years of being my own (and often – only) audience, when I used art to reveal something about myself, to myself. I am always responding to my own life through my artwork, and I try to surprise myself as much as possible. Conclusions are the enemy! I try to leave the door to the imagination wide open, to give myself a way back in when I return to the work as time goes on.

On the other hand, I believe that my films must be allowed to live their own lives. They have to be free to succeed or fail on their own, to travel the world and (in the case of my Super 8 films) pick up a few scars that will change them forever. My artwork – like myself – must be vulnerable to be interesting.

Tara Nelson is an award-winning film & video artist. Her work is in the group exhibition Psychic Panic at SPACE Gallery in Pittsburgh, May 16-June 29.

Kay Ruane is a visual artist who lives and works in Cambridge, MA. Her work has been shown in galleries and museums around the country, including the Miller Block Gallery (now Miller Yezerski Gallery) in Boston MA, the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco CA, and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln MA.

Alicia Savage is a photographer whose work is currently exhibiting in Fall Back, Spring Forward at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston (through May 17), part of the Flash Forward Festival.

Zachary Stuart is co-founder, with Kelly Thomson, of the film company Sly Productions. Watch the trailer for their new piece on Vimeo.

Images: Alicia Savage, HEAD IN THE CLOUDS (2012); still image from the film-in-progress SHAYKHA by Zachary Stuart and Kelly Thomson; Kay Ruane, EAT (2013), graphite and gouache on paper, 11.25×11 in; still image from the video installation SUKHA/DUKKHA (Comfort and Sorrow) by Tara Nelson.

Self in Art

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, How much of the “self” is in your art?

At what remove do you keep yourself (as a participant/subject), your experiences and memories, and/or your closely-held beliefs from your art?

Part one of a two-part discussion.

Alissa Cardone, choreographer
My experiences, memories, and beliefs are who I am, and they are inseparable from my art. But whether I’m performing improvised dances with experimental music, choreographing for my students, collaborating on intermedia projects with Kinodance, or working with middle school kids (as I did for New London Calling), my job is always to figure out what the work needs, not what I need. For me, making work is about generating new worlds, worlds that are as real and as vivid as personal memory and experience only conjured through creative process. When I’m working on a piece, the question really isn’t what my beliefs and experiences are, but how do I funnel/mold/alter/spindle them into a given work. And where my personal experience may be limited, the world of ideas is limitless – the imagination is a powerful, extremely underutilized tool.

Samuel Beebe, composer
Composing a new work is like solving a dramatic puzzle; I often begin with an emotional outline and a collection of materials, resembling a fractured puzzle. The pieces are not in proper relation to each other, and there are always pieces missing that must be found or written anew. Perhaps the outline needs to be adjusted to fit the materials. Whatever the case, the method I use to solve the puzzle is a reflection of my “self,” along with the outcome.

Not long ago, I thought of collaboration as a forfeit of the self – to a writing partner, to a client or director; to the person holding the money. Now I see collaboration as the impetus for my most original work, because I am moved by the expectations and dedication of my collaborators to put my best work forward. If the primer of a job proves challenging, I look for ways to use my environment, my experiences and memories, to bring myself into the project emotionally.

The self lies in the decision-making process, in the conscious and subconscious values we use to shape our work. It’s what makes us unique, and thus makes the art we create unique.

Anna Ross, poet
Confessionalism as a concept has always made me uncomfortable, much as I admire many poets grouped under that literary banner. Still, the idea of art as mere confession felt too messy, too unmitigated, even too needy. I wanted poems that stood up for themselves and followed Eliot’s famous dictum that the “[wo]man that suffers” must stand apart from the “mind that creates.” We read Shakespeare for his words, not his life – this should be the ideal! Yet the longer I write, the more impossible, even impractical, this becomes. To be fair, I think what Eliot was really getting at is a question of accessibility; a reader shouldn’t be burdened with having to wade through personal biographical details and political leanings to get at the poem. But this leaves out the truth that we write about and in response to what moves us personally – how else can we be moved? At base, perhaps what I’m talking about here is trust; how can I ask a reader to engage with my poem if I don’t admit that I’m enough absorbed by it to have spent months, even years, writing it? This is a risk that all artists must take, I think – showing a part of ourselves as a means of reaching out to our audience for commonality or at least fellowship. Of course, art is not life, and I never want to bore or confuse with details that are so specific as to be irrelevant. This is where metaphor comes in as a crucial means of broadening the particular to the universal. When I write a poem set in the grocery store (“Self-Portrait with Catastrophe”), I don’t provide my actual shopping list but instead the images that embody the emotional experience of that shopping trip. But when I describe a “tornado in each lung” I do want a reader to feel the cataclysm – internal, external, personal, physical – that this suggests, and I want her to know that I feel it too, which is why I wrote it down.

Samuel Beebe is the 2014 recipient of the Boston Choral Ensemble Commission Competition. His work “Suite Urbano” for flute and piano will be premiered on May 17 by Brittney Balkcom at the University of North Texas. Visit his website for selections of his opera, theatre, film, and concert music.

Alissa Cardone is a choreographer, dancer, and collaborative artists who co-founded the interdisciplinary Kinodance. She will perform in the Radius Ensemble event Compass at Longy School of Music in Cambridge on Saturday May 3, as choreographer/dancer with flutist Sarah Brady in a piece composed by John Fonville.

Anna Ross is the author of If a Storm, winner of the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry. She will read in the Poets with New Books Reading at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem (May 3, 2:45 PM). She currently has poetry in Tupelo Quarterly.