Every two years, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) awards grants to some of the most talented writers and poets working in the Commonwealth. Literary artists awarded through MCC’s Artist Fellowships Program will share work at Porter Square Books on Friday, April 21, 2017, 7 PM.
We were curious about ruts, pitfalls, or other counter-productive things from which artists make a conscious effort to steer clear. So we asked, What do you work hardest at trying to avoid in your work?
The answers range from technical or material concerns, issues of art history, creative decisions, and (in one case) become a poetic expression all their own.
Mara Superior, ceramicist
My material is porcelain, and there are so many technical issues and things that could go wrong all along the way before a piece is completed. As I’m making, I’m always trying to avoid mishandling the materials.
Porcelain is a high-risk material because it shrinks about 15 percent. Working with it is all about timing, moisture content, construction, drying slowly then bisque firing. I am interested in the beauty of the final product. I bear with the process.
To add a little more excitement into the mix, I work with an atmospheric kiln which means the results are not consistent each time as it might be in an electric kiln. As I work I am imagining the ideal outcome. There is always an adjustment and surprise when the kiln is opened.
Esthetically speaking I try to avoid being too decorative, although I love ornament. I try to balance beauty and content. I believe that some difficult content delivered in a beautiful package is intriguing and alluring.
Marky Kauffmann, photographer
It is really important to me to make photographs that have an originality of expression. Of course, I understand that being original is impossible. We all stand on the shoulders of the artists who have come before us. Perhaps what I’m calling originality is really creativity – having a strong creative element in my work, something no one else has thought to try. By combining darkroom techniques and digital technologies in a unique manner, I try hard to avoid having my work look like someone else’s. If someone says to me, “Your work looks like so and so’s,” I know I have failed to accomplish what I set out to do.
At the same time, whatever technical devices I use, I want them to make sense in my work. I want to avoid cheap tricks at all costs. This can be a delicate balancing act, but I strive to speak forcefully, purposefully, and skillfully with all the tools in my toolbox.
Shubha Sunder, writer
Thomas Mann put it this way in The Magic Mountain: “There are so many different kinds of stupidity, and cleverness is one of the worst.” As a writer of fiction, I work hard to avoid cleverness in my work. This means being on the lookout for things like heavy-handed metaphors, striking images that fail to resonate with the themes of the story, or sentences that twist themselves into pretzels to convey, in the end, what could be said in a few simple words. Cleverness is not the same as complexity, when the world on the page reflects and illuminates the messiness of real life. That sort of effect comes not from clever technique but from a deep exploration of characters and situations. I used to delight in showing off my pyrotechnics as a writer; now, I’m obsessed with doing everything possible to immerse a reader into the world of the story – to make the words disappear, rather then stand out.
Evan Morse, sculptor
My earliest sculptural works were so close to historical precedents that what I thought was a commentary on the past seemed to most people to be merely copying the past. Most people can’t not think Greek, Roman, Renaissance, or Rodin when they see a marble nude. This has been my struggle throughout the youth of my sculptural career and is the thing that I am continually seeking to avoid in my work. How do I make art that speaks for itself first, and its historical counterparts second? How do I make figurative sculpture that builds upon history rather than repeats it? Not to mention that all the aforementioned acts are tough ones to follow…
After some searching and experimentation, I realized that the traditional methods and materials are important to me. Taking part in the millennia-long visual conversation in the representation of the human figure is important to me. This means that the content of my work has to be strong enough on its own to both embrace its historical allusions and seem original at the same time. It’s a fine line to walk, and I’m working to avoid the pitfalls all the time.
Scott Challener is a doctoral candidate in Rutgers University. His most recent poems appear in the online publication Pangyrus (out of Cambridge) and Lana Turner Journal.
Marky Kauffmann is a photographer who curated Outspoken, an exhibition of seven female photographers that recently closed at the de Menil Gallery at Groton School. The show will travel to the Hess Gallery at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill next fall.
Evan Morse‘s sculpture has been exhibited at Boston City Hall, Danforth Art in Framingham, and Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, among many other venues.
Shubha Sunder‘s fiction has been appeared in Crazyhorse magazine, where it won the 2015 Crazyhorse Fiction Prize; Narrative Magazine, where it was a winner of “30 Below, Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Bangalore Review. She teaches at GrubStreet and recently completed her first novel, Boomtown Girl.
Mara Superior has received five awards from the Artist Fellowships Program since 1986. Her ceramic work is currently on exhibit in A Sense of Place, the 73rd Scripps Ceramic Annual exhibition at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery in Claremont, CA.
Images: Mara Superior, AMERICANA (2016), porcelain, salt glazed white stoneware, 14.5x18x2 in; Marky Kauffmann, MAGGIE” DISINTEGRATION, from the LOST BEAUTY series; Evan Morse, SEB AND CLAIRE ILLEGALLY STREAM A MOVIE (2016), hydrocal, pigment 9x18x15 in.
It’s March, the equator is about to pass by the center of the sun (happy Spring Equinox), and our past Artist Fellowships awardees continue to shine with honors, exhibitions, readings, and so much more. Here’s the latest news.
Lisa Nilsson, from the 40 Years of Fellowships project. This month, the artist exhibits at the Currier Museum of Art
Ria Brodell has a solo show of paintings, Butch Heroes, at Gallery Kayafas (3/3-4/8, opening reception 3/3, 5:30-8 PM). She’ll also be releasing the limited edition book Butch Heroes: Paintings by Ria Brodell, with book signing and panel discussion 3/18, 3 PM.
Mary Jane Doherty is screening two of her early films, Gravity and Three Fish, as well as an excerpt of a new work, Sonic Boom Boom, as part of the DocYard Series at Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (3/20, 7 PM).
Nathalie Miebach has an artist talk/concert at the Clay Center for Arts and Sciences in Charleston, WV (3/22, 5-7 PM). It will will include musical performances by composers Mischa Salkind-Pearl and Matthew Jackfert, who have both written pieces about Nathalie’s work. Also this month, she’ll present artist talks at Winchester High School and Abington High School.
Stephen Mishol has a solo exhibition, Place at the Neiman Center at Columbia University School of the Arts (thru 3/17). His work is also featured in DRAW/Boston at the Massachusetts College of Art (thru 3/4).
Gabriel Polonsky will screen and hold a director’s talk for his film Release from Reason (3/11, 3-5 PM), in conjunction with the Life: from life at room83 Spring Gallery. The documentary, currently in-progress, is about the life and work of Boston Expressionist painter Arthur Polonsky (the filmmaker’s father).
Monica Raymond recently returned from a three-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, where she showed work as part of an exhibit of Erasure Texts and read new poems and performed improvised poetry and music as part of INsideOUT (3/9). She will be reading poems from the sequence A Walk on Norfolk Street (set in Cambridge 2013, around the Boston Marathon bombings) at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center (3/28, 3 PM), part of a daylong symposium Women’s Sense of Place.
Kati Agócs had the U.S. premiere of her string quarter Tantric Variations, performed by the Cecilia String Quartet on Stradivari instruments, at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in December.
Alexandra Anthony has a one-week theatrical run of her film Lost in the Bewilderness in Athens, Greece (1/12-1/18) at the Alkyonis Art Cinema. National Greek TV (ERT) will broadcast the film 1/15. The film’s December premiere in Greece received press attention in Madame Figaro and THETOC.gr.
Samantha Fields has a performative sculptural installation in the exhibition Is this Something at the Lasell College Wedeman Gallery (1/24-2/11, reception 1/29, 4-6 PM). Next summer, she will be Artist-in-Residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin.
Mary Jane Doherty has two upcoming screenings: her dance documentary Secundaria screens at Prince Theater in Philadelphia (12/14, 7 PM), hosted by the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadelphia Film Society. Her film Primaria has its Latin American premiere at La Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine LatinoAmericano in Havana, Cuba (12/16, 5:30 PM).
Christy Georg has work in the group exhibition Breaking the Block at the Santa Fe Convention Center Community Gallery (12/16-3/2, reception 12/16, 5-7 PM). She is also featured at the New Mexico Museum of Art in the Alcoves series: small one-person exhibitions featuring contemporary artists working in New Mexico (12/9-1/29, reception 12/11, 10:30 AM-12 PM).
Asia Kepka has a booksigning at 13 Forest Gallery (12/8, 6-8 PM) for the book Horace and Agnes: A Love Story, along with co-creator Lynn Dowling.
Jesse Kreitzer has received the James Goldstone Award for Emerging Vermont Filmmaker from the Vermont International Film Foundation, with an awards ceremony 12/15, 7 PM, at the Main Street Landing Film House.
Every two years, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) awards grants to some of the most talented writers and poets working in the Commonwealth. Literary artists awarded through MCC’s Artist Fellowships Program will share work at Trident Booksellers and Cafe on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 7 PM.
October-y news from current and past MCC Artist Fellows/Finalists.
Caleb Cole, Dana Filibert, Shelley Reed, and Sarah Wentworth are among the artist exhibiting in Fertile Solitude at the Mills Gallery at Boston Center for the Arts (10/14-12/18, opening reception 10/14, 6-8 PM). The exhibition, curated by FLUX.Boston creator Elizabeth Devlin, explores the idea of reprieve from everyday life through the physical framework of a maze that exhibition visitors are free to explore.
Alice Bouvrie is screening her film A Chance To Dress at MIT (10/13, 7 PM). The filmmaker along with the subjects of the film, Dr. John “Tephra” Southard and his wife, Rev. Jean Southard, will be present for a post-screening Q & A.
Matt Brackett‘s first solo show in Boston in four years will take place at Alpha Gallery (10/7-11/2, opening reception 10/7, 6-8 PM). One of the included paintings, Moonstone, was one of 35 works out of over 2,400 applicants to receive a Certificate of Excellence in the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition last spring. See the artist’s Studio Views post on ArtSake.
Marky Kauffmann was invited to participate in the Berlin Foto Biennale after being named a finalist in the 2015 Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers. Also, she’ll exhibit in the group show Mirror with a Memory at the Peter Miller Gallery in Providence, RI (10/20-11/12, opening reception 10/20, 5-9 PM).
Lisa Kessler received a George Gund Foundation commission to photograph in the Cleveland public schools. The photography collection will be on exhibit at the Cleveland Public Main Library in downtown Cleveland (thru 10/28). A smaller traveling exhibit will be on display at several library branches around the city.
Melinda Lopez has a new play, Mala, at ArtsEmerson (10/27-11/20). Also, she contributed a short play to Still Waiting a series of vignettes created to accompany the play Waiting for Lefty at Boston College Robsham Theatre (10/13-10/16).
Rania Matar has photography in the exhibition Mortal Things: Portraits Look Back and Forth at Tufts University Art Center (thru 12/4). Her solo show Becoming: Girls, Women, and Coming of Age exhibits at Pictura Gallery in Bloomington, IN (10/7-11/26, opening reception 10/7 5-8 PM, artist talk 10/11, 7 PM). In December, that same gallery will exhibit Rania’s work in Pulse Miami. Her work is included in Aftermath: The Fallout of War – America and the Middle East at Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, FL (thru 12/ 31. artist talk 10/23, 2 PM) Her work is also exhibiting at Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut Lebanon and at C. Grimaldis Gallery
Mary Bucci McCoy is in the experimental group exhibition Fiction (With Only Daylight Between Us) at boeckercontemporary in Heidelberg, Germany (10/15-31). Also, she will have a public conversation with Brooklyn artist David Mann at Rafius Fane Gallery in SoWa, Boston (10/8, 2-4 PM).
Angela Zammarelli is exhibiting in the group show The Unity of Opposites at A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton, MA (thru 10/30, opening reception 10/14, 5-8 PM). She is currently in residence at The Studios at MASS MoCA and will be participating in an open studios 10/19, 5-7 PM.
Every two years, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) awards grants to some of the most talented writers and poets working in the Commonwealth. Literary artists awarded through MCC’s Artist Fellowships Program will share work at the Forbes Library on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, 7 PM.
Poets Entries are now being accepted for the New Criterion’s Poetry Prize of $3,000 and publication by St. Augustine’s Press. The prize is given annually for a poetry collection that pays close attention to form. Erica Dawson, Roger Kimball, and David Yezzi will judge. Submit a manuscript of up to 60 pages with a $25 entry fee byVisit the website for complete guidelines. Learn more.
Deadline: September 30, 2016
Artist Business Grants MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists program is seeking Boston-based applicants for its Matched Savings Program, which supports creative entrepreneurs with a matching grant and artist-focused business and financial training. Eligible applicants must have a home or studio address in the City of Boston. Learn more.
Deadline: September 30, 2016
Poets, Fiction Writers Entries are currently being accepted for the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prizes. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication by University of Massachusetts Press are given annually for a first poetry collection, a poetry collection, a short story collection, and a novel or novella. Learn more.
Deadline: September 30, 2016
Short Fiction Entries are now being accepted for the University of Iowa Press Short Fiction Awards. Two awards of publication by University of Iowa Press are given annually for first collections of short fiction. Writers who have not published a book of fiction are eligible. Learn more.
Deadline: September 30, 2016
MCC Artist Fellowships The Massachusetts Cultural Council is currently accepting Artist Fellowship applications for Crafts, Dramatic Writing, and Sculpture/Installation/New Genres. Artist Fellowships are unrestricted, anonymously judged grants for Massachusetts artists in recognition of artistic excellence. Fellowship awards are currently $12,000. Finalist awards are $1,000. Learn more.
Deadline: Monday, October 3, 2016
STARS Residencies The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s STARS Residencies Program (Students and Teachers Working with Artists, Scientists, and Scholars) provides grants of $500-$5,000 to schools to support creative learning residencies of three days or more in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Learn more.
Application opens October 6, 2016 at 4pm
Videos, Animations, Computer Generated Work Proposals for the next round of Art on the Marquee are currently being accepted. Looking for work 30 second videos, animations or computer generated work, that use the entire Marquee in creative ways. Please submit a storyboard, statement, work samples, and CV to email@example.com The call is limited to artists who live anywhere in the state of Massachusetts. Learn more.
Deadline: October 16th, 2016 (midnight)
Boston Choreographers The Boston Foundation and The Aliad Fund have announced Next Steps for Boston Dance, a new grant program that provides multi-layered support for Boston-area choreographers creating original work in any genre. Offers 250 hours of rehearsal space; 6-10 consultations with experts in chosen areas of need/interest; $5,000 in implementation funds for the artist to take a “next step” in his/her work or career; a series of cohort meetings to connect choreographers, build relationships, and allow for co-learning. A minimum of three grants will be awarded in this pilot round/first year of Next Steps. Learn more.
Deadline: Oct 24, 2016 at 5pm
Ten-minute Plays Submissions of ten-minute plays by New England playwrights are now being accepted for the Boston Theater Marathon XIX to be held May 14, 2017, at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Learn more.
Deadline: November 15, 2016
Writing Conference Scholarships If you’re interested in attending Muse and the Marketplace, GrubStreet’s national conference for writers, in Boston Spring 2017 but could use financial support, GrubStreet is offering numerous $250 scholarships for attendees. Learn more.
Deadline: November 21, 2016
Whether because they’re hard to talk about or because they just fly under the radar, some issues don’t get a lot of discussion on forums such as this blog. This month, we’re asking, What issues do you see artists grappling with that don’t often get discussed?
Marian Roth, photography artist
Much of what causes me the most angst is an internal dialogue about my work and its place in the universe of “art.” One form it takes is my worry that my current work is too “far out” in respect to other photography. My friend Midge, who like me, works in photography and painting, blames our more generalized self-doubt on the nagging remnants of second place citizenry for those of us who work with photographic image making.
It’s been a long and ongoing history of gaining acceptance for photography, and that feeds a crazy kind of internalized prejudice, in which I continuously defend myself to myself. This year I blessedly received a Pollock-Krasner Grant, but they have only just begun allowing artists to apply in the field of “fine art photography” and, unlike other artists, we must be invited to apply. So I guess, one of the things I don’t think we all talk about very much are “art prejudices” – all of them – and how they become internalized and worm their way into our psyches. I think most of us cut ourselves down with self-doubt that is internalized marginalization.
Jane Dykema, writer
A challenge many writers deal with silently is others’ and our own perceptions of productivity, the time it takes to make something, and the ways we actually need to spend that time. So much of the writing process is sitting and staring, or starting to read 500 books and only finishing five, or waiting for enough time to pass so we can re-see a piece from which we need distance. It’s hard to justify to others, and worse, ourselves, that we need to protect this time, this 30 minutes or three hours, even if it’s spent staring at the wall, or writing one sentence and deleting it, or editing a piece and realizing the next day it was better before. We have to believe there’s no wasted time, that all these steps are absolutely necessary for the end product to exist. When we don’t believe that, we’re overly encouraged by days where we generate a lot of content, making the days when that naturally doesn’t happen more discouraging. And we’re overly discouraged by days spent pacing or undoing work we’d done, making it harder to get motivated to work the next day. Ideally, a writer would feel as accomplished after a session of staring as of writing, and we need the help of our communities to value the process as much as the product.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council is proud to support individual artists and consequently, we get to meet and work with a lot of different individual artists. One issue we see coming up frequently is residency and the way it impacts availability of artist opportunities. Artists often discuss how residency in a big city – usually New York City or L.A. – can sometimes be seen as a signifier for an artist, a subtle badge of access to opportunities. We see a lot of artists with teaching positions or other ties in Massachusetts who keep a foot (re: a studio, a performance schedule, etc) in NYC for this very reason. But there are other, less-often discussed aspects of residency that impact artists. In her fascinating essay for ArtSake, poet Liz Waldner shares how challenges in livings costs and adjunct faculty employment led to her moving from place to place in a nomadic existence. On the plus side, an artist can be more open to opportunities when it’s easy to pull up stakes and move. On the other hand, health concerns (as Waldner discusses) are even more challenging when residency options are unstable or unknown. And from a practical point of view, many artist opportunities (like ours) require state or local residency.
What do you think? What issues do you see artists facing that don’t get a lot of attention or discussion? Let us know in an email or leave a comment.
Jane Dykema received an MCC Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellowship in 2016. She will read at the New Art Center on Sept 30, 7 PM, in an event in conjunction with MCC Artist Fellows in Painting, Choreography, Drawing & Printmaking, and Traditional Arts.
Marian Roth received an MCC Photography Fellowship in 1997. Her solo show Marian Roth: The Mysterious World of Camera Obscura exhibits at the Griffin Museum of Photography thru Oct 2, 2016. On September 25, there will be an artist talk (3 PM) and reception (4 PM).