The Whitney Biennial Curator’s Statements, Edited (sort of)

I don’t have a whole lot to say about the Whitney Biennial. Overall it wasn’t a very good show (as a lot of other critics have pointed out), with many of the paintings looking not unlike ones you often see getting hawked at Eastern Market, except maybe with more penises, and several pieces requiring you to read the accompanying exhibition text in order to appreciate them. Raw materials were seldom disguised. If a support beam was used to hold up a sculpture, for example, it was not sanded or carved in any way, but appeared as though it was hauled directly into the museum from Home Depot. (“I have those glasses at home,” my friend remarked upon seeing a hanging installation made out of IKEA-esque glassware, which is probably not the response the artist was going for when making her piece).

But the curator’s statements were by far the worst things in the show, just begging you to roll your eyes before even setting foot in the galleries. They were perfect examples of everything that’s wrong with the way the art world talks, a mess of convoluted nonsense that falls apart the moment you attempt to take it seriously; the kind of writing a college freshman would crank out at the last minute, hoping the professor won’t bother to ask any follow-up questions. It may seem petty to get up in arms about a few paragraphs, but this kind of thing rankles me, especially when it’s done by prestigious institutions. As I whined about before, I see universally-accepted bad art prose as downright harmful to artists and just plain annoying to everyone else.

Anyhow, my companion and I later amused ourselves over beers by editing them for clarity, pictured below:

FourthFlor


ThirdFloor

SecondFloor

 

Art and Rejection

WorkAtAMuseumWebDiscussing how many things you get rejected from is probably bad PR, unless you’re already so successful that it comes across as reassuring. Talk about it while you’re still trying to make a name for yourself, however, it carries the risk of sounding whiney or even worse, naive, setting yourself up for averted eyes and hastily changed subjects. There may be, after all, a very good reason your work isn’t making the cut, but everyone is too polite to tell you.

So, at the risk of both of those possibilities, here goes: I have applied for about nine art exhibitions in the last three months or so, and have received, roughly, seven rejections. (The remaining two I haven’t heard from yet.)  A few of these were easy to shrug of (the artistic equivalent of getting dumped by someone you weren’t sure you wanted to date in the first place) though there were one or two that stung in particular, mostly because I’d assumed they were in were in the bag. In my head, I’d already pictured myself in the show, booking tickets to the location and posting triumphantly on Facebook. Yes, yes. Embarrassing now. Added to the pile are an influx of bait-and-switch commissions, which aren’t rejections per se, but nonetheless deflating: “We’d love to have your work for [something really cool sounding]” most of which tend to fall by the wayside for whatever reason, once logistics, such as money, get in the way.

The odd thing about rejection, I’ve found, is that it is both dispiriting and galvanizing at the same time. You are left with the impulse to show them, show them all (“them” of course, being strangers and acquaintances who have their own lives to worry about and don’t care—your friends and family, who are rooting for you all along, you take no pleasure in showing up) but also wonder what the hell is wrong with you. Or that you are playing a game that you don’t know the rules to. Or that maybe you shouldn’t be playing the game at all and taking up a different sport. The most reassuring thing I’ve found is that I will keep drawing anyhow, because that is how I’m wired, but also because drawing belongs to some other realm where rejection or acceptance or getting into museums and galleries isn’t quite the point. That is, it’s important but not the point. Even with an inbox overflowing with email from people who ‘regret to inform me…’, my art results in my having a better life than I would without it, but not in an easily quantifiable way.

A few new cartoons

I feel about as comfortable calling myself a cartoonist as I do calling myself an illustrator (that is to say, not at all) but I’ve been trying to get better about scribbling down my ideas before they get pushed aside by other art. Here are a few, plus some accompanying sketches those fans of showing your work:

My museum map…
MuseumComicWeb

…which was born from this doodle. (In case you are wondering, my Sacred Childhood Painting is Watson and the Shark, at the National Gallery. Now of course, I can’t look at it without wondering why the shark decided to only eat Watson’s clothing while leaving the rest of his body intact.):
MuseumSketchesWeb

My cartoon, ‘Crossroads’
CrossroadWeb

…and here is the original doodle in my sketchbook.
photo 2

And finally: “These Things Are Not Allowed.”
NotAllowedWeb2

Original page (you will find a few items that did not make final cut):
photo 1

I was debating typing this versus writing it by hand, but finally decided the handwriting was more appropriate for the notes-you-tell-yourself feel I was going for.

Anyhow, some or all of these may be published in the next Mutant by the comic book shop Atomic Books, which is still my favorite reason to visit Baltimore. The anthology will be free with a purchase, so if you need recommendations of comics to buy, I am always happy to oblige.

Artist CV

Oh, the artist CV. One of many ineffectual attempts to impress strangers.

Well, we People in the Arts are visual people, supposedly. Maybe this is more how it should be. And this way I can highlight the not-impressive-on-paper with the impressive-on-paper:  CV - Dana Jeri Maier

The “Bad Art Writing” folder

In my Gmail account, I have a specific folder called, “Bad Art Writing” where I file any particularly atrocious art press release or gallery announcement that gets sent my way. This happens fairly regularly, if you are an artist who is on the receiving end of gallery and artist mailing lists. Bad Art Writing (sometimes known as International Art English), is basically Academic English (AE), which David Foster Wallace probably eviscerated best in his brilliant Harper’s essay, excerpted below. Simply substitute the word “artist” for “academic” and “scholar” and it amounts to pretty much the same thing:

…I cite no less an authority than Mr. G. Orwell, who 50 years ago had [Academic English] pegged as a “mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence” in which “it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.”

…the obscurity and pretension of Academic English can be attributed in part to a disruption in the delicate rhetorical balance between language as a vector of meaning and language as a vector of the writer’s own resume. In other words, it is when a scholar’s vanity/insecurity leads him to write primarily to communicate and reinforce his own status as an Intellectual that his English is deformed by pleonasm and pretentious diction (whose function is to signal the writer’s erudition) and by opaque abstraction (whose function is to keep anybody from pinning the writer down to a definite assertion that can maybe be refuted or shown to be silly). The latter characteristic, a level of obscurity that often makes it just about impossible to figure out what an AE sentence is really saying, so closely resembles political and corporate doublespeak (“revenue enhancement,” “downsizing,” pre-owned,” “proactive resource-allocation restructuring”) that it’s tempting to think AE’s real purpose is concealment and its real motivation fear.

There’s an addictive, “fun-to-hate” quality about this sort of writing. It’s similar to the way I can gleefully despise Sarah Palin or the show Girls, and still be compelled to click on every single knee-jerk piece of click-bait that comes out on those respective topics. Not that this is something I’m at all proud of. As any creative-type knows, hating the work of others is much easier (and lazier) than producing something of your own that’s any good, and so far as I can tell, I am no wiser or better off for having read about the societal implications of Lena Dunham’s gratuitous nudity or Palin’s latest outrageous tweet, or whatever other distraction was making the rounds last week.

But my hatred of Art/Academic Speak is a little more personal than hating an inane politician or a TV show.  I think all artists are done a disservice when this type of writing is seen as perfectly acceptable. How can the phrase “questioning the commerce or carelessness of re-appropriation through producing a space-as-document,” or “our cultural presentation of identity and contain ambiguous or potentially contradictory statements about their creator” be uttered with a straight face? Why are “notions” of [insert perfectly stable art form, such as painting] always being “challenged?” (Which of course, always just translates into, “The artist decided to do something different.”) The reasons this is a detriment are obvious (I hope). Terrible art writing is a distraction from art that’s actually good, it makes the artist look insecure at best and like a disingenuous jackass at worst, and artists who would never dream of writing this way feel obliged to, so that they may join an exclusive little club of People in the Know. But unfortunately, bad art writing is mostly shrugged off, on par with going to the Scottish highlands and complaining that everyone there speaks with an impenetrable accent. (Well, of course they talk that way. What did you expect?) And as International Art English cofounder David Levine points out: “The more you can muddy the waters around the meaning of a work, the more you can keep the value high.” Maybe that’s a handy insider’s trick, but hearing it said outright is heartbreaking. Has it come to this? Is squelching clarity really the key to the kingdom?

I Had No Plan

One of my ‘hard to explain’ drawings.

Here’s the thing that makes me a tad sympathetic, however: writing about art is hard. Very hard. And even harder to do sincerely, maybe moreso for artists than anyone else. When artists create work I suspect many* are not even in the same universe as words; they are hanging out in some meditative zone where language itself ceases to exist. My absolute favorite aspect of drawing—and also the thing about it that makes it easier and more enjoyable than almost anything else I do—is that during its creation, I do not have to talk about it. Because I can’t, or at least, not very well. There is literally nothing to say; the image is handling the Saying part for me. Thinking and explaining and making a case for oneself is never the point when I draw. But admitting, “I just wanted to see what happened when I expanded this shape,” or, “this composition felt right to me after looking at a book of Saul Steinberg drawings” doesn’t sound all that smart or interesting, and yet again, it’s easier to revert to vague, nonsensical prose.

Still, I’d like to think we artists can do better. We can omit needless words. We can sound like human beings and not like random adjective generators. We can admit that these things are not easy to write about, and be honest when we don’t know what we’re doing instead of disguising it in blabber.

Too much stuff

One of my least favorite aspects of art-making is that it takes up so much space. Yes, I know. That’s kind of the whole point. But in a way, I hate that part too–the sad knowledge that the activity I enjoy the most will, at the end of the day, result in my producing another thing, in a world that is arguably already overrun with too many things. Not that it’ll stop me from drawing, of course, but it’s kind of a depressing thought to have while cleaning your desk.

Not that I dwell on this all the time. To be fair, I’ve been enjoying the holiday season more than I anticipated, actually relishing walking past Christmas tree sales, enjoying the odd snow day and boozy holiday parties and all that, but the appeals to shop are exhausting. I am tired of stuff. Tired of being a Yet Another Artist Trying to Sell Stuff, frankly; I just want my work to go to good homes to people who happen to like the drawings and not do any of the uncomfortable-but-neccessary work required to entreat people to buy it.

And, um, now that I’m done kvetching, here are a few pieces of art I have for sale.

How to Draw a Bicycle - Dana Jeri Maier

How to Draw a Bicycle

Here I wanted to create something that addressed the process of relying solely on intuition. It’s available for various sizes on Society6:

NYPrint-Web

Map of New York

And I added a map of New York to compliment my map of DC since we all know New York enthusiasts tend to be much for fanatical than DC enthusiasts. This is also available on Society6.

And as always, any art-lovers and/or Christmas-shopping procrastinators who would like to purchase original art are welcome to contact me for prices and availability. As I mentioned earlier, the drawings are starting to pile and need good homes.

My Reading Year: 2013

Bookshelf - Dana Jeri Maier

I realize this is probably only interesting to a handful of people and has little to do with art, save the fact that I listened to a good number of these while drawing. But for fellow readers, here you are. And please note I’m using the word “read” interchangeably with “listen to” since most of these books were audio versions, except for the comics, obviously, and a few I read on my Kindle. (If you are the sort of person who thinks that audiobooks don’t count as reading, well, I have nothing to say to you.) Looking at this I am wondering if it might be good for my psyche to read a book that came out before 1996, but I guess I’m a sucker for modern fiction. Plus anything at all by Lionel Shriver.

Best books I read that came out in 2013
Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver
My Dirty Dumb Eyes, by Lisa Hanawalt
Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, by David Rakoff (though the illustrations accompanying the print version seemed to counter the tone of the poetry)
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, by Adelle Waldman

Two Lionel Shriver short stories I read this year were excellent: Kilifi Creek, in the November 25 New Yorker (probably one of the most memorable things I’ve read all year), and Prepositions, about the subtle difference between what it means to die on 9/11 rather than in 9/11.

Best books I read that did not come out in 2013
Half Empty, by David Rakoff
Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems, by David Rakoff
Fraud, by David Rakoff
Tenth of December, by George Saunders
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken
21 Dog Years, by Mike Daisey
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walters
I Don’t Care About Your Band, by Julie Klaunsner
A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver (I am two books away from being a Lionel Shriver completist, people!)

I finished Infinite Jest on Saturday (started in June), and am currently listening to the footnotes. This is a lot more interesting than it sounds.

Books I did not finish
I abandoned The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Lost Memory of Skin, The Good Nurse, This is How, Benediction, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!, and The Creationists. I feel vaguely guilty about not finishing the last two, but not enough to revisit them.

Comics
Comic-wise I read Paying for It by Chester Brown (an autobiographical comic that somehow managed to make a year of sleeping with prostitutes boring and self-congratulatory), Heads or Tales by Lili Carre, and The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz. I’m pretty sure Paying for It would be much more interesting if the plot stayed the same but the book was written and illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt.

Book I was surprised to like as much as I did
Lean In got a lot of flack for offering contradictory work-life balance advice (and yes, the phrase ‘work-life-balance’ definitely go off into a corner and die). But it also contained some of the most eye-opening statistics about women in the workplace, and how they often shoot themselves in the foot by underestimating or downplaying their abilities. I felt a very reassured and less alone after reading this, and genuinely wish it had been around for me to pick up five years ago.

Book I was surprised not to like
I wasn’t a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, despite it getting rave reviews (though to be fair, the only fantasy books I’ve ever gotten into in my life have been the Harry Potter series). But I will say that Gaiman is an excellent audiobook narrator.

Books I read that I enjoyed, but didn’t feel like shouting from the rooftops re: how much I liked them or anything
Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, Gone Girl, The Cuckoo’s Calling and Me Before You

For books I read in 2012 and earlier you can refer to an old flowchart I made, or become my friend on GoodReads.

Maps, Coasters and Cats

Lately I’ve been mass-producing stuff mostly for its own sake, including a new coaster series. (I’m not sure what to do with these, exactly, other than leave them in bars and hand them out to friends, but I tend to have a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach to a lot of art-making.)

coasters_large

I’ve also created a map of DC that I’ve doodled on obsessively and printed on chip board. You can buy ‘em for $8 on my shop.

DC-MapWebBlack

MrsTheCat
The Quetzal, a.k.a. Mrs. The Cat. 1994-2013

I was also very sad to learn that Mrs. The Cat, who is documented in The Bachelor Cat, has recently passed away. She was a good one, to say the least. Our thoughts are with her surviving Cat Bachelor.

The Art of the Kitty Cat

Cat Sketches - Dana Jeri Maier

Put a cat on it > put a bird on it.

Last November I created a mini-comic about the phenomena of the Cat Bachelor (after overhearing two of my male friends discussing their respective cats at a party and realizing that this was a Thing). Over time cats have become one of my default images—the stockpile of stuff I can doodle repeatedly and never seem to tire of. They are much easier to draw than humans and (sadly) much more crowd-pleasing.

Below, some of my favorite illustrators takes on cats:

The Saul Steinberg Cat.

learcat

An Edward Lear cat, which I blatantly ripped off used as inspiration for my Bachelor Cat cover.
Edward Searle Cat

The Edward Searle Cat, though I think I like that fish more.

Some praise for the Handbook

A friend of mine who read a late draft of The Unsuccessful Artist’s Handbook had this to say about it:

Also first off, it just bowls me over with its honesty. It hits me in the heart. I don’t know how you feel it, or what your awareness is, or whether it costs you or comes naturally. I’m really envious. I am not, in life or art, forthcoming or straightforward or candid. Not because I don’t want to be those things, but — but this isn’t about me [he said, dodging further reflection and revelation]. There’s a quality to the honesty that hits me in the heart, that I’m envious of, that I think we’re all a bit thirsty for.

Again, you can buy a copy here. Makes a great Hannukah gift! Or not.

In other news—well, there isn’t much at the moment, except that my new coaster business cards came in [see right], and I am fairly pleased with them. Also, I have been having fun with my Studio page, which contains semi-regularly documentation of my studio. (I’m a shameless snoop when it comes to other artists’ studios, so I figured it would be kind to return the favor.)

October update

I am almost disproportionately pleased to announce that I have updated the Drawings, Studio and Projects pages on my website, with (mostly) brand-new work and built using the uber-sexy Foundation framework. Incidentally, I am still looking for tech nerds to talk about Foundation-related matters with, so if anyone is reading this and would like to compare notes, please feel free to drop me a line.

Announcement number two is a bit on the late side, but I have some drawings on display at the Fridge with Crowns, a chess-themed show currated by Zoma Wallace and hosted by Words, Beats Life. The line-up of artists is superb and it’s up through October 27, so please check it out if you find yourself in Eastern Market anytime soon.

(e)merge and the Debut of The Handbook

The Unsuccessful Artist's Handbook - Cover

I am pleased to announce that The Unsuccessful Artist’s Handbook—y’know, the thing I’ve been talking about creating for well over a year now—is finally printed and for sale. It costs $7, which I would like to point out, is less than most cocktails in any major metropolitan city, and contains various drawing and writing I’ve done last year or so, along with a bunch of art from my last exhibition. (No advice how to be an artist, unsuccessful or otherwise.) You can buy a copy on my Big Cartel site here, or at the (e)merge art fair.

The Unsuccessful Artist's Handbook

Speaking of (e)merge: I will be showing with the Flashpoint Gallery in room 213, where I will transforming the bathroom into a small exhibition space, and displaying a bunch of original art that is in the Handbook. And just wait until you see what plans I have in store for the mirror over the sink.

Artist talk Q&A with essayist Tim Kreider

Last Wednesday I had an artist talk with essayist/cartoonist/person-in-the-world-expert Tim Kreider (who also very kindly helped me draw coasters to raise money for Cultural DC). The following is our email correspondence pre-interview, to give you a gist of some of what was said.

TK: I once had a woman get mad at me for calling her a cartoonist when she considered herself a fine artist. You’ve been called an illustrator, which I know you feel is simply inaccurate. Your work seems to occupy an indefinite ground somewhere between cartoon, illustration, and fine art. What do you call yourself? Or do you find the whole business of categories tiresome and irrelevant?

Coaster Drawings by Dana and TimGuess which coasters are mine and which are Tim’s.

DM: I do find the business of categories tiresome up to a point, but I understand the impulse to label things—it’s good to know where the art fits in the ecosystem. And I find it very interesting how often I’m pegged as an illustrator, even though I’m always the first to point out that I’m not actually illustrating anything. So it could very well be that everyone else sees a style of drawing and thinks, “illustration” whereas I see illustration as more of art with a very specific purpose. I will say that the worst art I’ve done in my life, the stuff that still makes me wince when I look at it, has been actual paid illustration work—that is, someone told me what kind of drawing they wanted, and what subject matter, and written me a check for my trouble. But I’ve done some “assignments” I’m very proud of for people who gave me one or two loose parameters and said, okay, go nuts.

If I were to be thorough, I’d describe myself as a fine artist with a background in illustration and who occasionally makes a comic or two, if the mood strikes.

TK: Do you feel like being an in-betweenish kind of artist makes career more difficult, because people like to be able to pigeonhole?

DM: Well, being an artist is hard no matter what. There is always a reason to feel aggrieved and like no one is paying attention to you or taking you seriously. I guess the taxonomy would probably be a lot easier if I was a cartoonist or illustrator, but I’m stuck drawing the way I do, so there you go.

TK: There’s an aspect of your work that looks appealingly made-up-as-you-went-along, almost like automatic drawings. Not to say that they’re sloppy or unstructured, but in a way they’re like very ambitious doodles, done without the interference of some teacher telling you to stop that right now and pay attention. What is the balance between spontaneity and planning in your work? Do you have an overall composition or design in mind when you begin? Or are you actually making it up as you go along?

DM: They are mostly made up as I go along. Composition-wise I’ve found it useful to make sure I know where the drawing ends on the paper or wall, maybe start with a loose sketch of where I want certain shapes to go, but then just plunge in and try not to overthink it. For my smaller pieces I will sometimes start with a few ink blobs, or some sort of doodle, and see what happens. I do the best work if I have an engaging audiobook to listen to and can put myself on autopilot. (All of the work in my show has an audiobook I associate with it, except for one piece in particular that I drew while binge-watching House of Cards.)

Apparently there is a psychological term called, “The Centipede’s Dilemma” which is what happens when thinking too hard about what you are doing will cause you to mess it up. [The Wikipedia definition: “when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is disrupted by consciousness of it or reflection on it.”] My drawings are the result of having a bad case of that.

TK: So talking about it is probably a bad idea.

DM: It’s more that I can’t talk about it very easily. I don’t like the word “stream of consciousness” for my process, since it sounds a bit wishy-washy, but I can’t think of a better word…eh, maybe I should just own it already. But it’s a bit terrifying—if it all comes from your subconscious, a place you don’t really understand and can’t control, it’s easy to imagine that the spigot can get turned off at any moment.

TK: There are these little recurring figures and images in your work—bathtubs, chessmen, stairs and balustrades, fish with scarves. I have similar little figments that infest my own drawing, too, mostly much dumber and more embarrassing than yours—Dracula, the starship Enterprise, etc. Where does that stuff come from? Do you think it’s like dream imagery, symbols for something you’re preoccupied or obsessed with, or is it just the clutter and junk left lying around in your head?

Tim Kreider and Dana Jeri MaierFinally getting to the bottom of what’s up with all the fish wearing scarves.

DM: I wouldn’t call it clutter, exactly, just the images that I can always fall back on because I never get tired of drawing them. I’m not sure where the chess pieces come from, but I love how each one has a distinctive personality, and sometimes have loaded symbolism that I can trot out if needed. Like, you see a chess piece or a chess game, and it’s an automatic story. Even if the pieces are just sitting there and no one’s around, there’s a narrative injected into the image somehow.

The bathtubs I began drawing when I saw an illustration of one in a newspaper (a review of some old-timey children’s book), with the little fish-like character in it. It had some funny nonsense name, like the Sploo. The image stuck in my mind and I began drawing it incessantly. What’s great about drawing claw-footed bathtubs is that they are always imperfect–one side is wonky, or the feet aren’t curved quite right, or whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever done a bathtub I’ve completely nailed. Which means I feel as though I need to draw bathtub after bathtub after bathtub to get to the perfect one.

If I were to play dimestore psychologist I could translate my little, “when in doubt, draw a fish wearing a scarf” manifesto to a shorthand for, ‘when it doubt, do something you’re reasonably good at, is kind of silly, and that you can do over and over again without getting bored.’

TK: Maybe this is a good prescription for life in general.

DM: I can think of worse ones.

TK: I guess part of the reason your drawings feel cartoonish is that there’s a humor to them—those little characters with their big noses, the smug-looking cats. But there’s also a sadness to them that reminds me of cartoonists like Michael Leunig. All these morose-looking figures isolated from one another in their cramped bare apartments. It reminds me of the experience of living in New York City—these sprawling ramshackle tenement-like structures, cutaway views of these lonesome people all living on top of one another, separated only by thin walls. Are you conscious of this sadness in your work—is it something you’re deliberately trying to express? Or does it just come out that way? Or am I projecting it all? Is it me who’s sad?

DM: One of the themes in this show is how we are all pretending–to be more competent, less desperate, better people in general, as though we are all very certain of ourselves. On one hand it’s important that we all do this–the social order would probably all fall apart if we all got to act how we really felt at any given time, but it’s also exhausting. And yes, it’s only once we’re alone in our tiny cramped apartments that we do get to be honest with ourselves. And even the honesty can be a confusing mess.

I see them as sad in the same way that I see Edward Gorey drawings as creepy and disturbing—that is to say, I don’t, really. The characters might all look as though they’ve had better days, but I always thought the silliness and absurdity of the drawings prevents viewers from taking it too seriously. You can read an Edward Gorey book about children dying and you will chuckle with amusement, not say, “oh God, that’s terrible.” But that’s my own take on my work. I do realize with my stuff there’s no obvious punchline or gag the way there is with an artist like Gorey, so maybe the viewer is left with a sad feeling. One of the best parts about having all this work out there is that it’s completely out of my hands.

TK: You’re right, and I partially retract my previous question. People always used to call my own cartons dark, sick, cynical, bitter, and I could see what they meant but I also felt like they were missing out on the fact of the cartoons themselves, which were hilarious and fun, acts of joy. There’s a difference between how you perceive the world to be and the way you choose to react to it.

DM: That’s a very good point. It sounds counter-intuitive, but drawing horrible things can actually be a damn good time.

Why I Am Not An Illustrator

The Wineglass - Dana Jeri MaierOne of my non-illustrations currently on display at the Flashpoint.

Now that my show’s up and running at Flashpoint, and people occasionally write about it, I’ve noticed that I’m usually referred to as an illustrator but never a fine artist. Which isn’t something I take offense at, of course, but is not a description that seems entirely accurate.

Yes, I am being pedantic. I have a degree in illustration after all, have taken on the odd illustration job in the past, and most of my favorite artists tend to be illustrators or cartoonists. But for the small subset of people who do care about such distinctions, here is why I am still not an illustrator:

How to Draw a Bicycle - Dana Jeri Maier
This is what happens when I try to draw a bicycle.

Illustration is a blanket term that implies that the work in question is depicting a specific idea. The best definition of it I ever heard actually came from the cartoonist Dash Shaw, at a reading at Atomic Books: “An illustration tells you what a thing is, and how you should feel about that thing.” Fine artists can get away with saying something like, “This piece is about space and light” and no one will ask any follow up questions. An illustration, on the other hand, needs to have some semblance of specificity—the work needs to be about something, not just its form. My drawings may be cartoonish and representational, but it is never 100% obvious as to what they are about in the first place, which to my mind, disqualifies them from being illustrations.

Fine art also means you don’t have to answer to art directors, which is why I chose it, or rather, it chose me. But it was never that I didn’t want to be an illustrator. I would love to be the type of artist who can read an editorial and create a piece that wordlessly captures its point of view, and I am wholeheartedly jealous of anyone who has that ability.  It’s just that I realized having to draw something in particular was my equivalent of artistic cyanide. The only way I know how to draw anything good is to be as unspecific about its meaning as possible.

Occasionally you will hear illustration used as a derogatory term, i.e., the whole, “That’s not art, it’s illustration” sniff, if a piece in question appears too commercial or heavy-handed. There are some heartbreaking pictures that do look as though they were manufactured by a machine in a factory, but I still bristle when I hear that slam, as it’s generally a lazy shorthand for, “This is why you don’t have to care about it.” Illustration and fine art are different beasts, and there are lots of blurry lines between the two, but to say one is superior or more important than the other is just plain wrong.

At any rate, dwelling on definitions gets tedious pretty quickly, and the more interesting conversations tend to be about the art itself, not what taxonomy it falls under. And as a former English professor once said, when students were explaining the differences between Painting and GFA majors: “Whatever. It’s all pictures.”

If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn’t Have to Do This: the Recap

My married friends may not agree, but I have always likened gallery shows to weddings: immense preparation is involved, you are nervous despite it being, technically, a joyful occasion, and at the actual party you wind up talking to roughly a bazillion people in short bursts. But it was a good opening, thank you. I saw friends I haven’t seen in ages and afterwards hit the bars with some of my favorite people. A few photos below:

Collin_Elizabeth_BackWall
Collin, who I met in art school back in the day (in seersucker), and his lovely girlfriend Elizabeth.

Thane at Flashpoint DC
Kitty! (Photo by Jenny McConnell Frederick, Director of Performing Arts at the Flashpoint, and mother of this adorable little guy.)

Drawings by Dana Jeri Maier
Says my friend Anthony: “That is the most self-satisfied-looking cat ever.” Well, yeah.

Everyone by Dana Jeri Maier
Detail shot of Everyone, which sold to my friend Yeon-Woo. “When I saw it, I didn’t want anyone else to have it,” she said, which literally made me hug her.

Installation in progress

Here are a few work-in-progress shots of If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn’t Have to Do This, which opens on Friday at the Flashpoint Gallery:
Front Wall - If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn't Have to Do This
If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn't Have to Do This
Overall, the installation has been incredibly pleasant. Applying huge swaths of black ink onto a white wall feels rich and satisfying. While I work I listen to the new Robert Galbraith J.K. Rowling crime novel, and The Love Affairs of Nathanial P., both of which are excellent. There is a Shake Shack down the street and art supply stores in easy biking distance. The hours fly by.

I’ve also printed promotional coasters for the show, which you may see in local bars:
Promotional Coasters - If We Could All Agree Not to Care We Wouldn't Have to Do This

Anyhow, show details again below, and also on the event page. I will be downright thrilled if you can make it.

Dana Jeri Maier: If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn’t Have to Do This
Opening Reception: Friday, August 9, 6-8pm
Exhibition Dates: August 9 – September 14, 2013
Flashpoint Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12-6pm or by appointment

The Art of the Wedding

As it turns out, 2013 is The Year that All of My Friends Are Getting Married, which is happening pretty much on schedule. And one unexpected perk is that I’ve been finding myself contributing art to their nuptials in various ways. The map of DC I drew in April will be used for an invitation (minus the sea monsters), and in January, I was commissioned to draw an engagement-themed piece that was used as part of a marriage proposal. Most recently I created a Ketubah for my friends Agnes and Max. It’s my first Ketubah, and hopefully not my last—I had a lot of fun with this one:

Ketubah by Dana Jeri Maier

If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn’t Have to Do This

Oh yes. Solo show is opening Friday, August 9th at the Flashpoint Gallery, and I will basically be using the space as a giant sketchbook, which I assure you, you do not want to miss. A few work-in-progress shots below. And you can read the full press release here.
studio_june
readenough

Dana Jeri Maier: If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn’t Have to Do This 
Opening Reception: Friday, August 9, 6-8pm
Exhibition Dates: August 9 – September 14, 2013
Flashpoint Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12-6pm or by appointment

The topic that never gets old

My weekend

There is one topic that never seems to get old among us creative types, and that is how difficult it is to do creative work in the first place. Oh yes, you think. Please tell me just how hard this wholly optional activity is. Let’s talk about other fellow artists who have spent the day procrastinating and feeling like failures for not working, or throwing out entire days worth of drawings, or hours trying to squeeze out a single sentence that doesn’t sound dumb. And the solidarity is easy to find, along with motivational posters encouraging you to struggle through the hard parts, or reassurance that getting stuck does not necessarily mean that your painting is doomed. Then of course, you realize—horrified—that you have just spent forty minutes searching for words of encouragement on the Internet instead of getting anything done, and the cycle of shame repeats itself.*

I’ve spent the better part of the weekend working for an upcoming show I have in August—details to come soon—which involved the usual mixture of artistic highs and lows. I did, sadly, have to scrap an entire 24×24” panel because its composition was unsalvageable, but it felt like the right thing to do. As I drew, a Saul Steinberg quote constantly repeated itself in my head, on a loop: “What you respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.” Which seemed to be everywhere.

* For my money, you are not going to get a better description of this trauma than David Rakoff’s essay, “Isn’t it Romantic.” It is one of those essays you wish you could shove in people’s hands and say, “read this now.”