A few weeks ago, I helped organize an artist marketing workshop. We arranged for a few arts business people to present their thoughts on marketing one's art. Among the presenters, there was an art dealer, an owner of an arts center, and a social media dude. After laying out the trays of crackers, hummus and cheeses, I inserted myself as the realistic emcee, a marketing professional who happens to be a weird-ass, sometimes successful, artist.
As I introduced the last presenter - the owner of Lillstreet Art Center - I identified myself as a marketer of boring things (truck parts)...and also a dance teacher and a metalsmith (I got my start at Lillstreet's Metals department). People chuckled. Great segue, as that was my intention. Without knowing what the art dealer had said earlier about required originality (I was at Mariano's to buy the crackers, hummus, and cheeses - and tampons), I said the shitty thing no artist wants to hear. "I know I should not say this, but what is original, really? You *will* see similar works, and that's ok. Share and explain what inspires you, and why you do what you do, what's behind your work. To me, that is why people have bought from me, and that is why people will buy from you."
What did I say that for? Wellll, the social media dude was talking about what one should share on their social pages, and advised folks to not limit content exclusively around their work and sales-y stuff. The room was filled with 20 not-extroverted people who had no idea what the fuck this song and dance was about. I hoped they took in what I said and thought about how they buy art from other artists. Is it about price, originality, inspiration? Sure. Is the tipping point where one values appealing art SO MUCH MORE after realizing that the artist was not a pretentious asshole? For me, it is the transactional moment of truth. The topic garnered more discussion with my fellow ArtWalk colleague, Gene. He described, quite elegantly, that the process is more about taking our inspirations and presenting them together in our own way, which supports its originality. I can see that, and how that can easily stem into a needless conversation about appropriation. We let that slide since that topic has been re-hashed enough - let's just focus on being honest, genuine, and not-a-dicque.
People came up to me and chatted afterwards. I wished they ate more of the cheese I had laid out, but these people were serious about learning. I felt their fears around how their work will be received by the public, and still feel them, myself. I've been working on how I define my personal style in solo dance form and I just don't know. A lot of people do the dark, moody dance so well...I enjoy it. But, I don't wear black eyeliner well, my sideswept bang doesn't stay put...and I am too earthy of a dancer to pull it off, it's not the right fit. My kind of darkness lurks in the coolness of nighttime grass, the scent of flowers at dusk, tarnished metal, uncomfortable thoughts, and a sense of failure that is reconciled over time. (That must be why I like dark, textured costuming with earth tones. My Personal Paula Styling, while it has its own story, is not in the slightest bit unique, invented, or re-invented. At best, my juxtapositioning of seen-before stuff aims to hold the human attention span of 7 seconds.) I've mentioned that in American Tribal Style®, we function as one aesthetic unit. It is less about showcasing the individual dancer's personality. We have our solo work for that, and other performance projects may be flavored by this personal style. I'll refrain from saying that it affects my student's style, as it is my job to help them find their own personal style through the observation of my and other dancers' work. I've read many interviews with famous dancers and they advise that one should not look for it, but just to keep learning and dancing...and it will come. I am fine with that, but I still need to create some kind of focus for the solos that I muster from time to time. I've waited a while before even considering an attempt.
After thinking I could save the next effort for a poorly-attended hafla, I got another opportunity. My student, Mickie, wanted to hold an event for a suicide prevention support organization. She is personally affected by this cause, and I was glad to join her in some dancing at a fundraiser hosted at the very same studio in which we dance. With limited time, I figured we could have a few solos and then come together. It's her event and I wanted her to express some of her own vulnerability and healing through dance, which is not usually seen. I suggested we can dance together at the end, mainly because we have to keep things varied as we progress through a long-ass song. But, it also shows that one is not necessarily alone in their journey. Bonus, unintentional artfulness. I am ok with disjointed solos to a song with disjointed, soul-searching thoughts, and finishing with some acknowledged, grounded movement in a group...because I am that weird-ass artist who has possibly started a style journey. It may fail to resonate with the outside audience, but the sincere effort never fails our internal audience. It's an ongoing, everyday effort to explain this to myself...through the use of increasingly shorter sentences.
Check out the performance song link below...