SINCE I moved into a new studio at the renovated Torpedo Factory, I'm wondering how this change will affect my sculpture. Though a thoroughly committed artist, I have not escaped the dilemma of whether to produce pure art or salable work. The move to a studio in the Factory has accentuated this disturbing problem for me. How do I make enough profit to pay for studio rent, the clay and stone I purchase, pedestals and bases, etc.? Shall I pursue with total commitment and energy the thematic aspects of my work, as I have in the past? Or shall I stop in midstream, reappraise my situation and attempt to make a salable product?
Making sculpture has been a long-term interest of mine. After receiving a master's degree in social work, I used my meager art background to work with emotionally disturbed youngsters. Art proved to be a fine diagnostic and treatment tool in working with inarticulate children. However, I became intrigued by the art, eventually quit my job and studied at the Corcoran Art School for a number of years. For the past eight years I've been sculpting in my home studio.
It is sculpting that has been the culmination of my artistic career. I love making it, looking at it, touching it. Unlike two-dimensional work, sculpture does not rely upon perspective and other visual tricks to create the illusion of three dimensions. It exists in full form and dimension, never presuming to be anything other than what it is.
For the last several months I've been pursuing the idea of giving my sculpture an environment. While I love the unequivocal statement fine sculpture can make, sculpture, unlike two-dimensional work, cannot always produce an ambience for itself.
I was led to this theme of creating an environment for my work when I sculpted "Civil Defense Drill"--a work that expressed my feelings as a child in the 1950s, sitting with my back pressed against the elementary school wall, head tucked under my arms, while being drilled in how to ward off the effects of nuclear attack. The futility of this impossible task overwhelmed me, as did the presumptuousness of those who thought such posturing could possibly help. My sculpture was a figure crouched in that familiar, strained position.
Upon seeing my work, an acquaintance sent a poem he had written. It expressed his feelings about the same episode from our cultural past. I was struck by how sentient his work was, because in words he was able to describe teachers, pupils, the philosophy of the time.
Spurred by a desire to fit my sculpture into a context, I have been building environments for it. The latest piece, titled "Karen's Room," depicts a sturdy, plain-looking woman, with a wall behind her. On the wall are two figurative shadows that parallel the lighting in my studio. I attempted to present the question of whether the background shadows are real, a theme that may be viewed on several levels.
A second piece in this series is titled "Sky Horse." It is a flying blue animal, painted with clouds and birds that depict the horse's milieu--or perhaps, as a passing child commented, "all the things the horse has seen which help make it what it is." These works, which gave me much joy to create and which took long hours of work, remain unsold in my studio, along with others.
The excitement of making these pieces is no doubt greater than the joy they might give a future owner. It is why I am an artist--for the freedom to pursue my love of clay and stone and the thrill I find in making a product that pleases me and that I have made from beginning to end.
Sculpture has never been wonderfully salable. It takes up space, unlike two-dimensional work, which hangs unobtrusively on walls. It can be bulky, heavy, difficult to maneuver and store and, in my chosen area of work, potentially breakable. When one compares sculpture with functional pieces (well-designed ceramics, for example) it is the sculpture that remains unpurchased. Yet I probably would continue to produce it even if all my pieces went unsold. And I am troubled by the fact that I do worry about its salability. Don't true artists produce work only for the joy of working?
The answer may be to compromise. Perhaps one finds and exploits one salable item--perhaps a small model of a piece or posters of one. These can be sold inexpensively while one pursues one's own direction for the most part. Nonetheless, I can't help thinking that Georgia O'Keefe would never do so.