Picky Gardener: Peace and Solace in the Garden

June 22, 2010

I recently visited my community garden plot to put a few melon plants in the ground. While I was there, another gardener and her children came to visit her weeds. The youngest of the two girls asked me, “are you the picky gardener?” I laughed and said that I was. Their mother, of course covered for her child’s unabashed honesty and question, by correcting her and stating, that I was the “good gardener.” She was embarrassed either by her children audacity or by the knowledge that her own views of me and my gardening were now expressed by her children.

In either case, it became clear to me that, I am perceived by some as a completely anal-retentive gardener or at the very least, not average in my approach to vegetable growing and that the mother of these two wonderfully honest children, in my perception seems to be teaching her children to accept mediocrity, unknowingly or not. She is doing this by denigrating someone else’s more zealous work or passion.

I am not found of mediocrity, and I am in constant inner turmoil with myself in an attempt to think, act, speak, intellectualize, converse, believe, work, make, or live more than a mediocre life. This inner turmoil is both painful and rewarding, and has created in me a constant and manic search for betterment. For me, this search has taken numerous emotional, physical, and intellectual manifestations. Which suffice it say, are not always pleasant, however, are an aspect of my human condition.

In the past few years, I have found much interest and fascination with gardening. I have spent many hours digging, composting, sewing seeds, saving seeds, picking bugs, harvesting vegetables, canning, maintaining tools, and preserving food. I have read a variety of books on gardening and I am constantly on the lookout for a new book or information that will enhance my understanding and knowledge of gardening. I also believe strongly that gardening has a huge potential to mitigate some of the world’s environmental and food source problems. In addition, the vegetables from an organically nurtured garden are incredibly delicious. I have been eating and cooking with them my entire live. In my opinion absolutely no other farming method compares with the vegetables produced from a well tended, nurtured, and loved garden.

My personal connection to the earth has been a struggle for me to understand. Until recently I have mostly had an intellectual appreciation for the world I live in. Many of my family, friends, and heroes have enjoyed intensive backpacking trips, canoeing, nature expeditions, and adventures. I prefer walking in the woods with defined paths, car camping, and swimming in clean lakes and rivers. I have met people who seem to have a spiritual and/or psychic connection to the earth, and whose bodies seem to flow and move with the seasons. I enjoy the seasons, however, I have always felt like a silent observer of them, physically disgruntled by their extremes and enjoying there pleasantries.

At this point, I am more fearful of Mother Nature’s wrath as a result of global warming, then I am comfortable with her nuances. I don’t even know how to emotionally or intellectual deal with the recent wave of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti. I do consider myself an environmentalist or at least environmental concerned because I am not sure what the term really means anymore.

After I was accused of being a “picky gardener,” I began to reflect and notice something about my spiritual and intellectual connection to the earth. At the core of my being I am a searcher and a creator. I make objects and I am constantly searching for ways to improve upon what I create, and how I live. However, I do have limitations, and I am not afraid to ask for help. My current understanding of my connection to the earth is very basic, it is physical, and I feel closest to it when I am improving its soil to grow plants that I can later eat. Within the past few years, since I became a passionate gardener, I have felt much closer to the seasons and, therefore the earth, because, I have become more dependent on Spring, Summer and Fall to grow and preserve food for the Winter. I need the earth to survive, and like all creatures, always have. The difference for me now is that, much of my family’s food comes from my sweat, labor, and the soil, rather than from my wallet and a grocery store. Gardening is like anything else, you can turn it into an art form, in fact I have studied some artists who have done this such as Amy Franceschini. In 1995 she, founded Futurefarmers, a collective of international artists. http://futurefarmers.com.

So yes I am proudly a “picky gardner”, and I find solace in the rich loam that I helped to improve and where my vegetables grow. I am dependent upon it as we all are. On days when I am uncomfortable in my skin, unhappy, frustrated, or disgusted with humanity, I go to my garden for solace where I find peace tending plants.

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The Poisoned Cocoon Series

June 9, 2010

Images of my new series of artwork were uploaded to my website last night. I won’t comment on the work other than to say that I am glad to finally be able to release it to the world via the Internet and a few upcoming group exhibitions. Most notably, Visions in Clay, juried by Arthur Gonzales. Growth #1 with Baby Face will be exhibited at LH Horton Jr. Gallery, Stockton, CA from August 26 through September 23.

You can see all completed works in the series as well as my artist statement at:
http://www.gerardferrari.com/gallery-cocoons.html

Enjoy!

Art Making: Rejection and the Courage to Continue

June 2, 2010

It has been some time since my last post. I have been busy putting the garden in, watching the earth grow as it recovers from the long winter, and recover from winter myself. I live in the upper Midwest after all where winters are cold and severe.

So far, I haven’t discussed my art making or artistic life, primarily because I would rather my artwork speak for itself, and because information about my artistic career is available on my website, www.gerardferrari.com, it has seemed unnecessary.

Fortunately, artwork does not tell the artist’s biography, but instead reflects the maker’s influences, inspirations, and/or muses. If it is good artwork it will take on a life of its own, transcending the maker. As a result, in some ways the artist becomes irrelevant or simply an aspect of an artwork’s birth. With this understanding, I tend not to speak of my life as an artist, although, I do like to discuss my artwork when invited to do so.

Uncharacteristically of myself, this particular post addresses a difficult aspect of my artistic life. In the past few months I have received rejections letters from three grants that I applied for. These grants would have provided finances for me to continue my art career in a more substantial and productive way. Since, my resignation from my professorial position, my fund base is slowly dwindling. In addition, and for a variety of reasons my artwork is not selling. In the past, I did not worry so much about financing this aspect of my life, because, my teaching income funded the making of my artwork.

Now that I am no longer receiving a paycheck, I am beginning to feel the oncoming financial crunch, which in all honesty is only part of the trials and tribulations of being an artist. Unfortunately, in America money is the primary accepted form of applause, and we also need it to survive. Thankfully, I receive various forms of applause for my artwork, which I definitely appreciate. However, when someone buys a sculpture of mine, I feel the value of my artwork and artistic role is substantiated. When a person is willing to trade their skills, time, and living for my artwork (skills, time, and living) in monetary form, this high level of appreciation shows a remarkable amount of faith in me as an artist. Which of course boost my ego and gives me courage to continue my artist role, not to mention the continuation of my being.

What I am trying to say is, that this past winter and early spring has been extremely difficult intellectually and emotionally. I am tired of rejection and I have been wondering why I chose to be an artist, if I did, as it certainly is not an easy way to exist or make a living. There are of course, wonderful aspects of the artist’s life, which revolve around the actual art making, study, and exploration that occur when I am in the “flow” of a creative period. The hard part is the continual realization that I live in a society that for the most part doesn’t really care about what I do, or give a damn about art-making in general. This might not be so bad if challenging artwork, which I like to think I make, was not also feared, misunderstood, and marginalized.

Suffice it to say, that I have been second guessing numerous aspects of my artwork and artist role, which has been difficult. So where do I go from here, where will the next well of energy come from to keep me going as an artist? So far grant applications haven’t been successful at providing funding, career enhancing kudos, or ego enhancing energy?

The only thing I know to do is to continue working and keep trying various avenues to promote myself. My entrepreneurial skills definitely need to be encouraged, found, and/or honed. Maybe the next few years of my life will be a study in learning how to be more entrepreneurial. If so, it may also prove to be the most challenging and difficult aspect of my artistic career, I have to admit that I face it with reluctance and fear.

I was hoping for a boost of energy and funding from a reputable arts foundation to keep me going, but I guess that is not in the cards at the moment. Somehow, I will have to find the courage and emotional energy to continue making my artwork, which usually means just getting up and out to the studio and working. I have done it numerous times before, I guess I can do it again. Hopefully, I will learn how to make a living from my artistic endeavors.

This blog post is for all artists who are struggling to continue their lives work. Please take Courage!

The Art of Rejection by Arthur GonzalezIf you need a little humor and an emotional boost to get you through all those rejections, take a look at Arthur Gonzalez’s book, The Art of Rejection. It is an artistic parody and some pretty damn good artwork literally drawn on the numerous rejection letters he has received, throughout his artistic career. I highly recommend it, it has helped me.

P.S. Arthur Gonzales did not pay me to write kudos about his book. However, if you want to buy it from Amazon via the above link, I will get a little kickback as an Amazon Associate.

Software Rabble-Rousers

March 25, 2010

When I left my academic teaching position, I also had to leave my office’s Apple desktop computer, and the institution’s technical support staff.  This was particularly hard for me because at the time most of my computing was done in my office and not on our home computer, a desktop with Windows.  Even though my spouse is very computer savvy, grew up using DOS, and is familiar with the Windows operating system, I dislike Microsoft and especially their operating system – to put it lightly. On numerous occasions, my spouse has saved our home computer and me from some pretty major computer-related meltdowns.  So it was an understatement to say that I was reluctant to return to using Microsoft Windows, its glitches and inevitable three-year crash, that Microsoft so kindly provides to its costumers.

I am slightly cyberphobic and Microsoft products create more fear and frustration than I want to deal with; I dreaded the idea working with our home computer.  I would have liked to purchase an Apple, but at the time spending several thousands of dollars for a Mac and appropriate software seemed foolish, especially since our income was going to drop to less than half.  I needed access to a computer, especially if I wanted to become a self-sufficient artist, so I didn’t know what to do.

During my last semester of teaching, the brother of one of my students started Orange Computer Solutions.  This business specializes in providing affordable computing solutions and promotes open source software.  At the time, I was vaguely aware of open source and the counter culture that exists around it.  I visited Orange Computer Solutions and was introduced to a Ubuntu: a free, open source, Linux based operating system.

I have found Ubuntu to be user friendly and intuitive.  The system provides all the needed utilities you would find on Windows or Mac OS, including a compatible office suite from OpenOffice.org, graphics programs, games, and numerous other open source software options.  As a result, for the first time in my life, I am excited about my computing potential and possibilities, and I am becoming much less cyberphobic.

This is not to say that I don’t get frustrated with my computer, I do.  My wife continues to help me with my software usage problems and issues, which is invaluable to me.  In addition, Orange Computer Solutions provides unbeatable customer service and has helped me keep my computing needs in good working order, the latest being installation of OpenOffice.org  3.2. I believe that  OpenOffice.org’s PowerPoint equivalent, Impress, will solve my presentation needs for all those artist workshops I hope to give in the future!

I also strongly believe in the grass roots nature of open source software and Ubuntu’s mission.  It seems to fit into my own life philosophy: humanitarian, socially liberal, environmentally conservative or sustainable, live creatively, and speak out.  My heroes tend to be artists, rabble-rousers, eccentrics, and, people who walk softly on the planet but loom large in character.  Ubuntu and open source organizations are electronic/software rabble-rousers.

Related Links

Open Source Defined

Ubuntu Website

Ubuntu Philosophy

Getting Started with Ubuntu 10.04 Manual Project

Orange Computer Solutions

*Open source rabble rousers, Ubuntu, OpenOffice.org, and Orange Computer Solutions did not pay me to say nice things about their products/services.

The Stolen Four

March 2, 2010

Today I found out that one of my favorite art works, Blue Bug with Tail and Graffiti, was stolen from Concordia University, in Saint Paul, MN, after the 3rd Biennial Concordia Continental Ceramics Competition.  A very good contemporary ceramic exhibition that ran from January 28th -February 19th.

How am I supposed to emotionally and intellectually deal with the thoughts and feelings that go along with such an occurrence?  Three other excellent artists’ works were also stolen. Leopold Foulem’s, the most established of the four of us, has his work in numerous public and private collections.  I would be honored to have my work in a collection alongside his, as well as with Keven Snipes and Eva Funderburg’s.  I guess I do, because whoever stole this work has a very nice collection of contemporary ceramics, valued at over $12,000.

Who and why would someone steal this work?  It is not like the average American has knowledge of the art world much less the ceramic art market.  The thief or thieves are not going to be able to take the work to local pawn shop and convince the owner to buy these artworks.  From my experience people who buy art  either have deep pockets or are willing to sacrifice much of their income to surround themselves with art — these are fine, noble, and, rare people.  So what is the motivation? Does the thief have connections to the black market? Are they just avid lovers of ceramics and willing to go to such drastic measures to surround themselves with it?  Am I honored to be in their stolen collection, I don’t know, maybe I am?

Blue Bug with Tail and Graffiti, was one of my favorite pieces.  I was keeping it for my private collection, and exhibiting it as NFS (not for sale).  I make one-of-a-kind pieces that cannot be reproduced.  I might be able to recreate a facsimile of the original, but the nuances can never be recreated.

If this pieces is not recovered, and/or not damaged,  I am sure that Concordia University will reimburse me for the insurance value of the sculpture.  I can definitively use the money, as my studio fund is slowly dwindling, and my wife and I live very close to the bone at the moment.  My new series has not been available for public viewing yet,  so I am not creating an income.  However, money comes and goes, but the artwork of  the “Stolen Four” is more important than its monetary value.  If it wasn’t, artists would not create, as most of us are rarely compensated for our creative efforts.  Art making for the most part is a labor of love and a lot of handwork and perseverance.  Most people with aspirations of making a living as an artist don’t, and many stop making art all together.  The point being, I would rather have my sculptural teapot back, safe and sound, rather than be reimbursed for its market value.  I keep a record of who owns my sculptures.  Therefore, it is very surreal and uncomfortable not knowing where my artwork is and who is taking care of it.

I have to admit, in a very strange and weird way, I feel slightly honored that someone deemed my work good enough to steel and that it is in such good company.  Farewell Blue Bug with Tail and Graffiti, I will miss you!

News Links:

http://kstp.com/news/stories/S1442408.shtml?cat=1
http://www.twincities.com/ci_14493005
http://www.twincities.com/ci_14494991

Zen Garden: Sand Messes

February 28, 2010

My son is becoming more independent. Which is wonderful, as every extra minute he occupies himself means more time to accomplish small tasks, like washing dishes, cooking, baking, sweeping, and so forth.

For the last month or so he has not been very enthusiastic about the studio playground, and has shown little interest in his sand box, trucks, blocks, toy mower, or drawing. Unfortunately, we often left the studio, my favorite place, after just a few minutes. However, lately he has developed an interest in making “messes” with sand. He will spend up to fifteen minutes or more, spreading sand over the floor, on shelves, in buckets, and in random places throughout the studio. Normally, I am annal about having a clean and orderly studio, although, when he is making “messes” I let him go, and deal with the destruction later. If I am quiet, I can draw or read while he is sand-drawing and he might not notice me for some time. This is great, because, I can actually get a little bit accomplished. Occasionally, he will want me to help him clean up one of his creations so that he can start over anew, I willingly oblige him.

The hardest part of my parental role is having patience for studio time. I have all but given up on the possibility of working on art during the day. I work at night and during the weekends when my wife can take care of our son. However, when he is creating sand messes, I refer to them as “zen gardens”, I might be able to read an article or place a few lines on a drawing. It gives me hope that one day we will be able to work independently for an extended period of time. In the mean time, I enjoy watching him experiment with his world and try to give him as much freedom to play and create as possible.

Reflections: Part 3, Right Where I Need to Be. The End.

January 25, 2010

I have an e-mail alert from The Chronicle of Higher Education that regularly sends me updates on open faculty positions. I don’t know why I keep this service, as the emails just remind me of both the positive and negative aspects of my experience in higher ed. Every time I see a job that looks interesting or one that is close to my family, I immediately start thinking, “I should apply to the job and see what happens.” Then I start to recoil from these thoughts and tell myself, “No, try this new life out, give it a chance and see where life and your art career goes.” These moments are sometimes difficult, other times it is easy to delete the e-mail.

I have more than myself to consider of course, and I have a lot a great things happening in my life at the moment. My wife and I were able to, unknowingly, set ourselves up well for this change. We have a small house with a low carbon imprint, and as a result smaller utilities bills than some households. While I was still employed, we were able to pay off some dept, and we purchased two reliable vehicles one of which is extremely efficient. In addition, we have small raised bed gardens in our backyard to help with our food budget.

Most importantly for me, I have the best studio that I have ever had. I converted a two car garage, which is insulated, rewired, warmed primarily by a pellet stove, has a kiln, and plenty of work space. I do have a habit of buying tools, as I am a tool head, and they have taken over some of the room, but hey “Tools are Cool” and useful. Nonetheless, I can walk out the back door and go to my studio and work when my other responsibilities are taken care of, or relieved by my spouse.

In addition, I have been putting blocks in place for my art career. The initial revamp of my website has been launched, with another update on the way. Being some what of a workaholic and impatient, I would like things to happen more quickly; however, I am also glad that I cannot impose my hast on new developments that might occur. I have noticed that with time, I often have a clearer idea about how to approach the future, and I am learning patience. I am grateful for the ability to reflect and study life’s nuances, and by doing so, hopefully, become a better person, spouse, father, and artist.

One of my favorite times during the holiday season when we see family, is sitting around late at night with my siblings catching up with each other. Sometimes we get into heated discussions about the state of affairs, but we also discuss what is happening in each others’ lives, play games. Most of all we just enjoy one another. This last holiday season, we were having a lively conversation — I won’t go into detail — but one of my brothers said “Gerard is no wimp, he has a hell of a lot of courage”. Upon reflection, I realized that this statement meant a tremendous amount to me. Now he might have been referring to some of the stupid things that I did in my youth, like hitchhike from New York to Kentucky in the dead of winter, but I believe he was referring to my entire being. Thanks Bro!

Anyway, the last eight months of my life have been both challenging and rewarding, and I look forward to the future. For now, I am right where I need to be, courageous or just plain stupid, it matters little. Regardless, I am glad to have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad/ artist.

Reflections, Part 2: Whats Next?

January 23, 2010

You might be able to tell from my artwork and some of my writings that I tend to spend a lot of energy internalizing my thoughts, feelings, interests, and concerns. Therefore, the birth of my son, turning 40, and a career change to stay-at-home dad/artist, has resulted the reflection of my personal history.

As a result, I have noticed a decade trend in my life.

[Side Note: With the exception of first twenty years, that were like many lower middle class Caucasian American boys, filled with parental love, youthful exploration, frustrated teenage angst, societal influenced masculine anger and violence, and a whole lot of searching; I will leave it at that and spare the details for my autobiography, if it is worth writing, probably not!]

The Twenties
My twenties, like other Generation X’ers as we are often called, did not end my adolescence, however, they were the official beginning of my career as an artist.

[Side Note:  I say official because I grew up with crayons, blocks, Lego’s, wood, tools, and plenty of room to experiment with my natural surroundings such as fort making, sword fighting with brothers and friends, BMX bikes and bike building, pyrotechnics, fishing, hiking, rock and tree climbing, swimming, random unsupervised experimentation with a variety of materials, and the occasional private art lesson and art museum visits that mom and dad would provide for us.  My brothers and I had an interest in making and building objects. Which resulted in our developing problem solving skills at an early age.]

All of my male siblings eventually entered creative fields, I started mine when I went to College, where I fell in love with the ceramic arts, and a young women! The clay stuck with me, that particular woman did not. Without going into a whole lot of detail, I spent the next ten year of my life obsessed with clay, pottery, and finally sculptural artwork. During these ten years, I managed to graduate from Berea College, work in two different production potteries, attend and complete an MFA program, and very importantly, meet my spouse. In short, my twenties began what I hope to be my life’s work as an artist.

The Thirties
Soon after I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with my MFA, I turned 30 and my wife and I moved to her graduate program. Luckily, I accepted a one semester visiting artist position teaching ceramics and 3D design at her graduate school thus beginning my teaching career. I spent three years teaching at four different college/universities with professorial positions as a visiting artist, and often living apart from my spouse.

Eventually, I was offered and accepted a tenure track position in the Midwest and for the next seven years I was able to improve my teaching skills, keep up a rigorous exhibition schedule, end my Gizmology series, start and complete the Synthohuman and Orphaned Teapot series, supply a gallery, purchase a house, covert a garage into a studio, and gain early promotion to Associate Professor of Art. Once I was tenured, I developed an extreme case of emotional exhaustion, disillusionment, and disappointment with higher education and humanity in general.

Then my son was born, and everything changed. My thirties ended, and my wife and I decided my resignation would be best for our family. A difficult decision to make, however, a decision that neither one of us has regretted thus far.

The Forties

So what will happen in the next decade? This year I turn 41, and I already know this decade of my life will speed along much faster than the previous four. I have also noticed, that as I age, time seems to quicken, I do not know if there is a quantum physics explanation for this phenomenon or not. However, I do know that intimately participating in a child’s life seems to increase the perception of times passage. Therefore, my immediate plan for the future is to devote much time to my son during the first few years of his life.

I will continue to make artwork and will have to begin developing various avenues for promoting my artwork and myself. I hope to establish an active workshop schedule and write grants. I will most likely continue to garden and preserve food, as this has significantly lowered the family’s food bill, and is probably the single most effective way that we have lowered our carbon imprint. I plan to continue my obsessive reading habit, and write blog posts among other things.

Artistically, I hope to draw and work more two dimensionally and continue sculpting. I do not know what is going to happen in the next ten years, but I hope to become a better and more self-sufficient artist and person, whatever that may be.

For information about my artwork or inquire about a workshop visit www.gerardferrari.com


Reflections, Part 1: Who am I?

January 22, 2010

Reflections, Part 1: Who am I?

I have been out of academia for one semester now and my colleagues who remain are beginning spring semester 2010. In the past eight months, I have been reflecting on my decision to resign as Associate Professor of Art. Of course, I will not be able to discuss within a few paragraphs every feeling, thought, and concern I have had since my resignation, nor would it be prudent for me to do so, after all this is a public blog. However, I do want to share a few of my thoughts on what is still a new development in my life.

These thoughts are best summed up by answers to the questions I am asked most frequently:

Do I miss academia?
Well yes and no, but at the moment mostly no. I do miss the magic that occurs within the collegiate studio/classroom. The experimentation and the exploration of a student’s artistic interests, needs, and motivation, that I believe I have a gift for encouraging and more importantly, helping students discover on their own. I miss various aspects of the collegiate atmosphere and communal intellectual development. I miss the professorial title, which had significant meaning for me, and for good and/or bad, holds significant influence in western society. Of course, I definitely miss the paycheck and the job security of the tenured university faculty member that I once was. The actual teaching was the most rewarding aspect of my professorial position.

I don’t miss the mechanics of the university that employed my expertise. Unfortunately, these institutional mechanisms seemed to be the most overbearing aspect of my position, and had I stayed the demands on my time and energy would have increased. Time that would conflict with family needs, the rearing of my young son, my wife, my artwork, and my wellbeing. All though the decision to leave academia has been an emotional, intellectual, and financial struggle; at the moment, I am grateful to be able to slowly recover the energy I lost and redirect it towards other aspects of my life — many thanks must go to my wife for this.

Would I like to return?
This question is harder to answer, because a lot depends on what happens in the future. I do miss teaching and the intellectual stimulation of academia, but I also enjoy having my mind free of the institutional requirements that come with the professorial position. So, time and future opportunities will help me answer this question.

So what is it that you do for a living?
Not much! I’m one of those stay-at-home dads, who spends numerous hours caring for his child, cooks dinner for his family, bakes, preserves food from the vegetable he grows, is a general handy man for the household, works most nights trying to establish his art career, and washes a whole lot of dishes and dirty diapers, as well as numerous every day odds and ends. Oh and by the way, my wife and I are trying to foster the beginnings of an intelligent, thoughtful, creative, and caring human being, all of which takes much time and consideration. Not much, but I love what I do!

I will say that this last question is the most disconcerting aspect of my current situation. I do not really have a good way to define myself in our segmented, career-oriented society; I do not have a “respected” way to define myself and answer the livelihood question, one of the most common ones that adults ask each other.

For information about my artwork or workshops visit my website at www.gerardferrari.com

Form Follows Function or Does It?

December 10, 2009

I have been wanting to write another blog post for some time. Let’s just say that every time I seem to have a moment, I’ve chosen to work on my artwork rather than writing (e.g numerous blog post ideas and the article I have been laboring over). I am working to complete six pieces for my new series by early January so that I can start looking for a new gallery to represent my work.

Fortunately this post will be a relatively easy endeavor, and then I’ll head out to the studio. Here is an interview with Brad Cushman, the gallery directory at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Brad invited me to be in an exhibition that he and his colleagues developed called “Form Follows Function or Does It?” I hope you enjoy it!