Innovating Through Artistry

Contestant #1: Brian Owens

In Art, Creative Support, Entrepreneurial Artist Contest Contestants, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Money, Risk, Theater/Film, Writing on November 3, 2008 at 6:22 am

Written by Brian Owens

I was a bright kid in Detroit at a time when grant money for college was available. After four years of college I hired on with Chrysler Defense because I was broke and that’s where the money was. I was one of many engineers working to build a battle tank simulator to train tank crews for combat in the “european theater”; a war that never came.

Later, I moved to Florida because I was tired of winters and dodging bullets and was looking for an adventure of sorts. Again, I was one of many engineers working to build simulators, this time for combat aircraft.

I returned to art because I am an artist. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Since I have no children I could move in any direction I wanted. Maybe there is such a thing as a person being born to do a specific thing. My life is a pressurized, precarious life but this is part of the experience of being an artist, at least for me.

David Mamet said it best as he described the main character from a screenplay of his: “every lesson is driven home with such force … inescapable force … the real question is … can you get something from it; can you look at it?”. The lessons can be difficult. Still, I feel fortunate to know with certainty why I’m here.

I work in bronze and oil because it’s a challenge and requires discipline. But mostly, I do it because I like it. The awards and honors are great. They add institutional validity to a resume that is absent a degree in art. Also, grants make it possible for me to compete effectively for public art projects. I see them as tools in my toolbox; acquired beforehand so they’re there when needed. But it’s not the degree or award that makes you an artist, it’s the art you make that makes you an artist.

David Mamet said that many of the actors who audition for him don’t have the emotional makeup to withstand the level of competition and rejection that that must continually face. They are “too fine an instrument” and “don’t hit the marks when the pressure is on … but it only counts when the pressure is on”. I’m not an actor but I’ve had a deep personal struggle with this for many years. Being self-employed is like stepping, naked, under a brilliant light. Any weakness in your emotional makeup will be evident; if not to you, then to everyone else who is looking. It’s hard to change who you are. But I’ve learned that with time any skill can be improved and the things that used to floor me now just make me wince.

My income from fine art accounts for 20% to 100% of my annual income depending on what year it is. I got whipped in 2008 but 2009 is lining up nicely. There’s no explanation for it. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate the words of Leonard Cohen, who said “as a writer, you have to show up and go to work every day. But you do so knowing that today it may not come; that you are not in control of this enterprise.”

I’ve always been suspicious of advice; unsolicited advice offered by people who mean well but have not tested themselves on the free-market battlefield that they so easily send their students onto.

Early in my career, I identified the people who appeared to be successful doing what I wanted to do. Then, after I assembled my first portfolio, I carefully reached out for their advice. Also, I’m not making the type of art that academia would instruct me to make. That may be working in my favor, nowadays.

During the last few years of this “postmodern” age, we have seen a renewed interest in classical training, the portrait and the figure. There is a slow but encouraging change in perspective on the importance of discipline and skill. Donald Kuspit said “Art is again a means of aesthetic transcendence with no loss of critical consciousness of the world.” As an artist, I have no special insight into history or the hearts of men but I offer this belief: When the culture is accepting of it, artists will respond with their best work.

William H. Gass said, they will “add to the worlds objects and ideas those delineations, carvings … and symphonic spells which ought to be there, To make things whose end is contemplation and appreciation.”

As the nation races into an uncertain future; as we question the recent past; many of us will return to art to reflect, to heal and (in words of Harlan Ellison) “to be humbled and to be renewed”.

Brian Owens
www.brianowensart.com

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  1. […] second birthday was celebrated with the launch of The ETA competition with our first entry, Brian Owens. Although Eli Epstein was our first contest winner, this marked the beginning of a number of fine […]

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