How Quitting Art Helped my Art Career

Heels Encaustic Sculpture by Kim Bruce

Last winter (2016-17) I reached the end of my rope. I was dangling by a thread. Do I fall or do I quit? I decided to quit. We have all been there at one time or another. It gets frustrating, demoralizing and causes all sorts of angst to keep putting yourself out there only to be rejected over and over. I had been there before but this was different, really different, I was so done.

One of the straws was to get a solo show in the USA, but no artist’s fee to speak of. I CAN’T KEEP THROWING MONEY AT THIS!!!! The cost to crate, ship and travel there and back from Canada would be upwards of $3000. I was deflated, no wind, no sails, it was a good little gallery too, highly recommended. To complicate things there’s the current political climate in the states and I had to ask myself; do I really want to take a feminist exhibition to the deep south and travel there? I already boycotted my show in Seattle so I could stand firm with those affected by the travel ban, should I do that again?  

So, I made accepting this show contingent on getting a grant. There, I said to myself, done, the decision to travel will be made for me. I won’t get the grant, I live in Alberta where arts funding hard to get and the economy sucks.

I stopping trying for other reasons as well, one being inventory. I have so much inventory. Well over 200 pieces and no motivation to make more. I can find something else to do. I always wanted to bake. That’s what I will do. I will bake… cookies, and I will eat them all. And I did. This works for me. Baking is creative, it’s a process and there is something delectable at the end that most everyone will like.

But before I open my home bakery, I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision, so on the last day of the AFA’s deadline for acquisition I submitted my shoe project work. They turned it down once before, but I figured this would be the last time I will be able to submit that work because it will be over 5 years since creation and that is one of the criteria. I wanted them to reject me, I wanted affirmation on my decision to QUIT!

The other last ditch effort I made was to submit my Disbound show to 4 public galleries in southern Alberta. I have never been successful in getting a solo show here, up in Edmonton yes, but never around here. Again, I wanted to set myself up for failure. I wanted confirmation that no one wanted to show the work, because then I could tell myself that I gave it my best shot and it wasn’t for lack of trying. There DONE, where’s the flour?

Fast forward a few months you will find me happily watching the Food Network, cooking and baking up a storm. I love scones, and I learnt how to make them, life is good and does go on!

Then one morning I am checking my email and I see one from the AFA. So, I say to myself, they are emailing their rejection letters now. Good, let’s get this over with, only thing is, it wasn’t a rejection. In fact it was the first of 5 acceptance emails.

  • I got the grant to travel the show to Cecelia Coker Bell Gallery in South Carolina
  • The AFA bought my shoe project piece “Well Heeled”.
  • 3 out of the 4 public galleries that I applied to accepted the Disbound exhibition. AND to make things worse for quitting…
  • My work started to sell at my commercial gallery in Seattle.

WTF, I QUIT!!! Or so I thought. Maybe I am on sabbatical. Maybe I will go up to the studio and look around.

What Will Happen if I Quit Trying

Peace, too peaceful? Not really.
Quiet, too quiet? No.
Sad? a little.

Acceptance? Yes acceptance.
I am accepting of who I am. I know that sounds cliche, but we have cliches for a reason.  That is what I SHOULD, (did you just say should?) damn right I did. I SHOULD HAVE ACCEPTED WHO I AM YEARS AGO. But alas I had no idea I could. Besides I had no idea who is was. I was too busy placing expectations on myself.

Expectation to achieve
Expectation to earn
Expectation to succeed
Expectation to be worldly
Expectation to be smart
Expectation to be a role model
Expectation to be a leader
Expectation to be professional
Expectation to have nice things
Expectation to have a beautiful home
Expectation to have well designed, decorated, beautiful home

Damn, that’s a lot of expectations. No wonder I have tummy troubles and smoked. Yes, I was a smoker. I quit in 2013. Since then I have been forced to find a new way to live life. I did not go easily into that good night, more like being dragged, not kicking and screaming, but like a poor pup being dragged into the vet. I got depressed and super sensitive.

I was angry
I was sad
I was hungry
I was thirsty
I was lonely
I was getting fat
I found my anxiety

I kept going with the same expectations. After all I owned them. Only now I did not have my coping device. Only now I had only me and I got no where for a long time. I kept creating art, it was my therapy. Or so I thought.

Art was a place I could go to hide. Immerse myself. Avoid myself.
I created lots of work. So much art.

I have to show that art
I have to sell that art
I have to appreciate that art
I have to get a grant so I can show that work
I have to get representation so I can sell that work
I have to get lots of galleries so I can sell that work

I can not let all these have to’s interfere with what the work means to me. I can do that, I am a professional.

What if I don’t want to be a professional?
What if I want a simple life?
What if I didn’t really care about selling?
What if recognition didn’t really matter that much?
What if I let go?
What if I said enough already?

What would happen if I said that out loud? Made it public. Would it be real? Would I be making a commitment to quitting? What exactly am I quitting?
Am I quitting making art?
Am I withdrawing from the culture?
Is this what I want? Not to be an artist? Can an artist quit being an artist?

FOOTNOTE: I wrote this 6 months ago but only published it now because I have more to add. It’s all good. I’ll write about what happened in my next post.

Finding My Conviction (Canadian artist refuses to attend her show in USA)

In light of current political events in the USA that are deeply affecting the entire world, I have the following statement regarding my upcoming show in the USA.

From my artist statement…
My work is full of visual puns, double entendre, symbolism and satire. It references the dichotomy of my early life expectations to conform to a traditional woman’s role, when in fact, reality for me, was the need to be self-sufficient and support myself as an entrepreneur and business owner. These contradictions allow me to expose my private self through veiled metaphor creating objects significant beyond function. The underlying message – the essence of my work – speaks to the roles and rights of girls and women.

Keeper of the Faith, Encaustic, copper pot scrubber, glass vials, book pages & string, 23″h x 4.25″w x 5″d

My work has meaning. It’s about choice. It’s about girls, and boys too, but mostly girls, who, due to tradition or religion, don’t get to choose. They are married off as soon as they hit puberty and often left to fend for themselves and their children because of war, strife or circumstance.

Gender inequality exists. It exists in Canada, the USA, throughout the western world, but is most prevalent in developing nations. I want to bring awareness to the importance of education and the role it has in shaping future generations. If girls are educated and given choices, they can influence the world.


I’d like to share a few stats with you. Plan Canada and its subsidiary Because I am a Girl states that…

1. For every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 10 to 20%
2. A girl in the developing world receiving 7 years of education marries 4 years later on average and has fewer, yet healthier, children
3. If all women completed primary education, there would be 66% fewer maternal deaths

Knowledge is power and knowledge is empowering. There’s choice. When there is no alternative there is no choice.


Henigman Bruce – Justice, Encaustic, fabric, book pages & string, 16.5″h x 4.25″w x 4.5″d

Why am I telling you all this? Because I am part of a 2 person show opening at Frederick Holmes in Seattle on March 3. It means I get to take my white privilege and cross the border into the United States from Canada. I have a Canadian passport, so I should be able to travel unhindered.

EXCEPT, how in good conscious can I travel unhindered when the rights the very people my work speaks to are being detained and turned back?

An incident on Feb 4 had a Canadian woman turned away from U.S. border after questions about religion. She was turned back because she’s muslim. We were told that if you had a Canadian passport there would be no problem crossing the border. They forgot to say you also had to be white, and show no outward signs of your ethnicity.

I could go to the opening and speak about education for girls to a handful of people who already know how important it is. Or I can take this stand and just say NO, it’s not right.

I know, little ol’ me, who is going to notice. Simple. I am going to notice and it is me that I have to live with.

I am very grateful for the support from Frederick Holmes on my boycott of my own show. He works tirelessly for his artists and will be my standin.

Here is Fred’s statement:

 “As her gallery dealer the last few years, and one who has come to know Kim Bruce’s passionate dedication to the mission of her work – as well as an American citizen concerned about the marginalization of people by gender, faith, or race – I support her decision absolutely and without reservation. Her presence at the opening will be missed but her work will speak for her.” – Frederick R. Holmes

As individuals, as artists, as Canadians, as citizens of the world, we must find our conviction.

My conviction says NO, we must stand united.

Further reading:

Canadian woman en route to Vermont spa denied entry to U.S., told she needs immigrant visa

22 refugees entered Manitoba near Emerson border over the weekend

5th Canadian reports being denied entry to U.S. after questions about Moroccan roots, Muslim faith

Pre-clearance bill would give U.S. border agents in Canada new powers

EXHIBITION IMAGES


 

Kim Henigman Bruce, what’s with the name change?

kim-henigman-bruceSince 1979 I have been known as Kim Bruce. But in 1979 we didn’t have the internet and Facebook, Twitter and all those other social media sites that have made the world seem very small indeed.

I always thought Kim was a unique name. There was only one other Kim in my class at grade school and she was a Kimberly. Me, I am a straight up KIM. Short for nothing and sweet to boot.

I have gone by Kim my entire life but my real first name is Sharon (there you have it, my secrets out). Why, you ask, did my parents not name me Kim Sharon rather than Sharon Kim? Because Sharon Kim rolls off the tongue better than Kim Sharon. Huh? Yup. The only problem, after almost 60 years on this planet, is that I am still waiting for someone to call Sharon Kim out loud. No one ever has. I do get called Sharon officially by the gov, banks and other institutions because Sharon is my legal first name and appears on my official docs that way. Thanks for a really cool second name though, mom and dad.

So that’s the goods on my first name. Now for the real reason I’m writing.

For those of you that know me, the noticeable addition to my name is Henigman. Which is my maiden name and it’s not really all that common. It is Austrian in origin. I’m not really sure what it means but I imagine that my ancestors were hen and egg men. Makes sense, right?

Bruce on the other hand is right up there with the Smith and Jones’s. Well maybe not but there’s enough of us. It’s also weird having two first names. I very rarely remember having to spell Henigman but Bruce, very single time. I think because it’s too obvious and people think they heard it wrong. Then there’s the reaction of some when I answer the phone and they say they thought I was male and were expecting an Asian accent. It has happened, more than once. Kim is a very common last name in Korea and they put their last name first.

When you Google Kim Bruce, the search engine returns are all about Kim Kardashian, Bruce Willis, Bruce Jenner and Bruce Lee. I come up too, somewhere. If you add “artist” or “sculpture” that gets me to the top.

So those are all the strange things about my name but the main reason for the change is that there are, to my knowledge, 4 other Kim Bruce’s that are also artists.

There’s are couple of potters, an equine artist and an abstract artist. Kimberley Bruce the abstract artist is also a client of mine at Artbiz.ca.

I thought it prudent to add the Henigman to help identify myself. It is becoming more important now, since I have more gallery representation and am getting into a few more shows, a couple of them solo.

As an artist my name is my brand, but more than that it’s what I will be remember by. At Artbiz I give pointers on how to select a good domain name and the first question I ask is “How do you want to be remembered by art history?” Well, if I ever get lucky enough to be written about in art history, I would really like it if my name was unique only to me. So I am taking my own advise and adding the Henigman. Kim Henigman Bruce has a ring to it don’t you think?

I am not going to bother changing it legally. From what I understand, as long as I use it consistently it will be acknowledged. Of course anything legal will still be Sharon Bruce.

Over the next few months I will be transitioning this site over to HenigmanBruce.com. But I will always keep KimBruce.ca because it has good rankings (sorry to disappoint you other Kim Bruce’s). Oh, BTW, KimBruce.com is a male realtor in the USA.

 

How I Burnt Down the House

I was in my studio with the start of another piece in my hand when all of a sudden a voice in my head scream STOP! WTF are you doing!!! Three exclamation points; 3!

Right there and then, I turned off the light and closed the door and walked away.

I didn’t feel a lot of anxiety about it, because lately, being in the studio was more painful than not. I thought, if that’s it, that’s all I got, then that’s all I got.  I turned my focus more to my web design business, and then there was that eBook I wanted to write. I could keep myself busy, life as I know it isn’t over, is it?

Then I started a subliminal exploration. I looked at other artists’ work and made mental note of what spoke to me. Why did it speak? What did it say? How does that relate to my practice? Only in hindsight am I conscious of those questions. At the time I figured my role was that of art appreciator, because if I couldn’t make art anymore I could still appreciate others art and maybe I could become some sort of art advocate. Or something?

A few times I went back into the studio and tried out a few ideas but the process was a struggle. I lost interest and found my own work was boring me. Not a good sign. I know now that I was going through a process, a process of elimination. I was throwing things at the wall to see what stuck, only nothing stuck, or so it seemed.

I’ve known for a while that I needed to get my work to the next level and if I couldn’t, then I have obviously reached my pinnacle and that’s that, it’s over, I don’t have anything more. And oddly enough, like I said, I was okay with that, because I’d rather stop making art all together than make mediocre art. Talk about being all or nothing!

Then I did something that I didn’t know I was doing until now, while writing this actually. I did what they call “burning down the house”. It’s a process where you analyze your practice to pull out the strongest parts, the parts that resonate. Identify those and move forward with them. Okay; but up came everything. Every bit and piece, literally, every bit of fabric, every piece of this and that, everything I had; photographic images, all the patterns, thread, found objects, old work. EVERYTHING, was in my studio and I tried to make new work from ALL of it. This was my stuff, and my stuff, was painful.

I turned off the lights and closed the door, again, only this time it was metaphorically. It was time to forget, forget what I was doing, what I was saying, forget it all. Let it go. I’m done with that. Good bye and good riddance.  Ah, ha, I burnt down my house! Because looking back was preventing me from going forward. Say that again…

Looking back was preventing me from going forward.

A while later, a day, a week, I don’t recall; I stepped outside with my favorite, a cup of coffee. I was just standing there taking in the woods, the smell of the forest, when a question popped into my head.

Inner Voice: What do you like doing the most?

Me, without hesitation: I like the act of twisting a book, hot with wax, into a shape to see what happens. I like starting not knowing where I’m going.

Inner Voice: Then why don’t you go and do just that.

So I did. I did ONE thing. I answered ONE question.

Sometimes you need to withdraw, closed the door, shy away from social events and media. I needed to incubate. I needed to burn down the house and only by burning down my house could I build a new one based on a the existing foundation.

Tweet This: Just do ONE thing. ONE thing naturally leads to another.~Kim Bruce http://ctt.ec/66_J8+


How Not to Go to Art School, But Go to Art School

Or how I went to art school by not going to art school.

It was 1976 I just finished my first year in design school. During this time I was exposed to art, real art, for the first time. One pivotal moment was seeing a showcase with a few pieces of a Mount Royal College student who had committed suicide.  His story and art really had an impact on me. The other pivotal moment was the drawing class…I wanted that.

I contacted ACAD, the Alberta College of Art and Design, and asked about transferring and if I would get credit for some of my first year of design school. They would credit for one or two classes, but I would have to start fresh in the first year.  Bummer, but it made sense.

Armed with my due diligence, I approached my dad to talk about transferring. Sigh.

This was 40 years ago, so I don’t remember his exact words save one, no. Needless to say I was disappointed. I went back to finish my diploma in interior design and went on to running my own firm and employing 12 designers, architectural draftspeople and support staff.

I think what played out for me this is a very common scenario. Good kid does what she’s told. Good kid didn’t know there were options, like student loans and going it alone. But the good kid was lucky, very lucky to have had her parents pay for a college education when most kids in the hood never contemplated going to college.

Fast forward to the mid 80’s. I started with Richard Halliday’s figure drawing class. Yes, I became a night school student.  Then Bev Tosh’s figure drawing class. Then Katie Ohe’s sculpture class. The list goes on for the next 15 years. My last teacher and mentor was late John Brocke (figure painting).

It was during my time being mentored by John, in the late 90’s, that I started thinking about going to ACAD again, this time as a mature student, part time.  I talked to admissions and got all the details and an application. There were lots of hoops, portfolio to make, work to create so I could make the portfolio. Oh my! And a business to run, OH MY! I started asking myself…

  • Was I getting hung up on having the legitimacy of a degree?
  • Could I afford it? Tuition is expensive.
  • I had a design firm to run, could I take the time away to go to school part time?

In the end I decided not to apply. And when I mentioned this to John Brocke, his comment confirmed my decision was the right one for me. So what did John say…?

He said that I wouldn’t thrive in art school, because I had more life experience that most of the instructors.

So I never received an arts degree. I went to art school to learn what I needed to learn at the time I needed to learn it. I became self-taught with a number of talented instructors and mentors.

There’s a number of pros and cons of obtaining an art education the way I did. I’ll go into that in the next post.

Photo credit: http://dismagazine.com/

Submission Fees Part 2

I am fundamentally opposed to paying submission fees, as I stated in part 1 of this rant. I understand that the curator or juror has to be paid and that the gallery has overhead and bills to pay, but, hey, so does the artist.

It also used to be that the gallery would pay the return shipping costs. These days the artist must incur costs to ship their work both ways.

In Canada a number of public (not for profit) galleries and artist run centers will pay Carfac fees, but that is dependent on whether or not they have funding. Carfac is an arts advocacy association that has put together a fee schedule on what are fair fees for artists to show, provide workshops and lectures. They even took the National Gallery all the way to the Supreme Court fighting for artist copyrights. They won.

Arts and culture is dramatically underfunded, so if a government grant doesn’t come your way costs will fall to the artist to pay. The new rule seems to be if you want to show your work be prepared to foot the bill. Some exhibitions are worth the fee because of their high profile.

I’m not saying that public galleries are to blame. Obtaining funding is very competitive. The galleries rely heavily on volunteers and seasoned grant writers to compete for these funds.

My rule is not to pay entry fees, submission fees or whatever they may be called. Recently I was invited by a curator to submit to a juried show. In the prospectus it indicated a “participation fee” of $30 USD. I thought that meant I was going to be paid $30 for showing my work but alas, it was me that was to pay them. I was disappointed because I wanted to “participate” in the show but did not want to break my rule of not paying fees to do so. This is what I did:

I wrote the curator and explained that the “participation fee” was misleading as it sounded like the fee was being paid to the artist. I asked if they would waive the fee and they did. Don’t be afraid to ask. Perhaps if more of us did…

Perhaps it would be prudent in the never ending line up of creative and gifted artists to just say NO and ask, “Will the artist be paid?”

A Reluctant Feminist but an Enthusiastic…

I’ve seen and heard the term and have even called myself a reluctant feminist. But the word feminist or feminism, to me, says that all people do not exist in a natural state as equal, which is why I am reluctant.

I believe in equal rights for all people. Feminism is simply one part of that. It is, however, the part that I have the most experience with; being a woman that considers herself equal.

woman's_ work_rev-noframe
Woman’s Work, Encaustic, False Hair on board, 20″ x 30″

It bothers me that feminism has gotten a bad rap over the years. You know. That a feminist is a man hating, bra burning woman who spits at men who open doors for them. Although, many radical feminists put the blame for inequality of women squarely on the shoulders of the patriarch society. I’m not one of them.

So I thought I would do some research to see if there was something besides feminism that would cover what my work is about. I also thought it would be nice if there was just one philosophy that would cover equality across the board. One that doesn’t need clarifying or defending.

I found Humanism, Egalitarianism and a little about Equalism. They are all good philosophies worth further study.  But after reading this article Equalism: The Feminist Alternative?, I agree that there isn’t just one movement or philosophy that covers the needs of specific groups. I thinks that’s why philosophies like Humanism and Egalitarianism have so many types and sub-categories. We fight for what we believe in. For you that could be gay rights or like Malala Yousafzai; education for girls (something dear to my heart).

When I look at my work and the series I have developed over the last decade or more, I see work with a feminist skew. I sometimes have a hard time accepting the women’s issues that my work discusses. Maybe my art is my way of working through the facts of my life.  Maybe I’m just pissed that there are issues there at all. But I do know that my work mirrors my experiences.

After all this reading I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not the word feminism, reluctant or otherwise, that is important. It is what the movement stands for and we all have to decide for ourselves what that is.

Laced, Beeswax, ribbon on a book, 8"w x 3"h x 5.25"d
Laced, Beeswax, ribbon on a book, 8″w x 3″h x 5.25″d

My work is a continuing conversation that I have with myself. It’s a voice that speaks for people that identify with my work. It’s a voice that speaks up for rights and education of women because that’s what I am, that’s what I know and that’s what I believe in.