And So…the Object Has a Second Life

I’m very happy to announce that one of my newest Widget Lockets will be debuting at the Twenty-Fourth Annual Small Works Juried Exhibition at Mikhail Zakin Gallery in northern New Jersey, located approximately 20 miles outside of New York City.

View of a recent group show installed at Mikhail Zakin Gallery. (Image appears courtesy of the Mikhail Zakin Gallery, Demarest NJ.)

View of a recent group show installed at Mikhail Zakin Gallery. (Image appears courtesy of the Mikhail Zakin Gallery, Demarest NJ.)

Recent weeks have been busy, as I feel I’m constantly rushing to write applications to exhibit and enter juried competitions to show my jewelry/metalwork. There’s the continual deadlines – the “open tabs” I never seem to close on my phone/tablet with details of some new possible group show where I’ll be one of hundreds of applicants competing for a spot. This is not anything new to most emerging artists, especially here in the U.S., as the juried exhibits are a mainstay of getting our pieces shown where curators, galleries and ultimately, art buyers will see our work.

Patricia Sullivan: “Widget Locket #4: Homage to Mexico”. Photo: P. Sullivan

Patricia Sullivan: “Widget Locket #4: Homage to Mexico”. Chased/repoussé copper, silver, patina, Plexiglas, archival paper, 2013. Photo: P. Sullivan

It amazes me as any artist who preps for entering calls to exhibit how much the images of our artwork are as important and valuable as the actual work pieces themselves. The object, or in this case, “the art object” literally takes on a second life of its own. Once the digital photos are taken, they are entered into a stream online or burned to CD and at that moment, those 2-D images BECOME the art itself. It is the first thing one sees that introduces your creative concept or design, all resting upon those pixels that you (or your photographer) have “framed” for the viewer. As a maker of 3-D objects, I find this dichotomy of pixels vs. tangible artwork sometimes unsettling; however, as I’ve worked as a graphic designer professionally, the emphasis now placed on 2-D digital images also informs my current body of artwork. After all, this is what I place inside my jewelry pieces and lockets: snippets of text, typography, and photography.

So I must ask this question: how much do you think about how your artwork appears online? As makers, is it possible to be pleased with this “second life” that our work becomes?

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29 thoughts on “And So…the Object Has a Second Life

  1. Congratulations, Patricia, on your acceptance into the show. How exciting (and well-deserved)!

    The questions you’ve asked of your readers are intriguing ones. I plan to mull those over a bit before answering. Perhaps I’ll even use them as fodder for a future post. (How’s that for art inspiring art?)

    • Gina Marie, I would love to see how you interpret this, even if it does become a future post for you. I’m so happy you stopped in, because as a photographer and painter, you would be more in-tune w/ trying to direct exactly what your viewers see in your own work. And thanks for your lovely enthusiasm re: my upcoming show!

  2. An interesting question and one I never considered before. I think when I am confronted with a 2D image of a 3D object, my brain sort of adjusts and provides the 3D ness. I know it isn’t as good as the “real thing” but I definitely see things from an imagined 3D perspective without effort! My crochet critters are popping up all over the place lately and they look 3D to me. Congratulations on your upcoming exhibition and I look forward to further updates.

    • Now that’s an interesting reply, Sharon! So you think that the brain adjusts to “finish” or complete the rest of the forms of the piece that are missing from the photo….but, what if the viewer imagines things that aren’t there? This is a great notion you’ve brought up, worthy of much more attention than just this. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving me w/ more provoking thoughts to reflect upon! :)

    • Thank you – the hours I spend trying to get a clear “read” of my work via a 2-D medium is often frustrating. I’m sure as a photographer and fine artist – you can truly understand this. There’s always something I find that is missing in a representational photograph; our pieces have so much more to them than merely pixels. I genuinely appreciate your visit and always welcome your wonderful feedback, Karen!

  3. Photography is crucial now that we take art tours by these digital means! I find with your work I take a long time working out the size and looking back and forth at the object to get a feel for its scale. I would hate to see something as prosaic as a coin, but I am trying to imagine a piece (of ethereal beauty) of standard size which could be lightly pasted in a corner, almost like a personal watermark. Light and shade must be so important for your surface textures to be highlighted whereas for paintings it needs to be diffuse. Photographs can misrepresent so easily, and screens often make paintings look better than they are! A thought-provoking post Patricia.

    • Your opening sentence in your comments, Philippa, has really grabbed me w/ its eloquence. We DO take art tours nowadays via digital means. Particularly in blogger culture, we seem to be encouraging just that – but it’s one of the only drawbacks to the otherwise perfect interaction w/ other artists and makers that we create through our writing and blogging. You are so dead-on correct when you say that as a jeweler, I try to highlight surfaces and show some depth through shadow – but a painter would seek quite the opposite in a photograph of his/her work. Such always-wonderful insights you bring to my blog, Philippa – thanks so much for stopping by today!

  4. Though my work is predominantly written and photographic, I am still quite enamored of all things tactile. You have a fine eye and a deft way with your craft. I very much like what I see. But three dimensions vs. two dimensions vs. one dimension (as in my writing) is a subjective argument. I suppose it all comes down to how one makes their work appeal to the viewer on more than just one level.

    So many have remarked that painting, photography and film are visual mediums. Technically true. But I firmly believe that, above the visual, artwork such as this is first and foremost, an emotional medium.

    When I observe any representation of your art, photographic or otherwise, hopefully it is able to reach across all dimensions and grab me by the heart. The rustic, warm and earthy simplicity of this widget locket does that nicely.

    A fine and handsome piece of work. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Michael, I genuinely appreciate your wonderfully complimentary comments re: my metalwork. You are so right when you say that despite certain art media being considered merely visual, they are in fact conjuring up more of an emotional response in the viewer. This is something that I believe most artists would be happy to achieve w/ his/her work, even if in some cases that reaction is more provoking than comforting. Thanks so much for dropping by and for leaving such insightful feedback.

  5. Congratulations Patricia :-)
    Difficult conundrum about the photography capturing the 3d object – but I guess it is a necessary evil for both art show submissions and putting your work ‘out there’ in social media.
    I guess the best thing to do is have a good camera and the skills to use it – so photography courses are probably an essential for artists these days…

    • It really is true about needing an additional skill set if one is going to take his/her own photos. I joked recently w/ a local painter-artist how my previously spending time in the professional graphic design world “ruins you” – meaning, the ability to digitally capture a photo of your own artwork stands w/ the same high standards that creating the original artwork did. It is a conundrum – very well said, Dawn!! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  6. Such an interesting question. I’ve never so directly pondered this before, but I think it may be the biggest conundrum of my work! I think about my online/photographic presence somewhat endlessly, although I’m not sure I can ever be pleased with the results. Photos feel like a means to an end, since they can never capture the whole story. My goal is always to eventually connect those people seeing my photos with the real object.

    Congrats on your acceptance! Your lockets are beautiful, and it is a striking photo :)

    • Well said, Caitlin. The photos really are just a means to an end. With the amount of jewelers and craft makers using Etsy now to propagate their work, it really does make me wonder how much “agonizing” do we do nowadays over what others see as our work, whether through Etsy, or social media like Facebook and Twitter. I really appreciate your lovely feedback re: my widget lockets and upcoming show – thanks so much for stopping in!!

  7. I always “feel” your pieces through the web and I am thrilled for you and the lucky people who get to view your beautiful and unique Widget Locket. The first of many, I think. Congratulations, Patricia, and best of luck!

    • Anita, that is such a grand compliment – I feel exactly the same about your exceptional paintings! I’m so thrilled you visited my blog today – thanks for the lovely feedback!

      • I’m looking in my WP Reader now and I do see my post – but I usually look under specific topics like “oil painting” or “metalsmithing”. Once you start following alot of bloggers like I do, the “Reader” sadly becomes overwhelmed easily. I know I can’t find anything in there anymore! ;-) Thanks Anita!

  8. First of all, congratulations Patricia on having one of your lockets included in the show – well deserved!
    As I read your post, I find myself jumping up and down, and saying aloud: yes, oh yes, yes and yes! The constant sending of submissions, the mad rush to beat the deadlines, the proliferation of our images, etc. I can relate to all of that; I alternatively feel overwhelmed/worried/excited/torn about it. Since switching from slides to digital pictures, more of our images are out there. There is no denying that submitting work is now much more convenient, and faster than before, and of course it allows us to reach a much wider audience. But yes, I have trouble with the “dichotomy of pixels versus tangible artwork”. As we know, photographs can “lie” (and I am not referring to Photoshop): lighting, background, framing, etc will inform the piece for sure. Sometimes, I will submit a piece that, I know, photographs well even though it may not be my strongest work. Of course, jewellery is notoriously difficult to photograph (you take excellent photos, by the way). For us, craftspeople, makers of 3-D objects, conveying the materials, the scale is crucial. The photo has to convey all that, plus the fact that these objects are functional – meant not just to be looked at, but worn, and so on. Jewellery pieces that have moving parts or can be configured in different ways, lockets for instance, are tricky (how does one show all of that in one photo?).
    Thank you for this post, Patricia. So well put! And it obviously resonated with a lot of your followers. I enjoyed reading what everyone had to say. Interesting discussion!

    • Dominique, you brought up so many further valid points to this issue that I hadn’t even begun to discuss. Any 3-D object, but jewelry especially – is a consummate struggle to determine “In what ‘pose’ do I place my piece to photograph it?” And my lockets – there is no one ‘good’ angle! I know you understand this, as your recent metalwork that you’ve been making engages these same challenges. As always, I appreciate your insightful and thought-provoking comments!!

  9. Congrats on the show!!! I agree and always do have to consider my 3D objects/sculpture will most of the time only be seen on a screen or in a 2D sense. I do have to admit a lot of energy and time goes into thinking about the existence of the piece in a 2D world, however, I do not think I will ever be satisfied with its existence in this way. Smaller objects have such an intimacy to them and many of my own work is interactive.. and for you also they often open and close. I am grateful for those entires that allow for multiple images for one piece. Thanks for the great food for thought:)

  10. Patricia, congratulations on this! It would have been great to witness the exhibition in person.
    It’s a very interesting question you pose. I think that the picture of a piece of jewellery could ‘make or break’ its success and I’m glad that more and more artists have started realizing this. A couple of years ago, I spent hours and hours searching online for good pictures to use in my posts. Today, most artists that wish to promote themselves successfully have warmed up to the idea of letting professionals photograph their pieces.
    However, it has been my experience that the real thing is always so much different than the photograph. The object looks sometimes better and sometimes worse than in reality but no matter what, it is always different.

    • Excellent points you’ve brought up, Eleni! I look at my own jewelry body of work and can appreciate these points. To me, a piece is really successful (in a formal way, as it appears to the viewer) when it looks even better in-person than even the most carefully set-up photograph. You’re so right when you say it can sometimes take what seems like forever to find that perfect image of another artist or jeweler’s work!! This “second life” is not going away in our current digital society – for certain. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing such stimulating commentary!

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