Keep your works secret, share them with a few or show them in public? Gabriele Coassin shares candid reflections on the subject after his wife Rita’s exhibition.
I am not speaking on behalf of those who earn their living from artistic production, but of those who enjoy creating works for their own pleasure—an aesthetic search for beauty, or a challenge to consolidate new expressive techniques.
The idea is to show something that was born out of intimate personal satisfaction; however, once shown, it may not be understood, it may be seen with detachment, perhaps indifference, and only appreciated formally for the purpose of good education.
On the other hand, there will be someone close to me who will want to understand the swarm of activity: why do I want to free myself from other commitments to mess around with strange medieval alchemist formulas? And then, the struggle finding working space at home, which is always inadequate; what a nuisance, they think, to create strange figures, and also have to clean and tidy up.
Finally, I need to turn off the phone, close the door, to be able to meditate on new and infinite opportunities: it is the labour-intensive work of the intellect that transforms into an object produced with my own hands.
A masterpiece? Not necessarily… But in fact it is my creation. This is the satisfaction!
Show or hide?
Share, with the risk of false appreciation or open criticism?
In the end, why make images—in their apparent uselessness—if I then stick them in a secret drawer?
Then I don’t know if my friend is making fun of me or being serious when he encourages me to organize an exhibition, saying that I could soon be a well-known artist.
Ha ha, how funny! From what little I know about art history, very few true geniuses, creators of absolute masterpieces, had good prices in life; the others—whatever happens—after death…
So there is no question of my putting my little weekend inventions into circulation with the illusion that they can enrich my daily shopping budget.
What if a few small sales could compensate me for the out-of-pocket expenses of all the materials I use to maintain my creative passion?
It would already be satisfying.
Deep down, what excites me most is personal sharing, a tête-à-tête with a living person of flesh and blood and vibrant feelings, to whom I can show my work.
No scanning and forwarding an attached file to end up in the huge sea of artifacts.
I like the idea, the warmth, of returning to manual creation to share in person, set the object-work in motion, recover the tactile aspect, the meeting of glances, see from the eyes of those who are watching whether they understand, appreciate curiously, endure badly or are instead amazed by the originality of what I have created.
Here’s a good opportunity to invite those you’ve been in touch with for a long time via online chat to a one-on-one meeting with you or with a small group of friends.
And then, what if someone asks me to donate a work to them?
Nice, then he really liked it!
This is another dilemma: separating myself from the work.
Of course, today it is quite easy to make a digital copy to keep in the archive, but oh my, giving up the original? Separating myself from the work that someone liked.
Small unexpected trauma, but perhaps surmountable.
Soothed or compensated by what?
And here the fact of fair compensation for the purchase of an artistic work comes up.
No one would doubt that the work of a manual, artisanal or service worker should be paid. Why shouldn’t even a minor work of art be paid for?
A painful decision, but it is essential to be prepared for this possible step, the micro-mourning of separation, the small satisfaction in seeing one’s genius recognized even economically. And if you really dislike monetary compensation, it can be a nice and less embarrassing thing to ask for an exchange, of any nature, material or immaterial. Let’s move away from consumerist logic and embrace the pleasure of bartering again, like we did as children.
But giving it away for free… maybe not. Such a separation would be an exaggerated act of love and perhaps not even well understood or appreciated.
Another beautiful thing that brings me back to the liveliness of human contact is when I show the works and they ask me: explain how it’s done.
For some strange reason there are people who are very jealous of their work and miss the opportunity to spend intense hours of artistic DIY time with someone authentically interested in their practices which, at first glance, might seem a bit magical.
For example, Rita, my wife, for her first public personal exhibition in Italy, was gratified by the curiosity of those who were amazed at the three-dimensionality of her cyanotypes, but she was vague in her responses; she did not want to reveal the procedures, telling me afterwards “those are my secrets”.
Instead, there are those who discover new relationships, friendships, technical and creative ideas in sharing artistic practices, whatever they may be.
Showing off, enriching yourself with new stimuli, getting on the same wavelength of shared pleasure, arguing over differences in sensitivity, culture, opinion: this is Life!
I am lucky because a certain notoriety in the art sector—also as a trainer of trainers—led me to hold workshops in small groups, through which fruitful exchanges are born—very different from the obsolete teacher-learner role—with new relationships, sometimes recurring, alive and clear, even many years later.
The first exhibition
So far you have shown the products to a few intimate friends.
You still don’t have the courage to call them artworks.
So here comes the encouragement: get busy, put together a selection of works, present your artwork to an art gallery.
It sounds easy.
It takes great tact, strategic thinking and determination to approach and interest a specific organization.
Sometimes you can even start simply by having a charity exhibition, in coordination with a voluntary association, a cultural club, a fundraiser for some noble social activity. Help can be found to set up, organize, disseminate.
From there will come ideas to improve your presentation, train yourself to mourn the separation from the work, when your best work goes away and you feel like doing it again right away.
I say all this for the shy artist in each of us, not only to encourage a narcissistic need to emerge, but for the authentic pleasure of sharing the rediscovery of a manual skill that would otherwise be lost.
Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian pacifist lawyer, said: “Possess the means and the ideas will realize themselves.” A good knowledge of material practices is essential to complete the projects we have in mind.
I encourage the rediscovery—ethical, accurate and non-trivial—of ancient or alternative photographic techniques. This brings us —our closest friends, our children or grandchildren—back to our origins, leads us towards a space away from digital slavery. With a group of friends, we propose the “digital detox” week, to detach from the digital, turning off smartphones, tablets and PCs in a mountain refuge where there is no Internet connection. After the initial panic, the various activities catalyze and aggregate.
Following chosen pathways, we make anthotypes and cyanotypes, lumen prints and photograms (rayographs), biological-ecological photographic developments, all immersed in nature.
And in the end, everyone’s works become a small exhibition, or everyone takes home their own little herbarium, exactly like Anna Atkins almost two centuries ago. The reactions at the end of the week are surprising: they see these little masterpieces, all handmade; but there is always someone who asks if we used Photoshop or Artificial Intelligence programs.
It is inevitable that, upon returning from the week-long IT fast, some sharing of the works will return to digital social networks, but at least a good physical, hands-on and truly relational experience was had.
Showing one’s work from life, personally or in a group, is an unforgettable experience.
The therapeutic comparison
I say all this to encourage even the most solitary adults not to keep their creations in drawers, but to be enthusiastic about showing them, at home or in public.
Take courage, accept the complicity between your small personal creations and the thoughts of others.
Even if you don’t feel like the author of absolute masterpieces that will enter the world history of art, spreading your creations will be a vital and dynamic breath between the fear of judgment and the expectation of applause.
It happened to me. After having seen and reviewed one of my short films, analyzed every detail that could be improved within the budget and contractual times, compared it with my closest collaborators, and having satisfied the sponsor’s requests, came the time for the screening in the hall, in a festival where no one knows me and I act incognito.
Sitting next to someone whose bored breathing and quiet chatter with your neighbour, or noticing the positive tension of authentic interest, in every single step of your work, is a priceless, therapeutic, educational emotion. The same thing will happen when you have the courage to take your alternative images out of the drawers, and feed them to the gaze of curious, critical or envious human eyes that flash out there; much more will be said by crossing their gazes with yours, rather than by expressing miserable words.
Give it a go, even though it may seem to be a daunting experience.
Proposing your works is not that complicated. You can start—like many great artists—in a well-frequented cafe or a nice restaurant, the lobby of a hotel or a cinema in the city. Clearly, each of these spaces will have a different audience, so the choice of works to be proposed must be relevant and approved by those offering hospitality.
To plan and create a small exhibition, you need a minimum initial investment, a bit of method and good organization; it is certainly not an activity for lazy people who are totally lacking in manual skills. But friends are also useful for this, and giving a small artwork could be a fair compensation for participation in the project. Sometimes, due to distractions or the stress of a hasty life, a gesture of gratitude is forgotten. It happens to me too and, after some time, I feel like a worm when I remember not having rewarded their precious help. The friends will gladly come back to help you if you have expressed gratitude towards them.
Alongside, or in addition to, the public exhibition of one’s originals, we can also consider the costs and benefits of a printed publication, a small catalog or art book; a topic on which a world of never-ending discussions could open up.
Presentation of the works
I add here the importance of highlighting—also clearly visible in the body of the work— a title, which will be useful for its interpretation.
The title will be positioned in a visible but non-invasive place, at a safe distance from the extreme edge of the sheet or canvas, to prevent it from being covered by a possible frame or passepartout.
From this point of view, I am thinking of superimposing the title of the works on the reproductions distributed online in large characters like a semi-transparent watermark, in the middle, where it will be a bit annoying; this is to limit the bad habit of downloading the file and printing a copy—good or bad—at home.
The title completes the work, giving it the interpretation desired by the artist. It removes the misunderstanding of their interpretation.
In the end, what matters to you, the author of a very personal vision imprinted on paper, is the satisfaction of admiring your own creation and sharing it through a personal, tactile, physical human contact, not just virtual or digital.
In the end…
After the first timid steps, here’s what should be done:
- propose an exhibition for an association and give some works to charity in exchange for hospitality (perhaps copies, not originals, well printed with a fine art method, numbered and signed);
- follow the art sector so as not to always feel like a fish out of water;
- continuously update your techniques and compare yourself with the best competitors;
- learn to use Instagram and Facebook, even if you don’t like them; you can find alternatives later;
- begin to involve specialized reporters or journalists;
- respect and document the stringent production rules for galleries and museums.
Will all this be too much of a task or a worthwhile investment?
This is what I wrote on the back cover of my book “ANTO & CIANO LAB” (available in Italian):
“Experimenting with ancient techniques is not just a laborious game with the participants in my workshops.
It is the rediscovery of small daily, manual, natural artistic gestures, a world of beauty made for itself, but shown through a door also open to the gaze of others.
It is an invitation to enjoy small personal images, capable of taking us and our children a little outside the usual electronic displays.”