We are all poets. We create worlds, we are painters, connecting the dots of shared meaning; we are dancers, gracefully moving across intertextual environments, leaving patterns and figures all around us; we are artisans shaping our understanding into the clay of life.
Comparing writing to painting, the Roman lyric poet Horace wrote ut pictura poiesis that is “as is painting so is poetry“. Unsurprisingly the wisdom of his poem “Ars Poetica” [The Art of Poetry], still lives and beats in the hearts and intuitions of people who have touched to the magic of creating “virtual” worlds.
Virtual and poiesis go hand in hand
It is not a coincidence that I mention virtual here – virtual in the sense of existing in the imagination and virtual as in “virtual conversation”. I needed this ambiguity to help me find a starting point to describe my second guest in the Dialogues section – the inspiring Gina Fiedel.
About Gina Fiedel
Gina Fiedel’s personality and life connect dots from so many different domains, to name a few: painting, writing, web design. After graduating from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston with a degree in painting, Gina successfully pursued a career making art. She has exhibited in various galleries and her paintings are in private collections across the United States.
She was Director of Akin Gallery, a contemporary art gallery, specializing in exhibiting young artists. Gina also co-founded and led a grass roots artists’ housing development in the Boston suburb of Newton, MA where she spearheaded and led a group of artists in purchasing a surplus city school (Claflin School Studios).
In 1990, Gina started investigating electronic media and engaged in creative projects based in the digital environment of art and design, 3D, animation and digital video.
Today Gina Fiedel, together with her husband Doug Anderson owns the web design company Fat Eyes Web Development. Not only that, but also, in her own words, as the business world turns towards personalization, trust, relationships and transparency, she feels a sense of place and rightness in what she does.
The many moving parts to who Gina Fiedel is
With Gina’s fascinating web of creative experiences, I really didn’t know where to start from to set the scene for this dialogue. So I started with something strange and intuitive enough. Thankfully, this fit the artistic thread I hoped to weave this conversation around. [This Dialogue is also available in pdf,uploaded on my old blog’s website]
Gina, my favourite jazz performer, the Bulgarian pianist and composer Milcho Leviev* starts his biographic book with a “painting” on Paint. These are not mustaches, he says, these are antennae.
Prof. Leviev also explains that such “paintings” are to be made in seconds because only this way they have the power to “capture” something. [*you can hear Maestro Leviev conducting and playing Rhapsody in Blue mixed with ethno music, under the photo on the link, there is a player, and if you set it on 16:35 min you will hear the piece)
If you are to capture that your “something” what would it look like?
This feels wildly potent with opportunity – there are many moving parts to who I am. Perhaps I could give you the secret code to a vast walk-in container on a shipping dock that holds everything I’ve ever made, everything that has touched me, every person I’ve loved. Or…
It might be a dream that features large cats, crows, skunks and bears and each of them would be me -but not in disguise. I would transmute between animal and human like a snake shedding skin and know their secret languages and I would sing their made-up songs. I would be wearing red sneakers that I found behind a tree in the rain forest. I would be forever tangling happily with hills, forests, skies and dirt and trees wishing I was one of them.
When did you feel that painting will not be your only creative expression?
Painting was the outlet I devoted myself to for decades but not until after leaving dance and the acting and music of my childhood behind. It was in early 2013 that writing captured my imagination via content development and since then has taken the place of visual media. For now. It was a significant surprise.
What can you express with visuals that you cannot with words and vice versa?
Visual art is largely about exploring ideas through physical sensation, gut reactions, intuitive touch and non-touch, refraining and indulging, nurturing ideas, utilizing mistakes, interpretation, the tactile pleasure of making colors and marks, being brave and stubborn, getting completely lost in the woods and finding your way out again, process immersion, questioning, toying with meaning.
The tactile and emotional experience of the maker is communicated because all of that is embedded, lodged firmly into the resulting object. The viewer can feel it even if they aren’t allowed to touch it because there is a physical relationship to that object, an intimacy, body to body, involving scale and sensory connection.
The artist as a sincere conduit – or not – taking a stand, proclaiming while introducing just enough ambiguity that nothing is absolute; leaving room for a viewer to impose their own meaning at whim. Or layers of meanings that may shift over time. Making associations and connections, both expected and not-expected. Surprises. Logic and no-logic.
When I was making art, there was a powerful and highly influencing interchange going on constantly, intellectual and very heady; the context, the dialogue, conversations between artists, writers, curators and collectors. It was required to talk about the work, its intentions. And to translate the ideas from a visual medium into spoken and written language.
Swirling in my own maelstrom of all that created a longing for more and different. Something more specific and immediate, direct. When I began writing (as an art on its own), I found what I was missing. Because I write for a business blog, I am especially captivated by seeking the fusion of an artful approach with business needs.
Words have a potential to be precise and leave less to chance than painting and we can even fool ourselves into thinking that they are exacting. We realize they can be misleading and we grapple with them, try to get them under control and use them to our benefit. Switch them around, move the pieces easily to rearrange the room and change the meaning… Just. Like. That.
I treat writing as an exercise that helps me understand and solidify something that may still be unformed but is tugging at me. I always have a hope that a reader will discover something new inside my words in the same way that I discover something new through writing those words. That is like painting.
Artists are entrepreneurs
For some an artistic soul that runs her own business feels like Art’s Trojan horse in the business domain. Yet, James Altucher, says, and I am sure this is an intuition of many, but he was the first I heard this explicitly voiced from, that the artist is an entrepreneur and the entrepreneur is an artist.
What’s your take on this?
Artists are entrepreneurs because they create against all odds, developing a body of work that is both autonomous and convincing. They dare to have certainty and are courageous.
Yet an artist goes out on a limb every single moment in the studio, inviting precariousness. Working in solitary doggedness to convince others of inherent value and taking the risk to believe even if no one else does. Adding something fresh. If nothing else, being an artist takes persistence, perseverance, a double-dash of stubbornness and being somewhat indomitable. There is no giving up or giving in. That is an entrepreneur.
Trojan Horse or the Subversive Mission of an artist in the business domain.
We shouldn’t romanticize an artist’s intentions. Consider the artist as trickster turning things upside down, welcoming the danger of not-knowing, the imbalances of intent, one an audience may never truly discover. They may be manipulative, oppositional, edgy and slippery. Making art can be a deliberate act intended to provoke questioning and an examination of meaning.
Artists might sneak in where they are not expected; disrupting the world of business and causing a shift by introducing heart, creativity, cooperation, trust and collaboration and an emphasis on inner inquiry, a thrust towards learning to capitalize on mistakes. And then, we’ve got a union of two supposedly disparate worlds.
What is the story behind the establishment of Fat Eyes?
Short (er) Version
As a young artist, I was tough and angry and had a dream of effecting change. I had hoped to make a mark, get people to join me in digging deeper, look at their beliefs, question the status quo and patriarchal thought, behavior, habit and systems entrenched in our culture. I also wanted freedom.
What I eventually learned was that I had a better shot at making a difference elsewhere because of the art world’s elitism and relatively narrow priorities. I sought to find that sweet spot where I could be myself with no extraneous or superficial accoutrements and do work that matters.
We (my husband, who was also an artist, and I) decided to start a business and established Fat Eyes Web Development in 1998. It was a logical path. We found purpose in working with non-profits and business entities, people that interest us.
Our past lent layers of depth and knowledge that we could organically bring to the work. A viable venue for our interests, skills and previous experience including everything about being artists. I’d had extensive experience in management and business operations, we had spent five years compiling digital media skills on other projects and we went to school to fill in the pieces that were specific to web design.
We named the company after an old, unused painting title. It was better than www.LoversWillContrastTheirEmotionsAtTimesOfCrisis.com or www.IOnlyEmployHystrionicsAsATestOfOthersReactions.com
How do you translate inspiration into a marketing strategy?
The inspiration is built-in. It’s a matter of uncovering it- digging deep as a collaborative effort. Our involvement becomes the nudge to look inward to the heart and soul of an entity. The work we do forces a self-inquiry, discovery of what’s essential. This is something marketing learns from art making.
Our job is to recognize and help to retrieve the critical elements that will accurately describe what and who a company is and why they do what they do and then communicate that in a way that will be compelling and understood.
In purely creative endeavors, often the process may be the only “result”. That’s a freedom I appreciate. Marketing demands that there be an action or an object (of some sort) at the conclusion of the process, something tangible for consumers to interact with. It will hopefully have at least a somewhat measurable effectiveness. However, not all marketing efforts can be measured in terms of bottom line, so it’s useful to keep a fluid mind in the assessment of what is working and what is not.
How is the life of an artist different from the life of a queen of content?
Both require inner spaciousness, room for introspection, thought, focus and then time to act. Each demand an attentiveness to living, what is going on around and inside.
For either, there is the one-on-one relationship and conversation with the viewer or the reader. One person at a time.
On the other hand, it is understood that an artist might pursue a single idea and subject for long periods of time exploring as thoroughly as they wish, sometimes for an entire career. As a content creator, there is an imperative (that while consistency and specializing is powerful) to not be overly repetitive and to address a mixture of topics that are relevant; a need to be versatile. Content has to be reliable, have the ability to be substantiated or at the least, supported by experience. And then, of course, there is the most obvious difference that a content producer must be sensitive to the needs and concerns of their readership and customers and apply everything to some kind of gain for them. An artist has more independence and doesn’t need to make art for anyone else even with the market scrutiny they face.
Creating content is also derived from an impetus that is less internalized than art making. So the motivation may be less emotionally driven although it may still be passionate.
We are fortunate that our world is breaking the old barriers between the two and it’s a line I try to cross whenever I can, whenever appropriate.
What’s your greatest fear when it comes to being authentic a. when painting b. when doing business?
I am relatively fearless when it comes to authenticity as a thing in itself. But it requires making smart choices about which parts I invite to come forward. On the other hand, I have considerable fears about trying to be anything other than who I really am.
There are concerns regarding degrees of transparency. Because of that, I put a fair amount of energy into learning when it’s best to hold back. I don’t always succeed.
[Not so] Quick Favourites:
Favorite painting technique: My medium has always been oil paint. My early work was typically quite large and on canvas, my latest body of work was made on small, 3/4” thick hardwood plywood panels. The subjects were painted on multiple layers of paint that I distressed with a palm sander.
Favorite paradox: It’s hard to have just one:
- Zen Koans
- When one pursues happiness itself, one is miserable; but, when one pursues something else, one achieves happiness. (Paradox of hedonism)
- The outcome of an event or experiment is influenced by the presence of the observer. (Observer’s paradox)
- “To want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.” Kierkegaard
Favorite similarity between painting and writing: total immersion
Make the strange familiar and the familiar strange
What do you think about freedom, what’s your relationship with it?
Freedom is probably the overarching quality I have been seeking all my life. It’s an incredibly complex challenge to truly feel free in all its guises. I’ve put a lot of stock into setting up a life that feels like everything is free choice. Yet, I am constantly straddling the desire to live and express myself freely against the worry of going out of bounds.
Those bounds are the place where we gather impressions and discern. I try to learn how to communicate with individuals rather than broadcasting blindly to the world and the people who inhabit it. Everyone has a different capacity and I don’t know what it is until I do so it begs a certain sensitivity.
Business:art or business:life, or work:art – aren’t these “couples” reflecting old structures, old separation of something called exchange (of goods, services, ideas, inspiration, sparks)?
Yes. I prefer to mix them all together to make one giant soup that eliminates the opposition and contrasts. All manner of exchange is good. It doesn’t matter what the form is.
If the artist is a transmitter of divine energy, what do marketers transmit?
Art is made from ideas, questions and raw energy.
It’s not at all unusual for information, impetus and actions in creativity to come from a place that isn’t easily identified- the uncanny; transmission from an unknown, mysterious source. An artist and a marketer, who also relies on creativity, may very well tap into similar sources for their message, each with a goal of distilling concepts into chunks that are digestible.
The marketer is responding to the needs and questions of the customer, fixing a problem, offering solutions. An artist is responding to the world in a more inner-centric manner. But they are both creating connections and associations and hope to present in a way that makes it strange, new and fresh: “Make the strange familiar and the familiar strange” -as originally coined by Viktor Shklovsky in 1917.
Of course, marketing has the task of building trust where art does not (until it has entered the realm of commerce). Yet, they both have a goal of trying to convince someone of something, to convert.
Don’t you have the strange feeling that we are all artists it’s just some of us are not brave enough to serve that urge to create and question realities?
Yes. We can be. And we are. As long as we allow for unexpected, unrefined definitions of ‘artist’. It does take a certain bravery and irrepressible urge.
Gina Fiedel asking me the tough questions
Gina was kind enough to ask me several deep questions too, three of which I’ve included here:
Do you have a personal relationship with mysticism or the spiritual, particularly as it relates to human transformation?
Not one that I am consciously aware of. What I have is my belief that everything, really everything that I do matters and changes the world.
Does art influence your writing?
Definitely, it gives me space to breathe, art inspires me, gives me wings and courage to keep transforming my experience into writing.
If you were going to make a self-portrait what medium would you use? Paint, collage, colored pencils, words, movement, song?
I would use a pencil and would draw a spiral.
If I were a song I would be this one: WUAUQUIKUNA – Buffalo white
If I were a start-up, I would have been this: The Qwerkywriter – Typewriter Inspired Mechanical Keyboard
And then we continued talking about the art, authenticity and courage…
Gina, self expression is impossible without the courage to be yourself, to be an artist. This is where many stumble. Finding and being yourself is a disruptive, uncomfortable, terrifying , and even worse, endless process.
What was your first step towards self-expression and what keeps you moving in that direction?
My first response to this question was to chuckle. Because my immediate, spontaneous answer is “desperation” and a compelling need to find a new way to relate to one’s self. My second answer, curiosity. That will motivate a path of self-discovery and self-disruption, indeed. I like that you used the word “disruptive” there.
I was young when I took my first step. I keep at it because [it is fascinating and a little bit addictive in that I rather like the intensity] and also, I have hope. And yes, it is endless. Because it’s a practice, not something that I imagine will ever be completed.
Thing is, it’s the practice [and the process] that will eventually lead one to deeper knowledge of who they are and guide them to feeling comfortable in their self-expression. And it’s self-expression that will get someone digging deeper into who the heck they really are. A perfectly cyclical thing. One usually doesn’t enter into it already knowing.
Is there a routine structure that sustains your creativity process, providing enough space for creative chaos and building realities?
Creativity is chaotic by its very nature and antithetical to routine or structure in many ways. That said, the structure we can construct is clear, dedicated time and a daily routine that supports the protection of that time. It can be scheduled. When we put aside the time it allows for the semi-constant leaking of creativity to be funneled and collected into that space we put aside and accordingly, not lost.
Do you have your rituals that keep you going? Like something that serves your talent. Maybe a feature of your character that you have developed. Something that opens the door of inspiration?
Most everything I do that I like somehow works its way into becoming a ritual. I am a veritable collector of rituals. Some are based around comfort, pleasure or well-being and others are for grander things like inspiration.
They all have the purpose of ensuring I am available for whatever arises, things that I can use [for something]. It’s a setting of the stage- keeping doors and windows open for whatever might fly in. Maybe even a bird.
Magpie,14×16″, oil on wood, 2012
Ritualizing discipline works for me. For instance, my yoga practice and daily exercise routine serve as ritual and create the inner capacity to generate ideas, questions, build inspiration- zero in to the flow.
By listening and observing I can find ideas anywhere, sometimes in the most inconspicuous places.
What is the caveat of improvisation if any?
It is an invaluable method for training the mind and nurturing creativity but the thing is when someone relies solely on improvisation, it can result in a lack of technical maturation and limit potential expertise. It can also make for a lack of structure and the (sometimes) inability to repeat.
One last stroke
What should the artist-entrepreneur put in their backpack on their quest to authenticity?
Water. Food. Patience. Perseverance. Courage. Grace. A journal and some pencils. A camera. Time. A friend. And snacks. Maybe a dog or a cat to point the way. And after reading your latest piece, let’s throw in a ball of Ariadne’s thread [ed. link to the article Gina mentions] to help them find a way back to who they always were but lost track of.
Not that this Dialogue needs an epilogue but a quote suddenly came to my mind. It is from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art:
“The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and inspiration”
Thank you, Gina Fiedel!