Sarah Butcher is a lovely artist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her paintings http://www.sarahbutcher.com/ include landscapes, cityscapes and still lifes that all seem to be in motion. She loves light and shadow which are also hallmarks of her work. What inspires her? Read on and find out …
“…The story in my work is about the fleeting nature of life, the changing light that reminds us that we are always in motion on this planet …”
MICHAEL: Hello Sarah, I find your work very intriguing. To me, it's “Static Animation.” In much of your work, you seem to be capturing the changing and fleeting nature of environments and scenes AS they’re happening. The marks and lines that you create really lend a sense of added motion or activity. Am I making sense?
SARAH: I think that you have picked up on my intentions very well! Yes I am very interested in the fleeting composition I see when I am driving or as a passenger in a car. I want the viewer to get a sense of what I felt as I looked at the scene. I am trying to convey a sense of energy and light.
MICHAEL: What is the viewer supposed to do with this sense of energy and light? Why energy and light?
SARAH: I am a lover of light and shadow. That is all there is, really, in regard to the information we receive through sight. The light creates the color or reflects it.
When someone looks at my art, I hope the viewer feels a sense of connectedness to the scene. When we see a beautiful scene, we usually remember that scene vividly. The color, light and energy are captured in our memory. Many times a photograph cannot match the beauty in our mind. So I try to do justice to the moment by adding the energetic strokes and sometimes over-saturated color.
MICHAEL: Do your works have any narrative or is beauty the story?
SARAH: The narrative of my work can be seen in two ways; collectively and through an individual series of works.
Collectively, the narrative is about my perspective, viewing the world through the tiny lens of an iPhone most of the time. Traveling to and from the city or my neighborhood and only once in awhile going somewhere far away.
The story in my work is about the fleeting nature of life, the changing light that reminds us that we are always in motion on this planet. This idea might be expressed with digital art creation tools or it might be expressed through traditional media. Individually, each series I create carries its own story.
When developing a series like the abstract landscapes, I work until I feel I have satisfied my desire for a visually interesting group of compositions. These pieces are pretty much for the aesthetic appeal. I love the process of making art and working out the visual problem. When I developed the series “Finding Home,” I created collages that tell the story of moving from my home of 25 years.
MICHAEL: When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
SARAH: I come from a family of six kids. Three boys and three girls. I am number five in the lineup.
SARAH: My dad is a very creative person who has always dabbled in art. He wanted to go to art school, but his father would not let him. He went into the family office equipment business instead. He is a charming, wonderful man but business was hard for him.
My mom had a great sense of design that she expressed through creating a beautifully-decorated home. I'd say it is my sister Marianne, brother Ken and I who are the most creative of the group. My brother Ken and would sit for hours cutting up paper, drawing and doodling as young as two years old.
Ken is an amazing artist. His work is mostly small watercolors or colored pencil. His subjects are mostly fishing and hunting scenes. Marianne went into theater and specializes in stage makeup.
I have always loved to make art. I always wanted to pursue art as a career. I first became aware that I was an artist when I was in the 8th grade. My school had an art show and I had entered a watercolor drawing of a poppy. It was in all sepia tones. A lady wanted to buy it. I was so thrilled that someone would pay money for my work. Of course at that age, I could not part with it! But the message was clear. I wanted to pursue art.
MICHAEL: Very cool. You know Sarah, the art world is changing. Galleries are folding and the internet continues to expand. Are you noticing this? Is this hurting or helping you and other artists you know?
SARAH: This is such a huge topic. I have more questions than answers on this topic.
MICHAEL: Ha! Ha!
SARAH: As an art and digital media educator for 20 years, I know the expansion of the internet and AI very well. I brought the first 3D printer into my school of couple of years ago as well as developed curriculum for technology courses. Art like all areas of our culture is changing rapidly. I can create 3D designs from my iPad with my finger and send it to a printer or a print service like Shapeways.
I can create a painting in a fraction of the time using digital tools. The digital tools and the immediacy of the internet have created a proliferation of images of incredible magnitude. With so many people creating photos and art, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out. I enjoy reading Susan Sontag's collection of essays, “On Photography” and noting her thoughts about how photography changed our world forever.
And now it is even more changed.
My personal affiliation with art galleries has been minimal, though I would like that to change. I have however noticed the small galleries in my area have a hard time staying afloat. Baltimore has a substantial art scene, but real art buyers are few.
MICHAEL: I know, I know.
SARAH: I have found some success with a company called Art Exposure. A woman named Ann Wicker owns the business. She places my art in commercial venues like restaurants and office buildings. This is a good way to gain exposure, however it does not provide the validation that a “real” gallery might offer.
I think that the public has so many choices it is hard for them to navigate the art collecting landscape. This new digital world requires that serious artists become involved in social media, but not fall prey to the “online galleries” that only exist to collect a submission fee. Artists are in a tough spot. We want to share our work, we want to be recognized and add to our resume of exhibitions. But it is costly to do that on a regular basis.
That is one reason I have started to post regularly on Instagram. I can reach so many people and target who sees my work. The internet gives everyone a platform in which to promote themselves. However, it is increasingly apparent that there is a cost involved. For artists who are internet and digitally savvy, yes, it’s a great help.
MICHAEL: Where do you teach art? Art and art history are such dicey fields of study today. Aren't they? The eternal question remains how do you make a living through art in a world that doesn't really buy art or support artists?
SARAH: I taught art for 18 years at Maryvale Preparatory School. Then I taught for one year at The Catholic High School of Baltimore. I left for a couple of reasons, but mainly I am lucky enough to be in a position right now where I can pursue my art full-time. My husband is doing well enough for me to take this foray into as you say a dicey field.
How does one make a living solely from their art? You probably know as well as I do that not many people are willing to pay for art. I have been asked many times to do work for free. When I mention money they seem to disappear.
You are right, there’s little support for the arts. In schools, it is way down on the list. Athletics is much more important in our country than the performing or visual arts. I was the head of the fine arts department at Maryvale and the administration just did not get it. They always pushed the arts to after school. Music rehearsals were always being taken away for sports practice.
If I did not love making art I would not choose it as a career! Most of what I do I do because I enjoy creating art. When my children were young, it was enough to simply make art, but I increasingly wanted to share what I was doing with others. I enjoy the validation I receive from art shows and sales of my work.
I wish I knew the answer to how you make a living from art. I think for me it is a matter of promoting myself. It is hard to get over the insecurity and disappointment of rejection. But I know my work is good and it's just a matter of finding clients who like what I do. I am always torn between pursuing meaningful art that many people can't relate to and making art that is more sellable.
Social media is a great tool for artists. To be really successful, you need to spend money on advertising and that is something I can't do right now. I guess the best avenue for sales is in art licensing. That is where I am focusing my efforts right now.
MICHAEL: It really does fall back onto arts education in primary schools. Most adults, let alone kids, don't have creative outlets in their lives and look at what's happening. You certainly know what I mean living in Baltimore. How would characterize Baltimore as a city specifically for contemporary art? Do people there “get it?”
SARAH: I do believe that Baltimore has an art scene where those people involved do get it. The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA) is an organization that offers a lot of resources to local artists.
A Baltimore art icon is the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Many art students come to Baltimore from around the country to attend MICA and some settle here and pursue careers. We also have the American Visionary Museum. This contemporary museum opened in 1984. It is an amazing place for visionary artists and artists who create art without professional training.
You should go to their website and check it out. They have thematic shows that change twice a year. When I graduated from college, I became an artist at School 33. This Baltimore funded school turned art studios allowed me to work on my art and have some exposure in the Federal Hill area of the city. This is still available to artists today.
MICHAEL: You said earlier that on many occasions, people have asked for free art. What do you think that's a function of? What's going on there?
SARAH: I believe there are many reasons. One may be that artists are often times unsure of the potential value of their work and tend to downplay its importance. Many times artists will give something away in hopes of future business. This happens in many creative fields.
Art is such a personal endeavor. Maybe art is not always perceived as having monetary value. Maybe non-artists think that the joy of creating art is payment enough for artists. Like … “You love doing this don't you?”
Maybe it's that art is not valued in our culture any longer. Perhaps it’s because there is so much of it, good and bad online and just about everywhere. People can grab an image of almost anything online and use it for whatever purpose. Because many people get their information from the internet and entertainment television, we as a country are ethically and aesthetically challenged.
It's hard to convince everyday people that my art is meaningful and worthy of their hard earned money.
MICHAEL: All of that is true and so finally Sarah, given that, what's the point of art? It often gets sidelined and disrespected, people want it, but they don't want to buy it, they don't know much about it and most people on earth will never even visit an art gallery. What's the point of us even talking about it?
SARAH: The idea of “art” has evolved/changed so much from the caves at Lascaux! Why did people paint on the cave walls at that time? Probably not for compensation.
Humans are inherently designers, I think. While design and fine art do not always equate to the same thing, many times they may cross over. So I think our desire to make our surroundings visually interesting, aesthetically pleasing and orderly is part of our nature.
The theory of Gestalt tries to explain our desire to make sense out of chaos or what we see. So I think making art is an inherently human thing to do. There was a time when artists were revered as important recorders of history.
Then came the camera. That innovation sure changed the art world! No longer integral to illustrating history, art became more about the composition I guess. It also became about the “aesthetic.” It also has become about the process and the message. You and I know that some people will always desire to make things.
Whether it is a painting or a sculpture created in a 3D modeling app. Even with artificial intelligence chipping away at all we do, we will still enjoy creating art. I will still make art even if I don't make money from it because I really like doing it!
It can be depressing sometimes to think that there isn’t enough importance placed on art as in the past, but we need to keep the conversation going.
MICHAEL: We’re certainly doing that here. Thanks Sarah. This has been a great chat.
SARAH: Thanks so much for the opportunity to speak with you.
Check out Sarah Butcher at http://www.sarahbutcher.com/.