Camelot: Meeting the Neighbors

Tips for Going Door-to-door

Knocking on peoples’ doors as a way of introducing myself to them is an unnerving prospect, so I’ve gathered some tips from the web that I hope will keep me out of bad situations. A caveat: I’m writing this post in a lobby where MTV2 is broadcasting, so I can’t guarantee the quality of what follows. You know how it’s a good idea when you’re trying to do your best to surround yourself with the best? It’s dangerous to try to make something worthwhile when the context you’re working in is of such sub-par quality that any effort on your part represents a substantial improvement on the situation. Right now there’s a show on about a heavy black guy and a skinny white guy who may be a skater. I feel like a normal fish in a very stupid pond.

  1. The first thing I’m going to do is keep a friendly expression on my face and speak in a clear, confident voice. I won’t offer a handshake unless the person comes onto the porch to greet me. And I’ll state my purpose right away, as most people assume that I’m a religious proselytizer or a salesman until I say otherwise.
  2. I will have either a card or a brochure to hand out. I think I’ll say something like, “Can I leave this with you?” I should offer it with a choice, so I’m not forcing them to take something they don’t want. And, because people may not be receptive to me as I stand on their porch and take up their time, the literature I leave will give them a chance to see what I’m about on their own time.
  3. Some sites warn that there are some lonely, chatty people out there, and that I should keep a mental clock and not stay for more than a few minutes, especially if the person wants to debate me. The advice I’m reading is mostly for political canvassers, and since I’m not out to promote any political values, I think I’ll be okay to chat for a minute. After all, these are my neighbors, and as long as my internal crazy alarm isn’t buzzing, I’ll savor a chat for a little bit. I live in the region where King of the Hill is set, so I’ve been really wanting to sip beer in the alley and shoot the bull with my neighbors. This may be the way to make that happen!
  4. I shouldn’t be discouraged by a string of negative responses, because most people just don’t like to be bothered. I’ve just got to persevere. I really can’t wait to see how people react to my overtures. A lot of people may well think I’m crazy because suburban protocol expects us to keep to ourselves and not to go out of our way to engage each other. So, I’ll try to keep my chin up when folks blow me off, and with luck and persistence I might be able to convert some of them to neighborly friends.
  5. If someone insults me I should just be cool, smile, and say, “Have a nice day,” because there’s no need to start a confrontation. Maybe I’ll add, “See you around,” since we live in the same neighborhood, just to remind him or her that we’re part of the same community, and that you can’t just dis someone and expect never to see the person again. I want to promote a little interconnectedness in the neighborhood. It is said, and I believe it, that one of the reasons there’s more social and political division these days is because we don’t know our neighbors and, therefore, don’t know how to live with people who are both decent and different from ourselves. I want to cut across this trend.
  6. I should emphasize that it’s just me, and that I’m not sharing anyone’s agenda but my own. I’m already at a disadvantage by knocking on their door and bothering them, so I need to express my motives clearly and immediately and try to bring their guard down.
  7. Wear a nametag. Oh man, this is awesome. I’m going to design my own tag to identify myself and look professional. I won’t be a nameless drone, but Jim Public, your local artist!
  8. In keeping with my respectable haircut, I’ll also dress conventionally. If I dress unusually I may associate myself with radical ideas, and most people don’t like that. My ideas, in fact, are somewhat radical, but they are also based in the familiar tradition of community, so my hope is that the nice shirt and nametag will help take the edge off my agenda of getting my name out there by getting to know my neighbors.

Man, this blog is starting to get a little heavy on words and light on action and photos! This is as it must be for now, but I am determined to round out the content with more activity and more pictures. Soon enough. Once Facelife starts in earnest, this blog will pick up the pace in all kinds of unpredictable ways.

Camelot: Meeting the Neighbors

Terms for Going Door-to-Door

Still several weeks out from knocking on my neighbors’ doors, I’m still trying to name the thing that I intend to do. I may have to start using the term faceliving for what I’ll be doing, however, because I haven’t found an appropriate term that means, “to make a friendly introduction of one’s self to a stranger.” Here are a couple of possible synonyms and their definitions.

canvass (verb), 1. to solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or the like from; 2. to examine carefully; investigate by inquiry; discuss; debate.
solicit (verb), 1. to seek for (something) by entreaty, earnest or respectful request, formal application; 2. to entreat or petition (someone or some agency); 3. to solicit orders or trade, as for a business.

Both of these terms denote a desire to get something from someone, be it a vote, an opinion, or a sale. The fact that there really is no common term for introducing yourself to strangers that doesn’t include an intention to gain something from the strangers makes me step back an consider my own intentions.

It’s true that I don’t know very many people in my community right now, and I feel that knowing more of them would improve my quality of life. In this respect, I think it’s safe to say that my conquest is about no personal gain except the gain of personal acquaintances. As I start faceliving in my neighborhood I won’t be showing anyone my artwork, much less asking anyone to buy it, so I don’t like the terms canvass or solicit.

I may make cards that feature my name, vocation, contact info, and some representation of my artwork to hand out to the people I meet, and at this point of giving a card to someone I think I would feel like more of a canvasser or solicitor. Going back some generations, there was the old practice of paying calls to your neighbors and leaving cards as a way of identifying yourself as the visitor. My practice will be similar to this, but because there is a possibility that the card recipient could visit my website and make a purchase forces me to admit that I am more of a door-to-door salesman than someone simply paying a social visit. On the other hand, my primary goal with faceliving is to make myself known to my community as an artist who works right here in the north Garland suburbs, because in order for my artwork to have any significance it is much more important for the work to be known than sold. Sales will happen as a result of the artwork having a growing audience, and it is the nurturing of this growing audience that is my top priority.

For now, I guess I’ve stumbled on calling this door-to-door activity faceliving, though I won’t use this as a technicality that lets me bug people with “no soliciting” signs. I’ve given this some thought, thinking that it could make for some entertaining anecdotes in the blog if I introduced myself to strangers whose doors tell the world they want to be left alone. But, I’m opting for letting them be. I won’t go out of my way to piss people off with this project. It’s already likely to throw folks off to have me on their doorsteps, so I’ll try to keep the odds closer to favoring me.

Camelot: Meeting the Neighbors

On Going from Door to Door

I’m still several weeks away from the official kick-off of the Facelife door-knocking campaign. As I go about my summer travels and family gatherings I’ve been searching the web for tips on being a successful door-to-door canvasser. I’m putting together a preliminary list of tips that should give me courage as the big day nears, and I’ll be posting that list shortly, for those of you who are moved to join in this Facelife endeavor and meet your neighbors, too.

One piece of advice that keeps it all in perspective is that if the experience of knocking on strange doors and speaking to new people about yourself ends up being as terrifying and awful as it now seems, having not yet tried it, you can just quit and get a different job. This advice is directed toward salespeople and campaigners mostly, but it reminds me of two helpful facts about my career. First, I’m not going to give up my art career so easily, but if this tactic of becoming a more engaged member of my local community, both as artist and citizen, doesn’t work, then I can just shelve it and try other approaches. I don’t need to get a different job, just a different method. Second, I realize that the career I’m building is an unconventional one, and, for some, not even a real job at all: I’m pushing for a career in which I make a living doing exactly what I want. So, because my job at this early stage doesn’t look like a real job, particularly to people who have bosses and regular paychecks, I feel that doing something that most of us find intimidating gives this art career more street cred. Or in other words, if I want to be a professional artist so badly, I better be willing to put myself through all manner of trials to get there.

If I ask myself, “Will doing this help my art career even a little?” and the answer is “Yes”, then I need to go ahead and do it, unless I’m exposing myself to danger or violating ethics. I need to demonstrate to myself and my audience that being the kind of artist I want to be is not about hiding in my studio and playing the role of the delicate fellow, but about making the best looking stuff that I can and showing my enthusiasm about that stuff to as many people as I can.

Camelot: Meeting the Neighbors

Facelife

facelife logo

I’m excited to announce that my inaugural quest as an artist building himself a grassroots art career has a name…

Yes, in fact it is Facelife. And here is what Facelife is: I will be donning a nice shirt and putting gel in my hair, walking through my neighborhood, and knocking on all 227 doors, by way of introducing myself to my neighbors.

I use Facebook quite a bit as a means of reaching people and building my audience, and I appreciate the site for its ability to keep people connected in new, strange, virtual ways. I will continue to use Facebook, and I may well take my friend Kerry Bill’s advice and jump into Twitter here before too long; but, I also want to defy the promise and the function of Facebook with this Facelife project, namely, by doing in the physical world what Facebook–really, any social networking technology–allows us to do in the virtual world. I am going to pound some old-fashioned pavement, knock on some doors, and literally say hello to real people whom I don’t know.

I’ll tell you, I don’t know what to expect from this expedition. I imagine no more than 5% of the people I talk to will end up having any interest in what I’m doing. I suppose a lot of people won’t answer their doors, and others will be terse with me, as anyone who makes a point to knock on strangers’ doors should anticipate.

But, I’m excited about it. What’s got my insides all full of the good jitters is that I want to do this both as an artist and a human being. The artist wants people to know who he is and what he does; he wants to build an audience and become a valued part of his community here in north Garland, Texas. The human being just likes to know people. About every other evening I take a walk through my quiet neighborhood, my home for the last 13 months. I like developing a relationship with the land, the weather, the streets, the houses, and the neighbors; and, I credit these walks with accelerating this period of adjustment to my still-new life in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Facelife will help me take my relationship with the neighborhood to the next level.

And, each motivation gives courage to the other. The artist is relieved that the human being just wants to meet and greet people rather than try to get something from them, be it a profession of faith, a donation, a sale. And the human being is emboldened by having a pretense for the visit; I’m not just there awkwardly to say hello, but to introduce myself as a local figure who does something the stranger might find interesting.

Of course, I want for these Facelife efforts eventually to engender sales so that I can make that ever-elusive living; but, as any visual artist knows, most of an artist’s audience is comprised of non-paying constituents. And that’s okay. Art can and should be enjoyed for free much of the time. If you’re really good, you figure out ways to scrape rent together each month.

So I’ve gotten my appearance as settled as I can for now, I have a name and a plan for what I’m doing, and I’m working on the map to help me keep track and share my progress as I go. I’ll continue to prepare through August–researching tips for door-to-door types, and so on–as we do some family traveling and wait for the heat to ebb, and I expect to hit the sidewalks at the end of August, just as JPG gets started in third grade. I can’t wait to see this play out, and to share it with you.

World, Meet Jimmy

A Respectable Haircut

jim public got a haircut 072411

I’m happy to share with you that I’ve made some progress since my first Jimmy, Meet World post, in which I took a look at my look to see what I could do to make myself less freaky-looking as I introduce myself to people in my community. I got a haircut.

I’ve spent most of my life with hair that draws on the “bell” motif. At first, the bell was the result of my mom cutting my hair to fit the times–think Luke Skywalker. Later, I was just reluctant to maintain a coherent and/or respectable appearance. My mind was usually on other things, things like art and what song lyrics mean and, later, how best to parent a short-tempered daughter, and so on. Even mirrors conveniently have shown me only what I want to see, which is just enough of my features to recognize myself as I wash my face or check for pepper in my teeth; my scruffiness is edited out by a brain that hasn’t cared about scruffiness until now. Only in photos did I see myself as I looked to others, like a sad sap from the ’70s.

What I have now is versatile: it can be styled back or up or forward. I can probably get it to stand up in an inspired-looking mess, like you see in portraits of old classical composers. But what’s key in this cut is the clean edge around the ears. It acts like one of those slim, solid frames that contain a de Kooning or Joan Mitchell painting: it gives permission for whatever is within–or above in my case–to be as crazy as it wants to be. Most of the time, however, my hair will probably look a lot like it does above, as I spend the day pushing my fingers back through it. But I reserve the option to tousle and texturize as needed.

So, I got a haircut. I tell you this not because I’m in a sharing mood–I like to share, but I have some sense of self-censure, too–but because what’s happening on this site and in this blog is the journey of a virtually unknown artist from his current state of near obscurity to one of public note. I’m drawing up plans right now for the first direct phase of meeting my local public here in Garland, TX, and those will go up soon.

This blog is handy for me. If I say I’m going to do something here, I’ll feel like a jerk if I don’t do it. I’ll be announcing my first venture into the actual, physical public in the next few days.

World, Meet Jimmy

What to Expect from This Blog

Jim Public in his studio, July 2011

I spend a lot of time in the studio, which some of you may recognize as a standard suburban 2-car garage with paintings and free-standing walls in place of automobiles, a fact that, to her great credit, my wife has endured since we moved into our first house. Do cars really need their own room anyway?

This is where I do a good deal of manual labor (i.e., making art), looking, and thinking. In the photo, I’ve just finished the former and I’m engaged in the two latter. The looking is how I determine if a piece of artwork is good or finished or needs more work, and the thinking includes all of that plus anything else that’s rattling around in my skull.

What I’m thinking about in the photo, besides how close to done the painting on the left is, is how I’m going to establish a sturdy career. One would think that having been an artist all my life, and a professional one for seven years, I would be past that point. People who would think this include me from the ages of around 18 to the early 30’s or so. To be an artist, and I use the term broadly, you have to face the economic reality that there is an absurd lack of demand for contemporary art in the broad market and an even more absurd glut of artists out there to fill it. We have to be persistent, foolhardy, and a little delusional, and we have to distinguish ourselves. This is what I’m thinking about.

In the last post I was examining my appearance because the career I’m building is a public one, and I need to do what I can to be presentable. My goal isn’t to make public artwork–though it doesn’t exclude it–but to find ways of being an artist in the public, a presence in the community, a local artist. Becoming familiar with the people who live and work where I live and work is a big part of this vision: I want a grassroots art career. I’m not interested in ingratiating myself to the elites of DFW and beyond in order to have a shot at a blue chip art career, a career that most of my neighbors will never know about, because contemporary art is an exclusive world. It’s an exclusive world I love, but one I want to expand to include everyone whose interest I can spark with a little pavement pounding and neighborly goodwill on my part.

And this process, which has the potential to go in all kinds of directions, and which I’m really excited about right now, is what you can expect to be documented in this blog as I go along. And, your reading is an important part of the whole thing. Now I need to nail down my game plan for getting out there with the good folks of north Garland…

World, Meet Jimmy

Jimmy, Meet World

I want my artwork to reach a lot of people and a lot of different kinds of people. Working toward building a large, diverse audience helps me achieve two goals: 1) I’m more likely to make a living doing this, and 2) I satisfy the drive that artists–all people, really–have, to cross the barriers that separate each of us, to make that human connection. Self-expression is just one half of why I make art. It’s not enough just to pull up for a jump shot, release the ball from your fingers, then turn and walk away: you want to see if you make the basket, and you want to see the crowd’s reaction.

Thinking about this stuff is always going on in my head. But, in my years of being an artist, I’ve given very little thought to what’s going on on my head. So let’s take a minute here to reflect on where I’m at on the outside, the side you see. If I’m going to be an artist with any kind of public presence, appearance deserves some scrutiny. If I can get the way I look a little more under control, maybe this grassroots art career will be a little less tricky.

I give you, Jim Public…

Jim Public headshot 1 July 2011
  1. The overall shape here is thin, so far. This is good for public relations, especially since I’m still relatively young. As I gain years and weight, I can pull off a rounder figure if the career’s doing well: we assume that heavy poor people overeat because of their failures but that heavy affluent people overeat because of their successes. Also, if we use U.S. presidents as a barometer, our last overweight commander-in-chief was Taft, whose term started just over a century ago, while President Obama today is right up there with the lankiest. So, for me, slight makes right. And even though Santa and Buddha are both popular and portly, they have much to give and ask nothing in return, so they’re on a rather different, jolly plane from the rest of us mortals who have to make a living.
  2. The hair is mouse brown and limp, and there’s a definite bell shape happening. It needs attention, be it lots of product to lift it up while keeping the length for some Depp-effect, or a good trim to expose the ears and give the head more of a strong, recognizably geometric shape. The hair must be dealt with realistically, however, because time spent doing hair is time spent not doing art.
  3. The heavy-framed, dark glasses lend an educated, yet disabled look. You see people like this every day, who leave the inner animal in us thinking, “Good for him, carrying on bravely in spite of his impairment, and he hasn’t been killed and eaten yet!” As an accessory, the glasses work okay, imparting a thoughtful, physically nonthreatening presence that will help me when I greet people.
  4. Face shaved = good. And some thin chops to strengthen the line of an otherwise vague, rounded jaw. I’m not thrilled about the gap separating the burns from the hair, which make them look like dangling, hairy earrings, but the sideburns will do for now. This face does not exude masculinity on its own, so the framing facial hair helps a little. But only a little: better for the mind to be virile and the body to be just manly enough to pass. Plus, in this photo, the burns define the cheekbones, which I didn’t realize I had.
  5. The facial expression is neutral in this photo, and I’m happy to see that it’s not too weird or sullen or cranky. Adding a touch of smile will get me closer to the safe-zone for the grassroots art-career-building. The smile needs to be sincere rather than ingratiating: nothing’s worse than a stranger approaching you with a grin that says, “Hi. I want something from you.” My goal as a friendly neighborhood artist isn’t to convince anyone of anything but my existence. The world is full enough of folks whose greetings reek of opportunism. I’m serious about this: if you know that I exist and make art, then I’ve done my job. So, yeah, this facial expression is close to what I need to introduce myself to you, I think.
  6. One last thing before the scrutiny ends and I’m all done looking at my own photo is the shirt and collar. It’s blazing hot in north Texas this summer, as always, and I had thought the light-weave, collared shirt was only about survival, but once again I’m pleasantly surprised that it looks okay, too. Especially note the collar, open one extra button for ventilation: while the shirt itself is a sturdy classic style, the open collar suggests a hint of unbridled creative passion. Striking that balance between refinement and savagery may just be the key to making it as the artist I want to be.

To conclude this self-critique, let me say that I’ve tried to be fair and practical about what the photo shows, and, unless I’m more delusional than I realize, I’m not as bad off as I had expected. I will keep eating vegetables, getting haircuts, using product for texture and body or whatever it is that my hair needs, sporting spectacles, remembering to shave, practicing good posture and smiling just enough not to look crabby. And I’ll get more of those shirts. Maybe half-roll the sleeves for that getting-down-to-business look.

As for the business I need to get down to, there will be more on that. Things are going well in the studio; it’s outside of the studio that needs the work.

One last thing. I’d like to thank Jim Public’s Girl and Jim Public’s Son–JPG and JPS henceforth–for their technical assistance with the photo shoot today. I couldn’t have done this without their eagerness both to pose as stand-ins and snap the pictures.

Jim Public's son sample headshot July 2011Jim Public's daughter sample headshot July 2011