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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.