After reading a book review of Toni Morrison's new book of essays, I went to find it.
This is an artist that embodies precision, willingness, integrity and excellence through her inquiry.
Something she wrote triggered me to sort through a few observations I've been holding, and this act of sorting prompts a request.
In her essay The Individual Artist, I found an invitation to examine our relationship to artists...
In the contemporary world of art and scholarship, literature is, I think, the only discipline in which the scholars do not produce what they criticize. The chemists, the social scientists, the historians, the philosophers - all of those people produce what they teach, they produce what they question, they produce what they change...
Though in the entire essay, her point is much broader - focusing on the importance of the National Endowment for the Arts - when I read this, I thought of the power in opinions... the specificity of the language used to communicate an experience.
What's interesting to me is not that people have careers designed around having opinions about what others do in their lives, but how this echoes a question I have about social media. The effect it has on an artist, on relationships.
Before I go any further, I admit to the preference of tangible things: a book with pages rather than a screen; a handwritten letter over an email; a conversation where I can hear the tones and see the body, offering me context beyond words...
(I also admit the irony in that the nudge for me to purchase Toni Morrison's book was a review and that my mode of communication to discuss all this is on a blog...)
To my eyes, it seems we are in the wild west where folks can drag and drop, cut and paste, post and send… all without ever communicating directly with the artist. And yet, a tether is connected when you experience something that moves you personally in way that inspires introspection or action. And this prompts opinions, likes, dislikes, emojis that are posted without any context other than a tiny little circle with a photo that may or may not represent the person actually speaking.
Social media offers an incredible opportunity to connect across miles and it engenders a passivity, where suddenly "followers" and "likes" hold an invisible weight, as we share a real-but-not-real space together, having conversations via this magical venue where the words that hang in the space between us represent a connection.
It's quite powerful.
Which leads me to my observation.
Brian is a bit of an enigma to me. He has the unique ability to have cultivated a life as a prolific artist, and to have designed and run a separate (mainly e-commerce) company to distribute that work out into the world.
Those of you who are artists or have lived alongside artists understand what an extraordinary thing this is. You understand what it takes to create something, and that this is a different path to navigate than the one that puts your work out into the world to be read, heard, seen by others. To walk both effectively is rare... to be the artist and the agent/producer/filmographer/publisher/etc.
Since I met Brian, I have heard countless strangers say how much StoryPeople has meant to them through the years, usually offering personal information in a way that doesn’t shock me, only because I’ve spent a life in theatre.
Many of you use Brian’s name when you refer to the art, but a fair amount of you credit StoryPeople, as if the artist and the company are interchangeable.
Now of course, this is a sensitive topic given recent events, but honestly, this is has perplexed me for a while and when I read Toni Morrison's essay, something clicked.
(Admittedly, this is another bias, a trigger, mainly stemming from my former job as an artist-educator. The order and accuracy of words matter. Words are not interchangeable in a script or in a relationship. And neglecting to cite sources accurately can lose you friends or get you fired.)
All of the comments and experiences you share, move us. The words used to describe how you met Brian's work or how his art functions in your life, involve both extraordinary and innocuous circumstances. They are perfect examples of how an artist can set you in motion, reveal something hidden, give you a sense of where you are so you can see the direction you wish to go.
And it's this power of opinion, the language you use, that I'd like to address.
Because the other thing I've noticed about Brian, is that his audience is incredibly vocal about what is liked or not liked, requesting this or that in a particular way - and I've never quite seen that sort of relationship between artist and audience. I wonder if you speak this way to all the actors and writers and visual artists and designers in your lives. I wonder if you feel this permission specifically with Brian because he is so accessible to you on social media... I wonder, if over the years, this accessibility blurred the line a bit between the company and the artist...
Your candor invites mine.
The name on all of your favorite prints, on every card, and on all the sculptures is Brian Andreas.
The group of individuals that works for the company called StoryPeople, has rotated throughout the years under the anonymous title of the Crew. They fulfill your orders, print out your products, answer your questions, and even build and paint all but a very small percentage of the sculptures that have been available through the years. (Though each was originally designed by Brian, only the prototypes were actually made and painted by him). The Crew has been and continues to be a lovely and sincere group of people dedicated to their jobs.
However, they never created the images you came to know as StoryPeople. They never wrote the words to the stories that touched your hearts so closely that it seemed they were written for you in a particular moment you needed them most.
That was an artist.
Which leads me to my request:
Purchase whatever you like from whomever you choose, but be accurate when you talk about what it is that touches your heart – especially if it’s via email or on social media.
That’s a fair exchange between you and any artist.
Think of some of your favorite visual artists... how do you refer to them?… Or your favorite writers?… do you refer to them by the publishing house or company that distributes their work?
You refer to them by name.
It's more than attribution, it's an attention to detail that honors the grit, deep intelligence, insatiable curiosity, desire and discipline it takes to create a life as an artist.
always in motion,