Guest blogger Barbara Klar shares a life-changing experience and thoughts on critique and growth.
I first saw Artwear while I was dragging a suitcase full of jewelry that I had made around SoHo back in the early 1980’s. I was looking for other jewelry artists and their studios, peering into the top windows of the buildings and hoping to find a place where I could pull a chair up to a bench and work. I had no money, yet I was imagining that I could clean someone’s studio in exchange for bench time and a place to create.
Immediately the large windows caught my attention from across the street. I stood outside, afraid to open the door and enter such a beautiful and intimidating world. I’d never seen such interesting metal work displayed as art. Art to Wear. Artwear. “What is this place?” I wondered.
It wasn’t long before I began to hear about Robert Lee Morris. He was the first jewelry designer to educate us to think of jewelry outside the box. Robert created this concept of Art to Wear. At long last, I felt as though I had found a kindred spirit!
He created a magical and wondrous world, and I wanted to be a part of it. I had heard through the grapevine that Robert held “open Sundays” at ArtWear and this is how they worked: a hopeful jewelry designer would stand in line with samples in hand and have a look-see with Robert. It was formal. Snaking outside on the sidewalk and around the store, the line was long and no one talked to each other.
Soon it was my turn. Robert was very silent and very tall. He looked at my work intently, turning it over in his hands and peering at every detail and every flaw. At the time, I had been working freelance for a leather designer, collecting scraps of leather in pinks, blues, reds and black. I would sew the skins together, stuff them with trapunto and rivet shapes of copper and silver with semi-precious gemstones onto these creations to make large gauntlets, cuffs and belts. I would engrave the metal with “graffiti” symbols I had picked up from the streets of the East Village.
Robert suggested quietly but firmly that I should do this, change that. He looked at me and never smiled. He said I could come back once I had made these changes and meet with him again. I left, crushed.
I went back to my studio and stomped around for a bit, insulted that he had criticized my vision! After a week of this I realized he had insight, and that if I wanted to be in the game, I had to play the game. Needless to say, I made the changes Robert had suggested. At the next “open Sunday” he greeted my effort with a clap of his hands and invited me into his gallery for a collective show. I was overjoyed! This was the very first time I began to sell my work and to develop a collection. It was the beginning.
Looking back, I realize how brave it is for an artist to put themselves out there. To expose ourselves to the public, it seems as if our work is attached to our heart and is held in our hands. When I moved to New York City from the Midwest, I believed that all I had to do was show my work to the world and they would be eager to receive it.
I didn’t realize that compromise and adjustments are part of the process in how the work gets seen. I didn’t realize the challenges that would be involved in finding a space to create the work, as well as all the compromise it would take just to get some exposure. Whether it’s an alteration in design or a flexibility in presentation, I believe that an artist must develop “psychic immunity” and realize that our art is not the only thing we are, nor does it represent in totality who we are.
The ability to be open and conduct a dialogue about our art is a necessary skill to possess. It is a skill that must detach from ego when interacting with galleries and clients. I discovered that while an artist must be true to their vision and the telling of their story, they must never be afraid to expose themselves in dialogue about the work as it is released into the world. Feedback and compromise can be a very good thing.
Barbara Klar is a metalsmith and jewelry designer who creates wearable art and tabletop jewelry. Her work is collected by celebrities and featured in print, television and film. Currently she creates custom work out of her studio in the Hudson Valley of NY and is working on her book, “You’re So Talented”.