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The Freedom to Transcend Mediocrity

June 2, 2013

A significant amount of conversation at the 2013 American Glass Guild Conference was dedicated to defining what makes a piece of artwork successful, and to the nature of autonomous pieces.

Independent or Autonomous?
Autonomous panels of art glass are stand-alone artworks. They are conceived without particular regard for any specific location or architectural setting. They are concerned primarily with an immediate viewer and the lighting required for them to transmit the intended effect upon the viewer.
Antique Jewel_Sm Dtl_26May2013 Unlike other media, art glass tends to “manage” the space it is in. It often utilizes the surrounding space and available light to broaden its impact, taking possession and control of more than its immediate position. In that respect, it does not require those elements, and some wondered if it might be more appropriate to use the designation “independent” rather than “autonomous”.

What makes a panel a successful piece of art?
How does it journey beyond its simple inherent value and functionality? Some would say a mark of success is the ability to transition from a gallery setting to an architectural one. If a panel loses none of its impact or message from being installed, then it is a strong solid concept.
However, some panels are designed to never be so installed. They are so self-contained as to eschew repurposing. They can never be anything other than autonomous in the most basic sense of the word.
The greater mark of achievement seems to begin with the initial concept, the birth of the idea, and the manner in which the artist approaches it. If there is no serious thought to the approach there is rarely a result that transcends mediocrity. Perhaps one of my college professors had it right: if something is worth taking time out of your life to make, then take the time to do it the best you can. Give the expenditure of your time respect and it will be evident in your finished work.

The Issue of Galleries and Serious Artists
Virginia Raguin, noted historian of the glass world, made an excellent point that many artists tend to be oblivious to, that the whole “gallery” system is a recent concept, only about 150 years old. Galleries are mainly responsible for creating demand for “originality.” They engendered society’s desire to be familiar with the artists as much as, if not more so than, with the artworks produced. In her terms, galleries sell “the expressiveness of the artist.” A comment was made from the crowd that Patrick Reyntiens, another highly respected glass artist, has admonished those working in glass to “. . . show the world you are an artist first . . . don’t just work in glass.” Many heads nodded with agreement. The consensus appeared to be that a serious artist is not media-specific, but explores and experiments throughout life, and the maturity of technique, style and knowledge resonate in the work produced, whatever the medium. The creative process is life-long. True success is measured in terms of all the pieces made, each transcended by the next improvement, until the light radiating from the piece is the one that also shines from within the artist.

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