All artists need some encouragement now and then, and an inspiring interview with a successful artist might be just what you need for that little boost. Read the excerpt from an interview with artist Nancy Reyner to find out how she remains optimistic, finds inspiration and encourages her students to explore.
The complete interview by Neely McLaughlin, will be published in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market. Purchase a copy of the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market (available in late October 2013) or subscribe to ArtistsMarketOnline.com to get the complete interview when it becomes available in October.
Keep creating and good luck!
Nancy Reyner: The Optimistic Artist, by Neely McLaughlin
Artist and teacher Nancy Reyner chooses to be an optimist. For her, this choice clearly shapes all she does. “To me, optimism is a muscle,” she explains. Exercising a positive outlook is a way of life for Reyner. She illustrates the importance of having a positive perspective by talking about artists and color. “If we have fifty colors in front of us, we zoom in on the colors we hate, and we say, ‘I’m having a lousy day,’” she explains. For a painter like Reyner, honing in on unappealing colors is a powerful illustration. Negative thinking negates the beauty of color. An important point to Reyner is that, once established, negative thinking reinforces itself. Nevertheless, the lovely, attractive colors are still there, and, Reyner insists, we can choose to see them. “It’s choice. The choices are out there,” she says.
The idea that it is possible to shape her thinking and thus her life has been important for Reyner. Both for artistic endeavors and life in general, “It’s a very empowering thought.” But Reyner does not see it as a universal philosophy. She realizes that some people find this concept unappealing or unfruitful, and she is sensitive to differing perspectives. Her enthusiasm comes from experiencing the benefits of creating a positive perspective. “For me it’s been an interesting concept to play with. It’s not for everybody,” she explains. “We all have our own individual personalities and life paths. And as artists we all incorporate that into our lives, either paralleling how we feel about life or not.”
Reyner’s perspectives on art and life clearly run parallel. Reyner’s empowering philosophy of conscious optimism inspires her artistic passion. “If I look at my paintings, my books, and my teaching, they all revolve around that main focus of how I run my life,” she says. Bringing ideas into existence is an essential part of the artistic project. Reyner understands the artist’s challenge of bringing a creative project into being as similar to the challenge of bringing a positive perspective to difficult circumstances. She sees exercising optimism as an artistic endeavor. Clearly her personal philosophy permeates her life, inspiring her to create her own work and to facilitate the creative pursuits of others through workshops. “I don’t want to show up in front of my students or in front of my easel either one without feeling a passion, without feeling lucky, happy, and grateful,” she explains. “I don’t want to give someone a negative experience.”
A Year Off
Perhaps the most dramatic testimony to Reyner’s commitment to maintaining passion is the fact that she took all of 2011 off. “That year off was radical. I didn’t realize how radical,” she recalls. What makes Reyner’s “year off” stand out as extreme is this: She went into that year with no particular plan. In particular, she did not take a year to paint as much as possible, to write a book, to develop a new workshop series, or to try new techniques and materials. In other words, she devoted the year to maintaining her passion. She explains, “It was a real gift for myself to take off and re-think what I want to do.”
She remembers,“When I said ‘off’ some of my friends had a trouble understanding what that meant. They said, ‘Oh you’re going to be painting.’” But Reyner had something different in mind. “I’m not going to be doing anything,” she would explain. “I’m just going to find out where my inspiration comes from.” In the course of pursuing the elusive inspiration, Reyner let go and gave herself the space she knew she needed, even stepping away from her own painting. She recalls, “I ended up painting a little bit, but I didn’t teach at all. I didn’t write at all. I just kind of enjoyed life.”
The year off, 2011, marks an important shift from one stage of Reyner’s artistic life to another. Prior to her year off, Reyner was heavily involved in the arts scene in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area and had been for years. Moving to the Southwest from New York after her marriage, Reyner had a desire for such involvement. “Coming from New York, I had a lot of energy,” Reyner says. She had, after all, worked herself through graduate school by working three part-time jobs. With gallery work experience and a background in arts administration, she joined boards and was engaged in fund raising for contemporary arts. “I did everything you could possibly think of,” she says. “I was very into grassroots and encouraging new artists.” She started a monthly happy hour for any artist in New Mexico interested in teaming up with other artists. The larger group, Artist’s Voice, now connects about one hundred and fifty people. For a time, she had critique groups twice a week, with six or seven participants coming together to discuss art. Although she enjoyed this period in her career and reflects on it fondly, things have changed. When Reyner took her year off, she pulled back from this involvement.
“I quit everything,” she says. In retrospect, she suspects that some of this involvement was a way to avoid painting. “It’s scary to paint,” Reyner admits. “It gives the illusion of painting if you’re around a lot of artists.” When she took her year off, she unraveled herself from these commitments. At the end of the year, Reyner was ready to return to painting and teaching, but she has moved into a place of less involvement in the arts scene. Her lifestyle has changed significantly, she says. “Basically, I’m just by myself. I’m happy, I go out to teach, and I’m in the public, but otherwise, I love just being in my studio, painting, writing, and being alone.”
Artist and Teacher
The fact that Reyner measures the success of her year off in terms of its beneficial effect on her teaching indicates that she sees teaching as central to her artistic life. It is not merely a way to achieve financial stability or a distraction from painting. The connection between her identity as an artist and as a teacher is evident in the simultaneous development of these facets of Reyner’s artistic life. As she tells it, she seems to have become an artist through the teaching of art. Although her parents were both teachers, Reyner did not set out to become a teacher. She did not see herself as an artist either.
As an undergraduate student, Reyner took a variety of art classes. She was eager to experiment and to learn. “I took everything I possibly could,” she says. At this time, “I said, ‘I’m with all these artists. This is cool!’” Although Reyner was fascinated and impressed by the artists around her, she did not think of herself as part of the group. “I never saw myself as an artist. I just liked to learn art,” she says. A silk screening course in which Reyner struggled tremendously ended up giving Reyner an unexpected opportunity to teach art. “Everyone in the class was making quantities of prints so successfully. I couldn’t get more than one print off the ground,” she says with a laugh. “I kept making every mistake in the book. You name it: Holding the squeegee wrong. Mixing the paint wrong.” As the course was drawing to a close, Reyner had virtually nothing to show. To her surprise, the teacher invited her to be an assistant for a summer teaching program. “I could not believe that I got asked because I was definitely the worst student in the class,” Reyner remembers. Working her way through college, she agreed to take on the job because she needed the work. This job would be the beginning of Reyner’s ongoing teaching career.
Reyner remains enthusiastic about teaching. “They say ‘people that teach can’t [do],’ and I disagree with that,” says Reyner. “To me teaching is an art form.” She now gives workshops regularly and clearly takes pleasure in this work. She explains, “I’ll spend hours on lesson plans to figure out the best way to disseminate information in a fun, creative, playful way.” If her teaching is itself an art, it is also a way of sharing her artistic vision, and perhaps more importantly, her optimistic vision of life. Part of that vision is designing her workshops to be open to the varying perspectives of attendees. “Everybody needs something different,” she says. Reyner is responsive to students, seeking to meet them wherever they are. “I don’t try to impose my philosophy on people. I like to think of it as a buffet style workshop, where I have many things, and someone can completely ignore my take on life and still have fun, and learn techniques and processes and everything.”
Reyner also promotes exploration. “My favorite thing is to encourage artists and students to create their own personal vision,” she says. People often have a hard time having fun. Reyner wants people to experiment, to play like kindergarteners, but it can be difficult to get adults to do so at workshops. “We’re just so trained to be negative and self-critical,” she notes. Watching her workshop students, she can tell when they are falling into this self-critical thinking. “I can see them saying, ‘Well, I don’t like this.’” This negative assessment in the early stages has consequences. “Saying you don’t like it [causes you] to create something you don’t like.” She strives to help her students get rid of distractions and self-criticism and embrace playful exploration. Helping students in an art workshop respond more positively to their own exploratory work, Reyner believes, can help them in life. This belief, so clearly a result of her own positive outlook, in turn inspires Reyner’s passion for sharing with others.