What is Fieldwork? And Why Artists Need To It
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.”― Terry Pratchett
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, Ph.D.
Ever guiltily scoot out to a flea market, museum or city park instead of writing or making art?
Next time you take a day off (or a week off) from creating to go on an adventure, hold your head high.
Don’t label it as goofing off.
Label it as fieldwork.
Fieldwork for artists is a form of archaeology.
It is digging down and around for the what, where, and why of your unique genius.
Successful artists I’ve interviewed insist both local and foreign forays improve your art, and even art business.
And they do it in 6 different ways.
6 Ways Fieldwork Benefits Artists
#1 Fieldwork Can Prevent Art-Related Burnout
Fieldwork can result in two kinds of treasure: physical treasure in the form of objects and mental treasure in the form of inspiration.
Unlike its evil cousin resistance fieldwork has you racing to your studio, not from your studio.
Michigan mixed media artist Graceann Warn (www.graceannwarn.com) gets so inspired after her art-related sojourns that as she says: “I can’t get back to my studio fast enough, I have speeding tickets to prove it.”
And if inspiration wasn’t enough reason to do fieldwork, there is the benefit to your sales.
Taking yourself to a place that excites you not only lifts you out of the “same old” on wings of wonder, but it also helps you make work that sells.
#2 Fieldwork Can Increase Your Sales
“As an artist, all you have is your mind. Your mind is your best commodity. The more you enrich your mind the more you have to offer. That is your value,” said agent Lilla Rogers .”
“Another key to success in the art realm is to stay engaged, stay passionate. You must keep exploring and adventuring. Passion sells.”
“People buy your joy,” Rogers said.
“You need to understand the culture at large and the markets to find the best audience for your unique, inspired work. As an art agent, I know that my busiest artists are the ones who are having the most fun. They know how to tap into that place.”
#3 Fieldwork Keeps You Curious
Textile artist Frank Connet insists that his frequent, happiness-inducing escapes into the Michigan woods and other wild places, have done yeomen service to keep his pieces fresh, meaningful and in demand over the years.
Connet was making shibori long before he realized his unique way of practicing this art of sewing, bundling and dying fabric resembled structures of ice formations he later came to love to photograph (see image on left.)
“My fieldwork forays into the natural world keep me intrigued and curious about my work and about what surprise nature will have in store for me around the next bend,” he said.
#4 Fieldwork Can Inspire Calm & Instill Confidence in You
Connet’s fieldwork in the forest has strengthened his art, his powers of observation and helped him stay calm and confident under deadline pressures.
Here we see an image of a piece of northern California beach kelp that intrigued Connet.
He took the seaweed photo years after forming the copper piece seen beside.
Connet later noticed the resemblance between the kelp and his shibori on copper work and was intrigued.
For Connet it was confirmation that his artwork was on target, aligning with his lifelong interior musings on form and pattern.
Fieldwork can help you confirm what needs confirming in your art or writing as well.
But what if nature doesn’t do it for you?
#5 Fieldwork Encourages Art-Related Epiphanies
What if natural or beautiful places are just not where your muses dwell?
I walk the nature-laden section of my urban neighborhood a few times a week, along a picturesque series of canals.
On a good day, I admire the beauty of the quaint painted bungalows lining the waterways. I stare at cats sleeping on patio railings and spy egrets with their reflections mirrored beneath them in the still water.
I get less stressed, even relaxed but rarely do I have art-related epiphanies.
The epiphany days for me come when I explore the alleys between the backs of the gingerbread houses that front the canals.
In the alleys, I find old wood-paned windows from the 1950s, car fenders from the 1970s, lost letters and odd handmade toys lying scattered against impromptu murals.
The combinations of weird and mysterious things, stir the kettle of my brain.
How did that brand new pair of boxer shorts get on the decrepit rocking horse anyway?
Even if I don’t bring anything home with me, I leave inspired. The ideas and the found ephemera for my assemblage often converge in abandoned places.
For others of us, like Judy Wise, traveling further afield is just the ticket.
#6 Fieldwork Injects New Life Into Stale Marketing
Wise is a successful, Oregon painter, teacher, and writer whose travels constantly feed her business with joy for life and art.
Wise now uses photos of her professional art classes abroad to add color and stories to her social media.
But I find her personal fieldwork-related art journal pages to be the most magnetic aspect of her marketing. They seem to stand out on noisy sites like Facebook.
To the left is her personal double page journal spread from before and during a trip to Oaxaca that the artist shared with her followers online.
What a fun, imaginative way to take your readers on a romantic mini-voyage.
This is a way to have your travels/goofing off also serve as playful marketing for you as a creative.
Would you be comfortable sharing a few art journal pages of your local or foreign adventures with your blog readers or social media followers?
So Go Away
So go away and do fieldwork.
Even to do a little metaphorical archeology in a new nook in your old neighborhood.
Let your jottings, drawings or memories from your sojourns remind you of your unique take on all that is.
Beatrix Potter was the queen of fieldwork, read this post to find out more:
Or tuck a great beach read about one of your favorite artists into your carry-on when you go on your next adventure.Check out: