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January 2012

Preservation, Conservation - Essential Documentation When Working With Alternative or Unproven Materials

Andy Goldworthy twigs photoPhotographic documentation (including video and film) can be especially important when working with alternative or unproven materials. While the temporal nature of the materials may be a critical characteristic that makes the work interesting, the documentation may be the only aspect that survives for posterity.  A photo clearly establishes exactly how the artist visualized the work, fresh - before it ages, degrades, or disappears.

For example, Andy Goldsworthy frequently works with seasonal materials like leaves, ice, or twigs.  While the work of Andy Goldsworthy may be an extreme example of temporal materials, it demonstrates the importance of documenting your work. If you haven't seen the movie "Rivers and Tides" (affiliate link) I highly recommend it! It is my favorite artist video of all time.

Andy Goldsworthy  art work using red maple leavesAndy Goldsworthy's work is a superb realization for making art from alternative materials and still creating a market for the work. Goldsworthy actually makes a living selling the photographic images in books, calendars, etc. The marketing of the photographs in print media even produces a lower-priced, democratic way for a larger audience to support and appreciate his work.

The use of alternative or ephemeral materials didn't stop Goldsworthy from making a living from his art. As an artist using alternative materials, you just might have to reconsider options other than storage in a box, hanging on the wall, or placing objects on a pedestal.

Berman White Plexiglas and post consumer recycled plastic trash transformed into a necklacesNshoulder96
Necklace uses post-consumer recycled
plastic trash combined with repurposed
acrylic by Harriete Estel Berman.
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander
Model: Jen Ohara

The realization of an idea is the ultimate expression of art.  Documenting the work, one way or another, helps the artist earn a living through promotion to exhibitions, collectors, publishers, or other consumers.  Often, the documentation of the experiment is just as important as the object lasting a lifetime or 20 lifetimes.


This post was updated on February 19, 2022, to provide current links.

  BlackPlastic4823 bent armAH
Recycle Black Plastic is from the Recycled Collection.  The series uses post-consumer plastic trash as a commentary about the impact of plastic on our environment.

Preservation, Conversation, Restoration - To Polish or Not To Polish, That is a Question!

As I was writing the previous post in the series Preservation, Conservation, Restoration, it occurred to me that San Francisco jewelry maker, merry renk, could offer some experienced perspective and opinions about the issues of preservation, conservation, and restoration. At the age of 90, merry renk enjoyed a renaissance of renewed interest in her metalwork from the mid-20th century.  Numerous exhibitions at major museums have included renk's jewelry and wedding crowns.

How would merry renk want her decades of work to look in an exhibition? Restored with a pristine finish or with the more subdued appearance from 50 years of hand polishing? Since I knew merry renk for years as a San Francisco Bay area kindred spirit, I went right to the source and asked merry.

Below is her response:

"Your question is one that I am dealing with this week.  I am selling a vintage pair of earrings --- and I am having pierced ear wires attached to replace the screw backs that these earrings were made with [originally].  I considered asking my customer if she would like it to have its vintage color, but I have decided that when my earrings go to the customer, I want them to have the best finish that my jewelry can have. I make the choice."

Merry Renk Atoms Necklacemerry renk continued, "That is a  question that can only be answered by each artist---and collector.  My good friend, a collector, Steven Cabella, wants the silver jewelry to have unpolished surfaces and with the patina of age but, I do not like that idea. Since most of my silver pieces have areas that are polished, contrasted with areas that are oxidized black---so if my pieces are exhibited without polishing the true colors that I have strived for, the high shine of silver against flat black will not exist, therefore my jewelry in his collection cannot be exhibited in the original combination, missing my intentions."

Merry Renk Folded"For instance, FOLDED, from 1954, the hairband that LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) bought and exhibited---I polished it, the outside is polished and the interior oxidized black, before I sent it off and they polished it to an even higher shine.....and I was so pleased because it looked as if I had just finished it last week...I am proud of the piece, not the age."

"I am aware of Steve Cabella's opinion [about his collection of silver objects and jewelry], but now he knows how we jewelers feel about how we present our work. Silver tarnishes in one month!!!"

"I know that bronze sculpture, if polished and vintage color is removed, lowers the price---but jewelry is another situation."

"I am delighted to receive a question from Harriete!!!!"
merry renk

Thank you merry.

I hope that anyone who reads merry's comments will think about how they want their work shown in 20 years, 40 years, or 200 years from now. As we explore this topic of preservation, conservation, and restoration, I'd love to hear your opinion as a collector, curator, or artist and maker.

This post was updated on February 27, 2023 for clarity. 

Preservation, Conservation, What is Appropriate Restoration?

At the 2003 SNAG Conference in San Francisco, I listened to one of the most surprising lectures I've ever heard. Between the hours of 8:00 - 9:00 in the morning a collector, Steven Cabella, gave a lecture titled, "Twenty-five years of Collecting Studio Craft Jewelry: Insights, Observations, and Historical Patina". His collections are mid-20th-century objects including furniture, though this lecture focused on his collection of mid-20th-century jewelry.

For over an hour Cabella offered strong opinions from his unique perspective as a collector that I had never heard before. It seems that he often loans objects from his collection to exhibitions -- his support of the arts community is commendable. What shocked me though was his STRONG opinions about the preservation and conservation of mid-20th-century objects. In his lecture, he railed against the restoration of jewelry in his collection such as polishing the work to its original finish.

Let me make this perfectly clear:

  • The silver jewelry was originally exhibited and sold with a highly polished finish in the mid-20th century.
  • In one example, the silver jewelry was restored in the original maker's studio (by the maker's son).
  • Cabella did not want the silver jewelry restored to its original appearance but wanted the patina of 50 years to be evident.

Cabella very consciously wanted the patina of wear and fine scratches from a 50-year lifespan to remain and not be removed.

As a maker, I was conflicted by his opinion.  I had never questioned my own expectation that my work should be cleaned & polished for every exhibition. 

I wonder if the original maker would want the jewelry polished for an exhibition or not?
What is appropriate restoration? Should 50-year-old jewelry look like "new" even 50 years later?

Would the maker think the jewelry looked better with the "patina" of 50 years? Or should artwork look "aged" just because it is old?  Should older work look its age?

I don't know. I only know that this particular collector wanted the jewelry in his collection to not look "like new".

As an artist, I have to make choices in materials all the time.  And the decisions that I make today will affect collectors and curators somewhere out in the future (. . . hopefully).  


Everready Working Woman by Harriete Estel Berman from 1984.

The sculpture shown above is from 1984. Titled, Everready Working Woman, this piece is an autobiographical sculpture. It was shown in an exhibition, Humor in Craft, in Phoenix during the 2012 SNAG Conference.

When work that is 28 years old goes out to an exhibition, should I touch up the chips in the painted finish, fix the lipstick, and polish the metal?  I certainly planned to have the work look great for many years after its creation.  So how long is long enough to not look old?  When is it OK to start looking at its age?

Have you ever thought about this issue? Any comments or solutions? Stay tuned to the next post where merry renk offers her opinion (uniquely seasoned and reasoned by 92 years of experience showing her silver jewelry).



Everready Working Woman is not a found object. It is carefully constructed by the artist, Harriete Estel Berman, using traditional metalsmithing skills to create an appliance that appears to look like a manufactured object.

Details include a real drill chuck in the front, optional mixing beaters.
A Wonder Woman electric cord lariat with a suction cup plug at the end.
View the spark gun through the yellow plastic window.
A lipstick cartridge fits up inside the handle.
The six-color eye shadow compartment housed in raygun body contains real make-up.

Copper and brass construction with painted or nickel-plated finish.

This post was updated on February 27, 2023

Everyready Working Woman

Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation - Practical Recommendations

Preservation and Conservation of art or craft media starts with the artist. Yes, before work leaves the studio for a show, gallery, or exhibition I think artists and makers should take concrete actions by including care, display, and maintenance instructions with their work.

For less expensive items, care instructions may be on a hangtag or a sheet of paper included with the bill of sale. Issues may be whether the work is dishwasher safe, ovenproof, washable, fade-resistant, proper cleaning methods, recommended waxes, or best framing methods for the media, etc. This can protect the artist or maker from dissatisfied customers that did not know how to care for the work properly.

For one-of-a-kind work, I write complete instructions and glue them to my interior shipping box, and include an additional copy in the box. Informing the future owner or exhibition sponsor how to properly care for your work may help protect your work.

MaintenanceInstructions for Care and Maintenance should be very specific including recommendations for specific cleaning products and maintenance techniques.

PleaseWEARgloves Include disposable gloves in every box.  While museum professionals would normally wear gloves when handling artwork or craft, not every exhibition situation is in a museum. Protect your work from fingerprints. Acid and oils from hands can damage wood, metal, fiber, and paper. Fingerprints look unattractive on glass, ceramics, or metal.


Windows of Memory © 2003
Recycled tin cans
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Consider the life expectancy of the materials, archival options, and maintenance issues.

For example, tin cans (my primary materials for the past 30+ years) rust and fade. While I can not prevent this I provide instructions including:

  • Avoid display away from windows, or strong sunlight.
  • Wax artwork for protection from moisture and fingerprints.  

While there is no assurance that the collector will be able to protect your work, it does protect the artist from accusations. If your work fades and the owner complains, at least you can demonstrate that the owner was informed.

The use of unproven or experimental materials presents some unpredictable outcomes, both good and bad.
As an artist, try to think ahead for twenty to 200 years. Think about the future of your work and your reputation.

Do you have any ideas for archival options and maintenance issues for protecting the work that you can share? Please leave a comment.


Below is an image of the recently finished seder plate Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah followed by an example - a complete set of instructions for Unpacking, Display, Functional Use, Maintenance, and Packing.

  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah
A Seder Plate for TuBishvat by Harriete Estel Berman
Constructed from recycled tin cans, 10k gold, and s/silver rivets.

Maintence and Shipping Instructions for Artwork page 1 examplepage1

Maintenance and SHIPPING PAGE 2 sample instructions for shipping and maintaining art and craftin

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation with Alternative or Unproven Materials

The previous post on ASK Harriete opened issues regarding the use of impermanent materials, long-term preservation, and conservation of artwork (or lack thereof due to unproven materials).  The post provoked some very interesting comments. 

Now to examine specific issues more closely related to alternative or temporal materials.

Yes, artists should explore unproven materials, testing and rejecting preliminary trials before deciding what merits going into their final work. Alternative or unproven materials convenient for a conceptual test, may or may not be appropriate for the final work of art.

Dirk Van Erp Lamp
The original patina of Dirk Van Erp Lamps
is essential  for the signature appearance
from Dirk Van Erp.

It seems to me that the primary question is the intent of the artist. "Do you want the piece to last . . . or be an ephemeral phenomenon?" Does a time-varying patina add to the piece . . . or is sustained color a critical characteristic? Will aging enhance the work . . . or will disintegration contribute to the conceptual theme?

The expected life and varying condition of artwork is something the artist should knowingly choose and not blithely ignore.  What will the work look like 10 minutes later, 10 months, 10 years later, or 10 decades later?

So the issue is not permanence or impermanence in itself, but whether the temporal elements are consistent with the intended conceptual theme of the work. Ten years may be stretching the life expectancy of paper jewelry,  but well within the expectation for public art.

Going back to the example in the previous post, I think it is well within normal expectations that a turned wooden bowl has a stable finish (assuming ideal storage and display conditions) for 25 - 50 years, at least.  I can not believe that the maker intended for the finish to develop "problems." Thus, going back to the artist for a remedy for an unstable finish may be appropriate. 

I also wonder if the applied finish was within the manufacturer's expectation for the medium? Isn't it better to know what will happen than to be ignorant? Was the wooden bowl labeled, "experimental finish?"

Another question comes to mind.
ShippingboxWhat about storage and maintenance throughout the years?
Work owned by a collector in a domestic environment (which is usually exposed to sunlight, and lacking temperature and humidity controls) is a completely different situation than if it was stored in museum storage in a controlled environment. Were there recommendations from the artist that were followed for storage and display?

This leads to the artist's obligation to communicate what is known about materials to a prospective buyer.  Clarity about the temporal nature of alternative materials is critical if collectors or museums are buying your work. If you, as the artist, have any concerns, then it would be best to clearly state the situation every time your work is on display or available for sale. A declaration about this fact will protect your work and your reputation.


The next posts in this series are about Preservations, Conservation, & Experimentation with Alternate and Unproven Materials. 

  • Practical Recommendations for Care, Maintenance, Storage, and Exhibition.
  • Design for Repair
  • Photo documentation of temporal or alternative materials.

 Are there other issues that readers of ASK Harriete are wondering about? Email or comment. What am I missing?

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation -- Using Alternative Materials

A reader raises a profound question about the use of impermanent materials in an artists' or makers' work.

I have a question about how far a maker's responsibility goes for the 'lastingness' of a product. This was brought to mind recently because someone had a museum-quality bowl by a famous artist that was developing serious finish issues due to the use of polyethylene glycol as a soak to preserve the color in the material. We also sometimes see pieces put together with questionable adhesives, etc. I understand the importance of experimentation, but it troubles me as my responsibilities include the preservation and conservation of artworks.

Is this a question that has gotten much or any attention? 

I was really hoping that this was a question that artists were asking themselves (and each other) on some level.

Signed, A Concerned Curator
Glasses without a person so we can look closely at preservation, conservation, experimentation

Dear Concerned Curator,

Issues of the impermanence of materials, experimentation with materials, and long-term preservation and conservation of artworks are really complex.

The use of experimental or untested materials is a reflection of our society in a way. We applaud artists that use new materials or untested methods. The tried and true may be perceived as boring, been there, done that. Even the idea of "permanent" anything isn’t given very high regard. Buy cheap, express the "now," and throw it away seems like a pervasive trend of our culture.

Let's expand on the issues swirling around the use of alternative, untested, or experimental materials. Conservation becomes a concern of the owner, collector, or museum. I am betting that museum curators and professionals need more solutions.  To buy, or not to exhibit or not to exhibit when just the act of putting work on display (even in a  controlled environment) may cause further damage. 

Let's itemize some of the profound issues:

  • the impermanence of materials,
  • experimentation with alternative or unproven materials, and
  • long term preservation and conservation of artwork.

Conflicting perspectives abound on these issues which would provide topic material for endless debates.  So here are my dueling opinions. 

The artist has a responsibility to consciously choose how the work is made and what is intended for long-term display (if any). Basically, I think this leads to four possible scenarios from the artist's perspective:

1) Consciously choose to make impermanent work and know it will not last. The work of Andy Goldsworthy or of Eva Hesse are just such examples.

2) Consciously choose to make permanent work and use the best materials available.  e.g. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.

3) Consciously choose the risk of using unknown materials and accept whatever the outcome.

4) Ignore the impermanence or untested aspect of your materials and pretend indifference.

The first three are valid approaches and should be honestly communicated to any audience or potential purchaser.  The fourth scenario is questionable.

The materials used in a work will certainly affect its long-term conservation and preservation - and possibly its value.

Raise awareness
This question should certainly be on the minds of all artists who want to have their work purchased.  Artists have every right to choose how to make their work.  

What is the responsibility of the artist during fabrication?

What is the responsibility of the artist/owner? For storage? For display?

What is the responsibility of the exhibitor? Lighting? Hanging? For some work, just the fact that it is on display is destructive? 

What about care and maintenance?
Is polishing to restore the original finish a destructive act?
Is refinishing, removing grunge, old varnish, crackled surface restoration or destruction?

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW where they discuss how to preserve wood furniturefurnitureIf you ever watch Antiques Roadshow you hear the voice of the experts. Each material seems to have its own definition for proper care and maintenance.

As an artist, do you think about how to care for your work? 

Should the collector/curator have the same responsibility? It might surprise the artist to consider that a collector/curator may not have the same expectation for care and maintenance, or original finish as the original maker.

Please tell us what you think?

Have you ever thought about this before? 


The next posts will break up this enormous issue into a series of thoughts. I've heard opinions from collectors. I have practical recommendations for my work.  What about you?

This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

The best website or blog evaluation!

Years ago I was looking for ways to evaluate my website.  

I tried different websites to test for my website and blog, ASK Harriete, . . .  and then learned the harsh reality - my website needs work. Welcome to managing a website yourself.

Sitebeam results  for Harriete Estel Berman

What distinguishes a website testing service?  I no longer have any idea, but the issue is still important. Google is not as transparent as it used to be about search ranking. Security, spelling, images, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are still important but cloaked in more secrecy to avoid people gaming the system like they did in the past. 

What is important now?  Updating your website. Avoiding stagnant content.   

SiteBeam offers a whole list of web site or blog evaluation criteriaThe free test offers information on multiple categories:

  • broken links
  • content keywords
  • headings
  • printability
  • twitter
  • W3C compliance
  • social interest
  • stylesheets
  • broken files
  • incoming links
  • spelling
  • poplularity
  • url format
  • link states
  • freshness
  • search engine results
  • facebook
  • readability
  • analytics
  • alternative text
  • speed
  • visual interest
  • image usage
  • links
  • search ranking

Look for a website testing tool every so often.   See what happens.

While I am a rank amateur in web design and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), this test raised my awareness of many SEO evaluation standards. I didn't know that links from social networks, spelling, titles, headers, or image ALT text (descriptions of your images) had such an important impact in evaluating my site. (Since this was a free test, many results were withheld.)  Still, I have lots of information to work with in the next weeks.


UPDATE 2013: This post was created in January 2012. Since then I have learned about free tools provided with Google Webmaster Tools (and changed again more recently.) Find all ASK Harriete posts on Search Engine Optimization for artists and craftspeople with this link.

In February 27, 2023 I tried  

I am always willing to try an experiment.

This post was updated on February 27, 2023

Links to information mentioned on Jay Whaley Blog Talk Radio with Harriete Estel Berman

On January 5, 2012, I was live with Jay Whaley Blog Talk Radio

Below are links to information that was mentioned on the radio show. A one-stop resource for our conversation.

If we mentioned anything that isn't listed here, let me know.

Normally, I don't show a link in the text,  but it is listed here so you can copy the text easily and share it with a friend.

Let me know if you need anything else.
What's on your mind?


PencilPoint3763closeup72“Pencils Make a Point” in American Craft  Magazine is a two-page centerfold featuring the very personal and political side of Craft. Harriete Estel Berman worked for four years collecting pencils from all over the United States and internationally as a  commentary about the impact of standardized testing on education. The bell curve curtain is 15’ ht and 28’ wide.
Read this informative article from the December/January 2012 issue of American Craft online:

Amercan Craft Article Pencils Make a Point about pencil sculpture.

Do you wonder "How This Article in American Craft Came to Be" featured in American Craft magazine?   Lots more is happening including the beginning of a new video about this work, tune in to find out more.


Alyssa Endo working on the pencil sculpture on the floor.kng8.24.2010_72Are you interested in learning about the assembly of this bell curve of pencils? There is an extended page on my website with images of the fabrication from the last four years showing.



TuBishvatOlivegreenonly72.800.7481Are you interested in the design and fabrication of Harriete Estel Berman’s work in tin cans? She recently finished new work for a show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum that opens in February.  Along the way, she created a Flickr album so you can view, step by step how Harriete designed this Seder Plate from concept through every step in the fabrication.
View the finished work on her website at:


Symposiumflyer_1000WEB Forging Communities






The essence of success by Sienna Patti

The Difference Between a Goal and a Wish by Brigitte Martin




Did you know that the SNAG 2011 
Professional Development Seminar
is available online?
Recorded during the Houston SNAG Conference you can watch and listen to all six segments on the SNAG Professional Development Seminar page.

This informative programming is available online at no charge courtesy of the NEA, MJSA, and SNAG.

Issues include:

  • How to develop new markets for your work.
  • Ideas for marketing your work and visibility for your blog.
  • The importance of photography in marketing.
  • Are new standards emerging for photographic images?
  • Are the images representing your work well crafted and compelling?
  • What makes a good cover photo?
  • What camera features should I look for before I buy?
  • What are the ethics of Photoshopping images of my work?
  • Who owns the rights to the photograph?
  • What kind of "master image" should my photographer provide?

Additional discussion of all topics continues on ASK Harriete:
Here are the links to individual topics:
Niche Marketing link

Digital Images File Extensions

Photography in Flux – Three photographers

Digital Photography Handouts

Photography in Flux – Editor’s Perspective

How to Build a Better Drop Shadow

Professional Development Seminar 2010

Not Just Another Pricing Lecture

This post was updated on February 18, 2022, to provide current links.

Insurance at an Exhibition - An update!

On November 21, 2011, I wrote a post on ASK Harriete titled, No Insurance at an Exhibition...What Shall I Do?  It sparked considerable debate...and now an update!

The post concluded that exhibition sponsors should provide insurance covering participating work during an exhibition.  This is simply a minimum professional standard. Yes, there are exceptions, but this conclusion should apply to exhibitions sponsored by larger organizations and exhibitions open to nationwide or international participants.  Such "professional" level exhibitions should adhere to professional standards that are discernibly higher than a local trunk show.


Everready Working Woman by Harriete Estel Berman is a autobiographical appliance.72
Everready Working Woman © 1984
Autobiographical sculpture in the form
of a domestic appliance.
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

The post was inspired by a reader and my own personal and professional experience. More than once, I have had to say to a friend or respected colleague, "I will be in your show, but only if there is insurance."



Wishing that an exhibition offered insurance doesn't make it happen.
Wishing that you didn't have to make hard choices doesn't solve the problem.

Perhaps just as importantly, raising a difficult issue for public discussion may not solve all problems, but it certainly raises awareness. Questioning perceived problems early may cause sponsors to take a second look.

The original post revolved around two shows for an upcoming SNAG Conference. 

FIVE WEEKS LATER- good news!

ScottsdaleCultural CouncilSNAG has been in talks with the Scottsdale Cultural Council for many weeks about the insurance issue at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts.  The Cultural Council just informed SNAG that the exhibitions in the atrium of the SCPA WILL be covered by their insurance. Ultimately SNAG learned that the Risk Manager did not understand what would be produced at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts site.

SNAG logo 2012 FINAL revised mediumI have also learned that all SNAG-sponsored exhibitions are covered by insurance.

The two exhibitions (under discussion) are not SNAG-sponsored exhibitions; they are independently produced to occur concurrently with the conference to take advantage of the huge audience.

None of this was related to SNAG's budget, it was never a financial issue.

This is all good news but demonstrates how important it is to establish clear expectations about professional standards. This is not about making anyone into a bad guy. No one is a villain. Discussion and advocacy for standards are not about policing enforcement. Each artist and maker has responsibility for advocacy in their community.

Wishes may apply to magic lanterns, blowing out candles, or Santa Claus.
Goals take sweat, tears, working through frustrations, and sometimes hard decisions.



Establish a clear goal that exhibitions in which your artwork will be displayed should have insurance.  Artists/makers should be especially concerned when shipping their work to a remote location where it will be unpacked, installed, displayed, then un-installed, and repacked by someone other than themselves.

In a recent lecture at the San Francisco Metal Arts Guild symposium Forging Communities, Brigitte Martin said, "Setting a goal will lead you and direct you toward the place you want to end up."

Raise your expectations, . . .  and then you will find opportunities that meet your expectations.


This post was updated on February 18, 2022.

Magic lanterns exhibition poster from 1889


Looking for the MapQuest Version for Your Path to Success?

The New Year renews our optimism and focus on professional development, but we all have questions.
Map of San Francisco, CaliforniaWhat is your professional goal for the New Year?
Do you know how to get there?

Are you looking for the MapQuest version for your path to success? Can we offer directions?  Do you even remember MapQuest?  Really?   Now we use other navigation software....and struggle if we've lost GPS. Yikes!  You can't even get paper maps any more when you rent a car.   

I talked about this and more at Jay Whaley Blog Talk radio on Thursday, January 5, 2012.

One of my goals for the interview was to open the conversation. What are the pressing issues in the arts and crafts community?

This online radio interview is relevant to artists and makers working in all media.

  • What are the tips to success you want to know?

Subscribe to ASK Harriete for information throughout the year.


This post was updated on February 27, 2023

"Why Debt Will Kill Your Artistry" by guest author JoAnneh Nagler

Today's post by JoAnneh Nagler focuses on the impact of overextending yourself financially and how it affects your creativity. As we begin the new year, I think her words of advice are worth consideration for starting 2012.

Note: The opinions expressed by the author, JoAnneh Nagler, in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is implied.

Falling from Heaven; 48 x 60 mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerDebt is a killer.  It’s a downward spiral into a nightmare of nail-biting, stomach-churning, sleep-deprived stress, and our self-justifying doesn’t make it any better.  When we use credit to extend our standard of living, we believe that we’re making things “easier” and “better” for the moment, but what we’re really doing is just postponing pain.  

On some level, we may already know how damaging debt is, but we end up falling into the pit of debt trouble because we think we can manage it.  Over time, as our debt grows and our ability to pay diminishes—because high balances mean that it’s a struggle to pay our minimums and still fund our life—we get desperate.  We use credit to survive, making the cycle worse by using credit for our basic needs.

Beyond; 30 x 40 in mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerMost of us have experienced some large or small version of a debt cycle.  But it’s worse for the artist.  How come?  Because when debt takes a toll on our spirits and our well-being—as it inevitably will—it also takes a toll on our ability to create art. 

As artists, we need room to create—not just physical space, but breathable, quiet, wound-down ease to be able to find our way.  We need to hear the voices within us that say, “Put a wash of crimson across the top third of the canvas,” or “try welding that large piece of copper balanced on its endpoint.”  In other words, our heads cannot be filled with the chatter of debt anxiety and still be focused on our work. 

The Libertine  - 36 x 48 - Mixed Media by JoAnneh NaglerAs artists, no one is going to make us punch a time clock to get our performance piece up on its legs.  No supervisor is going to give us a delineated job description and a deadline to finish that abstract.  No press-for-a-delivery-date company president is going to insist that we complete our metal collage. 

We create in the space of discovery, and though once in a while some of us may have a gallery deadline or a show date looming large, most of us will have to discipline ourselves—day in and day out—to still the chatter of daily life demands and sequester ourselves long enough to get our art done.  Meaning, we have to have some peace inside us to do it.

Red Sea; 30 x 40 mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerSo what does debting do to the spirit of discovery?  What does it do to the spirit of peace, or to our ability to listen to ourselves?  It kills it, that’s what. 

How come?  Because debt puts pressure on us to succeed.  It means that our projects have to succeed right out of the box because we debted to create them, and they don’t get a normal growth arc.  Fronting ourselves credit to do our art—then waiting for a “miracle” to save us by a hoping for quick sale—means when that doesn’t happen, we’re desperate.  Then, my desperation steals my attention from my work and my life, and that steals time from my art.

Spiritual; 36 x 48 in mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerWhen I debt to live or debt to make art, I literally steal the hours from myself that I need to create.  I will not be peaceful.  I will not be engaged.  I will not be able to listen, because I’ll be desperate.  I’ll be in debt, I’ll be worried, I’ll be scheming to figure out how to get out from under the pressure of it, and I won’t—not by a long shot—be in any state of ease.

When we debt to make art and engage in magical thinking—that is, that we’ll have a “sure thing” and a sale if we front ourselves cash—it’s essentially like asking a 7-year-old to do math like a 16-year old.  We’re asking the stalk that’s just been planted to deliver like the 12-year-old tree.

Sungod; 48 x 48 in mixed media board  by JoAnneh NaglerWhen my daily needs are taken care of, in cash, and I am not debting to meet them, I can focus on my art.  I can focus on what’s important—that is, the long-term investment of my art—and not be sidetracked by keeping the balls in the air.

Then, my art projects get to have a natural growth arc, like children do, and grow to stand upon their own two feet.  No debt means no pressure, no angst, no drama.  That’s the only way I’ve found to quell the stress-voices and direct my heart, time, mind, and soul to where I want it to go—into my art. 

8. Beginning again - 11 x 14 - mixed media  by JoAnneh NaglerWhen we make debt-free living the centerpiece of our artistry, we always get to create with ease.  And that, over time, brings us so much more joy, happiness, and fulfillment than credit-spending ever did.  Debt-free artistry: your art deserves it and so do you. 

JoAnneh Nagler is the author of The Debt-Free Spending Plan:  The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need to Finally Make Peace with Your Money, represented by Schaffner Media Partners.  

Find JoAnneh Nagler at The Light Never Sleeps; 36 x 48 mixed media canvas by JoAnneh Nagler


Paintings in this post are all by JoAnneh Nagler.
All mixed media in the order they are shown:
Red Sea 40 x 30  2010
The Libertine 48 x 36 2009
Spiritu 48 x 36 2009
Beyond 40 x 30 2009
Falling from Heaven 60 x 48 2011
Sungod 48 x 48 2006
Beginning Again 15 x 11 2010
The Light Never Sleeps 48 x 36 2010

This post was updated on February 18, 2022, to provide current links.