So you have been at it for a while now, and nothing seems to have changed. You ignore the possibility that your work has gone unnoticed for so long now that it has become blanketed in cobwebs. The last exhibition you participated in was a group show, comprised of a dozen or so artists, and they all loved your work! But nothing of yours sold and the only review that came out in the local shopping notes praised an “emerging” artist with their installation of electronics commanding the center of the gallery. You are ready to change. Maybe, just maybe, you need to shift your focus, up-end your trajectory, simply sell your soul to the great Mamon! Or . . . Hold fast and soldier on.

The other day our neighbor’s kid was at our gate wearing a tee shirt replete with unicorns and the word BELIEVE, big and bold on its front. She’s only six years old and will believe pretty much anything we tell her, but what about the artist trying to figure out their next move—what do they/we need to believe in to move forward?

In a UMVA newsletter dated October, November, and December 1988, then Secretary General Carlo Pittore wrote: “In the cycle of life, some of us are sailing high, some are still on the shore preparing, some have momentarily lost the wind, others are mending sails at home.” Nautical phraseology aside (I never knew Carlo to be a man of the sea) but his point was well taken and he goes on to say, “how the world deals with us is LESS important than how we deal with ourselves.” And this is where belief rings true.

Competition in the world of art is bigger and faster than ever before, yet for the artist to take advantage of these fleeting possibilities they need to run a gauntlet of demands. Here in Ireland, galleries, curators, art centers, and the like have rigid ideas about how they view themselves, and within that structure the artist needs to find a way to fit in, or at the very least wedge themselves between what they believe in and negotiate an exhibition. It is rare today for a gallery to exhibit an artist solely on the work alone; it’s as though an exhibition needs something more than just art, a need to prove a responsibility to a broader issue. This is where beliefs clash, or is it possible to find that comfortable place and acquiesce?

In the Winter/Spring 1991 issue of the UMVA Journal, artist Bryce Muir* voiced his displeasure at what he saw as art and artists being used for commercial purposes in the Maine Festival, founded in 1976 by Marshall Dodge,† who saw the need to shine a spotlight on Maine artists and the contributions they were making to life in the state. By 1991, the Maine Festival had changed considerably from its early days; it was being directed toward a broader catalogue of events, highlighting artists “from away” as headliners and allowing food stalls that were more akin to those found at fun fairs and carnivals. Bryce viewed the Festival as “soul dead.” He did not see the UMVA’s collaboration with the Festival as relevant, and said “the Maine Festival is only interested in Maine arts as window dressing for a commercial event. Is it the UMVA’s purpose to subsidize such a festival?” He drafted a manifesto that he sent to the organizers of the Festival suggesting they rethink their approach and go back to its roots, and in so doing “the UMVA might strike a blow for Maine artists and the creative community.” But of course the festival went on, but not before Bryce noted that the organizers thought that hiserrant idealism was very nice, but beside the point—which was getting a showplace at a big event.” The UMVA did participate in that event with an exhibition of what curator David Brooks‡ saw as billboards; in your face large works that festival goers couldn’t help but notice. A balance was struck, and those Union members who took part (ourselves included) were pleased with the outcome.

So how do we balance our personal artistic integrity with the demands of those willing to showcase our work? A few years ago Pat and I were at a slide presentation given by a very well-respected Irish artist who was making large carborundum prints. The event was hosted by a short-lived group of printmakers that Pat was a member of. The artist explained how the carborundum process worked and that large editions were not possible due to the vulnerability of the inks on the plate. After her slideshow she took questions from us, and an artist who was known for knocking out large editions of naturescapes commented: “Nice process that, but it doesn’t suit my work. I like to print large editions in hopes to sell.” The well-known artist stopped, and considering for a moment said, “I don’t think you understand art. Money may be important, but art is more than money; it is your very being you are exposing to the world.”

It is that being that is most important. What we expose to the world and how others view it is only important to ourselves alone. It is a delicate balance. Just one finger on the scale might push it in the wrong direction.


*Bryce Muir (1946–2005), Maine artist and toymaker, died tragically when the ice he was skating on gave way, taking him under.

†Marshall Dodge (1935–82), humorist and storyteller and founder of the Maine Festival (1976), was killed in a hit and run in Hawaii in 1982.

‡David Brooks (b. 1950), sculptor, past President of UMVA, 1989–91.


Image at top: cover of the Union News (UMVA newsletter), 1988.