You’ve just received a hand-made, one of a kind work of art made by me. You are the only person who has this original piece. For the past few months I have been creating small art (the size of an envelope) and sending it to strangers, chosen at random, as part of a larger artistic concept. I’m doing this because as an artist, one of the most important things to me is community access to the arts. However, one of the most challenging aspects of being a working artist is getting your art work seen by the community. Traditionally all this happens through a gallery accepting your art into a show or by selling your art at markets. I’ve never been very traditional. Doing it my way means I can connect with my community, bypass the galleries, and I get to share my art with the world. Also the sense of rejection is lessened when you release your art into the world and don’t necessarily know if it’s accepted or rejected or even if it gets seen. So I have been sending my artwork out as a way to connect with my community, I’m bypassing the galleries, I’m easing the sting of rejection if I don’t get chosen to be in gallery shows, and I’m getting to share my art with the world.
Now I’m switching up my approach. I have sent out several rounds of art work and am officially calling what I’m doing “operation strangers”. However, this next round is called “operation bestie” and I am sending a few rounds out to close friends. It’s been on my mind that I am giving art to people I don’t know and I would also like to give to people I do know. I have several other ideas for different groups of people to send art to but I for sure wanted to include people I know and like (like you!).
One of the changes to the art world over the last 60-ish years that is most interesting to me is that artists used to work in isolation, away from the community. When we think of an artist in the traditional sense, that word conjures up an image of a solitary genius. This notion eventually gave way to the image of artist as collaborator and community member. What was being created was accessible art work instead of work intended mainly for the art elite. This switch is central to my approach. Also, often times if I am stuck in a rut, I have found that giving is the solution to the problem. Somehow things begin moving and changing either from the good feelings or the interactions and adventures that follow. For me, art making cannot be an activity that is isolated from the other areas of my life, it must be part of a larger process encompassing more than just the art itself and I want it to be part of a conversation with my greater community.
At this point you may be wondering if I’ve considered the possibility that my art may get thrown away, lost in the mail, or just not seen and not appreciated since I’ve been sending it to strangers. As Roland Barthes says, “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.” So as far as my work not being well received or appreciated, people don’t have to like it; acceptance isn’t the point. I’m more interested in you as a viewer having your own authentic reaction to my art through the lens of your many influences. Sending this letter is also part of my artistic vision and I am interested in your reaction to this aspect of what I’m offering as well.
Please take a picture of the art in its new location or with its new owner and tag me in it @miss_p_is_a_unicorn and #samanthagaw. Thank you very much for being a part of this exciting process with me!