Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thank Me for Coming

Let me say this right up front: none of this is a big deal. I know that. And I also know that what I’m about to tell you has happened to many people before me and will happen to many after. But it’s been a few months and I still can’t shake the hurt, so I decided to write about it anyway.

On December 10, 2016, midway between the national body blows of Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss and Donald Trump’s inauguration, I had a small, personal one of my own. That evening, a reception was held for my first solo gallery show in more than 10 years, and nobody came. Not one single person.

None of my hundreds of facebook friends. None of my thousands of twitter followers. Most painfully, though, not a single one of the hundreds of people whose openings I have attended in my 15 plus years of making art in DC. Not one.

I know there were some good reasons. It was a busy weekend. Several other art spaces were having events. Holiday festivities were no doubt underway. But all the same, not one single person decided that mine was the event that they would put first. And that hurts like kneeling on gravel.

I immediately decided never to go to anyone’s opening again. And then I decided to go to everyone’s, so it would never happen to any of my friends. But even with all of the time and the alcohol and the yoga that have passed since that night, I still feel a little bitter every time I show up to a bustling opening and am greeted by all the usual people. The people who didn’t show up for me.

Now I find myself seriously considering whether I should ever try again. I had already applied for a show out in the suburbs in Virginia, but hey! I got rejected, so I no longer had to worry whether anyone would come or not. A show at AU? Chances are a little better that some people might come to a show in DC, but hey! I got rejected, so I’ll never have to find out.

For every exhibition opportunity I have considered since that day, I’m adding an extra layer of dread on top of the usual likelihood of getting rejected. What if I am selected, and I work on a show for months, and once again nobody comes? There is so much effort and expense involved in putting together a solo exhibition, I just don’t know whether I can, or should, even bother.

For now, I’m sticking to festivals, where it’s someone else’s job to draw the crowd, and to the internet, where people seem to like the cartoon version of me. Who knows, maybe in three weeks, or three months, or another ten years, an amazing opportunity for a show will come up, and I’ll do it and it will be great. Or maybe it won’t.

In the meantime, if you should see me at your opening, thank me for coming. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Arctic Bride

Michele Banks, The Arctic Bride, Mixed Media, 2017 

With Arctic sea ice at its lowest-ever recorded levels, and the administration poised to roll back environmental protections, spring of 2017 seemed like a good time for a wedding. For my seventh appearance at Artomatic, I decided to show this piece, The Arctic Bride, instead of my usual paintings. This mixed-media piece (yes, that's a real wedding dress that I bought on eBay) considers the marriage of Ice and Carbon. I first had the idea for this piece when I was working with Jessica Beels and Ellyn Weiss on Voyage of Discovery, our climate-inspired show at the AAAS in 2014. Looking at pictures ice and snow in the Arctic, I was reminded of the thick, glossy, pristine white draping of a wedding dress, and all the concepts of purity tied up in that image. 

For that show, we ended up making a larger, much more abstract piece called Waning Albedo.

Waning Albedo, Jessica Beels, Michele Banks and Ellyn Weiss, Mixed Media, 2014

I decided to revisit the idea in this piece. I'll leave it for others to tease out the layers of meaning here, but I think we can all agree that this marriage will be dangerous and damaging for the beautiful bride. 

Artomatic, which features the work of 600+ artists, runs through May 6 at 1800 South Bell Street in Arlington. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pay, Pay, Pay to Play

I don’t like to fight on twitter, but when somebody told me that, unlike scientists, artists and writers never publish their work for free, I had no choice.  Ahem. 


I’ve been a professional artist for over 15 years. Here’s how I make money: I put my work in gallery shows and art festivals and I sell it online. The first two, and to some extent all three, are emphatically pay-to-play.

With very rare exceptions, an artist who shows in any type of gallery gets no pay for actually making the work. She buys all the supplies, paints or sculpts, frames and mounts, and delivers ready-to-display work to the gallery. In many cases, the artist also pays for photography of her work, postcards to advertise the show, and even the food and wine for the opening.  In return, the gallery provides display space, hanging, publicity, back-office functions and, ideally, buyers, in exchange for a commission (usually 50%) on sold works. But of course, there is no guarantee that any work will sell, so many artists end up thousands of dollars in the hole for gallery shows.

Artists who show at festivals also pay upfront in hopes of making money. Most shows charge application fees ranging from $25-50, and booth fees ranging from $100-1,000, depending on the size and prestige of the show. Artists generally have to provide a display system, a payment system, and a bunch of finished work (not to mention tools, bags, business cards and usually a tent). If you don’t earn back your booth fee, do you get your money back? Hahahahahahahaha.

Even Etsy, where I make most of my money, requires upfront investment by the artist in terms of making, photographing and listing work for sale. Their fees are pretty low, but again, if your stuff doesn’t sell, you’ll be out some time, money and listing fees.

Now let’s do writers. Hey, maybe you wrote a great short story and you want to publish it. Say you’re already well-known and The New Yorker wants to publish your story. Sure, they’ll pay. But if you’re not an established writer, chances are you’ll be publishing that story in a literary journal for nothing.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Just a note on the science side. Most scientists in academia who are publishing in journals are getting paid to do science. They get a salary or at least a grad-school stipend. Most science research is funded by grants. Part of the grant money is usually set aside for the publishing fees. Are the economics of scientific journal publishing profoundly tilted to the benefit of the publishers vis-à-vis the scientists? Probably! Does this mean that scientists who publish are working for free? Not really. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Holiday Sciart Events

It's beginning to look a lot like....SCIENCE! Geek it up this holiday season with sciency gifts and art that will make you look super smart. You can find me at the following events over the next few weeks:

November 19 - January 8  
Glen Echo Park, Maryland

I have a solo show, Hidden Worlds, in the Park View Gallery, featuring larger watercolors based on brains, microbes and cells.  I also have smaller works in the Popcorn Gallery as part of Glen Echo's annual Holiday Art Show. If you come on December 10 for Winter's Eve, there's a reception from 6-8pm for my show as well as many other festivities and open studios.

December 3 - 6  
Artists' Row at ASCB, San Francisco

I'm showing for the first time at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. I'll be bringing lots of new cell-inspired art and scarves.

December 17 
Grump, Crystal City, Virginia

GRUMP is an awesome local holiday show featuring 50 top-quality art and craft vendors.
And a Yeti.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Where You'll Find Me

I have lots of art events coming up, including some old favorites: the always-amazing Artscape, Alexandria's big, fun, friendly Art on the Avenue, and the gorgeous MPA Artfest.  This year I'm adding some new shows to the mix, including the Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Fair in Pennsylvania and the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in December in San Francisco. As always, I'm painting up a storm so I have new work for every show.

July 15-17
Baltimore, MD

August 20-21
Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Festival
Mt. Gretna, PA

October 1
Art on the Avenue
Alexandria, VA

October 2
McLean Project for the Arts Artfest
McLean, VA

December 3-7
Cell Biology 2016
San Francisco, CA

Monday, March 21, 2016

Upcoming Events: Spring-Summer 2016

I'm delighted to announce that I'll be taking part in three new events this spring: two completely new and one "new to me."

First, I'll be showing at the first-ever Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts from April 10-12. This unique event showcases the work of many women artists and crafters from around the DC area, and allows visitors to check out the great collections of the NMWA at the same time as shopping for unique pieces. Lots more information here.

On May 7 and 8, I'll be at A-RTS (Arts Rockville Town Square) for the first time. The outdoor festival gathers 175 selected artists to the streets around Rockville's town square.

Next up, in June, I'll be taking my art on the road to show at the first ever Art Walk at ASM Microbe 2016! From June 16-20, thousands of microbiologists gather for the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, and for the first time, they will be able to see and shop for microbe-inspired art from me, the Vexed Muddler, and other artists.

I'm designing some new microbe and virus-themed scarves just for this event! More details to come.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Some Thoughts on Sciart and Blogging

I’ve been making science-inspired art as my primary job since 2010, and been writing about science-inspired art (sciart, as we call it on twitter) as an unpaid side gig all along, first for Guru Magazine and then for the Finch & Pea. I’m going to keep making my art, but I’m giving up the writing, maybe temporarily, maybe permanently. We’ll see.

Why? Because nobody cares. I’ve been trying for more than five years to build an audience for sciart, and, frankly, failing. If I don’t flog my posts endlessly on social media, nobody reads them. I’ve written about hundreds of artists, and probably 5 or 6 of them have even noticed. So I guess it’s time to admit defeat.

Somebody on twitter the other day said he couldn’t quite see the point of “sciart” – why is it not just considered as art? That’s a very good question. I would love for it to just be art. For me, sciart is a hook, a way to get people who don’t like art, or think they don’t understand art, to look at some art and think about it. I think that’s worthwhile.

Also, it’s a marketing hook to help me sell my work. I would dearly love to make art that is much more abstract, but unless I include recognizable cells or microbes, it doesn’t sell. I would love to be covered in the media as an artist and not as a scicomm sideshow, but that has never happened, and given my lack of art-world cred (no MFA, no gallery), it probably never will.

When I complained about people not reading what I wrote, several people told me that I should just blog for my own enjoyment, not for clicks. So I’m not going to link this on twitter or Facebook or anywhere. It’s just for me, and maybe for a few people who happen to stumble across it.

I’m really sad about this, and I’ve shed a lot of tears, but I guess I’m done.