Oct 12th, 2020
In this episode, I welcome Robyn Jamison! Robyn is a professional artist who is on a mission to share art with the world in a way that is understandable and relatable. She is in the process of writing a new book, "The Magic of Modern Art," and shares about her own artistic journey and what experiences led her to her life's mission. (Fun fact: the cover art of this episode is Robyn's own work, entitled "Red Robyn," which was originally a self-portrait painted in oil!)
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Episode 22 - Robyn Jamison
Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome to Artfully Told, where we share true stories about meaningful encounters with art.
[00:00:06]Krista: I think artists help people have different perspectives on every aspect of life.
[00:00:12] Roman: All I can do is put my part into the world.
[00:00:15] Elizabeth: It doesn't have to be perfect the first time. It doesn't have to be perfect ever really. I mean, as long as you, and you're enjoying doing it, and you're trying your best, that can be good enough.
[00:00:23]Elna: Art is something that you can experience with your senses and that you just experiences as so beautiful.
[00:00:31] Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome back to Artfully Told, and my name is Lindsey and I am so excited to share with you today. I have a wonderful guest. Her name is Robyn Jamison. And she has a true heart for art and for expanding the reach of art to people who might not otherwise have participated in it. And she just has so many great insights to share. She's an artist herself. She has an amazing career. And thank you, Robyn, so much for being here today.
[00:01:04] Robyn Jameson: Lindsey, thank you. It's my pleasure, totally.
[00:01:08]Lindsey Dinneen: Wonderful. Well, if you don't mind, I'd love to start just by learning a little bit about you. Maybe your background, how you got into art and yeah, just a little bit more about you!
[00:01:19] Robyn Jameson: Thank you. Well, it really it's more like art got into me than I got into art. I've been an artist all my life. When other kids were playing with dolls and firetrucks and balls-- I mean, I did some of that--but mostly you'd find me huddled over the floor, painting or drawing and making things. So I've always, I've always known I was an artist or that I am an artist. And I was very, very fortunate in having parents who supported that, who supported my love of the arts. I dance, I play piano. I started as a little kid. I played violin, which I hated. So I played what I always wanted to play was the piano, but I demanded dancing lessons when I was three. And, in fact dancing and art and visual art were neck-and-neck in terms of what I love the best. And I realized that it was the most practical thing I've ever done as a young person was I realized that as a dancer, my career depended on other people. I mean, that's true of visual art as well, but I would have to be part of a, a dance company.
[00:02:38] Somebody would have to hire me, or I would have to start my own, and that after a certain age, I probably would be teaching, and I do love teaching, but with art, I knew that I could do it as long as I, my arms would move and my head had eyes to see. So I actually have continued to dance all my life, but I made my career as an artist. I did art so my parents gave me lots of extra art courses, as well as supporting me in going to art school when I was old enough to go to college. And then later I got my master's degree It was my parents really pushed me to get a degree in art education rather than just a straight visual art degree.
[00:03:26] And at the time I was not pleased about that, but looking back, it was really a gift in disguise, in that when you get a degree in art education, you have to take classes in every kind of art making: weaving, jewelry making, printmaking, everything, which I probably wouldn't have done. So it exposed me to different mediums and had me see what I really came out loving the best. And I've really always been a two-dimensional artist. My work is multimedia. I've done video and sculpture, included three-dimensional aspects to my work, but even when I've done sculpture, it's been pretty much frontal. In my twenties, I had a job. I went through the whole fear of being a starving artist thing that so many people go through and some people never get past, unfortunately. Until I did a really transformational program, but so I, I had a job as a recreation instructor for the city of Fort Worth. And so I had all kinds of classes to teach. I taught piano lessons for the elderly in groups, people who had always wanted to play piano and never had. I taught ceramics for the blind, square dancing for mentally disabled people. All kinds of art, oh, macrame.
[00:04:59]That's interesting as well as other of kinds of dancing. So, and of course, art classes too. And when I did the ceramic classes, they were molded, they were slips. It's called slipcast ceramics. You made, you have a mold and you pour this liquified clay in it. And it starts to dry and it hardens around the edges. And then you can pull the mold off and then you have this shape and you paint it. You paint it with glazes and I hated it. I just hated it. They were, it was, oh gosh, turkey Thanksgiving platters. And, you know, just cute things that were not in line with my taste, but you know this as an artist, I'm sure that when you're immersed in any medium, even if it's something that you didn't choose, you find a way to work with it.
[00:05:59] So after a while I started doing these slipcast pieces and then I would carve on them and, and I started doing these really fun whimsical things. Like they would have, I would do like a night sky with clouds and then carve in rainbows and hearts and all kinds of funny things like that. And people loved them. I created a business for myself of doing one-of-a-kind slip casts, ceramics, and I started making my own molds and I did that for 12 years. By the way, I did pins and earrings and stuff to have those little like parrots and hearts with wings and moons with each one had a different face and it was really fun. And then I got into more serious work with where I developed my own method of airbrushing underglazes and using wax to resist where the underglaze went, and then firing off the wax and doing it again, and then firing off the wax and doing it again.
[00:07:02] And I came out with these layered images. They were really more than being traditional ceramics, they were paintings on ceramic and it was really successful. I had them in galleries and they were by commission. I also did jewelry, like these big neck pieces, that multi-pieces of ceramic and big wall hanging things and, and really had a lot of fun with that. And a time came when I started having the itch to do something else and I had always wanted to get my master's degree. I had this-- in my family education was a high priority and I wanted to have the highest degree possible. Plus here's the thing. I was married to an art dealer and yeah, it was good. Yeah. It was really great. He sold all my work. I mean, it was really great in that respect. And we would go to art openings and meet artists and be around artists all the time.
[00:08:01] And at the time I was in Dallas and I started to notice that the people, some people we talked to were saying things about the art that went over my head. I knew they were --it wasn't baloney that they were saying, it was something valid, but I didn't quite grasp it. And I, and I started to ask people who spoke that way about their education, and just about every one of them had a master's degree in art. So I thought, "Yeah, well there's some gold there." You know, not only do I want to be as highly educated as I can in my field, but I also want whatever that is, that they were saying that I wasn't saying. And it is what happened. And when I went back to graduate school, I started out in sculpture because my whole portfolio at that point was ceramics and they wouldn't put me in the painting program. And then later I switched over to painting, which really painting and drawing, which again, it's two-dimensional. It's really what I'm best at and what I love the most to do. So I got my masters in fine art and I got what I was looking for in that respect.
[00:09:12] And while I was in graduate school, I also had the great luck to stumble into an environment that opened up the direction of my work in an unexpected way. And always before that, I was kind of all over the place. I hadn't chosen a direction, really. I could do anything. I could, I could paint all different styles. I could paint all different kinds of subject matter. Never, never really traditional, were more forward-thinking, but I hadn't really got my own thing going, and friends of mine owned a mannequin factory. And I thought that sounded really interesting. They agreed to let me come and look at their mannequins, to come visit their mannequin factory. They were very lifelike mannequins. They had facial expressions that had expressed mostly kind of somber. And they were kind of creepy in a really interesting way. And I, and I just became enamored of them. And I asked the people if I could come and do photographs, so I came more than one time and spent like a whole day lighting them different ways and putting it together different ways and taking photographs of these mannequins.
[00:10:36] And they became the basis for my work for quite a while. So I started doing mannequins and what fascinated me about the mannequins besides that they were so interesting visually, and also that I always have loved the human figure but I didn't want to just do figure drawings or figure paintings that weren't anything else. What fascinated me about them was that they reminded me of the fact that we tend to attribute human characteristics to things that aren't actually people, like to our pets and to dolls and to different inanimate objects, we'll go, "Oh, that looks like such a happy doll" or, "Oh, it looks so sad."
[00:11:17]And yet we tend to also objectify each other. This is a little bit of a heavy, heavy topic, but if you look at, for the longest time, we didn't operate in our world like people across the globe were the same as us. We would hear about starvation and not necessarily think of it like someone close to us. Like we wouldn't necessarily feel responsible for helping. And I think that's a function of objectifying people that are either different from us or far from us. And I wanted to talk about that in my artwork. So that's part of what I was doing with the mannequins, is pointing at that. And before I left graduate school, I did my graduate thesis of work and I actually used real women and portrayed them as if they were inanimate objects. I made them like mannequins and did a project. And I did a project where I had, there were four women, all of different ages, different heights and builds. And, I did a charcoal drawing that ended up encased in an aluminum frame that I made myself, to look encased, and they were black, all black and white, no color.
[00:12:43] And they were encased and they weren't. And they were sitting to represent that they weren't really empowered. And then I did a painting of each one and on the painting, the women, each woman was standing. And a portion of the interview I did with the woman was transcribed on the painting and there were four of them. And they were legible to different degrees. So I always provide the actual transcript and it was, and then the video took the interviews that I did and had them edited down into kind of bullets. Like "he always talked about me this way," and it was all about relationships. And, so then I made these a video of each woman. It was called "Women as Object."
[00:13:29] And then one more piece of it was actually a loan that I got from a man I know in Colorado. And he made this thing called a metaphaser. He's an inventor and he made this thing called a metaphaser and he let me use it in my show. So the metaphaser, or this thing on a stand, it looks like a a square box with mirrors and lights, and one person stands on one side of it, and another person stands on the other side of it, and the light starts flashing. And if the room is dark, you can see what you two would look like if you were combined. And what I did with it was I put a mannequin on one side, and then you could stand in front of it, line your face up with the mannequin face, and see what you would look like if you were a part mannequin.
[00:14:20] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. That sounds so cool.
[00:14:22] Robyn Jameson: It was so fun. Yeah. And he made those for, celebrities. Ringo Starr has one. Cher has one, I believe. Yeah, they were, they were a thing.
[00:14:34] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. That's amazing. I love the name too.
[00:14:39] Robyn Jameson: Yeah, science fiction name. The metaphaser.
[00:14:43] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh my goodness. It's amazing.
[00:14:46] Robyn Jameson: Yeah. So, after I finished getting my master's degree, I moved shortly thereafter from Dallas to Austin. I've been working here ever since. My work has gotten more feminist. A lot of, I should say womanist. I think I liked that better because it's not about a movement. It's about having my work speak to women's concerns and also a lot of really personal work. And when I started, when I was doing my preparing when I was in graduate school, I started using actual text on my paintings and drawings and incorporating words in different ways. And I've continued to do that in most of my work. So that's it on my work.
[00:15:35] Lindsey Dinneen: Perfect. Yeah. Well, you have had an amazing journey and gotten to do so many unique things with your art. Like you said, you've actually dabbled in so many different ones that your perspective is really unique and I think that's really incredible. And I think that gives you so much richness to draw from, because now you're kind of in a, a little bit of a different direction, it sounds like. And I would love to hear you share about the--well, I guess I know a little bit behind-the-scenes--but you're working on a book.
[00:16:08] Robyn Jameson: Yeah. Yes. I have a mission. Thank you for asking about that. I'm so excited about it. I didn't mention that, after I got out of undergraduate school, my first job was as a guard in a museum in a very progressive, modern art museum. And I would listen to what people were saying when they were visiting the museum. And so many people seemed frustrated. And they would say--I'm sure you've heard these things--"My five-year-old could do that. Or anybody could do that, that art." And clearly people were baffled, frustrated--not everyone. And I thought, "Wow, these are the people who are at the museum. These aren't the people who've given up already. And here's what they're saying. They are not loving it."
[00:17:02] And I would look at the same art that they were looking at and be completely awestruck, be thrilled and blown away. And, I could hardly believe my good fortune to be in that museum so much of the time. And I would go and see the same show day after day until it got changed. And even so, every single day was wonderful seeing it. And, I thought, "I have to do something about that." This is there's so much richness here and I know that that everyone can have access to it. I know it. And I started paying attention to other things. I would ask people questions like, "Well, what do you, how do you think art should be?" Or, "What is it about that that bothers you?" And what I could hear underneath people's comments was that they had ideas about what was art and what wasn't art, and what was good art and what wasn't good art. The ideas probably started in their childhood. And they just hadn't been exposed or educated beyond that. And we all know that when we're little kids, the school artists, the class artist is the kid who can draw the best. So of course we would think, "Oh, how I know art is good it that it's really well drawn."
[00:18:23] Lindsey Dinneen: Right.
[00:18:23]Robyn Jameson: But if you look at, if you look at it, a lot of Picasso's work even, or, or the work now that's, doesn't even have a drawing a lot of times, of course you would think, "Well, that's ridiculous. How am I supposed to be, how am I supposed to appreciate that? It's not good drawing or didn't take a long time to make, or it doesn't have pretty colors." And we've developed our taste from--many, many of us at a really young age and haven't had the opportunity to develop it further.
[00:18:58]Lindsey Dinneen: Sure.
[00:18:59] Robyn Jameson: So, I started writing a book, and the book is designed to open it up for everyone. And I tested it. I didn't test the book. Although I am testing the book on the person who's helping me write it, 'cause she's not an art person. It's fascinating. But back starting a long time ago, I started taking people on museum tours. I called it, modestly, Robyn, Robyn Jamison Art Tour. And I would take people, 10 people at a time. And, and I would put them in front of a piece of art. I would ask them to choose something that they immediately felt discomfort with, or they didn't like, like to especially pick a piece of work that did not draw them in at first.
[00:19:44] And then I just asked them to stay in front of it for awhile. I'd say, "I'm going to come back for you in 15 minutes and just stay here. You can think whatever you think, experience whatever you experience, you can move closer to the work and farther from the work. You can move around it, move to different sides, to see it from different angles, but stay with this piece of work." And what I came back, without even any direction, people said, "Wow. It's not the same anymore. When I really looked at it more, I found some things about it that were really interesting. And I noticed that I had some reactions in my body, and I noticed that it looked different, and I noticed it was different when I got close from when I got back. And I noticed that there were great big brush strokes. So I could imagine the artists moving his arm or, you know, really like a huge motion or whatever. I wanted to get really up close to it. And I could see all these details that I didn't see. And I noticed that I felt upset or I noticed that I felt happier. I noticed that."
[00:20:48]So people would start to actually have an experience. And that was where the gold was. And, people said, and then, you know, there was more to the tour. And I would ask people to notice certain things after a while, and to think about certain things. What if, and how about, but all questions, not answers and it didn't require any academic learning at all. None. You wouldn't have to understand color theory. You don't have to understand compositional theory. You don't have to understand art history, really. Art is delicious when it's purely experienced and yes, it's fun and valuable to know things about it if you like to do that. And I encourage it, but I know that it's not, it's not what gives you that amazing experience. And that's a lot of what my book is about. It's debunking beliefs that people have that get in the way. It's directing people in other directions and it's letting them know, letting people know that it's really for everyone, no matter how avant garde it is, no matter how weird it is, there's no reason why it shouldn't be accessible to you, to everyone.
[00:22:07]Lindsey Dinneen: I love that. And listeners of this podcast would especially, probably appreciate that because they know where I'm coming from as well, and just trying to share art with more people, because I think there is so much to art and I love your perspective of when you take more time with it, and when you have a little more even context sometimes, or, or just the guide, like you have been, it makes all the difference in the world to, you know, an experience that someone can have, especially if that's not their thing.
[00:22:40]Robyn Jameson: It's really true. And I like a really nontraditional approach. So when I took on writing the book, or it actually--I started a really long time ago and kept starting and stopping--but I also had a vision of speaking. Being a speaker for the difference that art makes and especially the part that, that people feel so locked out of. And why I'm so passionate about that is because it is a reflection of our culture. Yes, impressionism is beautiful. Yes, the old masters were awesome. I mean, what they did was incredible--such mastery and such expression. But today's art is today's art and nothing else is, and it gives you artists' perspective and artists' insight into what it's like to be alive right now. And so a few months ago, well, in May, I was in a conference called the "Conference for Global Transformation." And it was full of people who had a vision and were in action on realizing their vision. And I got in touch with the fact that I really wanted to do more than just write a book. So the book became part of what it takes from my mission, which is for everyone to have access to the art of our time and to be able to relate to it and appreciate it. And so I've been in action ever since every single day. And this is part of it to spread the word for people to, begin to open that up, open that door. I've been assembling a team, and I'm writing a song, and I'm going to be doing podcasts similar to what you're doing, and I'm traveling and speaking. That's my vision. So that, throughout the rest of my life will be devoted to having that happen.
[00:24:36]Lindsey Dinneen: That sounds amazing. Yeah. Well, and again, I love, I love your heart behind art and I love what you're trying to do with it. Do you have any specific stories that you particularly wanted to share today?
[00:24:50] Robyn Jameson: Hmm. Let's see. Oh yeah, here's one. Yes. I love this. And it really speaks to having freedom around art and not thinking that every single piece has to look the same to everyone or have a certain meaning. I was at a gallery and there was this little girl. She was about seven. And she was pointing at a, at a work of art and she said, " Mom, look, it's got a taco in it." Her mom was kind of going, "Shush." And the artist was there. It was an opening. The artist is there and she overheard it and she came up and she said, "Oh, you're right that there is a taco in it. I never saw that before. Thank you so much." Isn't that great? It's really parallel with my message that however it is for you is valid, even if you hate it, enjoy hating it, you know, what is it that you hate about it? Get into it, you know, give it some time, look and see what is it? What is that?
[00:25:51]Lindsey Dinneen: Oh my goodness.
[00:25:53] Robyn Jameson: So one of the chapters in my book is about, this is a story about, you know, I've been calling all these people, some of whom I've known before. And some, I never knew just when I would get connected to them by odd ways, just like I was introduced to you. And I got this one guy on the phone, he's a filmmaker. And I was interested in having him get involved with this mission. And I was telling him about the benefits. So there's a chapter in the book about the benefits and it includes that it levels out your ... It's been proven that it evens out your heartbeat to spend time with art, that it, it levels your cortisol. It has cognitive benefits and your brain works better. Kids test smarter after just one visit to an art museum. They took 10,000 kids and did this test with them, and it was like a very high percentage tested higher just after one visit, and not right after either. They would wait a month. Anyway, so I was telling this guy about the benefits. He's a physicist and a filmmaker and entrepreneur, interesting guy. And I started telling him about the benefits and he goes, he started saying, "Yeah. I can just see it. Like you go to work and you go to work and you're talking to your colleague and your colleague says, 'Hey, I see you got a raise. How'd you do that?' And the person says, 'Oh, I've been going to the art museum over lunch.' Or, or 'I see that you got engaged.' 'Yes. I've been looking at modern art and I've gotten so much more relaxed. And my, the woman I had been pursuing now finally accepted my proposal.'" So he was actually seeing it in terms of how it would affect people in their everyday life. And it was so delightful. Isn't that great?
[00:27:42] Lindsey Dinneen: That's amazing. I love it.
[00:27:44] Robyn Jameson: And it's, I mean, it sounds funny, but it really is true. It really is true that participating with art has an enormous impact on our wellbeing.
[00:27:55]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, that's awesome. That is amazing. So, yeah. Well, thank you again so much, Robyn, for sharing more about your experience with art and what you're kind of passionate about right now. And if it's okay with you, I do have a couple of questions. I always like to ask my guests.
[00:28:12] Robyn Jameson: Sure.
[00:28:14] Lindsey Dinneen: Awesome. So the first is going to be, how do you personally define art or what is art to you?
[00:28:21] Robyn Jameson: Okay, well, I would say that I'm a little bit of an art snob. So I consider art anything that is created with the intention for it to be, for its only function to be, presented and appreciated. For me, art is music, poetry, literature, literature, dance, visual art, film. And for me, originality is important.
[00:28:52]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. Okay! And what do you think is the most important role of an artist?
[00:28:58]Robyn Jameson: Well, the role of the artist is to create and to create authentically from the heart. I think the role of the artist also includes sharing what they've created.
[00:29:10]Lindsey Dinneen: Okay. And then do you think that art should be inclusive or exclusive? And I'll define my terms a little bit with that. Yeah. So with inclusive, it's, the audience or the spectator essentially has a little bit of context to what the art is, whether it's a painting or whatever, they have a little bit behind it, either it could be something as simple as a title that's kind of helpful or, or it could be program notes or something like that. So the artists kind of invite somebody into their own interpretation per se. Versus exclusive meaning that the artists create something, shares it with the world, but it doesn't provide much or any context to it. So then it's completely kind of up to the audience to determine what they think.
[00:30:06] Robyn Jameson: Both. My preference is that people experience the art first. And then find out what the artist has to say about it or what the museum has to say about it, so that they really get their own experience first. And so that they're not looking to agree. You know, so that, like the artist says it's about this, so then when I, when I go and look at the art, then I think, "Well it's about that, instead of having it be really open-ended." So I really prefer for people to have their own experience first and then to see what the artist says about it. And even, even after seeing what the artist says about it or what the clues are to still not have it be like a quiz, like, "Oh, I got it right." Or "I didn't get it right." I really think that it's personal ultimately to each individual. I also don't want artists to be so like, so exclusive as you put it, that they won't share what they were up to.
[00:31:12] Lindsey Dinneen: Right. Absolutely. Well you, again, so much, Robyn. And if people want to get in contact with you, continue with your journey of speaking and writing this book and your own artwork, is there a way that they can do that?
[00:31:27] Robyn Jameson: Oh, yes, absolutely. Feel free to email me at Robyn and I spell Robyn with a y, R O B Y N at Robyn, spelled the same, Jamison, J A M I S O N.com. So it's email@example.com, which robynjamison.com is also my website for my own artwork. And then I'm also on Instagram and I would love, love, love to hear from people, especially anyone who might want to get involved in the, in my mission for the world.
[00:32:02] Lindsey Dinneen: Awesome.
[00:32:03] Robyn Jameson: And anyone who's interested in any further conversation is more than welcome to contact me. Thank you so much.
[00:32:11] Lindsey Dinneen: Of course, of course. Well again, Robyn, thank you so much for sharing with us today, but thank you in general for creating art and thank you for sharing it. And especially now, I really love what your mission is and your desire to connect art with people 'cause you know how impactful it can be for everyone to engage in art. So thank you so much for what you're doing. I can't wait to read the book. I'm excited to be a small, little part.
[00:32:43] Robyn Jameson: You're a pretty big part. And thank you. I do want to also say, I must say that the title of the book is "The Magic of Modern Art." It's not out yet. It's going to be out next year.
[00:32:57] Lindsey Dinneen: Okay, folks. So keep your eyes open for that, because you'll definitely want to grab a copy when it comes out. And, thank you to all of you who have listened to this episode, and we will catch you next time.
[00:33:11] If you have a story to share with us, we would love that so much. And I hope your day has been Artfully Told.
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