Saturday, March 23, 2013

follow-up to follow-up : the report card

So, my soul-bearing-whining-(people thought it sounded depressed even though I didn't feel that way)-telling of the events in my previous post was cathartic.  It got me unstuck.  Many people wrote to say that they admired what I said, admired that I was honest and revealing, admired not that I was a success or not, but that I was actually pursuing my dreams.

The inspiration to write it came from seeing a video on TED by Amanda PALMER.  "The Art of Asking."  That combined with a couple other things I saw and read.  It occurred to me, that not only was I stuck in the failure of my Berlin project, but maybe, what was missing was asking people to support me.

The report card :

So, I wrote my little speech.  Don't regret it.

And then, I was inspired, not only by asking for help, but by the idea to give people a way to help if they wanted to.

I already had an artbook on "crépuscule" (of which I have sold exactly zero copies, until this week when I sold one. Ok, I agree $47 for hard cover is expensive, even if the book is beautiful).  So, after discovering that blurb does ebooks, I decided to make an ebook version of my book and make that available.  link  Instead of $47 it was $5.  Again, after announcing it, exactly zero copies were purchased.

So,  I decided that if money were an issue, that I would make an ebook available of my work and offer it for FREE to my supporters.  link  Seemed like a win win situation.  My public gets a cool book and my work gets out there.

I offered it first to my followers on my blog.  There are 13 members, so reaction wasn't a tidal wave.

There are 608 fans on my facebook page, so I offered it there too.  By tracking statistics of visitors on my blog, there have been 21 people to date who have visited the blog post.  I can't say that they all downloaded.  I know for sure that one person did, because they left a comment on the blog and sent me a private email.  Given that all 21 people downloaded, that means exactly 3,34% of my followers actually took me up on the offer for a free book.  Yes, that's a little more than 3% and yes it was FREE.  Is anyone else surprised by this?

Given the overwhelmingly positive comments I receive when I do an installation, this is the mystery to me.  The difference there is between the "verbal" reaction to my work and the what I call "feet on the ground" reaction.  Concrete reaction, sales, if you will.

I'm not saying that people are obligated to buy my work just because they like it, but it just seems that the statistic should be a wee bit higher than 0%.  I shouldn't have a 100% success rate and I shouldn't have a 0% success rate either.

What do I know? Maybe that is a typical reaction.  You do something and 3% of the viewers react in a concrete way.  That's hard to believe, but maybe that's just the math, just the way it is.  Maybe I just have to accept that that is reality.  Do the artists among you have any feedback about your stats?

This divide between verbal reaction and physical reaction has been very present and very frustrating for me for a long time.  There has to be some explanation and I keep thinking that if I find what is "missing" in the equation, I will be able to affect it.  Nothing I've done has changeds this statistic and I have done everything I could think of.

Don't get me wrong.  My work has done well.  I have been able to do about one major installation per year, and for each I have been paid, always adequately and sometimes well.  So, on that level, I am lucky.  Subsequently, as previously mentioned, the public's reaction has often been overwhelming.  Again reason to be thankful and I am.

A part from that, I have never sold even one of the smaller portable sculptures.  I have sold a few of my sewn photographs, three to be exact.  Okay, I can count myself luckier that Van Gogh, who never sold a single painting other than to his brother, in his whole life.

So, I have thought of many ways to make my art more available, often following the suggestions of friends and fans.  I have made limited edition prints. and here.  Again, the response was less than what I expected.  It was even less than 3%.  Once more, it was zero.

Again, I'm not saying this as a complaint.  I am just mystified and completely unable to understand this phenomenon.  I don't, for instance, expect everyone to like it and/or to buy it, but I find 0% or 3% (remember 3% was when it was free) hard to believe.  Ideally, I would have expected something like 20%, or maybe 10%, but zero?

Is there something I'm missing?  There must be.

Maybe, I'll figure it out someday.  No one can say I haven't tried.  and I'll probably keep trying.

Still perplexed.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, March 21, 2013


This text that I published on my facebook profile is as much about my art life as it is my personal life.

so, pertinent to post here too.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Free Anthology ebook for my fans on Blogger

Dear fans,

A little (well big) thank you for your support.  I'm offering you first dibs on a free pdf/ebook anthology of my work from 2003-2012 that you can load on your smartphone or on your ipad.  (retail price : $9.90)

It's a big file (161mo) so, it takes a while to download.

Please post your comments here.

Thanks again.

All the best,


PS, if you think it is too big, I will work on a more compact version.  Let me know.

PPS.  If you download, please leave a word here of who you are.

PPPS.  It goes without saying, that this download is for your own personal use and is not to be reprinted or published without expressed written consent from the artist.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

the dam breaks

There must have been something to writing.  It felt like the right thing at the time and ever since it feels like the dam has broken.  Up until doing so, projects and ideas have either been stopped or were so fraught with difficulty and obstacle that I gave up on them.  But now, everything seems to come easily.  I can't help but think that it's due to the fact that I fessed up to my past and didn't let it have a hold on me any more.  Suddenly, I am doing two ebooks a day (new anthology ebook due out soon... stay tuned), inventing new projects with gusto, and rediscovering my work in the process .  Inspiration abounds, so does positive thinking.  Crazy.  Simple.  Easy.

ebook "crépuscule" now available

Sean is delighted to announce that his book "crépuscule" is now available in ebook format. In addition to the many photographs and text from the original version it also has new video and interactive links. It's only $4.99.

preview/purchase it here in ebook format :

Monday, March 11, 2013

the inside story

Friends, if you are interested in the full un-edited story of my Berlin gallery experience, write me an email, and I'll tell you about it.

I'm not free to say everything here in a public forum.

sean at mcginnis dot fr

Sunday, March 10, 2013

the next day

I had a moment of clarity two days ago, not only that I needed to write, but what I would write.  I have learned to trust that voice in myself that knows when something is right even when it is hard to explain or to justify.  So, I did it.  I am not unhappy that I did.

I thought in writing it that it would free me, but I forgot the idiom about the truth :

"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off."

I'm sure it is part of the process, but things seem more painful and more unclear today than they did when I was writing, or in the moment of clarity after having done so.  It is to be expected.  My only way of dealing with the whole thing was first to just get through it and then once it was over to avoid thinking about it.  Writing about it opened the original wound that was never properly healed.  The unresolved questions it posed remain unanswered.

Many people have written in response to what I said, some in private, some on the blog.  I am touched and humbled by what they had to say.  Yet, I realized from their comments that they thought I was sad.  I do not know if sad is the right description.  Grieving perhaps, because I lost something, don't know how to get it back, don't want to and more importantly don't know what to replace it with.  The emptiness left behind, the nothingness, is not bad.  It can be like meditation, being present to the present, just being, which is always uncomfortable, but has its value.  The problem is just being resembles denial.  It is not clear which one it is, and they seem to be able to occur in the same moment, the same act.

I did want to make it clear that I don't feel like there is some kind of entitlement/reward in doing my work.  I am not owed anything because I'm an artist.  My feeling of frustration comes from the out-of-balance reaction to my work.  People's words and reactions are overwhelming, beautiful and touching.  Yet, at the end of an exhibit I go home, no concrete material gain, metaphorically with nothing in my pocket.  Peoples words are great, but I can't pay the rent with them, or buy myself a few days to work on my art.  I have to go back to my day job and wait for the next gig to come along, which is the only time that allows me a few days or weeks to do another sculpture, free from other obligations.  I feel lucky to have such opportunities.  I simply don't understand the black and white difference between people's reaction and my ability to make at least some money on it, even if I can't make a living at it.

It's not about money.  Money is money.  Money doesn't buy happiness.  But money is a symbol of value.

a reply to my coming clean

Here is a message I wanted to share from my artist friend Cindy.  We had art classes together in High School.

Hey friend!
It's such a funny time to get your invite to your new page because I was thinking about you today. I was in the hospital visiting my dad (he just had surgery) and was showing him some fb photos when I saw your post.
Hahaa! Sorry I am lousy at hitting "send" accidentally. Will continue.....

So... I started showing him and mom your photos of your art, which, they were really impressed with and loved! And that got me thinking of you..... So. I just read your "coming clean" article. I must say, maybe you've become a writer after all!
I hope you don't feel as hopeless as you sounded in your article! I'm sorry if I am being terribly blunt. I have no pretty words right now--my mind is so tired. I was just concerned and hate to think you are sad.
I used to think art was my life. Actually, it used to be. I gave up the hopes and dreams of my art partly because I felt I was beginning to hate it (even in college when I had to do assignments I felt were not true to me). Looking back, I can't believe I was so ridiculously "true" to myself that I chose to give it up rather than pursue it under special conditions. Does that even make sense?! I thought I could pursue it on my own... Or after a break, later. Well, then life happened and my art just didn't. Anyway... I don't admire you because I think you are living a glamorous life or have "made it", etc. I just wanted you to know that. I think you don't give yourself enough credit. I DO admire your will to keep your art alive through difficult times...through life---I didn't! I admire you for your courage to make that huge leap to a new world, not knowing what the outcome would be. And, I love to think that you are able to see things and do things you probably never thought you would. Yes, I think we all have fun seeing your posts and photos about all the lovely places you get to visit. And, I laugh (seriously, I really DO) that all your amazing events always seem to coincide with my trips to the dollar store! But, those events and lovely things don't make you YOU. You are deeper than that (see, I used "you" three times...I would make a lousy writer!).
I'm thinking I am just rambling again and not making much sense. Sorry, I'm tired... I will try harder to focus... I am in a hotel room with my mom and three kids... Oh my concentration!!!!
I guess what bothered me about your post was that you felt you were a fraud. You are not! Just because you don't advertise your disappointments or every sense of failure doesn't make you a fraud. You are you. You have struggled to be true to yourself even when it made things difficult or nearly unbearable. The only difference with you and every other person on this earth is that you are honest enough to admit you feel like a fraud! Everyone feels like a fraud from time to time. It's only emotion, not truth. There's a huge difference! Ask around.. Get some really honest answers. I don't know a single person who hasn't struggled with those same types of doubts. I know that almost every day I hear from one or another of my friends with real issues that they don't share with everyone. We are all hiding parts of us from most people. That's ok. We need to do that for our own sanity and protection. That doesn't make you a fraud, it just makes you like everyone else!
Anyway... I see that I am rambling... I am so sorry! And, I am too lazy to reread all this nonsense and delete, so I will leave it to you. How nice of me, huh?!
So... Everyone thinks I am the perfect mom. Do I feel that way. HA!!! So... I feel many parts of my life are too personal to share. That doesn't make me a fraud, it just makes me private. Oh... And, of course, I AM the perfect mom  hahaha!!!
Ok, time to quit torturing you with this endless email... Just know that if you need an ear, I am here. Not because of who I perceive you to be today, but because of the friend you were to me in my previous life. You were kind, honest, intelligent and worthy. And, I just believe that you still are. Don't lose sight of that! Who cares how much you sell, how "successful" you are, where you live, who you know? Just remember you are YOU... And that is something to be happy about.
Take care,

Sean McGinnis
Thank you for your email and for you.
I don't think I'm sad, well not about art. I don't feel like my art was a failure either, just that I failed at making it work. Just a statement of fact, if you will. I wrote in stream of conscious pretty much, so I didn't stop to think how it was coming out... I just got it out... I'm somewhat surprised that I seem sad. I mostly feel frustrated. I feel beaten too. But writing, and people's reaction to it were a step I needed to take to deal with it and go beyond it. the whole thing has just stopped me for over a year now. I'm ready to go on.
I think when you ramble, you make the most sense.
Fraud may not be the right word. There was just so much distance between who I really was and what really happened and what I imagined people thought. I felt dishonest. That is where the idea fraud comes from.
Your message and your being just simply and beautifully you and sharing that with me means a great deal to me.
thank you.

Sean McGinnis
PS, would you share your message on the blog? could I?

I knew if anyone could weed through my words and make sense of them it would be you. You are welcome to share my email--please edit as you see fit! I know it needs much editing and would not be offended!
I think what a lot of it boils down to is that we all know ourselves, or what we would like to have ourselves to be, better than anyone. It's hard to explain when we feel that people are getting the wrong idea about us, or we feel we are misleading everyone by leaving things out (not fully disclosing things?). And then, especially, when our lives do not become what we intended or imagined... It is so heartbreaking at times. Take heart--- you are not alone!
Thanks for understanding my ramblings!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

coming clean

I imagine, probably falsely, that most of you know me and know my story.  But, I've been wondering if that's actually true.

So, whether you know it or not, here is my story :

The subject I want to tell is about the last year and a half of my art life, but there's no way to avoid starting at the beginning and giving you some background.

I was born in Hays, Kansas, in July of 1965.  My father, was a professor of art at the local university.  My mother, an art grad, spent most of the 60's and 70's raising me and my three siblings.  I had what I often refer to as a golden extended childhood.  My parents defended for us, that we discover who we were and they defended us (mostly to ourselves) to be ourselves.  I spent hours and hours playing even past the age when you should.

I was an odd child.  I never felt like I fit in anywhere.  Looking back, I realize that the deck was stacked against me.   I had a rocky start.  I was the next child born after my oldest brother died from complications of a strep infection at the age of 18 months.  My birth was the conscious act of my parents to go on.  My middle name is Martin.  His name was Martin.

That is a whole other story... not for here, not for now, but you can imagine.

So, somehow I was given a special place and was crippled at the same time by the simple act of being born.

I was always the artist, in my family, at school, in my head.  I always thought I wanted to be a writer and would grow-up to write books, but even at an early age, teachers were amazed by my ability to deftly use a pair of scissors.  With artistic parents, I wasn't necessarily encouraged to do art, but I wasn't scolded for it either as most children are.  Art just "was" for me.  It came to me easily, seemed obvious and self evident.  So much so, that it didn't seem like something I could or should do seriously.  It was too easy a part of me for me to consider making a career of it.  Work was supposed to be work.

I got involved in music and singing as an adolescent, and wanted to be on stage.  It was my passion.

Again, another longer story, but briefly, when I was a senior in High School after being heavily involved and dedicated to the school musicals (I was in the cast a year before I was in High School), I tried out for the lead and not only did I not get it, but I only landed a walk-on one line speaking part.  I was devastated, especially since people who had been in the room for the try-outs had told me privately later that I had done very well and deserved to have gotten the lead.

didn't really matter, my dream was crushed and my self-confidence with it.  I pretty much gave-up on music at that point.  If I couldn't be on stage, then a career with music people, with whom I didn't feel a particularly affinity, didn't make sense to me.  So, facing college, and with my natural ease with art, I decided to go into fine arts.  I was good enough to get a scholarship based on the creative work that I had done in my High School art classes.

So, I started learning academic art.  I got my Bachelors of Fine Arts at the small but very good art department in the university in my hometown and then looked for graduate schools.  My two criteria where that it be the best school I could get into and that it be far away from the mid-west where I grew-up.  Long story short, I chose the University of Arizona in Tucson.  Chose it sight unseen.  They gave me a graduate teaching assistantship.  The other top choice and probably a better school was the University of Iowa, but when I drove out of my home-town and drove into Iowa City to visit it, I felt like I had driven back into my hometown.  So, Arizona it was.

Arizona yet another long story, suffice it to say, that I fell in love with the dessert and I ended-up spending ten years there.  I taught art at a local community college and at the Tucson Museum of Art and did my own sculptures (nothing like what I did in school) and had a nice little reputation building.

Then I accidentally found myself in Paris in May of 1993.  Very long story, very short, I ended-up moving there in 1997.  I felt something true inside me, hard to defend or explain, but I knew I needed to move there.

And if I was going to make such a big move, I decided that I would go for it.  All of it.  I would move to Paris and make it as an artist.  Why do it it half-assed?  Why do something daring and only do it safely?  I went for it, all of it.

I've been living here for over 15 years now and the first five years were not only extremely difficult financially but psychologically.  I learned what having roots and a place are by completely cutting myself off from them and having to grow them from scratch.  It was a painful process, but it was also the fire that burned away the unnecessary, the parts of me that weren't me, and forged the steal of the real me that the whole process helped me to discover.  I learned the hard way, just who I was, who I wasn't and of what I was really capable.

In school, I was a sculptor in clay, but that proved technically difficult to continue in Paris.  So, I started experimenting in different media.  I went to the Louvre once a week and drew 19th Century sculptures.  I couldn't really draw before and in the two years I spent in this exercise, I taught myself how to draw in an academic sense.  I could render on paper what was before my eyes.

I tried painting, because it was the one art form I could do in my studio apartment and I discovered a love of photography, when I started taking photos for use as studies for my paintings.  I ended-up giving-up painting.  I didn't feel I was really good at it, even though my works were show in the Salon d'Automne and in several local exhibits.  I still love and do photography.

Then as most good things in life do, something totally unrelated to art gave me the inspiration that has become the work I do today.

My friends had a fashion label, and I would help them do the decor in their showroom.  We had a shared interest in working with on-hand materials and using them in interesting creative ways to transform them and the showroom into surprising space.  String was a plenty and the idea was probably inevitable.

I remembered loving doing nail and string drawings on boards when I was a Boy Scout and wanted to see what doing that kind of thing in a three dimensional space would be like.  I did it, and it looked pretty much like nail and string art in a three dimensional space.  But the next idea came after doing a few of the sculptures, each time they were more complex, that I wanted to see if I could create a object/shape made of string floating in the space suspended only by strings.  The idea was born and I have been doing variations of the idea ever since.

Exhibits for my work seemed to spring up out of nowhere and I even got expensive commissions to do my work.

I still wasn't making a living at it, but it had a momentum of its own.  I spent the next few years doing what I could when I could and paying the rent and keeping myself solvent by working at the clothing company and teaching art.  I always felt pulled in two opposing directions.  The desire to make my art, the reality that I wasn't making a living at it even though it was selling for more and more money.  I still had to work and working kept me from having enough time to concentrate on my art so it could get enough critical mass to take-off.  Burning the candle from both ends, I both pursued my art and kept a job (or several).

My break came when I received an important grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation for 2011.  It was enough money that I could allow myself not to work for a year and give a 100% to my art work for the first time in my life.  I hired a PR person, who doubled as an agent.  He got me several great articles in international publications and a few exhibits, including one at a contemporary art gallery in Berlin for October.

Opportunity's window opened and I dove through it with all that I had.  My grant money had already run out, but I took the time to do the exhibit and spend what I needed to to make the most of it.

The installation I did was the best ever.  But, it nearly killed me to do it.  Nothing went right, yet, I navigated it and finished the fucker.  Lost my PR agent in the process, but the work was complete and that was an achievement in itself.  Even more so, considering all the difficulty I had to overcome to get it completed.

Again another long story and one that I'm not at liberty to talk about freely in a public space.

So, it was complete.  I just had to wait a month to go back to the gallery for the art opening, where there would be over 2000 people and I could start on the art career that had long escaped me.

The whole thing fell apart.  The exhibit and the art opening were canceled.  My PR agent quit.

Not only had my money run out, but I had spent what was needed to get the show finished, didn't work making money elsewhere while I was doing it, and now, there was no exhibit, no opening, no sales, no articles, nothing that could help me get to the next level, to finally break through, to finally "make it" in the art world.  The future that had so long eluded me and that I had worked so hard to achieve and sacrificed so much to achieve suddenly vanished.

I'm leaving most of the detail out.  You'll just have to read between the lines, but it was a difficult, exhausting, and painful experience.  and at the end of the day, I had nothing to show for it.  There would be no future opportunities like that one.  I had no more grant, so I had to go back to work full-time and pay back the debts I incurred while I was thinking that they were necessary sacrifices and investments in the future I was hoping to build.

There would be no further free time to devote to my art and I realized a long time ago, that doing art part time would never give it enough energy to have it take-off.  I had my chance and for reasons beyond my control and some in my control, I missed it.  I couldn't go back to trying to both do art and working full-time.  It took me half the year to get back to even financially.  I was tired of living a bohemian life and just wanted to be able to know that I could pay the rent every month and maybe have some kind of security.

I dreamed of taking a day a week from work and going to my studio and cutting paper or drawing with crayons or pencils... what ever I wanted, and to never again try to make big amazing installations that would make me famous, or that would at least earn me enough money so that I could live solely from them.  That world seems like a bottomless pit, where bigger and better was never bigger or better enough.  I wasn't sure for whom I was doing my art for or why.

I crashed into reality.

I realized that I didn't even get any pleasure from doing art anymore.  It had become some sort of monster that was running me and eating all the good that came from my work.  There was always the next one that had to be bigger and better and price exacted from me kept getting higher and higher.

People loved my work.  I know they did because they told me so, but I could barely hear their comments.  It all got absorbed in the fact that no matter what I did, who much it cost me, it was never enough.  I haven't been able to art since, haven't been willing to.

(and just to add to the pity party, my 7 year relationship, my epic love story came to an end in July).

I always blogged my exhibits on facebook and on my website and I was always pleased and amazed how many people followed it daily and stayed involved in the process.  And somewhere when the exhibit really started going bad, I realized that there was a chasm opening between what people thought my life was like and what it was really like.  For legal and ethical reasons, I couldn't tell the truth of what was really happening.  My friends, family, and supporters all saw me as someone who was achieving the success that so many dream of but few achieve.  The American from Kansas, making it in the big art world of Europe.  I wanted to be that person.  I even enjoyed sharing it with others would wanted to live vicariously through me, taking them along with me was part of the joy.  How could I let them know that it wasn't at all like they thought?  It wasn't at all like I wanted it to be.  I felt like a fraud.  I was pretending to be something that I wasn't allowed to be.  Something that I could only pretend to be, but never could actually attain.

When Whitney Houston died, I felt I understood something about what it must be like.  Everyone wants fame, success, and money and thinks that if you have it, your life is better than those who don't.  The problem is that on the inside of it, it doesn't look like that at all.  It's rotten and fake and requires you not only to give more of yourself than should ever be required of anyone, but you have to put up with all the shit that goes along with it and if you talk about the shit, then you reveal that you haven't really made it, so you have to keep your mouth shut about it.  The egg will be on your face if you do.  Suddenly, you have everything that everyone else dreams of and you realize that the reality of it sucks.  You are faced with pretending that it is the way everyone wishes it was and you can keep it, or you can be honest about it and you will not be allowed to stay there.  You risk losing your integrity because you cannot be true to both things, yourself and the image of what it appears to be.  You are a failure.  You fail either way.  The money and the celebrity just make it harder to try to get out.

I feel lucky that I got burned early on, before I was too entwined in it to be able to get out.

But without the illusion that that what life was for, what was there?  Nothing.

Why say all this?  what's the point?  I'm not sure I know.  But it feels like coming clean.  It feels like being human and being honest.  If feels like what needs to be said.

What ever the reason, it is what happened.  I understand what happened, most of it, but don't understand what it means.  It happened.  I'm still alive.  But what does one do with their life, when they know they are an artist, yet living as an artist isn't worth it for all the shit and loss of integrity one has to put up with and not being able to make money at art means that one will never have enough time to do it properly?  I don't want to kill myself doing art.  I want to make art and I want to enjoy my life too.  Slaving for art is romantic, but who is the sacrifice for?  As good as my art is, I don't think destroying myself to do it, or giving up living in order to do it is worth it.  Nothing is worth that.

So, if you have followed my art, or just discovered it, I ask you "What does it give to you?" "What does it mean to you?" "What do you like about it?" "Was it worth it to you?" "Why?"

If it means something to you, what would or could you give me to show it?

I have made some awesomely beautiful things with my creativity.  Why should I bother trying to do more?  Can you tell me?  What is it worth to you?

If it meant that I could do more, would you contribute to it?  If I passed a hat would you drop a coin in it?

I tried to do it by myself and failed.

Objectively, it seems such a shame to have something to give and to be thwarted in giving it, or the personal price of giving it is so high that it becomes unbearable.  Am I weak and therefore not a real artist?  Can't I give what I have to give without it costing me security and wellness?

What do you think?  I would like to know.