December 4, 2017

San Miguel's Art Glut

There's a definite art glut in San Miguel. Art is everywhere, and that's not a bad thing because it helps to beautify the city. But it's getting harder for galleries to stay open. Too much competition, I suspect. Just learned today that a gallery with good art by serious artists in a prime location that's been open for the last 8 years is going out of business, and will be closing its doors forever this  week. Knowing what I do about the owners, I'd say the reason they are closing is lack of sales.

September 8, 2017

The Artist and the Model

As every art teacher will tell you, drawing from photographs is a bad habit. It is always better to draw from a live model. And with so many nude photos readily available on the web it is very hard to resist the temptation to use them. Okay, fine, but when you’re an independent artist and models are hard to come by what do you do? Yes, you can join a figure drawing group with live models. I’ve done this many times but always found it unsatisfactory because I could not pose the models myself and had to accept the limited settings of a drawing studio when I would prefer to have my models in a natural environment. Also, and most importantly, an artist has to find a model with whom he has a rapport, one who inspires him and possibly has a good understanding of what he is trying to accomplish. After all, the artist-model relationship must grow out of trust and mutual understanding. You can’t have that with a random model who is posing in a classroom or a studio with several other artists present. I use live models whenever I can, but I prefer to photograph them and do my preliminary sketching from the photos rather than have the models pose for hours in my studio. This approach has worked well for me, and I have to admit that I have used photos for some of my best work. San Miguel has a limited number of good models, so if you’re a figurative painter, be prepared to use photos when you come to San Miguel to work.

August 24, 2017

Why Is Modern Art So Bad?

In this video, Robert Florczak of Prager University explains why modern art is so terribly bad. I am in complete agreement with every major point in his argument, but I must exclude the work of Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Dali and their contemporaries from this blanket condemnation. However, I would include abstract-expressionism. Also, I believe he has left out something important. Contemporary art, art produced after 1950 or so, isn't great, isn't good, and it isn't even shocking -- it is simply mediocre.

“For two millennia, great artists set the standard for beauty. Now those standards are gone. Modern art is a competition between the ugly and the twisted; the most shocking wins. What happened? How did the beautiful come to be reviled and bad taste come to be celebrated? Renowned artist Robert Florczak explains the history and the mystery behind this change and how it can be stopped and even reversed.” (credit: Artisan's Atlas)


August 22, 2017

House Hunting for Artists in San Miguel


I’ve noticed that there are many more people making inquiries about renting or buying a house in San Miguel before they arrive in the city. I believe this is a mistake. You cannot rely on what realtors and sellers tell you about living in the city – you’ve got to see it for yourself in order to decide if living here long term is right for you. Whether you are planning to rent or buy, the old adage about location-location-location certainly applies here in spades. San Miguel’s neighborhoods are very diverse.

Many people want to live in centro, the historical downtown, but they will have to pay a premium, the highest rates in the city for the privilege of being within 15-minute walking distance of just about everything except the large supermarkets. There are plenty of livable neighborhoods on the fringes of centro, but they each have their pluses and minuses.

You must consider the major housing options:

1)    A traditional house built of bricks and concrete, often but not always with small rooms, a patio and/or a roof-top terrace, some kind of greenery 

2)    A modern house in an upscale neighborhood such as Los Frailes, Balcones or Atascadero. For the artist on a budget, these are quite pricey at $150,000 to 300,000 USD.

3)    A condo usually for adults only with green spaces and often a communal area, such as El Secreto or Las Ventanas. There are quite a few of these in town, also pricey.

4)    A pre-fab style development of mostly 3-bedroom, 2-bath houses with patios and terraces on the roof that you will probably want to customize to suit your needs. There are many of these, primarily on the outskirts, and more seem to be erupting all the time. Priced in the $80,000 -100,000 USD range.



As an artist, you will of course need studio space, and many of the houses here have an extra bedroom that can be converted into a comfortable work area. The older houses here have many different layout configurations, and you will be pleased with the wealth of variety and the many options for studios.

July 9, 2017

Simplicity, Minimalism and Contemporary Design in San Miguel


Simplicity is our byword. My wife and I live it every day in the choices we make about where to eat, shop, or simply relax. We do it by planning out our strategy for our daily activities. Our lives are much simpler and more manageable without a car, which we gave up 2 years ago in favor of a scooter to get us around town. If the sky looks dark and stormy or just pregnant with rain, we leave the scooter home and walk, knowing we can always take a bus or a taxi home if we feel worn out or if there’s a torrential downpour during the rainy season (roughly July to September).

In contrast to the traditional buildings and houses of San Miguel, our house is minimalistic and Euro-contemporary.  It’s made of brick and concrete covered with plaster and painted white inside with a mostly white exterior. It has an open layout on the ground floor. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are similarly constructed with mostly white exteriors. (Looking out from our rooftop terrace I’m struck by how much it resembles a village on a Greek island.) However, we made some modifications to the interior layout to make it more open with a clean, contemporary style.

Our preference for interior design is also minimalistic. We decided not to drill holes or put nails or screws in the walls whenever we could avoid it, so the kitchen has one long shelf and a free-standing unit and all dishes, utensils and food are in drawers.  Some of my paintings rest on the top of a long bookcase. In furnishings, we favor mid-century modern. This is also in contrast with the dominant décor of San Miguel’s casas, where the great majority of them are decorated in the traditional ornate and rustic Mexican style. (If you rent a house here you will most likely get that type of décor.)

The frustrating part of our minimalistic lifestyle is that good quality mid-century modern furniture is extremely hard to come by in Mexico, especially in San Miguel. There is a vintage furniture store in Mexico City that sells restored pieces (vintage-antic.mx), but as of this writing they have only a very limited inventory.

So if you have the same taste in décor, my advice is to bring pieces with you or plan to have them shipped to San Miguel.

If you are interested in hiring an architect to work with you on designing a contemporary house in San Miguel, check out these web sites. I can't personally recommend these architects but they have been recommended by people in SMA who have worked with them.

www.arquitectoluiscamarena.com 

https://www.discoversma.com/places/mexico/guanajuato/san-miguel-de-allende/architectural-services/domus-arquitectura/

June 27, 2017

REQUIEM FOR A CITY: San Miguel's Changing Demographics


A word of caution to artists who want to come to San Miguel to make a career for themselves. The demographics of this city have changed drastically over the last 5 years, and most of the expats from the US and Canada who are coming here are not very interested in art, education or culture. Apparently, all the hype about San Miguel being the world's best city to visit (not to live in, mind you) has spurred people who are seeking the "good life" to come  here by the busload. Some of the latest evidence to confirm this – three serious Lifelong Learning classes scheduled for this July and August have just been cancelled due to low enrollment. A friend of mine who was offering acting for beginners starting in June could not find enough students to fill the class. And even the two anchor institutions, Bellas Artes and the Instituto Allende, seem to be offering fewer and fewer art classes. Ditto for individual artist who teach here.

The city's culture is suffering a rapid death by tourism.
So be advised, dear artists – if you are in your 30s, 40s or 50s and want to make a living as a teaching-artist, go elsewhere. Go to Europe. Go to Florence, Paris, Prague, Berlin, or Barcelona, but do not come to San Miguel. More and more, the city is a place for retirees living on social security and small pensions, and they are people who lack the means and/or the desire to buy art.

I regret sounding so gloomy and pessimistic, but that’s my perception of what’s happening here. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. The city is in serious cultural decline and I don’t see it recovering its former “magic” any time soon.

So this may be my last post. There’s nothing more to say about a dying city.

June 23, 2017

Painter or Artist?

"Anyone can learn to paint. Sometimes it seems that the less one is an artist the more easily and quickly one can acquire the superficial qualities of a painter."

-- Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw

April 17, 2017

The Economics of Life in San Miguel (Revised and Updated)


HOUSING and STUDIO SPACE



If you are planning to move to San Miguel for at least a year or more, do it as soon as possible. Rent prices are going up fast.  Rent for a decent 2 bedroom with studio space and a patio in the middle-class bohemian neighborhoods of San Antonio and Guadalupe used to go for around $4000 pesos. Now the same size houses are renting for $500-600 USD if you rent from gringos. Most expat landlords (and there are quite a few) are setting rents in dollars rather than pesos. That’s significant because of the strength of the dollar (now at 18 pesos). Obviously it’s a better deal if you can pay rent in pesos, which means renting from a Mexican owner. Soon even they will be renting in dollars, or dollar equivalents.



A recent development – expats are posting messages on Yahoo groups offering to pay up to $1000 USD and more for decent 2-bedroom apartments or small houses. Take a look at the postings on Craigslist for housing in Guanajuato and you’ll see what I mean.



FOOD



The cost of a good meal in a decent restaurant is going up. A full-course broiled salmon lunch used to cost 140 pesos – it’s now 250 pesos. Tikka chicken at a curry house was 95 pesos and is now 150 pesos. Chicken parmaggiano at a family-run Olive Garden-type Italian restaurant is 120 pesos, but over 200 pesos at a finer place. Wine will cost at least 70 pesos a glass, beer 30 pesos minimum. Of course there are many small family-run restaurants where you can eat good authentic Mexican food for 50 to 100 pesos. A buffet in Centro charges 75 pesos for all you can eat. The one gringo-run restaurant exception is a popular place called Cafe Monet – a decent sandwich goes for 50 pesos and the daily special will set you back about 80 or 90 – they’ve held their prices down for years without compromising the quality of the food and the old world decor.



There are two major supermarkets in town, Soriana and La Comer (formerly called Mega). Their prices are inching up. You and your partner will spend an average of 900 pesos per week if you buy a lot of meat, 750 if you only buy chicken and fish for four meals. Plan to spend more if you want beer and wine. A six-pack of good Mexican cerveza goes for an average of 70 pesos. Table wine from Carlo Rossi is 95 pesos; anything else from California, Europe or South America is in the 150-250 peso range.





CLOTHING



Good, durable clothing is hard to come by in San Miguel. At Liverpool, the Macy’s equivalent, you will pay 900 pesos for a pair of Dockers or Levis for men, 800 pesos for a shirt, and 800 pesos for Flexi shoes (excellent quality and made in Mexico). Women will have to pay considerably more. However, women can shop at consignment shops (there are many), but none for men for some odd reason. Every one, children and adults, can find an occasional bargain at the tianguis – a huge open market that is open once a week, and there are smaller markets in almost every neighborhood where you can shop 7 days a week.





IN CONCLUSION



San Miguel remains a relatively inexpensive place to live for artists, but this may not last much longer. The SOHO effect is taking hold here. Artists have made this city a truly wonderful place to live, and now the affluent are moving in and driving up prices.

February 4, 2017

Art and Politics in San Miguel

The San Antonio Art Walk takes place on the last weekend of this month (February). San Antonio is the neighborhood in San Miguel with the largest population of working artists. There are now 65 artists who are taking part in this annual event. Sixty-five! How many visitors can be expected per studio? Not that many. My guess is that some studios will get a lot and others not many at all. That's usually how it goes. 

These artists have formed some kind of association, with dues and by-laws and the delegation of tasks such as sending out press releases and coordinating of their preview party which this year is being held at a hotel (that's a lot of wine and a lot of pre-event kissing up and schmoozing with potential buyers -- my idea of hell on earth). Sounds like there's a lot of money and work involved for a two-day event with only a remote chance for sales. Personally, I prefer my independence and loathe being part of a club that will put demands on my time and involve a lot of politics. I hate politics. You can't have an organized group of 65 people without rules and fees and politics.

But here's the worst part -- these artists have nothing in common except for the fact that they all live in the same neighborhood. They are not like the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, the Symbolists, the Surrealists, the Pre-Raphaelites, or, for that matter, the artists of the Italian Renaissance, because they are not united by a common set of principles, a common vision, or a raison d'etre of any kind. All they have in common is the fact that they live in the same neighborhood and want to sell art.

If artists are going to form associations, they should be based on supportive friendships and common beliefs, and they should be free of any business encumbrances. Money will poison the good fellowship of a group of creative artists. When money is involved in an enterprise of any kind, people become more selfish and the dynamics of power come into play. In this respect, artists are no different from other people.