Conversation with Maggie Sutrov

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Rose Deniz:  This is Rose Deniz in Izmit, Turkey and I'm on a call today with Maggie Sutrov, an artist in Maui. We're going to talk about value, story, and ship. Maggie can be seen at http://www.sutrovgallery.com and I'm really excited to talk to her today and find out what she has to say about creativity, story-telling, and how we share the things that we make with others all around the world. Thanks for being here today Maggie.

Maggie Sutrov:  It's wonderful to be here. I think well, living here has so much to do for my art for me. I grew up here on the island {of Maui} and went to college in Canada and all my art was still about Maui, so I ended up coming back here. I was planning on taking off again, but things sort of came together here. My art has, for the most of the time primarily been plane air painting, painting on site around the island.
01:07Intensely connected to the colors, the scenes, the energy of this place. So even when my art goes into other directions, it still is colored in the background by those experiences.

Rose Deniz:  So great, tell me a little bit more about what kind of art you have done and what you're doing now?

Maggie Sutrov: Well, I fell in love as a teenager with oil painting and started driving around the island basically as soon as I had my driver's license and painting these places in very much sort of an impressionist-expressionist sort of style, responding to the energy and the colors. I love color. After college, when I cam back to Maui, I opened my own art gallery, my boyfriend and I.
02:03And we ran that for three years in this wonderful little place, it was inside a town called Pa'ia, a little surf town. Surfing, windsurfing spots and full of hippies passing through and all sorts of culture and just sort of funky place. And that was really great, but after three years of that, working eight days a week on the gallery, we kind of moved in another direction. And for me lately that has been in arts education, both with students and adults.

And {we are} building our own projects, which some have been ongoing and some are very much still in the beginning stages, but very much around the idea and feeling of us all being artists. Expressions through all the arts being such an integral part of the human experience and...

Rose Deniz:  So...
03:00Maggie Sutrov:  ...giving people different avenues within that to expressions {themselves} though.

Rose Deniz:  {What about the idea that} everyone can be an artist? That  really interests me and it sounds like it's infused your work in a lot of ways and the kind of new directions that you're talking about taking. So how do you see everyone being an artist?

Maggie Sutrov:  Well I think there's a couple of ways in which that applies. First of all, you talk to any five-year-old, they know they're an artist. They know they can dance. They'll draw you a picture right then and there. It's in us all and it's been in all of us since human beings first started gathering together and telling stories and first started drawing on cave walls. It goes back 30,000 years, 40,000 years that date remnants of drawings in Australia.
04:01And so it's really, it's a part of being human. And then you take that also to this day and age where we can have anything and everything we wanted at our fingertips, all the information we want through the web. Any product in the stores, it's all there so what is it that's going to attract us? Is it going to attract things that have some sort of essence, some sort of art put into them. And so...

Rose Deniz:  Right. Some sort of value.

Maggie Sutrov:  Yeah exactly. So that's the role of the artists in the community, I think whatever your job, whatever your career is has become something that people are starting to see as necessary. It's not just the fine artist, the painter, or the sculptor, or the classical musician, or whatever, it's...

Rose Deniz:  That's what I was also curious about...

Maggie Sutrov:  We are all artists.

Rose Deniz:  Do you distinguish between artists with a capital A and artists? When you described the artist as being sort of something that's natural and intuitive to everybody, we were talking about story (or you mentioned story).
05:14And story seems to be a really big link between all the different fields or all the different areas that we might explore as artists. Everybody has a story to tell. And so to me that's what makes people artists. It's the expression of their story. So how do you distinguish or how do you see that?

Maggie Sutrov:  Between an artist with a capital A, and then basically anyone who is expressing themselves, I think sometimes I do but mostly that's in terms of how we are operating within the society.  
06:00
If someone is specifically making their living through a traditional {art}, in something that has traditionally been an art form or is pursuing one of the those traditional art forms whether it's for money or not, then I think it still tends to [be artist with an A). But that's just {because} certain traditions have come out of our human expression that people go to for enjoyment.

Going and seeing a symphony or seeing an opera, going to the art museum, {people are} partaking in the human experience because these traditions have been there but people...

Rose Deniz:  Yes.

Maggie Sutrov:  ...seeing themselves as separate from that I think is something that needs to {lessen}.

Rose Deniz:  It depends on where you align yourself individually,
07:05...you know, according to the "system" of how art world is run or has been run. And I think... that the veil between capital A artists and artists is really about perception?

Maggie Sutrov:  Mmhmm..

Rose Deniz:  And that's really interesting. I also know people that would never want to take on the identity of artists. They don't relate to it at all. But I don't think that's the issue. We're not necessarily talking about having the ability to paint or draw. Although I imagine we're going to think similarly along the lines that everybody can draw. Everybody can learn how to draw. But that's different than let's say, having creative life.
08:01Maggie Sutrov:  Definitely. And I think there are so many ways people can be creative with this. {For} some people it'll be the way they give gifts to their friends or it might be in the culinary arts...

[Cross talk]

...but people who don't find some way to be creative are definitely going to, they're going to have a hole inside of them. Whatever {it is}, raising your kinds, or whatever, creativity has got to come out.

Rose Deniz:  So again that comes back to value. I’d kind of like you to talk about what you think gives something {value}, whether it's a work of art or an experience of value in a creative sense.

Maggie Sutrov:  Well, I think there's kind of two sides to value when you talk about art. I was thinking about this earlier, and when you're making something creatively, whether you are doing it within your own art practice or you are, say cooking in  your own home, there's enjoyment. You get {something} out of it personally. The meaning it has for you.
09:08You're expressing your human existence through what you are doing. You are putting your best self into it, your essence into it. And so whether you're drawing or doing anything creative, humming to yourself, it can be absentminded but you're still getting some expression out of it I think. But then there's sharing it other people and the value that's created between you in this realm of interaction. And that's I think where the value can definitely be spread.

Rose Deniz:  I do think there are people that can make something for themselves and enjoy it in the privacy of their own home, and these are activities or ideas that are really not necessarily related to sharing.
10:10But then on the other hand, if  I didn't know that on some level it would be seen, shared, displayed, shipped, whatever, that it wouldn't have the same kind of meaning.

Maggie Sutrov:  I don't think it's really a story until we share it with other people, and we start to create meaning when we share what we're doing. So I think this is where creativity and story come together, because if you share it with other people it enlarges the experience of sharing your perspective with them and they're getting to see that.  And if you have something in common there's this resonation that happens.

Rose Deniz:  It's a powerful thought to think that story joins us all together, and also the flip side of that would be that if stories aren't shared then there's some breakdown with the way we communicate and relate to each other.
11:28Maggie Sutrov:  I definitely think so. Your story is your perspective. No one else can see through your eyes. The closest thing they have to that is to hear what you have to say or to see the photograph that you took, the painting that you've created, the music that you created because you felt a certain way, whatever it is, that came from where you sat, where you stood. And they're getting to feel a little bit of what it's like to be where you are.
12:01So you can take people from across cultures from across the world and they can start to see that.

Rose Deniz:  Which makes me think that in terms of, of say, how you share your story that there really isn't a hierarchy of one way being better than the other. A painting isn't better than a short story or memoir or vice versa. But I think it depends on what medium in which you need to share your story. How do you see that coming up in your work or when you work with other people?

Maggie Sutrov:  I think that people will be drawn to different ways of working depending on how they see the world, if they are an auditory type of person or if they are a visual person, or a tactile person. For me, it's always been visual arts and color and story, and when I was double majoring in visual arts and creative writing in college, my writing notebook basically was just full of drawings and doodles.

[Laughter]
13:14So I, even though the writing department was fantastic and I finished off in writing, I went on into visual arts.

[Laughter]

Rose Deniz:  We have a similarity with this one. In fact, sort of the other way around. I was in the art department, but writing. And even recently to this day, I have wrestled with how can I do both? Do I have to give up one for the other? And more and more I feel like it's not an option for me to only do one. I mean it, I need to do both. It's just part of my creative work. The question has been how do I present my story? How do I present both sides?
14:11Do you find that having a hybrid approach to making art, like {adding in} the influence of writing, is something that contributes to your art work? How does that affect you when you’re making decisions about what projects to take on, and how much to share about them?

Maggie Sutrov:  Hmm. Well, for myself, there have been times in the past where I was writing and making art about the same subjects. Like somehow the scenes or the locations or the stories or the plot itself were showing up in both. More and more lately, though, I've been playing with ways of combining them more directly, like in illustration, and I was not at all a comic book kid growing up, but the combination of visual and story that comes together in graphic novels and such {is so interesting}.
15:15Rose Deniz:  Yeah.

Maggie Sutrov:  {Illustrations are} amazing me more and more, and I've been working in illustrations a bit lately.

Rose Deniz:  So you're kind of in new territory and it does sound fascinating. I think once we get out of our comfort zone, that's when we start asking really serious questions. Serious not meaning, you know, downtrodden, but serious like how could this work together? Can I try a different combination? Can I do something different that makes me even a little bit uncomfortable because it's new? But you almost are compelled to do it because it contributes to your story.
16:08I mean it's the way you learn about the world too.

Maggie Sutrov:  Definitely. I think it's something that I've really been thinking about more lately, and what has shifted for me has been how do I want to connect with people through my art? What medium? I used to {and still do} my oil paintings of landscapes and such, and that used to be my number one thing. I did not do reproductions of any sort. You came to the gallery, you saw the pieces, you could reference them on the website, but it was about the originals. And now I'm viewing projects like how am I going to create this to be something that people can interact with online?

Even if there's a physical piece of it, the stories and the interactions I want to have with people are not tied to the specific location or the specific object. That that's a part of the experience.
17:10Rose Deniz:  So tell me how that came about because that's really fascinating. I agree with you. I don't think {that now} the experience is connected to a physical object like we've always thought it has been. I mean, there's more than one way to experience something visual and artistically. So how did you get to the point where it isn't about the specific painting, or it isn't about the specific object?

Maggie Sutrov:  I think it still can be, but it's, it's different {now}. There is basically {a need} to have a more interactive sort of experience. I think the internet allows for so much more back and forth and communal experience and such.
18:11
Rose Deniz:  Yeah. Was there something crucial or not {that happened to change your thinking} or was it just sort of something that happened over time?

Maggie Sutrov:  I think it was something that happened over time. It partially came out of  having a gallery and having an infrastructure that you had to care for and you were tied to. And then playing with things that were not tied to it. Doing events where you were using a space for a couple of hours, doing a class where people showed up and did this and then they left. And then being a part of so many things in the digital world and feeling like this is where people are sharing their stories now.
19:06I think that's one of the things that's really happening.... stories are being created and shared in that {internet} realm, but that doesn't mean they exclusively in that realm. Getting together with people directly and making art together is fantastic but there's so much more potential. So many more opportunities. Technology magnifies things and so you can use that to magnify the stories and the experiences and the number of people you can interact with.

Rose Deniz:  Yes and I also think that contrary to what some people may believe, working in a virtual or digital way actually brings people together. I've seen more real life connections happen as a result of reading someone's blog or interacting with somebody online. It's still a means to connect in person.
20:10Maggie Sutrov:  Yeah.

Rose Deniz:  There are multiple ways that you can connect with people and connect these various stories. You mentioned teaching a couple of times. So I am curious about how you see the teaching that you do contributing to your overall {artistic} work?

Maggie Sutrov:  Well the teaching is such a fun thing. It's a lot of work but it's really so much fun because each class in a way is sort of like a collaborative art project. I show up, I have certain ideas in mind but it's really it's what comes out of the group of people. Sometimes I've got ten adults in the room or 25 first graders in the room, and if they're all putting their creativity in, they’re finding out things about themselves that they didn't know were there and finding new ways of expressing themselves.
21:08And so it really leads back to the feeling that we're all artists, and exploring that, and whether these people who’ve never have a career that we would label creative are still part of the {creative} world that we live in, and they can take those experiences with them. And apply that experience or that feeling they got from the experience.

Rose Deniz:  Not to mention that when you enter a classroom and you know it's about creativity and art, it's also a safe place to explore and...

Maggie Sutrov:  Definitely.

Rose Deniz:  ...if you're with a group of people and they're all doing something similar or you're all asking questions or drawing, and then it's really amazing when you can see even minor transformations in the space of an hour; to see someone go from, hey, you know, I didn't think I could do that to wow, I actually can.
22:13And I think those moments are so gratifying as a teacher.

Maggie Sutrov:  Definitely. I think I mean especially with adults. Sometimes it's the inhibitions. They're all bared and right out in the open at first and telling me that it is painful in itself but it's like...

Rose Deniz:  Yes.

Maggie Sutrov:  ...they're like shaking in their chairs sometimes and it's like I can't believe I enrolled myself in an art class. I've been wanting to do this for 15 years but I'm scared I want to run out the door but then you put some art supplies in their hands and then before you know it the next thing they are saying, they're like I feel like I'm six again.

[Laughter]

Rose Deniz:  Great.

[Cross talk]

Maggie Sutrov:  {When} you feel like you're a kid that's when you're getting back in touch with that piece of human experience.
23:04Rose Deniz:  So you're really in some ways, bridging two different worlds {as an art teacher}.  It's not just facilitating, it's like you're inviting in this experience as a teacher and it’s almost alchemical or something, where you're shifting the thoughts and the feelings and the experiences around, and maybe being a conduit is a good way to describe it. Do you have kind of a name for what you do when you're engaging with somebody's creativity?

Maggie Sutrov:  Well I like the things that you just said. I was like wow! OK. Sure. That sounds good.

[Laughter]

But it doesn't...

Rose Deniz:  Yeah go ahead.
24:03Maggie Sutrov:  I don't know. I mean it's a really special thing when people are like, wow, OK. I've got it, this is something that came out of me. And so often people draw something. And they're like, oh that's horrible. Kids and adults alike, they'll want to scratch it out or they'll erase, erase, erase, erase. Or they'll just crumple it. And they're like, can I have another paper? I always tell people to be proud of anything that you draw because that came out of you.

Rose Deniz:  Right.

Maggie Sutrov:  And so it came from inside you, and all those bad drawings, and I wouldn't even call them bad drawings, but those drawings that did not come out the way that you wanted them to, are the ones that get you to where you want to go and you're probably going to discover something different than what you had in your mind originally anyways.
25:05Rose Deniz:  Right.

Maggie Sutrov:  But they're part of the journey. And so be thankful for those drawings too.

Rose Deniz:  Yeah.

Maggie Sutrov:  The, whatever it is, if it's the bad notes while you're learning to play the saxophone or whatever it is, that's all part of the journey.

Rose Deniz:  When you're uninhibited and you're just, you're just working, you're just getting it out. You're getting that first draft out, you're getting that first, you know, layer that first catch on paper when you're not thinking about the final product or the project when it's over that's when all the good stuff comes out. And it's hard to sort it out and to see it as good stuff when it doesn't look pretty or it doesn't look finished or it was raw. It doesn't feel good because then you know you're getting something authentic out.

And how is that tied to ship? How does it all come together, how do you know when you're done? How do you see shipping your story? How do you see putting your story out in the world? Your creativity out into the world?
26:15Maggie Sutrov:  It's an interesting thing. It's like we are talking about the trail of experiences we have that have value to us personally and there's so much growth that happens in that. And I think even if you're engaged professionally in a creative field, you need to be having those things that are quiet and personal. When I was painting and had my gallery and there was, there wasn't a whole lot of room for experimentation outside of that area, but I tried to do little things and then also, within my oil paintings.
27:02So it sort of bounces between the things that you're quietly creating and exploring and the things that you're putting out there, but I think if you don't aim to get some piece out there at some point, then I think you're not seeing the effect that that it can really have for other people. And it can be so rewarding to find out what someone else sees, and it {might} be something totally different than what you saw. Or maybe they get exactly what you were saying or what you were seeing. And so...

Rose Deniz:  Right.

Maggie Sutrov:  …{you don’t get to experience} that gift if you don't put it out there. You’ll never know.

Rose Deniz:  You’ll never know. When it is viewed alone and {you’re} working alone and there isn't this goal to share it, it can kind of thwart your desire to keep on creating because you feel like nobody's going to see it.
28:05It's in a vacuum but I think we've seen such a big change recently in how you can share things. I mean how simple it is to go open a Tumblr account to...

Rose Deniz:  ...point out things that you like. It doesn't even have to be about your own work but just engaging with other people, you start to see what other people like and then there's this ongoing conversation about art, about creativity, about interest or pursuits. So it's not as difficult or isolating. There are hundred thousand ways to share now.

Maggie Sutrov:  And to be part of {each other’s} stories.

Rose Deniz:  Right.

Maggie Sutrov:  And then you can contribute to the stories.

Rose Deniz:  Be part of the story, yes. To be part of somebody else's story too. Because the conversation online is interactive and it's collaborative.
29:06When we're talking about shipping, I don't thinks it's as simple as producing on demand, selling and being removed from who buys it. I think that the distinction is kind of breaking down because now we can know the people that are interested in our work. We can know the people that are buying it. And it's not so tied into the object like we were discussing before, but it's also about people being entrusted and engaged in your individual story too.

Maggie Sutrov:  Definitely. And, yeah. It's creating this story that that resonates with somebody, and I think that's all the more important if you're creating something that either the product or the idea is a little bit abstract.
30:09Sometimes some people are creating something for a specific demographic, so it is creating work, it's creating art for...

Rose Deniz:  Right.

Maggie Sutrov:  ...surfer and ocean lovers. But then if you deal with some more abstract ideas, and I think all the pieces that go into the story become even more important because it's it's what are people resonating with. They're catching the humanity that you're expressing, whether it's the colors or the way you talk about your art or the way that you show your process. Whatever that is, some movie that you put up that shows some other aspect of what you do. And then that that, you don't know what's going to pull them in but finding out what is pulling them in, finding out what they're responding to and getting that feedback and and...
31:06Rose Deniz:  Isn't it kind of refreshing to know that it's not about getting one specific reaction? I don't think it's our job to make sure that everybody understands exactly what was intended. But it is in some ways important to be as clear about it as possible when we're sharing it. Though it's impossible to control the reaction. But ultimately people can connect so much more easily, you can discover more about what you're putting out in the world through seeing it through other people's eyes, the way they see it.
32:03Maggie Sutrov:  Yeah. That's definitely an excellent goal for finding your way through all this. You put your work out there and hopefully people will resonate with some piece of your story. Some piece of your {vision} overlaps with their world or how the world looks to them. But then there's this other piece that they have never seen before and so that enlarges it, and if you can find out what that is, who those people are, you can start to {explore} what this group is or who these individuals are, and hopefully if you can engage them enough, they'll bring their friends there.

And then this group of people who are inspired, affected, and maybe purchasing are all there for whatever your aim is for the project, whether it's just creating a community or making a living as an artist or just meeting people.
33:03Rose Deniz:  I see our conversation as part of that mosaic of creativity. A conversation can be art. Communicating and sharing with somebody is really what we're ultimately trying to get to by making a painting, by writing a book, by doing all these things that are considered creative. We’re ultimately trying to engage with somebody, readership, or viewership, so {a conversation creates} this spark, this feeling of connection. And so I see our conversation as part of that and in that case, sharing our conversation is like sharing a painting because the experience of listening creates a reaction, it resonates, or you hope that it resonates.
34:09Maggie Sutrov:  Wonderful. Wonderfully said. This {conversation} happened because of the arts and connecting through a community online, all the way across on opposite end of the globe.

[Laughter]

Rose Deniz:  In some ways, {Art is Dialogue} came out of my frustration that I had paintings that I couldn't time travel with or be there with in somebody’s house so we’re looking at it at the same time and talking about it at the same time. {Not being able to be in more than one location at a time} made me start to break down my ideas of what art really is, and ultimately it's this essence, this experience that we've been talking about. The story and that the medium can change, the time zones can change, the cultures can change but if you really connect with somebody or something that experiences creativity, it really breaks down those walls.
35:12And it's really exciting for me. And it's really exciting for me to hear that you are on the other side of the world thinking similar things. I'm curious about what you hope to do next. How do you hope to take these ideas and the start of these different projects, and what you hope to turn them into?

Maggie Sutrov:  Well there's a lot of things that are sort of in the beginning stages right now. There's stuff that's not online. We're still sort of formulating, but very much ingrained in all these areas with story being at the root of it.

I've been doing some illustrating.
36:02I've got one project that is nearing completion that's basically a way of sharing a story, a form of a story. I {think} of how long the arts have been with us, and the way that they operate in our world. {We have all these} ways that we communicate, and {don’t have to choose to} stay closed in our little rooms where we're not interacting with anyone. We can reach out, and we're interacting and choosing what stories we want to tell. This global world has stories from every stretch of the globe available.

I’m planning on doing art projects that are a part of reaching out to people in different areas of the arts and different areas of the globe and finding out what they're doing creatively, and helping magnify that. {Projects that} extend the arts and {bring} awareness and community.
37:17Rose Deniz:  Well I think you're really doing a lot to contribute to that, and I find it really exciting to hear about your projects and how you hope to connect with more people. {It’s interesting} how your own work has transformed in the process. I think that ultimately artists are question-askers. Artists ask questions and the answers can come in many different forms. And if you're asking questions, you're exploring different ways to get your work out in the world to ultimately share with others. I really like what you're doing.
38:01I really like the questions you're asking and it has been a pleasure to talk to you this morning {or your evening}!

Maggie Sutrov:  It's been a pleasure talking to you, Rose, too. It's wonderful connecting the arts and the ideas across all this distance.