Tim Dingman: The upside of being an artist

Love in the arts community is as precipitous, precarious, pernicious, preposterous and….given to pretension as it is anywhere else in the human community.  Only more so.

It is not my intent to guess, discuss or disclose whom is sleeping with whom in the Chelsea or Newark arts community.  I’m remarkably inept at making such assumptions.

I’m more interested in wondering why people outside of the community are attracted to artists. Why does a 30-plus-year-old woman at a pop-up show in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel decided that she wants to buy a 60-year-old-plus artist like me drinks?

Why does a brilliant 38 year old call to pick me up in a Mercedes to take me (as her “date”) to a party?  People in the arts community have simply been given permission, or, rather, given themselves permission to give way to their passion, often at the cost of financial, emotional and philosophical security.  Artists are people who have stopped reminding themselves that the society at large expects them to be “normal.”  By the way; “passion” is equal to, but not the equivalent of, sex.  Just to remind you.

My favorite self descriptor is “Bohemian”.  It’s a somewhat archaic term, but it explains what goes on in an artist’s life and in the arts community more generally. (Read about it as defined in Wikipedia.)

Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements; at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts. The other is poverty.

And other factors suggest themselves. For instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life, as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities.

Literary “Bohemians” were associated in the French imagination with roving Romani people (called “bohemians” because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia), outsiders apart from conventional society and untroubled by its disapproval. The term carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of Philistines), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital fidelity.

That’s it.  “…a connotation of arcane enlightenment.”  The artists are the “smartest people in the room.”  Artists know something that the rest of the populous doesn’t – and can’t – ever know. Sound arrogant?  Sure is. Don’t you have to be to put your favorite creation on a wall in public for everyone to see, comment on, deride, and judge?  After coming to terms with that, what could possibly frighten you?

Working artist’s rag: The good, the not so good, and the sort of outrageous

Ah.  A subject about which even I  am  somewhat  tentative: the New York/New Jersey art comparison.  Who does it better? Can New Jersey – Newark specifically – overcome the self imposed inferiority complex?  Can we ever get out of the penumbra of the Myth of the New York Art Scene?

OK: They have the money. If art were only about money (Southeby’s thinks so) that would trump all arguments. “They got the guns but we got the numbers.” As a maker and not just a consumer of art, I’ll tell you, art is not all about money. It’s not all about “slick” and “shiny” and a receptionist at the front desk with a fake British accent.

Aljira on Washington and Aferro on Market are as slick as any Chelsea or midtown New York gallery. I like those galleries, and I’m proud to have them in Newark. I’m impressed with the local artists and student outreach that Aljira and Aferro do, but they aren’t my favorites.  As stated here earlier, I think art should be accessible, affordable, and scary.  I stand by the “scary” wholeheartedly.  If you go far enough south in Manhattan, you will eventually encounter the kind of raucous, imaginative material that you will see permeates the Newark arts community.  Walk down Halsey street and drop in the Coffee Cave, Artisan Collective or most of the barber shops and you will get art that has passion over salesmanship.

Both communities have the commonality of the activist LGBT community.  In both Chelsea and Newark, a Venn diagram of the arts and LGBT communities would be pretty much a circle with a few fringy outliers who are generously accepted by the majority tribes.

I transition from Newark to Chelsea with relative ease and frequency.  I have dear friends, collaborators and fond memories of and in both communities. There is a fundamental difference in “attitude” the makes the difference for me in deciding where to call home, and this is an example:

Last Wednesday, I had the great good fortune to be invited to show at a one night “pop-up”  at the LGTB center on west 13th St. I brought 40 prints and made a minor sale. A large turnout, few buyers, and lots of family and friends.  Towards the end of the two-hour show, all of the participating artists were called to the stage to make a brief statement about the show, their work and…about anything else.  The remarks may be summarized thusly:

“I’m (insert name here) I do (insert medium here)  I am proud to be a member of the LGBT community.  We are strong; we are ascendant; we have changed society.  Yea, us.”  It was theatrical, it was self congratulatory and it was justly and correctly so.

Do not misunderstand me. I love this Chelsea set of artists.  I support them. I love their art and their fearless, fierce approach to art and life.

On Saturday, I went to the monthly “open mic” event at Artisan Collective (25 Halsey Street. Look for their monthly wine tastings. Brutally good, and  Burley is a wine font of information). It was organized, this month, around a visit by Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif. Before Shye Sales and her friend Danielle read poetry, Sharif spoke one on one with people from the audience. Every comment, every question from the artists ended in, “What will you do, and what can we do for rest the community?” Shocking and good poetry. Good art. And that is why I live here. And that is why I love this grimy, smoggy, dirty, tough city and its artists.

The images this post are Geary Marcello (fashion designer and madman) and Rob Ordonetz II (photographer and actor).  They are activists members of the arts and LGBT community in NYC and graciously left the security of Manhattan to pose for portraits last Saturday.  I’m looking for a wall to show the prints.

Editor’s note: Some of the images in the slideshow contain nudity.

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Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif drops into Artisan Collective

Saturday night, 2014 Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif came early to the monthly open mic night at Artistan Collective. He spoke informally, one on one, to community members about new construction and new businesses coming to Newark. His emphasis was on inclusion of local workers in construction and full-time employment in these businesses.

Specifically, Sharif talked about the new Whole Foods coming to Halsey Street, the Shop Rite to be constructed a dozen blocks west of there on Springfield Avenue, and new ownership of the New Jersey Devils. In each case, he described efforts to ensure inclusion of local workers and even local artists into the mix.

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Working artist’s rag: Oh. My Daughter. Oh. My ducats.

The Merchant of Venice.  Act 2 scene 8 in which Solanio mocks Shylock’s Lament.  Shylock stands on the dock watching his daughter sail away with her lover and his “two sealed bags of gold.”  At this moment, Shakespeare shows us a tragic character learning the true balance of his love for money and his love for his daughter.

I’m having one of those “Shylock” moments. My photo projects are successful beyond what I could have imaged when I lost my state funded budget with DDD backin Septemer. Every Sunday I do portraits of Newark based artists, writers and performers. This will culminate on a 15 to 25 piece show sometime in the next year.  I am doing documentary photos for the Newark Fire Department of the obstacle course/sculpture garden that they build every year for the April Disaster Drills.  I’m doing portraits of members of the LGBT community in the fashion industry in NYC.  I have three shows coming up.  Yeah, I’m struggling to pay rent on time. It’s a tough act to balance ink, paper and food, but things are fantastic.  I’m more productive than any time in the last three years. I love this work and I love the work I am producing.

I had an interview last week, and I’m afraid someone is going to offer me a job. It’s a pretty good job and if they actually offer, I will actually have to take it. I have a “sixties” definition of the “social contract”, right out of Rousseau and Locke. I pay into the New Jersey unemployment fund. When I’m out of work, The State of New Jersey pays me back some on the condition that I report my status every week, search for work, and take it if I can get it. I never should have read David Hume. I never should have out grown Ayn Rand.

This is this week’s photo shoot:

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Tim Dingman: Newark Public Library – the prohibited images

My sixties radical roots are always revivified by a confrontation with senseless regulation.  I feel a minor bit of civil disobedience is in order today.

I visited the Newark Public Library. I went there out of simple guilt. It’s a big, 19th-century marvel of Renaissance revival arches and Tiffany-style stained glass windows. The major exhibition of art in the library is made up of 1920s to 1980s architectural photos of Newark.

I walked in, stopped at the security desk, offered to let them search my bags, and showed them my camera. They waved me by without comment.  As I walked into the middle of the central atrium, I heard the powerful voice of a woman out of the seeming ether. It turned out to be the third floor. Really, this woman should be in the choir, because you could hear every note, syllable and exclamation point.

In the atrium, my eye drifted up, past the second and third levels of Renaissance revival arch and barrow vault levels to the amazing stained glass skylight.  I’m standing there with a camera: a 10 to 24 millimeter lens. What else was I supposed to do? I knelt down to put one more meter between me and the subject, in order to get a few more meters of width on the shot, which was probably 60 meters above me.

God. I love this city.

I walked up wide marble steps with brass hand rails to the second and third floors. The murals (Apollo tending the “fountain of knowledge”) are to photograph (at least I thought at the time) for another time with more planning, which this kind of photo work takes. On the third floor, I found the young woman with the voice, loudly berating someone on the phone.

Looking up again. Stairs. Going up. To the fourth floor. This is clearly administration territory. I could tell, because there is almost no art. I’m looking at the only exhibit on the floor, and someone opens a hallway door. It’s an attractive woman who starts with, “Are you looking for something? May I help you?”

I explained my position. I confessed my guilt at not having been there before. I explicated my revelry at finally allowing myself to view the architectural bounty of the building.

“You aren’t taking pictures, are you?”

“Well, yeah.  Who could not?”

“We don’t allow pictures. It’s policy.”

“Wait. I can go to the Met in New York City and take pictures. I can go to the Metropolitan Library on 42nd Street and take pictures. I can go to the Art Institute in Chicago and take pictures. But I can’t take pictures here….with all of this architecture and history?”

“It’s our policy.”

I knew better than to pursue it.  I wasn’t going to make her work above her pay grade.

Here is the real legal deal, at least in New York as dictated by case law: in public places, you can take public photos. In private places, the owner or agent of the owner can prevent you from taking photos. If you walk onto the sidewalk, which is public space, you can take the damn photo. I’m not recommending that you argue with or confront the “agent” (the real principals will never confront the issue). I’m saying…sometimes, civil disobedience is a requirement of a civil society. And with that in mind:





Editor’s note: The library’s website says that, “Photography on the library premises without the permission of the Library administration and all those photographed,” is not allowed. But generally, photography in public spaces where one is lawfully present is allowed. We’ve reached out to the library for more context about the purpose of the policy, and will follow up if they provide any comment.

“The working artist’s rag”: Survival options | Artist-in-residence Tim Dingman

Read the first installment of “The Working Artist’s Rag” here.

One of the good things about daylight savings time is that, when I start work at 5:30 AM, it’s beginning to get light outside.  I have  occasional (but always temporary) flashes of reality: Why am I working on art projects at 5:30 in the morning?  Hmm…oh, yeah, the 85/15 rule.  As stated here earlier: As a working artist, you need to spend 85% of your time promoting yourself and your work and 15% of your time eating, sleeping and making art. Worse: I’m working  at 5:30 AM because I’m getting email from other artists about projects and collaborations, new of ongoing.

Right now, I’m deep into the 15% mode.  Right now, I am intellectually and creatively, well, fat.  I have multiple long-term projects ongoing. I have offers and requests to collaborate with artist and social activists in Newark and New York City. I just finished my two-week stint as principal photographer for the Newark Art council’s “Open Doors” week. People on the street downtown recognize me and say, “Hey, photographer.”  (That’s weird.)  I’m the freaking artist-in-residence at Brick City Live.  Now all I have to do is figure out how to do the eat, sleep, and make art part of the equation.

Working Artist’s Survival Options

Minimum wage, part time, seasonal work.  Minimum wage in New Jersey is $8.25 an hour. If you work a 40- (or 37.5-, or 35-) hour week, you net about $240, or about $12,000 per annum.  Rents in Newark for warm, safe spaces run about $850 a month or about $10,200 per annum.  So, let’s figure $2,500 annually (about $48 a week) for “other.”  Get another job?  Sell equipment?

Priorities. How do you divide up $48 a week?  Food, cell phone, internet, utilities?  Medication, glasses, dentistry?  Ink, paper, batteries, companionship, alcohol?  So far, I have traded albuterol sulfate for ink and clonazipam for paper. I don’t have anything to trade for rent, but I don’t care much about food.
Sudden offers. The offers you get by just “showing up” cause other problems.  Tuesday, I was invited to participate in a pop-up show on West 13th Street in New York City. Now. Do I jump into more paper, ink, and batteries to bring loose prints to sell at $50 to $75 apiece, or do I buy…albuterol inhalers? Got to pay the rent.  What next?

Below: Tim photographs poet Shye Sales

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Tim Dingman is Brick City Live’s November “artist-in-residence”.


Tim Dingman: Why do we make art?

Why do we make art? There is no choice. You either don’t much care and, therefore, don’t bother, or you are driven and you need to make it. You need to create. It is simultaneously very self-centered and arrogant and absolutely selfless. You need to express yourself and inflict your voice on the civilian public at large and share and inform and enlighten. You need to bring the expression of what you believe to be your “revealed truth” to a (perhaps) unperceptive population.

Newark is not Chelsea. Working in the arts community in Newark tends to give expression to the bias in the community, to the revelatory and expressive inclusion of the rest of the community. The South Bronx and Chelsea, well…not so much. This is why I live here. This is why, at my advanced old age and semi-decrepitude, I have been able to be revivified and join in, and be accepted by the arts community (musical, literary, and visual) in Newark.

I have lived in most of the regions of the US east of Wisconsin. Newark, as the rest of America used to be, is a place where one can re-imagine and remake oneself. This is a place that remakes itself periodically, and that embraces the new more willingly that any other place where I have lived.

“The working artist’s rag”: An introduction

My name is Timothy P. Dingman.

I am a working artist and this is a “rag.”  Think of it as a “Raga”: a story, a lesson, an explanation, a riff, an apology (in the philosophical Thomistic/Aristotelian sense). This is a serial blog for the month of November done at the gracious invitation of Brick City Live. It is an essay spread over 30 days , about what a working artist in Newark, New Jersey does. It is an explanation of what one does to be and must do to be an artist. It is an explanation of how one gets to be an artist.  Everyone wants to get to be an artist…until they get to be one.

I promise that my name is Timothy Dingman. I promise that from the time I was 7 until I was 24, I never lived in one place for more than sixteen months. I promise that I am currently showing my photographs at cWOW in Newark and a tiny gallery in Chelsea, on 24th Street. These facts, I think, confirm my status as a working artist. At least it confirms that I meet all of the demands of the definition.  I hope I have achieved some small level of credibility with you, my audience.

I came to Newark in 2011.  I had my kids out of or into stable positions at school or work. Their mother had migrated to California some years before.  I was looking to live in a city, as I had always lived on the edge of cities and found the vibrancy, diversity, access to unique culture and basic arrogance of proclaiming oneself a “city dweller” worth the risk.

The risk is considerable.  In 2011, I participated in 6 shows in New York City and suburban New York and northern New Jersey.  In November of 2011, I got mugged pretty brutally in the courtyard of St. Lucy’s Church on 7th Avenue.  It took me the better part of 18 months to get out of the hospital and out of my apartment.  I still can’t quite see out of my left eye.  The last three months have reaffirmed my faith in and dedication to art.

Thus began my real connection with both the arts and “civilian” communities in Newark, and my admiration and fascination with that relationship.   The real breakthrough came last month, when someone on Clifton Ave walked up to me and asked me if I wanted to buy drugs.  It felt like acceptance. Just then, for a moment, I was in the community. Poor guy. I might be the only person my age on the East Coast who doesn’t smoke pot.  Don’t get me wrong: I would try it if not for my asthma. If he knew what kind of prescription psych meds I take, he might have asked to buy from me.

I had a mentor in Bergen/Rockland counties named Paula Mattawick.  Her mantra to me was “85/15”. If you want to be a working artist, allocate 85% of your time promoting and selling your art and yourself…and your ass if you have any left over. Allocate 15 % of your time to eating, sleeping, and making art.  A lot gets left behind.

I had a mentor in New York City named Jeanine Alfierei: intelligent, generous, talented, driven. Her partner, Elaina, has two Masters degrees and, as a painter, knows no fear.  She taught me that it isn’t so much the individual mentors or friends that are important to an artist, but involvement with the community that counts.  It isn’t that every one depends on everyone else; it’s that everyone in or out of the arts community in Newark is prepared to give anyone else a little step up. A little word of encouragement. An introduction.

The city of Newark…

I came here for the cheap rents. I came here because my oldest son was and architecture student at NJIT, and we developed a symbiotic/parasitic relationship that revolved around rent and mutual exchange of information, new and old.

I stayed here for the community.  I can’t have any interaction with an artist or a regular community member here that does not include a concern for the community at large. That would not happen in Rockland County, Bergen County, or Chelsea.



Tim Dingman is Brick City Live’s November “artist-in-residence”. To learn more about the feature, go here.


Open Doors: World’s largest monotype print in Newark

Participants gather in Newark yesterday to make a 1,900 square foot print in Washington Park as part of the Open Doors art festival.
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Open Doors: Halsey Street businesses join in

Open Doors along Halsey Street.

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