Artsology Interview with artist Fred Fleisher

Artsology usually features art historical figures, famous artists from the past in the hope of providing a basic understanding of art history. While there's incredible value in looking back, it's also important to look forward, and Artsology wanted to present a view of a contemporary artist living today. In looking back, it's easy to imagine a romantic picture of life as an artist ... afternoons in the studio or atelier, intense focus on making great art, dealers handling sales so that the artist can focus on creating masterpieces. Picasso never had to work at McDonalds to make a few bucks, did he? Matisse didn't work as a waiter while struggling to pay the rent. But how do today's artists approach their work and make it all happen? Artsology interviews New York artist Fred Fleisher to gain some insight on his path to becoming an artist, his philosophy of art-making, and on his art career.

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artist Fred Fleisher surrounded by some of his toy sculptures

Artsology: How old were you when you first thought you wanted to become an artist?

Fred Fleisher: As a young person of 10 years old I was excited to make art and could draw really well. But looking back I don't think that I ever believed, at that age, that someone could be an "Artist." In high school I would take some private lessons and paint on my own (my parents bought me one of those really cheap easels and some oil paints), but it was not a realistic possibility to consider being an artist. Most people thought in more practical terms.

Artsology: Did anything specific prompt you to want to become an artist?

Fred Fleisher: I spent some time serving in the Army, and when I got out I finally understood that most of life really isn't practical ... I was driving down the highway and realized that I wanted to be an artist. I was 20.

Artsology: Did your parents encourage you to become an artist?

Fred Fleisher: Yes, they did. They encouraged me in almost any endeavor and this was done on a blue-collar budget - meaning the economical support (buying supplies, etc.). But most importantly I have fond memories of my dad making drawings for me (he was a good draftsman) and we would play a game which involved each of us taking turns drawing something in the room and then guessing what was drawn. We would also build things from all sorts of hardware that he would bring home from work. After my father died (while I was still in the service) my mother would always, ALWAYS, believe in me and any dreams that I felt I had to follow. Like being an artist.

Artsology: Where did you study art, and for how long?

Fred Fleisher: I spent about 5 years at Penn State University where I earned two undergraduate degrees - a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and the other a Bachelor of Science in Art Education. Due to my dual degrees I also gained a stronger background in Art History and Psychology. Since moving to New York City, I have earned a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art from Queens College, City University of New York.

Artsology: When you begin creating a new art work, how much of the process involves planning, drafting and designing vs. working from a gut instinct, simply letting the creation unfold?

installation view of a Fred Fleisher art exhibition

Fred Fleisher: What happens, usually, is that a gut instinct, intuition or something like that motivates me towards a consideration of the new idea/work. From there I will, depending on the type of work, or media that is necessary, plan as needed. Since I work across media to bring ideas to life I almost always stay open to whatever would be needed for the work.

Artsology: Do you consciously work in "series" or do you approach your art making one piece at a time?

Fred Fleisher: Almost always in series. Specifically this applies to photo based work, but I will say that "series" or "connecting threads" within work are helpful to move ideas along to a sort of "end point". What I mean by this is simply to say that if I am working on drawings with a particular look and feel then I will keep this type of drawing going through however many I feel are necessary.

Artsology: On average, how many hours do you work on your art each day?

Fred Fleisher: I would love to be able to say that I can clock in and work on my art. This is not only a disciplined way to do things but a professional way also. However I work a job and teach part time, so I have to be flexible. Basically if I can get about 3 "work days" in a week - meaning if I were to work for someone else it would be the standard 8 hour work day - then I'm doing okay. So 3 hours one day, 5 another, etc., adding up to 24 hours. Someday, if I can only work on my art and, say, teach (I enjoy this quite a bit) then I would call it ideal. Then I would always try to put in 5 hours a day or whatever it takes. Without work there is no art.

Artsology: What do you think is the most difficult thing about being an artist in this day and time?

Fred Fleisher: To keep personal integrity for your work without getting caught up in the hype that surrounds the art world. What is a definition of success? Each person must maintain a sense of personal territory whether big success comes or not.

Artsology: Tells us some of the "day jobs" that you've held while pursuing a career in art.

Fred Fleisher: Worked in a lumber mill (while in school); Peer Counselor for Veterans (while in school); Art Supply Store(s) Associate and Assistant Manager; Security Guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Education Program Associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Professor (visiting and adjunct); Artist Assistant; Command Center - Security, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Artsology: Just as a hypothetical question, if you were not allowed to make art, how do you think your creativity would express itself?

Fred Fleisher: Mostly in leading a very individual life. However in any other job I would apply my own creative input to add, or make improvements to, whatever was needed.

painting of Star Wars The Death Star by Fred Fleisher

Artsology: If you could spend a few hours hanging out with 3 artists of any time period, who would you choose and why?

Fred Fleisher: Alberto Giacometti - inventive spirit, strong individual; John James Audubon - tenacity to accomplish his great work; Hans Hofmann or Willem De Kooning - both had a traditional attitude and training BUT helped to move painting into the high Modernist tradition. They were willing to learn and grow.

Artsology: Are there any artists that inspire or influence your art?

Fred Fleisher: Honestly, this changes constantly and, I might add, rarely does it influence about my making of art. Mostly, it's about the spirit and life of the artist. So right now I'm reading Audubon's Elephant by Duff Hart-Davis and what I'm finding is that Audubon was an artist with a singular vision (to accomplish his great work - a large folio of America's birds) that was unstoppable. Very encouraging and inspirational.

Artsology: How do you want your art to affect your viewers? What do you want them to take away from the experience of seeing your work?

Fred Fleisher: This is a great question. To think of the viewer is something that has been on my mind for some time. I can be isolated, making my ideas come to life and be without a thought as to how or what someone might think about the work. I would, I guess like many artists, want the viewer to come away with a thought that is, ultimately, greater than the work. Certainly a thought (or more) that has NOTHING to do with me ... even if the image/piece is directly drawn from my background. I would say for as close as possible to convey a sense of the shared human condition. Of course this varies and my art won't be communicating to everyone. Sadness that must be faced in life, but with a sense of hope and potential - at least I feel this way about my some of my little sculptures.

Artsology: What advice, if any, would you give a young artist who wanted to get involved in the New York art world?

Fred Fleisher: Stay focused. Stay open to learning - few artists hit their personal genius without any outside influence. Set goals, but be flexible. Be disciplined. ALWAYS WORK. Look at those artists who, in the face of worldwide fame, continue to be humble. Be a pro and don't think that being an artist with a very individual mindset doesn't involve business ... you need to think about business if you are going to show your work. KNOW the terrain and get active in it, but remember to WORK on your art. Otherwise you are just blowing smoke, as they say.

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