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Put a frame on it: 3 superpowers of the picture frame

I don't know about you, but I have a complicated relationship with framing my artwork.

On the one hand, I love using my artist's eye to find just the right frame to compliment the work. A sleek black metal, a light blonde wood, or a gilded gold frame can really elevate a painting or drawing. I'm a pro at finding just the right color to compliment the finished work, without being distracting. I've practically got it down to a science.

... On the other hand, just the thought of having to frame one of my pieces for a client, for a show, or even just for hanging on my own walls strikes a discordant key of anxiety that makes my palms go all sweaty.

And for a while, I didn't understand it.

Frames can be pretty pricey (sometimes very pricey), but while the pain of dropping so much money on the thing that goes around the artwork isn't pleasant, this really didn't explain the low-key panic I sometimes feel.

I came to realize that the reason frames intimidate me is because:

They have superpowers.

Like, real, magic superpowers.

They have three, in fact.

And it's because of their great power that I'm afraid of them. Rather, I'm afraid of the responsibility that comes with such a powerful tool.

However, I'm slowly learning that when we understand the magical forces of the frame, we can harness them to elevate our work, get us serious about our art, and begin to see the world a little differently.

So what are these superpowers?

#1: Frames force us to commit to the finish.

Lemme just fix this one last thing... this next last thing... wait, just one more detail...

Sound familiar?

While I've definitely stared at a work for long enough to want to never look at it again, it only takes a few hours away for me to come back and see all the little things that need "fixing."

A few common questions that circulate among my artsy friends are:

How do I know its done? How do I know when to stop? When do I know if it's good enough?

Short answer: When it's framed.

Putting our work in the frame carries with it the weight of finality.

Yes, it's possible to take it back out again and make those changes, but, honestly, once it's in the frame, it's done. It's no longer in the studio, but ready for the stage.

The finality is scary. But that's why it's important.

#2. Frames force us to take our work seriously.

When I'm playing in the studio, it's tremendously helpful to view everything as an experiment.

This keeps me from taking everything so seriously. It allows me freedom to make mistakes, and it's generally a great way to keep the creative juices flowing. It's a great way to become unafraid of messing things up.

But what starts out as a way to cultivate a creative safe space can all too quickly become a way to hide.

All projects become relegated to "just an experiment." All drawings quickly become "just a sketch." All paintings "just something I was playing with."

The frame can be our wake-up call to get serious.

Think of it like a tuxedo. Formal wear. Grown-up clothes for your artwork.

Just as you aren't just "hangin' around the house" in a 3-piece suit, nothing is "just a sketch" when it's in a frame.

It's no longer a sketch. It's an artwork. It has to be taken seriously.

BAM! Instant elevation.

And speaking of elevation...

#3: Frames ask us to look and see.

What's the difference between the Mona Lisa in a dumpster and the Mona Lisa in the Louvre?

One is on the curb, meant to be picked up my the garbage collector.

The other is a priceless work of art that millions of people journey across the world to gawk at in-person.

Putting a frame on a piece of art asks the world to regard it as such. It asks the world the look.

It begs to be seen.

Perhaps you've known someone to walk right past a busker on the street, but pay for a ticket to see someone just as talented in concert. The difference? Framing. Really.

When the musician is in the concert venue, they are the "framed" work. They are in a context that allows them to elevate their work from sound on the street corner to art.

Marcel Duchamp famously put his signature on a urinal and displayed it in a gallery.

Ta da! Instant art. Why? Because he put it in a context that asked others to see it as art. Posed the question: could this be art? should this be art? Can you find beauty here?

Now, whether or not you agree with this sort of thing, is up to you, but the fact is, the frame is powerful. And using a frame can help us to begin to see our work, the works of others, and even objects, experiences, and phenomena in the world as art. Try it sometime. "Put a frame" on your daily experiences. Stop and ask yourself, "is this art? could it be?"

There can be beauty in everything. Just put a frame on it.

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