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If you like Dale Chihuly's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Frank Gehry,
Philip Johnson,
Maya Lin,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder
and Wayne Thiebaud

Related Links:
Dale Chihuly
Museum of Glass Pilchuck School

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Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly
Profile of Dale Chihuly Biography of Dale Chihuly Interview with Dale Chihuly Dale Chihuly Photo Gallery

Dale Chihuly Interview (page: 4 / 6)

Master Glass Artist

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  Dale Chihuly

For somebody who doesn't know, why does it require a team to do the sorts of projects that you do?

Dale Chihuly: It's hard to explain why glassblowing requires a team. You can do it by yourself. But a team of four or five people is much, much better. It's not true with most crafts, but glass is one of those crafts that really works best with a team of people. And also -- besides the glassblowing, which is only one part of what I do -- because what I do is I make glass, and I take the parts, and I make something else with it. I might take a room like this, and put a ceiling in here where it had a thousand parts in the ceiling that you'd look up to. So if you do these time-consuming installations like that, and you want to do an exhibition, say in a museum, and you're going to do ten installations, how do you put all that stuff up in a short period of time to have an exhibition? You do it with a team, a team of people that are skilled, that know what they're doing, that are used to handling the materials, and so you can move around quickly. We could fly to Paris and do an installation. We can go do something at the Academy Awards. We can do a lot of things. And then what happens is that the more you do, the more you realize what you can do, and the more you can do. It would be like the theater, or better yet, the opera. Very few people realize that behind the scenes of the opera, it's this tremendous amount of people and energy in order to make that show go on. It'd be an impossible thing without a team. So the making of art, making of lots of things, are team efforts, but it's just that in the creative world, we don't think of it as much.

Dale Chihuly Interview Photo
Dale Chihuly Interview Photo

Do you remember the first time you sold a work of art?

Dale Chihuly: I'm sure I don't remember my first sale of artwork, but I remember the first sales kind of experience, which I didn't like. And it had a big effect on me, in that I was on my way to Europe, to study glassblowing, and I wanted to make some money, so I went to one of those craft fairs and set up a glassblowing furnace. I was going to blow glass and sell the glass. And I did that. I would have failed completely had a friend of mine not come by the second day, 'cause I was blowing glass all day long, and nobody was buying anything because they were watching me blow glass. Then this friend of mine came by and said, "Let me run this operation for you. You're gonna blow glass on the hour for 15 minutes, and then for 45 minutes we're gonna sell it." So the second day, we made a couple thousand dollars, which really helped my trip to Europe. But I really disliked the whole -- I never did that again. And all the more reason -- at that point I was just a student -- and all the more reason why I wanted to be a professor so I didn't have to sell. And there weren't a lot of selling experiences between then and about six years later, eight years later, when I had my sort of first one-man show in a gallery. At that time, it was 1976, I arbitrarily put a price on the pieces of about 1,000 dollars each, which was higher, I think, than any other craft person in any field was charging. And I wasn't really that well known. But I knew I didn't want to be making these things in production, and I knew that the only way -- if I could sell them -- that I would have to get a fair price for them. Fortunately, some of them sold, and that was the beginning of my commercial career.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Was there ever a point in your career where you were afraid that it wasn't working, or you'd made the wrong choice, or that it wasn't going to happen?

Dale Chihuly: I've been lucky to have very few doubts. There were many times in my career when I could've pulled back. I always put all of my resources into my career, and I was never afraid of going into debt for that. I somehow felt that I could always get out of debt. I used to borrow a lot of money -- I mean a lot of money for me at the time -- from the bank to do something about my work, but I always paid it back, so the bank would always loan me more money. When I could afford to quit teaching, I did immediately. Not that I didn't like to teach, but I taught long enough, and then I could concentrate more on my work. When I could buy a bigger building, a bigger studio, I would do that. Always, of course, I never... the bank always owned everything. Still does. So I was never afraid, very few doubts about... That's not meaning to say that I don't think about the fact that things could go wrong financially, but if they do, they do. But I don't dwell on that.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Was there a time where you had to overcome some criticism?

Dale Chihuly: I think all artists have to overcome criticism. There are a few great artists that very few people would want to take on, but most artists that are successful, somebody's there waiting to give you a hard time. I tend not to read a lot of the reviews.

There's a magazine in Seattle -- speaking of criticism -- there's a magazine in Seattle that tends to be critical of my work. Even if I've had a big show there, they might cover it, but there'll always be an angle to the article that's personal. 'Cause sometimes they can't attack the work directly, but they'll attack it from some other angle. It's been going on for years. I'm always tempted to take the guy that owns it out to lunch. I know the guy, socially, a little bit, but I've never talked to him about it. But I just sort of let it go and I tend not to read it, but I hear about it, if they'll do something that... And I felt that I was glad to hear the other day I got a voice mail. I didn't see it, but I got a voice mail from somebody that the magazine has a Reader's Choice -- they do it every year -- about the best person in the arts, the best restaurant. So I was picked in their magazine as the most popular person in the arts in Seattle. And they had to publish that, with a photograph, because it was Reader's Choice or something! I love that.

Like one time, Roberta Smith was a famous critic in New York, and I was lucky to have a show up in New York at the same time as Robert Mapplethorpe and David Hockney. She wrote a full page in the Sunday paper, and the headline was "It May Be Good, But Is It Art?" Which was an article about the three of us, sort of basically saying that Hockney, Mapplethorpe and myself weren't really artists. We were good at what we did, but it wasn't art. Actually, I felt flattered to be in the company. I was the odd person out, I just happened to get in there. So you put up with it. Artists can put up with the criticism. It's much better to have a bad review than no review, I think! I don't think it really affects you that much. I don't even know why, as a society, we allow critics to influence us the way we do. I mean, if the L.A. Times had a film critic say to you, "This is a bad film," you probably wouldn't necessarily take that to heart. If you were interested, you'd go see it, you might like it, right? With film, we can do that. People can sort of make their own choices about film. But in theater, if they get a bad review in The New York Times, they can shut down the show. By one critic. And I don't like that! Artists usually don't like critics.

Dale Chihuly Interview Photo
Dale Chihuly Interview Photo

Many artists don't achieve recognition in their lifetimes, even if we come to value their work later.

Dale Chihuly: It's very discouraging when you're making art and nobody wants to see it. I can't imagine how somebody can work their whole lifetime making art like Van Gogh did -- it was a short life -- but I can't imagine working to the intensity and the creativity at the level that he worked and not have anybody accept it, except his brother maybe. I just thought of something interesting about art. People can like it, and then there's critics. They might not like it, and it can go back and forth. Like a film, say, that a film could come out and the critics panned it, yet people go see it, and then 30 years later, it can be a classic. It's a strange process, about who is accepted.

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This page last revised on Dec 06, 2013 13:38 EST
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