Western North Carolina Woman

profile: lynette miller
by arlene winkler

To the informed eye, it is obvious that Dadaist collage and the Bauhaus tradition of experimentation (specifically that of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) have been major influences in the work of Lynette Miller.  And it is obvious that many of her images are gleaned from the vast resources of the Internet. But the pleasure to be derived from her artful juxtaposition of images and the light and transparency of her chosen medium require no expertise—only an open mind.

Each piece is built of two sheets of Plexiglas plus a Foamcore backing, set approximately a quarter-inch apart, with the images digitally printed on Lazertran, which is a waterslide decal process. The result is two layers of transparent imagery that appear to float over the opaque images on the backing. In this way, just as our systems of knowledge build upon what has come before, her images build upon each other–while individually, they may have little or no meaning. "In other words, there is more to truth and reality than what can be detected through our senses."

“How do we know what we know?” she challenges the viewer. “How do we determine what is real?” To find the answers, she draws on images created over the centuries, by the scientists, philosophers and artists who preceded her. By combining natural flora and fauna, medical illustration, scientific schematica, geometrical construction and mathematical diagrams, she points out the relationships between disparate images. It is an exploration of knowledge systems, suggesting that we are more than the sum of our biological parts.

“I’ve had my work rejected because of “nudity and religious symbolism,” she tells me, half mystified, half resigned. “But my work is not about sexuality, it’s about recycling ideas to expand their meanings. I do it by recycling what’s around me, found images, found materials—after my breast cancer surgery, I saved one of the catheters to put into a assemblage. I used what was going on in my life at that time.”

The artist as survivor
In early January 2002, Lyn felt a small lump in her breast. But since she came from a family with no history of breast cancer, and she didn’t smoke, ate the right foods and exercised, she wasn’t unduly concerned. As she saw it, she had no risk factors. But at the urging of a friend she saw a doctor who sent her for a biopsy and within weeks she had undergone a lumpectomy. According to the results, they got it all…except for a trace in her lymph nodes.

“I have a sense of urgency now,” she says candidly. “Cancer makes you confront your mortality. I don’t actively worry about it, but I know it could come back. As a result, I take the gift of time very seriously.

The Lynette Miller sitting across from me now is a study in contradictions. Her joyous sense of humor and ready laugh are in sharp contrast with a clear unwillingness to “put up with”, which until I met her, seemed to be an unspoken requirement for being an artist in Asheville.

A native of Buffalo, New York, with its heavy snows and bitterly cold winters, Lyn’s first experience with Asheville is a familiar story: “I fell in love with the area when a friend invited me to visit.” Entranced by the serene beauty of the mountains and the lifestyle of the artists she met, she realized she wanted to spend her life here. Her first act, on returning to Buffalo, was to resign her position at Niagara University where she taught undergraduate photography. That was in 1999 and she has never regretted her decision, even when faced with the realities of well-water, power outages and small town living–but she has lost her illusions about the much-vaunted Asheville art scene.

“Asheville is a great place for artists to live,” she points out pragmatically. “And a terrible place for artists to make a living. Although the artists here are very supportive of each other, I don’t see anyone else really promoting the arts in Asheville with the exception of a few institutions, like the North Carolina Arboretum and the Asheville Art Museum. And by that, I mean the fine arts. There is no question, this is a fabulous city for crafters.”

I think about it. Every home that I’ve visited has some handmade pottery or a woven wall hanging, but how many people have I met here who buy sculpture or paintings? And how does the community take advantage of the very good, very interesting artists who live and work here–except to ask them to donate their work to charitable auctions? I wonder what are we missing out on, in terms of stimulating discussions, ideas and knowledge? And why are we content to have it this way?

There’s a school of thought that says that artists are lazy and don’t want to make a living, that they have no values. When I lived in Boston, a professor at MIT explained to me that “artist” is the name people give themselves when they lack the discipline to make it in science. If there is a kernel of truth in either theory, I have never found it. The artists I’ve known over the years are driven, disciplined people; they work hard at their artwork, they work hard to take care of their families and afford their materials, and they work hard to educate themselves. Lyn Miller laughs when I mention her MFA from SUNY Buffalo, saying, “An MFA qualified me to teach what I know, to people who aren’t going to make any money doing it.”

With her words ringing in my ears, I attend an opening that evening, a group show in an Asheville art gallery. Like all openings, it’s heavily attended by the artist friends of the artists. My unscientific survey of the guests reveals a lot of accomplished people. Many of them own their homes, every one of them has gone to college, a surprising number have advanced degrees in everything from mathematics to philosophy. At the same time, I discover that more than half of them have no health insurance. When I point out that a serious illness or bad injury could mean financial disaster, a painter tells me she recently had to borrow $4000 to pay her medical bills—the cost of repairing a single finger injured in a kitchen accident.

I direct my attention to the wall where Lyn’s work is displayed. It is hard to resist the sense of mystery it conveys. Is that why it’s art, I wonder. Is that why photography is considered art – the sense of mystery? In the 1940s, the former teacher of photography points out to me, when the renowned Alfred Steiglitz offered to donate his collection to the New York Metropolitan Museum, he was snubbed on the grounds that photography wasn’t art. It’s worth noting that these were the same people to look askance at the work of his spouse, Georgia O’Keefe. Today, both O’Keefe and photography are acceptable art forms. But if takes that long, what can we do to nurture our own avant-garde?

The artist as advisor

To the artist: If you want to make your living as an artist:

Be persistent. Develop your stack of rejections, because as long as you’re putting yourself in front of people, along the way you’ll get an acceptance.
If you don’t have a stack of rejections, it means you’re not doing enough to promote yourself.

Above all, make art that means something to you, if it doesn’t, it won’t have meaning for anyone else.

Measuring success: How well you’re doing is a measure of how well you live your life.

To the community:

The same way that musicians need to be heard, visual artists need to be seen, and just like musicians they need your feedback. Your questions, your applause, and even your boos are an important part of the experience.

Being part of our lives, that’s what being an artist is. It’s what made Lyn Miller wake up one morning and know she had to leave Buffalo and spend the rest of her life in Asheville… as an artist.

Lyn Miller’s work may be seen at the Artists Roundtable Members Show in the Front Gallery of the AAAC, 11 Biltmore Ave through Nov.12, 2004 and at the Upstairs Gallery in Tryon, NC, opening October 30.

She can be contacted at LCMillerStudio@aol.com
You can also see her Floracloths at LCMillerStudio.com.

Arlene Winkler
is a freelance financial writer, specializing in institutional finance. Her articles are published in financial trade journals all over the world. But don’t bother to GOOGLE her: they’re all credited to the executives who employ her. A former ad agency president and enthusiastic participant of life on the New York fast track, she moved to Asheville in 2002 with her sculptor husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three, a grandmother of four, and the author of three screenplays, she is dealing with her culture shock by writing a North/South novel under her own name.

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