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whohub Interview
Carolyn Sims

What do you do? How do you define yourself as an artist?
I am first and foremost an oil painter. Although I do a lot of different crafts, when it comes to painting, I have always preferred oils and presently work exclusively in oils. Oils are movable and removable, workable and reworkable. They have the viscosity and texture that I need in my style of painting. I have purchased watercolor and acrylic paints only to ignore them as they sit on the shelf. Why would I use them when my oils are available?

What is your message?
Surround yourself with positive people. Artists, surround yourselves with artists, people with like minds. Create together. It makes life so much more enjoyable.

Your biography in four lines.
I was born in Mississippi to a very supportive family of educators, including my grandmother, who was a schoolteacher before and after the 1920’s. I earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Alcorn State University and a master’s degree in education at the University of Detroit. I am mostly a self-taught artist. I started selling my work in 1993. I’ve exhibited at the DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago Art Open, the University of Illinois, the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago and many other venues.

Do you upload your work to the web? If so, where could we see it?
My work can be seen at my web site:,, and

How is an idea born? For you, what is inspiration?
For my realism paintings I am usually moved by a scene, an idea or a photograph and then I interpret it on canvas. I start with abstract images and add faces, folds and other identifiable image to create surrealism. With surrealism and abstracts I feel free move over, under, around and through the paint that is already on the canvas. It is very similar to moving my hands, arms and body in a pool of water. I can push it to make it flow and show waves and highlights. It is very sensual. This is how I create.

What role does technology play in your creative process?
I have been fascinated with computers since they first came on the market for the general public. Since discovering Adobe Photoshop I have created some dynamic digital images. I also edit some of my paintings and photography to create mixed media images and giclees. I spend many hours experimenting with Photoshop when I really want to be painting. My digital camera is indispensable when it comes to my photography and its ease of accessing mages on the computer. I have a large format printer, so I can experiment with various canvas sizes and arrangements very inexpensively.

What is art?
I've seen a wad of paper on a desk called “art.” I've seen a single spot in the center of a canvas called “art.” I've seen splashes of paint on canvas called “art.” When the cat knocks over your paints and they spill all over your canvas, is that art? When you purposely splash paint randomly on the canvas, is that art? If I put the cat spillage and your splashes side by side, could an art critic or the average person tell which one is art? Obviously the world’s definition for “art” is “anything that anyone does.”

As an artist I would like for the definition of “art” to include the word “skill” and/or “talent,” indicating that the creator has done something above and beyond what the average person can do, but that would discount children’s art. Therefore, my definition for “art” is “something that is created as a result of special skills or talent beyond the abilities of the average person, for the purpose of creating it and for others to aesthetically experience.” All other creations should fall under a different name. Let’s call it “artish,” so one can be an artist or artish. One can do art work or artish work. Children would do artish work except for the little geniuses who can do art work.

When do you get your best ideas?
My best ideas come from within. I will feel that I need to do a painting about a particular subject and then set about getting things that will help me portray that idea.

How do you evaluate whether an idea is good or not?
When I'm painting for a show or gallery I consider my audience. When I’m painting just for the enjoyment, it’s all about what I like. If other like it and want to buy it, fine. Otherwise I am glad to keep and enjoy it.

Three creative ideas that you would have liked to have created?
The Thinker
I'll have to get back to you on the others.

When and how did you begin to see yourself as an artist?
I didn't consider myself an artist until I started selling my work in 1993. I felt that I had a lot of hobbies and art was just one of them. After I actually sold some work then it was official, I was an artist.

Why do so many artists and creators have such volatile personalities?
I haven't found that to be so in my circle of artistic friends and acquaintances. Some creative people might be more sensitive and easily frustrated. The few instances of artists with volatile personalities of whom I am familiar seem to be a result of them being able to get away with rude and nasty behavior. They might feel insecure, inferior, superior, frustrated or whatever, but most of us are taught how to conduct ourselves in public. Some of us weren’t, including non-artists. With some artists it is a “I have something you want and you must put up with my attitude to get it,” attitude. If people continue to accept the behavior and buy their art, why would they stop?

Do you consider yourself postmodern?

How should a work of art be evaluated?
The aesthetic value should be considered first since it is the first that one sees. Is it pleasing to the eye or does it get attention? The idea that the artist is trying to portray is the next thing that should be evaluated and finally the skill of the artist in using the chosen medium or technique.

Must an artist reinvent him/herself everyday?
No. What one might call reinvention is merely adding layers because you cannot erase who you were yesterday. It's still there.

Which artists do you admire and how do they influence your work?
I have admired Georgia O'Keeffe' flowers since before I started painting. They are very powerful and colorful. I did not purposely try to emulate any aspect of her work but as I continued to develop my style, some of my paintings looked similar to her style.

I like the humor in Annie Lee's folk art. I like the large, bold image in her more serious ethnic paintings.

What do you think about public funding for the arts?
It' an excellent idea. The public benefits from art.

Is art necessary?
Is it necessary for the survival of humanity? No. Is it necessary in order for humans to want to survive? Yes.

Does it pain you to let go of a piece you have sold?
Not if it’s a commissioned piece. I know from the start that it is not mine, much like a surrogate mother. The others are a different matter. I do hate to part with my original work. The ability to make prints has made it much more palatable.

Is a work of art purchased, or is it better said, that it is the artist who is bought?
The work is purchased. I am not my art.

In art, there is no guide. How do you know what the next step is?
Creativity needs no guides. Exploration needs no guides. Art is exploring creativity.

How do you feel about the fact that the pieces exhibited in contemporary art museums are often of artists already deceased?
The term “contemporary art” is applied to a type of art that was created during a certain time. Some of the artists who created this type of art are deceased.

What role have the figures of art dealer, gallery owners, representatives, and intermediaries in general played in your career?
Not a very large part so far.
What types of jobs do you usually do?
I do very little commissioned work. Most of my work comes from my own ideas. I paint because I like to, mostly surrealism and abstracts.

Do you personally collect any items?
Just quarters. I used to collect Beanie Babies. However, as a crafter I collect enough stuff without purposely adding to my stash.

What advice would you give to those just beginning?
Develope your own style. Keep a mailing list. Get exposure when possible. Promote yourself. Research venues.

Carolyn Sims' Art Gallery​

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