Robert J. Schimmel: Plein Air Artist, Radio Host and Arts Advocate
By Samantha Matcovsky
Robert Schimmel has lived a life devoted to art. His father, an accomplished artist, not only introduced him to art but to a world of travel, observance and color. After childhood summers spent with his father, Schimmel earned his B.S. in Mathematics and an M.B.A. from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Carrying his love for adventure and experience with him, Schimmel settled in South Lake Tahoe, CA, where he currently resides.
Watercolor is Schimmel's long term weapon of choice but he has dabbled in many forms of art, including poetry that was his first creative love. With an ardor for communication and a dedication to the arts, Robert Schimmel has transcended into a strong arts advocate and currently hosts a weekly radio show, The Art Scene, where he fittingly discusses art with various guests of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
How did you first get interested in art?
My father was a member of American Watercolor Society and an excellent teacher who ran workshops all around the country. As a kid, I spent some summer vacations at the workshops and studied with him a good deal of the time. My influence and style were initially derived from my father, and I am very blessed by that.
How would you describe your work?
My subject matter and style are mainly landscape representational with everything else thrown in to suit the situation. I've done a wide range including portraits, murals and varied commission work and used most media while sticking primarily with watercolor. I love the spontaneity of watercolors. You never quite know what it's going to do, and that risky quality usually yields better results than I planned. It often directs my painting more than I direct it.
You've traveled quite a bit and state that travel has been the catalyst for most of your inspiration. How do you feel it's influenced your art?
Travel clearly broadens one's experience, especially as an artist. If you keep an open mind, a lot of those influences will translate into your work, even if you don't necessarily feel it at first. I've been primarily a Plein Air artist (one who works on location outside) and painted and sketched all over the world. A friend of mine in the arts coined a term that has a duel meaning. When you call someone a "good looker," you usually refer to physical appearance. My friend uses it literally. "You're a good looker" translates to you look, see and understand well, and I think traveling helped me become a "good looker". There are so many uniquely wonderful cultures to experience, and each one inspired me to record and interpret as much as possible while making every exciting moment about looking and really seeing.
You host the radio show The Art Scene out of Lake Tahoe. How would you describe the show?
The Art Scene is 24 minutes of relaxed, fun and focused conversation about the arts, generally from my guest's standpoint and perspective.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Broadly, it's everyone. I believe the arts are pivotal for all of us, especially people who have been looking for a voice or a lightning rod to bring awareness of the importance of the arts to communities, schools, political arenas, etc. Hopefully the audience will grow from there. Everyone lives surrounded by art, and I think most people love or appreciate it. Yet many live with art, don't understand it and think it's incidental. I want to help change that perception.
You're quite an arts advocate, both in your personal life and on your show. What is your primary message?
If we're going to reach our full potential, the arts need to be understood and included in everyone's life. Even inherently as decoration, art is brimming with influence. You simply go out and buy art that you enjoy, but there is significance even in that process. That's the part I want people to grasp - how art and creativity are imperative. And barriers exist that create highbrow paradigms of the art world I want to change. There is also the artist's side of it. They are productive individuals who work hard at their passion and are passionate about their work, who need to be understood as such and not put in some weird category. Art is perceived as magic, but these same artists will attest it is not. Hard work and very necessary but definitely not magic.
You've worked as an artist, teacher and now radio host. How do those three aspects of your life blend together?
For me, the reason they exist is because they blend together so well. Studying with my father enabled me to step right into the art world and within a year or two begin teaching. It all flowed. I wrote poetry before I got serious about visual arts and definitely have a need, love and appreciation for communication and the written word. Because of my work and advocacy in the arts, I was offered the opportunity to host radio. At first it scared the hell out of me, but then I said "of course I'll do that!" Each aspect intermixes and supports the others very naturally.
Do you have an overall game plan for the show? Are there plans to syndicate the program?
In a word, yes, to both. Generally speaking, the game plan is to broaden the audience base and bring in more artists of varying levels as well as people who speak highly of the arts so that a better level of awareness and understanding is reached. My goals are about gaining listenership and helping people make sense of art, thereby creating more of an arts identity for Lake Tahoe. Syndication would be ideal for the simple reason that a program like mine can't expand its influence very effectively without some sort of multiplication factor. I'm also preparing to create separate podcasts and YouTube views in order to expand The Art Scene's effectiveness. Over 100 radio programs are available on LakeTahoeArtScene.com now with many still to upload.
Where can people see your artwork?
Unfortunately, I'm not currently in any galleries, though my own home looks great as a result! I've been so involved in this transition into advocacy that I've ignored my art for the most part, which has been painful. At the end of 2006 I even went back to work in the casinos until 2012, and although I've produced art along the way my website has not been updated. Those interested may visit RJSchimmelstudio.com.
What do you wish someone had shared with you when you were starting out as an artist?
Take art very, very seriously. Producing art is a discipline. It is work and needs to be treated as such. You can't wait until the spirit hits you, so seek that spirit through discipline and creating an everyday work paradigm. Once you've established that you are an artist who would like to make a living, the business aspect becomes imperative. Principles do not need to be compromised in the process, just know that there is a profit center to be worked towards. How to make a living as an artist is usually not focused on in college. I'd like to help artists avoid the pitfalls I encountered and that most fall into. Art and business go hand in hand. You cannot wait to be discovered.
For further information visit: www.LakeTahoeArtScene.com.
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