Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Art is Communication

Painting Studio @ TSU
Originally uploaded by B. C. .
the start of my last semester is fast approaching. I can finally see the end to what has been a very long journey..

So as Im thinking and dreaming about what may be to come in the spring of 2007, I thought it might be interesting to write a series about some of the more prevelant "issues an art student might face during the course of thier education" (at least from my observations and perceptions)

One major issue I wrote about in a previous post "Finding Your Tangent", is a pretty huge one, but there are so many more. And most blur into one another.

Art is communication--its a language without words and if your language is unintlligable to anyone else, its pretty much useless. So, I have grappled time and again with my unquenchable need for people to understand my work.

When I was doing a lot of minimalist work, I was concerned that few people would "get it". What I wanted was for everyone (not just a select few) to be able to understand and derive some kind of meaning and enjoyment from what I was doing.
As I was having this existential crisis, I was told that Picasso also wanted people to understand his work, but he didnt think about that before he painted, only after.

The wisdom I received from that was that there is nothing wrong with wanting people to understand and enjoy your work, but to purposely set out to do so, can have disasterous consequences. An artist that tries to pander to the public/critics by working in a trendy, "pleasing" or derivitave style, although they might become succesful commercially, are being creatively dishonest. The message being that I must remain true to myself and consider the consequences later.

Creative honesty is such a major isssue. As I continue to learn, I realize at every turn, that it is much more difficult than that little word could possibly communicate. You'de think it would be easy, but there are all kinds of forcess at work that can prevent or hinder one from really knowing and following the path of ones true creative self. Some of which is the pressure we put on ourselves to try and "please" others. This can be so stiffling in fact, that it confuses us into not even recognizing what it means to us as individuals to be perfectly and unflinchingly honest.

Being complelety aware of what we are doing and honest with ourselves about it (the good, bad and the ugly) is a difficult thing to do. Not only in art but in life.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tis the Season to be Blocked

When Holiday time rolls around I find it very difficult to focus on working. Part of the reason is somewhat out of my control and some parts, purely mental.

Firstly, I don't have a separate studio space, so finding an "clear" and available area to work can be problematic. Sometimes whether I am able to work or not, simply comes down to making a choice between actually dining in the dining area (a small segment of the living area) or painting in the dining area--it cant be both.

I also had to pack up my easel and a vast majority of my supplies in order to put up the dang Xmas tree. At this point, I think having use of my easel is a lot more important. But it is my duty as a mother to keep my attitudes about that in check. Dont want to be selfish now do I? (Actually, yes, I do)

Of course making the house able to accommodate more people than usual takes up a lot of my time and energy as well. I have to keep it clean. Not to mention the whole cooking meals and baking of cookies thing. All of which are activities that are totally contrary to the state of my house while in the throws of working, i.e: No cooking, very little cleaning.

Ok so those are some logistical issues, but what about the 90% that is mental?

Heavy duty amounts of stress can really take a toll on my abilities to work and can greatly inhibit the free flow of ideas. Of course, the holidays are notorious for their stress related injuries-especially when one is horribly broke. Not only that, but all those obsessions about Xmas's past, present and future, are really distracting. TOO much reflective angst makes for a unproductive artist.

Then there is the whole guilt thing. I gotta put my game face on or people might suspect that I am going out of my mind. When I'm unable to work thats generally the case. After all, one can't go insane during the holidays. It will ruin it for everyone. But it doesn't stop the visions of psychiatric hospitals from dancing in my head.

I guess what it boils down to is that I have to suddenly and drastically change my priorities, the result of which relegates working to the back burner. This births an illness that begins to eat away at me from the inside. I don't want it to be that way, but its difficult when I feel that circumstances are preventing me from taking my "medication"

This is when I get the, "I wish everyone would just go away, and leave me the hell alone" obsession. ( I truly am anti-social)

I suppose much of these issues would be resolved if I just had a studio space. I could lock myself in there for a few hours and not emerge until I was satisfied. I wouldn't have to worry about putting away all my stuff, no distractions--to hell with all the other crap, right?

But even if I had my own space, would that really do the trick? Im afraid not. I think much of my impotence, even a majority of it, stems from all of the holiday pressures, guilts and feelings of obligation.

Oh and I forgot to factor in my birthday. Which just happens to fall 5 days before Xmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Finding Your Tangent

Finding a "tangent" has been an issue that crops up time and time again for me as an art student, especially now that I am due to graduate soon.

Everyone is well aware that galleries, even grad schools are looking for a cohesive body of work -a particular "style" that distinguishes one artist from the rest. But finding a tangent, has its light and dark sides.

On one hand, working from a particular tangent allows one to delve deeply into nitty gritty of a technique and discover new things about it--if done with an open mind it can reflect a sensible evolutionary process. The goal- to keep finding new angles coming out from the same objective.

On the other hand, it can really get you stuck in a particular mindset and prevent you from taking risks. Sometimes this can result in each painting looking pretty much the same as the last. The dreaded result- stagnation.

Many artists seem to latch onto a tangent too soon, before they have experimented with other ways of working. In my opinion, this is not good. At least not for us non-geniuses. Most of us have to do a lot of exploration and experimentation before we happen upon something that works for us.

I have had a tendency to try so many different techniques, that my individual "style" is barely recognizable (at least this is how I perceive it, even though some disagree with me) . As much as I try to buck off the pressure to find a tangent and stick to it, I have yet to shake it entirely. Its always seemed to distress me to some extent, and sometimes Im not even sure why. Maybe its because its not so much about what the critics say.

Possibly, I simply want to stop dating and have a committed relationship.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Graphing With Graphite

Originally uploaded by B. C. .
Im forcing myself to work on a new drawing/collage/painting- actually one in which I have begun 3 times already but keep painting over.

The whole "painting over" issue can have positive and negative ramifications. The good part is that you can end up with some unusual textures and layers which if integrated right, can add interest and depth to the piece. On the other hand, you run the risk of creating a mess of textures and layers that make no sense within the context of the "final" drawing. In other words, it can either add or detract from the final result. Start fresh or re-work? That is the question.

The issue of working on something for a very long time on an already used surface, can strike a surprising amount of fear into my heart. How much time and effort should I devote to a peice that has been already been abandoned over and over? What if I create a really great image ontop of a "damaged"surface? Of course, the whole idea of a damaged surfece is subjective. Possibly purely semantic.

Anyway in this peice Im trying to emulate the drawings I have been doing on graph paper, (such as the one here). Drawing my own grid lines with blue ink wash---and let me tell ya, drawing all those lines is a real bitch.

I guess working methodically like this its not my usual schtick. I often marvel at what I perceive as the "patience" of many artists. I made a comment on the issue once to my painting prof and he replied, "You dont need patience, if youve got focus". Maybe I just lack the focus that drawing on a large and complicated magnitude requires.

Generally, I work fairly furiously and quickly, sometimes to the point of panic. My MO is very process oriented--inspired by my stream of consciouslness. This is usually my prefered way of working, but lately I have been trying to "force" myself to slow down, consider options more thouroughly, and even work some elements in a more controlled manner. Its much harder that you would think--its like going against my preverbial grain. Not only that, but slowing down and working methodically also brings up other issues fearful and dreadful--That is, how does one keep a work looking fresh and immediate rather than laboured and overworked when you start to slow down? No one wants to see a laboured looking peice of art. That's an undeniable fact of artmaking.

But those arent the only reasons Im choosing to draw all these tedious lines...
God forbid, graph paper is not archival. What if this turns out to be my masterpice and it ends up shrivelling away because I did it on crappy paper? That may sound kinda stupid, but it really is an issue that artists have to consider. Espechially artists working with mixed media, who use all sorts of found scraps and detritus to build thier work.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chasing Down a Dream

Only Imaginary
Originally uploaded by B. C. .
I had more dreams about painting. I imagine that the Masters have had dreams like these--that thier minds have been filled with thoughts, conscious and subconscious, about painting and artmaking.

They are positive in that they are a sign that I still have ideas, that I still have passion. But when the act of painting is simply relegated to my dreams, it feels as if my life, my very existence is dwindling away. I become a walking ghost living in an imaginary universe. And non-existence, seems to have an inherent panic associated with it.

I suppose it is better my dreams be filled with images of art related senarios rather than something "less" benign.

The reason I put the word "less" in quotes is because sometimes the act of working and the result can be very painful, heartbreaking even. Your dreams are always ahead of your ability to achieve them. Sometimes that feels like 2 steps ahead of reality, sometimes it feels like miles. Its like the proverbial rabbit chasing down the carrot. He never ceases to try and catch it even when it seems hopeless. Afterall, his very survival depends on it.

Painting IS like eating. Sometimes I eat to experience pleasure in the taste and to satiate myself, and sometimes I eat just because I'm hungry. When I'm not fulfilling my need to paint and paint satisfactorily, it I feels as though I'm starving.

Many times beginning a new piece is the hardest part of the entire process. I believe that this is where most of these anxious, compulsory dreams spring from.
I was once told that starting a new canvas is like, "beginning a new relationship". There is ambivalence, uncertainty and even panic. Will this be the "one"? Will this one bring me joy or pain? Of course, the answer is usually both.

Having dreams and hopes of what may or may not come. Its inherently painful. I must find a way to stay awake.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holding His Happy Can of Excrement

The Artist With His Art
Originally uploaded by B. C. .

What is art?

How do we define it, and how do we, as individuals, understand it?

Its always interesting for me to challenge my own ideas of what makes "good art". Im not claiming that I have come up with any definitve answers to this question, but I do try to remain open minded, thinking through the issues critically. And of course, there are many things at play that can effect ones views, such as taste, perception, personal expereince, and knowledge.

I often have debates with people (and other art students) on the subject of good art vs. bad art. More speciffically, what art takes skill and intelligence to produce, and what art does not.
So often people tow the typical party line, "it looks like a child did it" or, "anyone could do that". I often find myself replying, "It was not as easy as it may seem."

Personally, I think a work such as Manzoni's is deeply profoud, for many reasons. Others might not agree with me, but I feel if I am going defend a work such as this, it is important to me to explain why I feel that way.

If I set the rest of Manzoni's body of work aside, which is more "obviously" brilliant and more palatable, I would still feel that this piece was his most effective. Why? I will explain...

I beleive that Manzonis work confronts many important issues concerning contemporary art and society.

Two closely related issues reflected in this work are the idea of art as commodity, and the artist as celebrity.

A principle of capitalism is to create a desire by means of advertising, then to provide the relief by making product available to consumers. In this case, the artist is the one who creates the product that everyone desires. The suggestion being that if a celebrity tells us to buy a jar of crap, then we better buy it or we might miss out on the next big thing. One can also associate the idea of relief with the process of defecation. Consumption and elimination are processes we live by, as a society and as individuals.

Here, Manzoni also reminds us to question the preciousness of the art object. He sold the jars of excrement at the same rate that gold sold per ounce, which may symbolize our tendency not to question what is considered valuable. Here is another chance to pay a lot of money to own a special something. How much are we willing to pay to own it? The socioeconomic message is there, but what it is saying is left up to the viewer to decide.

Manzoni produced his jars of excrement in his studio/bathroom, which he referred to as his “factory.” Andy Warhol named his SOHO studio/loft the same in 1964. Both artists utilized the idea of mass production as they explored the commercial aspects of art and art making.

This work also challenged the way in which the viewer ‘experienced’ the art. The viewer didn’t need to see this work (or experience it) to know what it was like. This work is very much about the personal process of creation, but one in which anyone can relate (even other animals). Overt and manipulative, he intentionally toyed with the audience response, by shocking and in turn grabbing their attention.

There are also performance related aspects to this work. Obviously, he used his body as artistic vehicle. This relates to work of other contemporary artists who utilized their bodies and body fluids as their media, or used traditional materials in ways that mimicked them. For example, with his informel style, Dubuffet simulated human flesh and fluids using mud and other substances. Another example is Twombly’s, School of Athens, in which some of the paint resembled smears of fecal matter. Also reminiscent is the art of Carol Schneemann who performed bodily evacuations in works such as, Interior Scroll 1975.

Manzoni goes even further by subtly reminding us that we (even celebrities) are only human with unremarkable biologic functions. It confronts issues of what it truly means to be human, and it bridges a gap between art and the "average" life by defining the art object as something that anyone is capable of “producing”.

This work also speaks to how powerful the idea, as opposed to the object, will further become in contemporary art. It indicates art’s increasingly conceptual trends of the 1960’s and beyond.

Humorous and bizarre, Manzoni’s work is profound, profane and reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously, but also asks us to consider the unspectacular acts we engage in regularly (we hope!) but probably ignore.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Forms and Nature of Inspiration

I felt a uncontrollable urge to try my hand at blogging again after a very long hiatus. Part of the impetus was spurred on by visiting my ol cyber pal's blog recently and realizing that I really do miss communicating by way of writing. Please check out her blog "Shithouse Rat" by way of my links. I wont attempt making a hyperlink at this point, I will only end up pulling my hair out. Anyway, I digress..

I first met Elvira Black over 2 years ago after accidentally bumping into her blog, while killing time perusing the web. I was inspired by her intelligence and sense of humor. She made me smile at a time when I was hard pressed to find anything to smile about. Turns out, that she is also a most kind and sensitive person, and has become one of my most cherished friends.

She encouraged me to begin blogging over 2 years ago, despite my hesitation. I guess its no wonder that reading her posts of late has re-sparked my interest. I any case, I've always admired her style and ability to be open and forthright. Even though she chooses to remain anonymous I still think its pretty gutsy. Although maybe that's my relatively guarded nature speaking.

Much of my writing will be focused on the subject of art and artmaking. After all art IS life, so topics on the nature and philosophy of art, can usually, if not always find equal relevance in those of life.