Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Doing it wrong, doing it right.

I've been producing enough work lately that I should be blogging about each piece on a daily basis...we shall see how that goes next week.

What I want to write about NOW is something that has been circulating in my brain for the last several months - the meaning and purpose of art.

When you go to art school, particularly a very good one like RISD, you learn a lot of things - provided you luck out and get the right teachers.  I certainly did have such luck my very first semester of freshman foundation with instructors Wendy Seller for 2D, Ed Oates for 3D, and Tom Mills for Drawing. From Wendy, I learned to really push color in new directions, regardless of the media - and as her teacher assistant in the later years, I got an in-depth look at artists of especially the 19th and 20th centuries - pulling slides for presentations. From Ed, I learned how to make something out of nothing, and to have a sense of humor about it - including constructing a violin out a single piece of cardboard, without using tape or glue - and it had to remain one piece. From Tom, I stretched my drawing abilities to new heights and discovered the value of layers, as well as a few other life lessons.  All three instructors especially excelled at pushing you to make your work stronger, more developed, better technique and construction. (Second semester with a different group of instructors was unfortunately more about what not to do (by example of teaching) but the optimist says there is value in that as well...)

Looking back, if life had only afforded me that first semester at RISD, it would have served me exceedingly well, as those lessons I learned are still things I utilize now and have sculpted the look of my work. Sophomore and junior years were more focused on learning a specific craft/area (Printmaking for me), and an introduction to the never-ending struggle to justify your work, which seemed the majority of the focus for senior year. Important for sure, yes, but I think it also tends to put the brain into a state of mind-fuck for the fine artist.  What does my work mean? How does it relate to others? What does it need to say?

And now, as I peruse listings for various grants, awards for artists, and calls for work, I get the feeling that unless my work has some sort of deep political or social message, I need not apply. Even if I suspect the majority of the words surrounding such work is mainly lip service (and the fine art of bullshitting).

To which my brain responses with "OMG! I should be creating work with Meaning." Capital "m" implies that art should have a greater "intellectual" purpose to pique the social conscious of society.   Despair! Angst! I'm doing it wrong!

Meanwhile as I'm working on getting back on track to doing fine art again, I'm making these little drawings, paintings, and works of mixed media. Each one focuses on a different personality/icon.  I have a list of ideas, and a sea of small panels in front of me.  I select one panel, examine it, and whatever speaks to me from it, gets pulled out of it. They happen quickly, with broad strokes and tiny details. And I'm amazed by the response from people as I post the in-progress shots.

Revelation. I finally get it.  These little images - they touch people.  There's a connection, a sense of conversation and engagement from each. They talk of sacred spaces, familiar memories, and shared experiences. Somewhere between the viewer and the work, a merger of ideas happens that excites the brain, evoking joy, bliss, and inspiration.

So when I pull back and think about it all, I'm more than happy (thrilled even) to make work that touches the psyche and makes people feel good. It is a form of magic. I am plenty fine with leaving the socially and politically-soaked activism to other artists.

And my undying thanks to Wendy, Ed, and Tom for truly developing in me the skills to put me on the path of being an artist - nearly 20 years ago.