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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Art Making as Conversation

Years ago, at least 20-25 years ago, I stated (to myself and others) that making art is a conversation with myself.

I still experience art making that way.

In Art and Fear, the author(s) write:

"Between the initial idea and the finished piece lies a gulf we can see across, but never fully chart. The truly special moments in art making lie in those moments when concept is converted to reality -- those moments when the gulf is being crossed." (page 51)

The metaphor of "crossing the gulf..." is a useful one. It certainly implies a leap, a bridge, movement and process.

On the other hand, I like the conversation metaphor better. To put it more into the Art and Fear authors' terms, perhaps this conversation is between the self as art viewer and the self as art maker.

Many times I have had the experience, in both writing and art making, of surprise in what I've written or made. That's me the art viewer. Sometimes when I've made something and set it aside overnight or even longer, re-viewing the work generates even more surprise. It can seem as though there are two distinct sets of "eyes" in me. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that making art and viewing art engage different parts of the brain.

Later, in the same chapter in Art and Fear, the authors describe the tension between the artist as viewer and the artist as art maker. The author is describing how he felt when he first saw an Edward Weston print:

"That photograph was mine to experience. But neither it, nor anything like it, was mine to make. Yet it took a decade to dispel the gnawing feeling that my work should do what that work had done. And more years still before I thought to question where the power of such art resided: In the maker? In the artwork? In the viewer?" (page 53)

I'm not so sure I agree with the statement that "neither it, nor anything like it, was mine to make." I *learn* by imitating other artists, not having the benefit of a formal art education. On the other hand, perhaps the work that I do in imitation isn't really "mine", nor is it "art". But it *is* a conversation between *artists*, whether or not the artist as viewer and the artist as maker are the same person.

Interesting question.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Art Making - Art and Fear

This afternoon I had a job interview at the University of Nebraska Department of Modern Language and Literature. On the way back to the office I stopped at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and saw, among other things, a Cornell assemblage, and a show called Anxious Objects: Willie Cole's Favorite Brands, 1988-2006." Everyday objects -- mostly shoes, iron imprints, and hair dryers, made into Art. Oh, and one chicken made of wax and matchsticks (safely contained behind glass).

The authors of "Art and Fear" state that the Art for Art's Sake school of criticism expends a lot of energy on the topic what art is, but not a whole lot about what art making is (page 25). So what is art making?

I'm looking at Willie Cole's exhibit and there are a couple of massive pieces of images consisting of prints from a regular clothing iron scorched onto fabric. Would the act of scorching a piece of cloth with an iron constitute "art making" (of course it does - the result is art)?

Last week I finished the last of 200 1 x 1" square collages for the covers of the White Chunky Book I'm hosting. Did the act of gluing 200 1 x 1" pieces of watercolor paper onto vintage book pages and trimming them out constitute "art making"?

What's the difference between that and gluing macaroni onto a tuna can and spray-painting it gold to make an ashtray (a Kindergarten art project I'll never forget, and one my mother still keeps in her junque drawer).

Willie Cole's work resulted in "art" (clearly by way of validation from the "Art Network" -- it's in an exhibit in a museum!). My work may or may not be resulting in art. My project as a Kindergartener resulted in an ashtray -- a craft project at best.

Which gets us back into the question "what is art"? The authors differentiate between the two questions "what is art" and "what is artmaking" but clearly I can muddy the water with some circular reasoning. Art making results in art. What is art, and who decides?

I remember having this discussion about poetry as a freshman in college. It makes my head hurt.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More on Art and Fear

(Sorry if you're reading this and discover that I'm not going "in sequence" in "Art and Fear". That's just how non-linear I am.... :))

"Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty.......Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment in the work itself." (emphasis mine) Art and Fear, page 2.

I remember when things at work were either boring or awful, that I'd come home and do art work, and I would say to myself: "as long as I can make art, life is worth living." It really is that fundamental to who I am, as is writing and reading poetry.

I find that I use all parts of the process of making in nourishing myself. Although these things may not be exactly "making art", they are part of the process. Cleaning my studio prepares me mentally to start something new, and I get a sense of accomplishment when I can see the floor for the first time in days. If I need to relax and am low on creative energy, I cut stuff out, or sort stuff, or look for new images for collage work. And I read read read -- Somerset Studio, True Colors, Cloth Paper Scissors, and Collage Discovery Workshop to name a very few -- all of these things fuel the fire.

I can't say that, while it has always been so for me, that I have consciously *recognized* the actual making of the art (rather of the supporting processes above) as nourishing. I didn't "get that" until this year, when I took the Wabi-Sabi workshop from Lynn Perrella. Now one of my greatest joys is slopping gesso and paint onto red rosin paper. And while the results may not always be "art", they are always interesting.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Art and Fear

I've been hearing recommendations and raves about this book for a while now, so I decided to buy it and read it. Last night I read a bit on "Art and the Outside World", about the "Arts Network" (capital A capital N) and competition.

It's not that what the authors write about art and the outside world is so surprising, after all, I've been in academia and been in and around the arts establishment for years, even though I haven't participated as an artist.

A little anecdote. I took a rhetorical theory class at the University of Minnesota around the time the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition was at the Corcoran in DC. I did an extensive research paper on the Mapplethorpe controversy. When we travelled to DC in 1990 to meet my (then) fiance's parents, we visited the Corcoran. (The Mapplethorpe show was no longer there.) Anna was cranky and fussing when we went into the Gallery, and an associate there quipped, "another unhappy taxpayer."

What I am struck by is the difference in spirit between the "Arts Network" and the community of artists and crafters I belong to on the Internet. Lynn Perella, in the workshop I took from her in August, mentioned the same thing, that we don't engage in the competition that is so prevalent in "Arts Establishment", that we are a community and we share our ideas and processes.

Anyway, the authors in "Art and Fear" assert that artists must "make peace with the Arts Network." I'm not sure what that means for me. I do know artists in the community I live in, I know photographers and mixed media artists and a sculptor or two, as well as one of the gallery owners. THere is less a spirit of competition here in Nebraska than I sensed out East, and more a spirit of community. However, the elements of the "Arts Network" are all there: the once monthly gallery walks where the artists dress up and schmooze and wine and hors d'oerves are served, blah blah blah. (I love those evenings by the way.)

OK, but where am I in all of this? When I finish a piece of work, I generally scan it, throw is up on my blog or Web site, and toss it into a box of finished work in my mud room. The point isn't disrespect or disregard, it's just that when I finish something I'm done with it. I don't need to display it or sell it or any of those things, I'm just interested in what happens *while* I'm making it. Which is on target with what the authors of "Art and Fear" discuss about the process of art making earlier in the book (more on that some other time).

I suppose that when I'm published in Somerset Studio or one of their other publication that I am in effect "exhibiting", and that bit of acknowledgement is absolutely THRILLING. But it's dessert, really. Or gravy. Whatever.

The community in which I participate is really about validation, not about competition. I'm comfortable and productive there.

But is "comfortable" a good thing for an artist?

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Little Clown

I am making a couple of extra pages for the White Chunky Book, as I have lost a couple of players the past couple of days. This one is a little on the "cute" side for me, but it's not too bad of a cute. Y'all know how I feel about CUTE. I am struggling with an idea for covers, as I am in love with those little 1" squares (tiny art), and made about 150 of them for the white book. But I just can't seem to get them to come together as cover art (three squares per page). I may end up having to scrap them (haha) and try something else.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

White Chunky Project

Last night I finished tying vintage mother of pearl buttons on all 50 of my pages. I then pasted "backgrounds" onto another 50-60 1 x 1" squares for the covers. I'm not exactly sure what the covers are going to look like, but I'd like them to all be originals. Well maybe I'll do a transparency that I'll copy, but otherwise, they're original from the background on up.

Beautiful beautiful work coming in for this book.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Brief Side Trip to Enchantment

I wasn't feeling particularly inspired by anything today so I decided to make an ATC for the ArtChix Enchantment lottery, hoping it would get me going. It's kind of different, but was fun to put together. A little oriental sprite or something taking a ride on a bird. ***twinkle***

OK...so I was really just putting off cleaning my studio, the floor of which I can't see. It's the cat's fault, they chase each other onto and off my worktable and scatter things all over the place. Yeah...that's it...the cat's fault...