One of my colleagues in the ceramics studio at Coronado Clay is a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. That’s his day job. As an artist, he’s a perfectionist. I watch him regard with disgust his recent creations; nothing he makes is good enough to keep.
One day while working he asked me when or how I know when a sculpture is finished. I said I never do know but I stop when I believe the piece to be good enough. If the piece seems to be working, I consider it finished and move on to the next one. I do this not because I don’t want to push myself to make the work better, but that I do not want to go too far and ruin something that is already good. I have a tendency to keep adding layers of imagery and information to my sculpture. In recent years I have been trying to pare down the work, spread the ideas a little thinner and simplify the sculptures both formally and conceptually. This is tricky for me. I am a “more is more” person.
Luckily, there is always another sculpture to make. It is in subsequent artworks in a series where I am allowed to challenge myself to take additional risks. Because I always work in series, I can exhaust an idea thoroughly and/or allow it to lead me to the next piece, always trying to improve and evolve.
My surgeon friend understood this idea. Evidently in surgery they say “The Enemy of Good is Better”. Surgeons are perfectionists. They use this phrase to remind themselves to stop when the procedure is “good” rather than invite risk by trying to make it “better”. In art or surgery, we stop before we go too far.
Smart and talented people I know were up in arms this week about pop singer Miley Cyrus’ foray into contemporary art. With an article in a magazine no one had ever heard of, Ms. Cyrus managed to push our buttons yet again.
I like MC. I like her fearlessness. I like that she creates controversy and conversation. I like her work with homeless youth. I like her honesty. She’s polarizing because she mirrors our junk-filled-celebrity-obsessed society. When we look in that mirror we seldom like what we see.
Miley Cyrus makes sculpture now and we might as well get used to it. Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable because the work itself bears a closer –than-comfortable resemblance to bona fide contemporary art.
Is MC’s work shallow and derivative? Yes, but she is a beginner. We were all there once. When she says “I had a bunch of fucking junk and shit, and so instead of letting it be junk and shit, I turned it into something that made me happy.” Well, I think we can all relate to that.
To begin the work in this series I went looking for my parents. Not my real parents mind you (they are alive and wonderful), but my Art Parents. Art Parents are my biggest influences. Theses are artists whose work I feel most connected to at the moment as well as the artwork that has been most meaningful and impactful to my development over time. When making “Pisces”, I had two daddies.
The work of George Condo is really fresh and relevant to me now. His subjects are grotesque, but he treats them with empathy and humor. The figures portray the absurdity of contemporary human experience. This is something I strive for in my own work. I relate to the emotional content and cultural commentary in the work, as well as more formal characteristics of color and composition.
Bruce Nauman has been a major influence on my work for as long as I can remember. The body of work, which became Duende, took as a point of departure Nauman’s Topological Gardens, his seminal exhibition for the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale on 2009. This work drifted into my consciousness in 2009 and I began making hanging heads, starting with Being Human Now. I revisited images of Naumans work when I began Duende in 2013.
“Pisces” can bee seen in the Faculty Exhibition at Grossmont College through September11, 2014.
Dawn M. Nash is a professional photographer and an incredible artist. We worked together earlier this year on a series of pictures, some of which you will see here. As a pro, Dawn is always intent on meeting the needs of her clients. This series represents a playful departure from her bread-and-butter work, and a return to her roots as a fine artist.
Upon seeing the first completed images I was struck by how contemporary they are.The first image remains my favorite. As soon as I saw the picture I loved how it references European art historical Venuses and reclining nudes while also feeling relevant to both historical and contemporary photography. The work of Mikalene Thomas came immediately to mind. There are elements of the documentarian and portraitist in Dawn’s work, but she is a storyteller. Dawn’s narrative eye prevails throughout. In his essay Photography out of Conceptual Art, critic Steve Edwards describes how fine art photography in the 1970’s began to “avoid the supposed neutrality of documentary photography, whose central ideology is the invisibility of the photographic apparatus.” Dawn’s deft use of lighting, costumes and sets erases that neutrality.
Never is this truer than in the series of images we shot in my kitchen. Referencing the performative documentary photography of Cindy Sherman, the images straddle the line between re-enforcing and undermining prevailing gendered ideologies. Agent, object or subject? It’s hard to tell. This ambiguity accurately illustrates the human experience, especially for women. I have found myself equivocating between agent, object and subject many times in my life.
There’s an old saying that the pasta is finished cooking when a noodle, fresh from the boiling water will stick when thrown at the wall. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I love the childishness of this technique. Who would throw a noodle at the wall? Of course there are other ways to test pasta for done-ness. And if you throw enough noodles at the wall, eventually one will stick whether it is done or not. For some reason the absurdity of the image of throwing noodles at the wall has stuck with me.
When I think about the process of exhibiting art, I think about it in terms of throwing noodles at the wall. Its the silliness of the metaphor that I find useful. We artists have a tendency to take ourselves very seriously.
In art we can never be sure if what we are making is “good”, especially if you are doing work unlike any other in your known periphery. When it comes time to look for exhibition/sales opportunities, grants, jobs and the like, we never really know how our artwork will be received. It is easy to take rejection personally.
With my method of making art, the artwork and my identity are very closely linked. I have a high level of personal identification with my work, so it is difficult to avoid feeling personally injured when the art I make is rejected or not appreciated. Rejection happens. It may happen to me more often than some because I make work that is divisive, outspoken, and opinionated. I’m ok with that. My works are monuments to my experiences. The sculptures are my way of finding humor in life’s challenges. Not everyone thinks it’s funny.
Art is a form of communication. We make art because there exists no other language to say what we need to say. Miscommunication happens in every language.
If we are going to persevere as artists we must learn to accept that rejection is not a reflection on our self-worth. It would further to say that it is often not a reflection on the quality of the artwork work either (of course sometimes it is). There are many reasons why a curator, juror, or gallerina will choose one artwork or artist over another. Chances are you will never find out those reasons.
The point is, there is always more pasta to throw at the wall. Eventually one will stick.
Have you ever watched a dance performance that gave you chills? While the dancer expresses herself, seemingly effortlessly moving through space evoking emotion in a highly individual way, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the training that proceeded that performance. Dancers practice for hour upon hour at the barre, perfecting small repetitive movements. Year after year they do this. If you’ve ever taken a ballet class you know. The class is structured and rigid, the movement is extremely specific. Eventually the most dedicated dancers become those performers who take your breath away, but there exists a distinct contrast between practice and performance.
In art we have exercises that build our skills. These exercises can be repetitive, challenging and often boring. They are not what we have in mind when we imagine expressing our creativity through making art. Just like the thousands of plies dancers do, we visual artists have our exercises too.
A dancer will have a fit and flexible body for as long as she practices regularly, but it is her performance that is the Art, the body is only the tool. When visual artists perform skill-building exercises, there is usually a drawing or a pot as a result. These results are not the Art, and we shouldn’t expect them to be.
I’ve been teaching kids. A young student burst into tears this week because she felt she “messed up her drawing”. We were doing value studies on black construction paper with plain chalkboard chalk. The subject was white paper cups, cubes, and spheres. We discussed the notion of exercises, how we do push-ups and crunches to make our bodies stronger. All these kids play soccer. They know the difference between the warm-ups and the game. I explained that these exercises were the warm ups, not the game. I chose plain, cheap materials to reinforce the notion that these were not precious drawings. Nonetheless, there were tears.
There is a student in my night class who is a beginner at 85 years old. He is a fit, smart, outgoing man. He expressed his frustration at his awkwardness in clay compared to the advanced students in this all-levels class. He told me that after several class meetings he went home vowing he “wasn’t coming back”. I tried to explain the years (20 or more for some of us!) of practice and failed attempts each of the other artists have endured to get to their stage of development. We use inexpensive recycle clay, its just mud, nothing special. Nonetheless, there was frustration.
As we search for meaning in our lives through the practice of art we need to recognize the value in the ugly, awkward, boring, repetitive stuff we make along the way.
The warm up is not the game, but it’s still important.
Girl Talk opens tomorrow evening. The gallery is a lovely house on Banker’s Hill which is used by its owner Gustaf Anders Rooth as an art gallery and a showroom for his unique furniture made from vintage wine and whiskey barrels.Rooth has a massive workshop behind the building, peek back there when you go. Rachel, Kelly, and I installed our artwork in the context of this house and its furniture.
Now that I have seen the finished installation it occurs to me that this gallery is the perfect setting for these two related bodies of work. originally we set out to collaborate on work that confronted relevant issues in our lives, finding similarities, humor, differences. Food and consuption must certainly be relevant to all of us. All the sculpture in this exhibition is food, interpreted through each artists’ distinct filters and presented in this domestic setting.
For me the work is always about popular culture and how the images and products we consume (literally or figuratively) affect the way we think, behave and feel about ourselves and each other.
Kelly and Rachel work with “…themes of consumption, indulgence, and juxtapose high and low culture with consideration for traditional craft. Together they combined their medias to offer a perspective of America’s love affair with consuming both food and possessions. The china a family eats off of and the jewelry they pass down, like the food they consume, are representative of their history, cultural values, and economic status. Today’s fast food nation of increasing income inequality, and throwaway culture, may not be able to carry on these traditions of heirlooms.”
I think the sensual qualities of food plays a roll for the artists too, in color, texture in addition to flavor. Is it just me or is there a shameful quality in the detritus from this shared food? Come and see the exhibition and let me know what you think.
Planet Rooth Design Haus 3334 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103. (619) 297-9663
(from the gallery text)
Girl Talk is an art show about pop culture, feminism, food, and mass consumption, with humor conveying the themes. The featured artists are Lee Puffer, Kelly Schnorr, and Rachel Shimpock, all three San-Diego artists who graduated from San Diego State University’s Masters of Fine Arts program and who have worked collaboratively on several projects. Their varying artistic methods range from ceramics to metalsmithing. Opening reception June 20th, 7-9pm, which features performance artist Amanda Schoepflin. Show runs June 20-August 15, 2014.
Kelly Schnorr: http://www.kellyschnorr.com
Lee Puffer: http://www.leepuffer.com
Rachel Shimpock: http://www.rachelkassia.com