By default we think of drawing, both noun and verb, as dragging pencil across paper or the evidence of that action. That is not untrue. If we also consider drawing as anything that works in parallel to, or in preparation for, an artist’s primary practice, then these collages are also drawings. Using cut paper, and quickly assembled, these sketches allow me to record ideas for possible future sculptures. There are always so many more ideas than there is time to make them in sculpture. Some ideas are not worth pursuing further. Drawings are artworks and sometimes they are the only record of an artistic idea or impulse. What I find most interesting about drawing as a record is that it gives insight into an artist’s thought process, sometimes more than the resulting sculpture. These collages are part of an ongoing sketchbook. Some of these thoughts make their way into The Hankie Project, some into the Welcome to Oblivion or Stimulatorium series.
Recently I wrote about the urge to be original, observing that young artists are especially concerned with making something absolutely “new”. I believe that research and study is an integral part of art-making. When artists have done thourough research, they almost always find artists who have made work similar to what they are making.
Indeed the point of research is to find the other artists, either historical or contemporary, whose work shares qualities with our own work. There are several reasons why this matters:
Most importantly, other artists will inspire us. We call this inspiration “influence”. We will see how other artists approached issues, materials, and expression and learn from their progress.
We are required to know who our influences are. Our first influences are usually our teachers, parents, or peers. As we develop the practice of research, our influences will grow and change. This is a valuable, even critical, part of artistic identity. We are all members of a continuum, it is important to remember that.
Also, from other artists with whom we share certain qualities, we will find out where our markets might be, who our audience is, and which galleries may like our work.
Ideally, when we connect with these artists we will find friendship and camaraderie. Trade secrets will be shared. We will know what to call our style or movement. Importantly, we will be able to put our practice into context.
Just as a singer needs to have musical knowledge, an artist must study art. Knowledge should be both broad and specific. A broad art historical education includes at least a basic knowledge of all major art movements in human history. Ideally this would include art from all continents and cultures on earth. Along the way, specific movements and genres intrugue us more than others and we naturally develop a deeper knowledge and affinity for those.
Regardless of our personal preference, it is also important to be aware of art hierarchies even if we choose to disregard them, which many contemporary practitioners do. We must familiarize ourselves with the arguments surrounding Art versus Craft, for instance. It is valuable to be able to differentiate between High Art and Popular Art, for example. These distinctions are becoming less and less relevant to artists, but the philosophies that form the basis of those arguments still effect us.
Fortunately there are many channels through which we can acquire this knowledge if we are motivated. While Art History courses at a college or university may be useful and enjoyable, they can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. With a little effort we can educate ourself with books and essays easily obtainable through libraries and reputable internet sources.
I took the theme of Eyes literally for the exhibition, Through the Eyes of an Artist, on view at The Studio Door Gallery until June 29th, 2016. As it happens, my most recent sculpture and painting feature an abundance of oddly placed human eyes. The human eye, in absence of the face and body, appears throughout art history in a variety movements and traditions. Here are a few.
The eye is ubiquitous in Surrealism, an art movement of the 20th century that concerns itself with depicting dream states, desire, nightmares, and the bizarre world of the human imagination and subconscious. False Mirror (1928),above, one of the most famous paintings by Rene Magritte, seems to imply that human vision is limited, a mirror of our subconscious and a symbol of selective and subjective personal view. The eye in this painting has multiple functions, looking, looked at, looked through.
Contemporary Lowbrow or Pop-Surrealist painter Mark Ryden’s The Apology (2006) features a human eye in the center of a cut tree trunk. With themes borrowed from surrealism and painted in old masters style, Ryden’s paintings both defy and define the categorization of lowbrow art.
Eye imagery proliferates in the work of contemporary international art star Tony Oursler. Here in Obscura, a multimedia installation 2014, video of human eyes are projected onto sculptural orbs suspended in the darkened gallery. Eerily subverting the art experience of looking at art in a gallery, Oursler’s installation is looking at you.
The human eye is a common feature of folk art, mysticism, and psychedelic art as a symbol of higher power and consciousness. In Alex Grey’s Tears of Joy, the eye image is repeated until it becomes a pattern.
There are artists, especially young artists, who tend to focus on originality. These artists try to do things that “haven’t been done before” or something “entirely new”. This is a waste of time. I’d like to say that originality doesn’t exist, that it is a notion based on a failure of research, which I do believe to be true, but with technology moving so quickly I have to allow that there will be new, utterly original ideas, tools and objects.
So I guess my argument is, so what? SO you were the first to use a material or technique? Who cares? Other people will do it; some will even do it better than you. After a while it won’t matter who did it first. Quality works of art that resonate will stand the test of time and be examples of their form and style.
Young students, especially those who have not had much exposure to art and design history, often think that because they have never seen something like what they have just made, that it is something entirely new.
I tell them newness is irrelevant. Not good or bad, just not relevant. The more research we do, the more real looking, the more we are able to recognize elements of other artworks in our own. This is a good thing. Acknowledging these influences and investigating them is deepens our engagement to the work and the rest of humanity.
Humans have been around for a long time. All along we have been making things. We are all connected by those objects and images.
Originality doesn’t matter, quality does. For an original object there has to be no other before it, the only one of its kind, never been done before. As soon as something is invented in the world, artists begin to adopt the new material, style, equipment or technique to use in their own way.
The point is to do what you do in your own way. Do not be too concerned about whether or not is has been done before. If you are working on making your most authentic work, you will be creating a unique artwork, even if it may share some qualities with an existing artwork.
Tomorrow, May 21st is the North Park Festival of Arts. During the festival, the Art Produce Gallery will be open with the Looking Back/Forward; An Art Produce Retrospective on display. Here’s some information about the exhibition:
Join Art Produce for a 2-month celebration of the past 15 years of exhibits and the launch of new cultural activities and engagement opportunities for the neighborhood of North Park in San Diego, CA. Looking Back/Forward is a retrospective group exhibition of 25 artists who have previously had solo exhibits at Art Produce. This rotating exhibit will include site-specifici nstallations, and performance based/participatory interactive pieces in the Art Produce Gallery, the Community Room and the Art Produce Garden. Additional weekend activities in May and June include all ages art workshops, artist talks/salons, pop-up dinners, social dance in the beer garden, and the community wide North Park Festival of Arts on Saturday, May21 st 10am-10pm.
The Exhibition is open to the public from May 14th through July 3, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 11 th 6-9pm
Gallery Hours: 11am-6pm, daily. Entry through Tostadas and by appointment. Art Produce 3139 University Ave. 619.584.4448 San Diego, CA 92104 www.artproduce.org
Art is an open country. Everyone can stay. In a creative environment where everyone is welcome, there are bound to be differences of opinion, differences in modes of expression, and delivery systems.
Sometimes there is chaos in my classroom. I see it as controlled chaos, but some may see it as out of control. I am aware of that. It is ok. Some may think that I am lazy and that is why I do not take control of my class. Or perhaps I am inexperienced and lack the ability to deal with the disorder. It may be that I don’t notice it.
I assure you, none of those things is true. I see who gets annoyed, who sighs and judges and shakes their heads. I see you. I value your comfort, I do. But I value the chaos more. No one is getting hurt. No one feels threatened either physically or emotionally. It’s all ok.
Art is an open country. Everyone can stay.
Even the noisy ones. Even the ones who mutter to themselves. Even the ones who ask the same question over and over again. Even the ones who need a ton of extra help just to get through the day.
All opinions are valid. You get to have yours, I get to have mine. That guy who is going to vote for Donald Trump gets to have his. We all get to express ourselves in art class. That is why we are here. We may not love the chaos. We may prefer a more serene environment in which to practice our art. Sometimes I prefer that too.
If you want silence, go to a library. If you want an open forum for self-expression, come to my art class.
Music, theatre, literature, and visual art can all represent the highest form of human expression. In fact, entire ancient cultures are evaluated based solely on their artistic output. Perhaps art is not valued so much these days, but that’s a topic for another time. Art matters and always will, despite current fashion.
Human expression needs an open forum to grow. An open forum can, at times, be chaotic. Controlling that chaos could limit the potential for human expression to grow. I’m not willing to risk that.
So what if we are uncomfortable? Art thrives in discomfort. If it doesn’t, it should. Sustaining an artistic practice demands we be resilient. There will be many things in life that to try to distract us form our practice. Partners, kids, and jobs come to mind.
If we can learn to create within the chaos, we will be better artists. If we can accept and appreciate a variety of opinions, diverse manners of expression and different temperaments, we will be better spokespersons for our culture.
The San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies students stopped by the studio for a vist and seruptitiously recorded me talking about some recent work. Dia Bassett recorded and edited this video. I’m glad I didnt know it was being captured at the time, but I’m happy to have this clip now. Thanks to the San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies program for the visit and for all great work you do supporting artists and arts professionals.
A SHIP IN THE WOODS will be hosting a Silent Auction / Indiegogo Launch Party on Saturday June 27th @ Bread & Salt in San Diego. As you may know, the A SHIP IN THE WOODS gallery is currently seeking a new location to house its innovative contemporary programming. Come show your support for this groundbreaking cultural institution. Get yourself a sculpture or two while you’re there. I donated the above works, Compression and Tension, to the cause.