Group 2, MFA VA
3 December 2017
I had a few different art projects going this semester that divided my time so no one particular project seemed to fully capture my undivided attention. In the past I was one dimensional working only on oil paintings of a particular style and it was nice to switch gears and explore different mediums. These projects included; an installation in the woods, building a camera, and last but not least oil paintings. I then attended a month long residency in Puebla, Mexico which was an inspiring experience that influenced my work and rekindled my interest in history.
With all these new experiences and mediums its was easy to get distracted. This overload of ideas, which I’m used to, always reminds me of a quote by Rumi, “If you are everywhere you are nowhere.” Usually when I feel this way I just get moving or force myself to pick a lane so I can narrow my focus. I sometimes think of myself as an energetic dog who needs to be run to dissipate some energy so he doesn’t chew apart the couch. The first thing I did was to get moving out to my friends woods and planted a parking meter. I set up a fixed camera stand on a tree and had my friends kids take a photo a week for me. The change from late summer to fall was a nice transformation to capture. I planted some clippings from invasive bitter-root vines that will hopefully take and wrap the parking meter up by late next summer. I’ll most likely bring the actual parking meter into the gallery as part of my thesis along with a video slide show of these images.
The next project involved an old Primar Flex 2 camera that I found in a family members attic. This was my moms fathers camera and I wanted to use it without spending money trying to find rare old film. My solution was to make it digital by encasing it in a box with a slide for my iPhone at the right distance over the view finder. My iPhone then auto focuses to the view finder and captures images digitally. The results were a gritty nostalgic image with this strange halo effect. In Mexico I decided to take it a step further and made comic book transparencies for over the view finder to create an analog type image. I’m still working through where I’m going with this but it’s an interesting start and I’m pleased with the results thus far.
The other photos I took in Mexico were with my traditional high resolution camera. I mainly focused on urban decay scenes especially on the margins of the city. The buildings had a beautiful aesthetic with their various states of structural integrity, graffiti, overgrown vegetation and general decay. I walked miles in the evenings and mornings capturing the dramatic light on these unique structures. In my travels exploring the city I also became fascinated by VW bugs. Puebla has an unusual amount of these old cars and they, like the buildings, had a unique urban decay aesthetic. I ended up taking hundreds of photos of them from a particular vantage point which will hopefully manifest into another project.
My art residency in Mexico was a wonderful experience and gave me many ideas that might alter my trajectory in regards to future work. The break of routine was a much needed escape that prompted new ideas and solidified old ones. The program definitely sparked a new fascination with history, especially in regards to the colonization of the Americas. The program directors curriculum was aimed at shifting our thinking towards the established narrative of colonization of the new world. This interest was further encouraged by a fellow artist at the residency who was a history geek that worked in ceramics. He created small super realistic historical figures engaged in odd narratives that the history books would never mention. These included such scenes as Ben Franklins womanizing escapades and Hitlers fascination with Disney. We talked about other interesting historical figures and their darker untold stories. He recommended I look at a site called history porn that dives into some of these obscure stories. This might be an area that I would like to explore with my traditional oil paintings.
My oil paintings were put on the back burner for the first part of this semester. After working only in oils for so many years it was a nice break to explore different mediums, especially with all the new information and insights gained through school and my travels. I researched and mapped out about a dozens painting ideas earlier in the semester that I’ve now circled back around to. I completed a few paintings in Mexico which were painted on newspaper clippings from the area and focused on local urban decay elements and VW bugs. These were studies that had a more painterly quality to them but in keeping with my style. One conversation I had with a faculty member down there did confirm something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now. We talked about the importance of traditional paintings throughout history and the importance of quality. He mentioned that I have acquired a high level of skill and my work demands attention. What do I then do with this attention? This was my thought when I created my urban decay series last semester. I wanted to focus on a subject that connects with the way I feel about heartless corporations and the environment. The series was painted in a traditional style with an aesthetic that is recognizable and pleasing, offering an entry point for the viewer to stop and complete the sentence that the work started.
So this brings me to my current state of mind upon entering my third semester in the MFA program at Lesley. I’m encouraged with the progress of the other work I’ve explored this semester and will continue with them. My oil paintings are going to continue to evolve and be more interesting and complex but I think they will maintain a traditional style. The content however and how it relates to my artistic voice will be the main focus in my future work. This will require more thoughtfulness and research on my part to lead me on the trail of what is important to me and worth pursuing in oil paint. The technique will be the studium and aspects of the subject matter will be the punctum. Many artists organically reach a state of genuine expression brought on by intense experiences; race, gender, heritage, social economics etc.. Then these feelings and ideas will manifest in their practice to varying degrees and reflect their level of confidence and skill. Some artists acquire the voice and the skill at different points in their life. For myself the technique was what was first acquired and the voice is now getting louder.
A Bugs Life in Puebla
As I stepped off the chaotic streets of Mexico City into the Museo de Arte Popular I was immediately confronted by something unexpected - another car. This car however didn’t have me scrambling for my life in a cloud of combustion, but rather was quietly parked just steps inside the foyer of this beautiful Museum. It is a 1990 Volkswagen Beetle covered with some 2,277,000 beads by the Huichol tribe craftsman of Mexico depicting their shamanic traditions and rituals in intricate bead work.(Chute) The VW beetle is unmistakable, as it’s a classic cultural fixture back in the US. This decorated car has a fitting and stoic presence here in the museum, but why did the team of eight artisans invest 4,760 hours on a VW beetle of all cars?(Chute) Little did I know at the time the connection this vehicle has with Mexico and how this car would serve as a ambassador for me during my art residency at the Arquetopia Foundation here in Puebla.
It is early October and the weather is warm but drops quickly when the sun falls behind the snow covered peak of the Popocatépetl volcano. Spanish cathedrals silhouette the skyline around the city and tower over the colorful buildings lining busy one way streets. There is a disconnect walking around Puebla, especially at night. Many buildings as you get further away from the Zocolo are in various stages of decay, peppered with graffiti and some overgrown with vegetation. If I were to find myself in an area that resembled this back in the states I would be more anxious, however my feeling here in Puebla is quite the opposite and the aesthetic of these structures I find honest and welcoming.
Navigating around the city I immediately learn that the people of Puebla are kind and more than willing to help in any way. The colorful buildings and its citizens are inspiring for an artist wandering the streets with his camera. I quickly learned that many do not like their picture taken, something which I was warned of, so I shift my focus to more urban decay imagery and the various old vehicles around the city. One vehicle in particular kept catching my attention and it seemed to be all over the city in various conditions, colors and uniqueness. I was amazed how many classic old Volkswagen Beetle’s were in Puebla. No where else in my travels had I seen so many of these cars but there is a reason for their popularity here in the city.
Lets first get a quick history lesson of the Volkswagen Beetle to get a better understanding of its unique qualities and its connection to Mexico, in particular Puebla. The “Volkswagon” or “peoples car” emerged out of post WWII Germany. Hitler wanted a cheap, simple, efficient, mass produced car for the people and to utilize the country’s new road network. He contracted Ferdinand Porsche in 1934 to build such a vehicle. The German regime did lay the groundwork for the Beetle but production did not occur during the Nazi era. Only after the war in 1945 did the company regroup and Ferndinand Porche’s design went into production. The Beetle quickly gained traction and by 1955 the US was its most important market. The Germans revered the Beetle as a symbol of the country post war reconstruction and of Americas acceptance. The cars simplicity and humble characteristics resembled nothing of the regimes aggressiveness and posed no danger to Detroits larger, powerful, less efficient and more expensive vehicles. The Beetle quickly was established as a cultural fixture in the US and by 1960 was in a variety of cultural niche environments in the US from the surf culture to campuses and middle class suburbia. (Rieger) Volkswagen soon expanded its production and in 1962 the first Volkswagen assembly plant was established in Xalostoc, Mexico and then in 1967 the first Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the assembly line at the new plant here in Puebla. (Volkswagon)
Mexico was the country to fully embraced the early German regimes vision of a genuine people's car. After 60 years an estimated 1.1 million Beetles roamed the streets of Mexico accounting for 20% of the national passenger car fleet. (Smith) The people here in Puebla call the VW Beetle “Vocho” and its owners have a sense of pride in the vehicle, it truly seems like the peoples car here. Its interesting to see the various conditions of these vehicles from the dilapidated to the completely restored along with the locations where these vehicles are parked; run down neighborhoods, schools and various businesses. The lower to middle class seem to be driving these vehicles but its apparent the upper class still share the same love for the Beetle. "It's a car for all kinds of people. You can be rich or poor, young or old. The VW is like the joker in the deck," said Carlos Pinzon, who gave up his veterinary practice to run a used-parts shop called La Casa del Volks. (Smith)
I quickly became fascinated with Vochos and would hit the street each morning in search of my subject. I would let the bugs dictate my root as it's unlikely to go more than two blocks without seeing that distinctive shape around a corner or down the street. I would often walk, unknowingly, a few miles outside the main area of Puebla as I’m led on my bug hunt. There are few foreigners outside of the more touristy areas in the heart of Puebla and I easily stand out from everyone with my height, light skin and of course the classic tourist camera around the neck.
Capturing images of the Vochos was by far the most dangerous part of my trip as I often have to step out into the street timing the traffic to snap a quick photo. In taking these photos I found a welcoming response as many would smile and say “ Te gusta vocho” or “ El vocho es mio!” It was a nice unexpected connection to make with the people here, an innocent common interest of an unlikely classic car that made its way to the Americas from Europe. I often would catch up to a Vocho at a light and ask if it was OK to take a picture. Owners would smile and give me the thumbs up, they were happy in my taking an interest in their car and smiled. On these few occasions, in the fleeting moments at a light, owners would quickly rattle off something positive and informative in Spanish as they sped off. I was happy to not have time to reply other than a thumbs up myself, having very little idea what was quickly said.
The VW Beetle has a classic presence and a feeling of humble integrity here in Puebla. There is a soul, and a timeless connection with these cars. The people here live for a living and are more present in their daily lives than what I’ve experienced back home in Boston. Greetings are never overlooked and gatherings, such as lunch, are not rushed. Business lunch meetings can go on for hours as everyone gets acquainted and then at the very end business concerns get addressed. Connection is something that stands out in contrast to the US. Children hold hands with their parents until a later age unlike their US counter parts who would have long ago written that off as not cool. Girlfriends hold hands or walk down the street arm in arm and couples aren’t shy about public affection. There also appears to be a more lighthearted sense of play with the children I’ve observed. Men and woman take the time to help each other. I saw a group of men huddled over the engine of a Vocho trying to figure out how to fix something with tools spread out on the dimming street. The Vocho has a place in the Mexican family, generations have been taught to drive and fix these cars. (Smith) This connection and sense of community is essential to living and I believe is a macro nutrient that many back in the states are lacking in there busy daily lives.
It’s very dynamic . . . it’s almost Mexican, and besides, who hasn’t had an adventure aboard one?” states Hector Garnelo another artist who chose a Vocho for his canvas. He spent two years and nine months covering a 1994 Beetle with some 20,000 semi-precious painted stones, such as jade and obsidian, decorated with mythological creatures and deities and other features of Teotihuacán. (Diaz) Murals have significance in Mexican art during the turn of the century. Artists such as Deigo Rivera chose this art form for political activism and education. What Hector Garnelo created was a traveling mural telling the story of his people.
So this brings us to one final Vocho to mention. This one is an “Ulitima Edicion” Volkswagen Beetle, its baby blue and in mint condition. It might be the most popular of all the Beetles, with the exception of maybe “Herbie the Love Bug”. This car is the last of the classic model Beetle’s and it is the very last one ever to be produced. The date is July 30, 2003 and the location is Puebla, Mexico. This last classic Vocho slowly rolled off the assembly line with its hood decorated with red, white and green flowers between two rows of factory workers. (The)
There will never be another classic Vocho produced or another so honored anywhere in the Americas or world for that matter. I’ll see a few back in the states from time to time, an old bug in the slow lane or maybe one with a surfboard on top in some sleepy beach town. I know their owners will share the same love for their aging Vochos as do our neighbors to the south. For me it will take on a different meaning, an unexpected reminder of my trip to Puebla and its warm-hearted people - a symbolic traveling mural of my experience in Mexico and furthermore it will remind me to take more notice of the important things, connect, and maybe move over into the slow lane.
Chute, James. “Bead-Encrusted 'Vochol' Now Parked at San Diego Museum of Art.” Sandiegouniontribune.com, 1 Feb. 2012, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/ entertainment/visual-arts/sdut-San-Diego-Museum-of-Art-Vochol-2012feb01-htmlstory.html.
Díaz, Verónica. “Después Del ‘Vochol’, Llega El ‘Vocho Maya.’” Milenio, 3 July 2017, www.milenio.com/cultura/vocho-maya-festival-obsidiana-teotihuacan_0_915508448.html.
Rieger, Bernhard. “From People's Car to New Beetle: The Transatlantic Journeys of the Volkswagen Beetle | Journal of American History | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 June 2010, academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/97/1/91/719502/From-People-s-Car-to-New-Beetle-The-Transatlantic.
Smith, James. “Mexicans Still Love the Bug.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar. 1998, articles.latimes.com/1998/mar/16/news/mn-29537.
“The Old Beetle Goes Away for Last Time.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, money.cnn.com/2003/07/30/pf/autos/bc.autos.vw.beetle/.
“Volkswagen Beetle in Mexico.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Beetle_in_Mexico.
Group 2, MFA VA
1 October, 2017
Suburban Decay: Martin Mull
The image of the perfect suburban family was marketed vigorously after WWII, pushing the narrative of what the typical American family should look like. This happy nuclear family was a shared national dream, unique unto America, and still has its hooks in our culture. The painter Martin Mull grew up in this era and uses the iconic media images of his youth in his paintings, weaponizing these hooks hinting at the origins of a psychological decline amid a picturesque back drop of the American dream. The “buy more stuff” and “keep up with Joneses” postwar commercialism aimed to produce a constant state of deficiency which revved up the consumer machine. The marketing ploys of today are no different, just riddled with more complexities brought on by technology. Mull’s use of photographic reference from this nostalgic time is a classic reminder of what lurks behind the facade. Why are we drawn to Mull’s work and these dark narratives of the human condition? How has Mull utilized the powerful notions in photography known as “studium and punctum” to produce a visceral response to his critique of mid-century America.
I’m not alone in my fascination with ruin, America has a fascination with the dark. It seems our consumption cannot be satiated. Screens fill our lives with their explosions, tragedies, serial killers, zombies, doomsday video games and the evening news, all to an almost numbing effect.
There is no easy explanation why these images are so appealing. Evidence is thin and motivations are complex. The tragedy paradox offers one such explanation suggesting the sadder the aesthetic experience, the greater the viewers enjoyment will be. Sad emotions can provoke a more powerful response than good emotions. The German word schadenfreude suggests another idea; it describes the pleasure that one gets after seeing someone’s misfortune. (Jaffe) Mull’s work offers a possible glimpse back at the origins of the more heavy handed and less thought-provoking misfortune imagery that has captured audiences in our mainstream culture today.
Martin Mull’s career is a fascinating contradiction, just like his paintings. Many artists rebel against the hypocrisy in our society, challenging social norms pushed by pop culture. Mull, ironically, is a card carrying member of this mainstream machine - Hollywood. In my research of his work, images of this goofy looking TV actor kept popping up among the dark and psychological paintings of mid-century suburbia. I was convinced the artist couldn’t be the same guy who appeared on the Golden Girls, Rosanne, and countless other similar films, TV shows, and commercials. Wikipedia finally proved me wrong and the rebellious artist side of me didn’t want to give this guy any attention. The roles he played in his acting career seem such a disconnect given the type of paintings he produced over the past few decades. He did get some artist “street cred” from me as he earned his MFA in painting from RISD and he mentioned in an interview that painting is his first love and true passion while doing the other“show business stuff on the side.”(Martin)
Raised in the 1950’s among perfect manicured lawns of western Ohio, his youth was informed by Hollywood's fantastical landscape of Oz“aimed to convince an entire country that there’s no place like a Caucasian middle class home.” (Figge) Mull uses pop art, photo-realism and iconography to give a social commentary ofhis childhood in white suburbia. He explains, “My work is all about tensions: between colors, textures and edges, between figures and symbols.” He uses snapshot type images set against one another in a collage type style in his paintings that border on photorealism. (Freeman) In a TV interview on Chicago Tonight, Mull explains, “The world has changed in so many ways, and this country has changed in so many ways, I feel compelled to lay down this madness that I was raised in – the idea of suburban America as this kind of picture-perfect thing. Of course, it wasn’t. It wasn’t all Ozzie and Harriet.” (Figge)
The effectiveness of Mull’s photographic use is one of unique duality which reflects aspects of Barthes’ definitions known as“studium” and “punctum.” Barthes’ notions in his book Camera Lucida define these two terms relating to photography. “Studium,” he explains, is a general understanding or education of an image, a civility that informs the viewer with the intent of the photographer promoting little more than interest. Barthes cites journalistic photos as an example stating, “I glance through them, I don’t recall them, no detail ever interrupts my reading; I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world) I do not love them,”. Barthes goes on to explain “punctum” as “that accident which pricks, bruises me”. It’s the detail in the image that disturbs; it’s the “element which rises from the scene” and changes the meaning of the photograph, filling the viewer with intrigue. (Barthes)
In Mull’s paintings, the pricking sting of “punctum" is achieved in a different more subtle way. Mull creates tension in his work with the co-presence oftwo images. These images occupy the same arena and time period, but are drastically disconnected in feeling. If either of these photographic references or “snapshots” was isolated and viewed away from its counterpart they could be defined as more “studium.” However the juxtaposition of the two photographic references together creates a jarring intrigue that can be described as “punctum.” Mull is then not confined by the limits of photography and uses his painterly skills of color, contrast, and texture to further magnify this unusual relationship. The result is a subtle but biting critique of this unique time in American history. His exploration of the hidden undercurrents of the “happy” image can easily be compared to modern America’s use of social media.
The post WWII “model” of the perfect family was pushed out across the American landscape through the media outlets of the time. Today the same promoting of the ideal image has been compounded by social media. The constant posts through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are not an accurate representation of the individual but rather a select self curation of the ideal image, message or thought. The bombardment of these posts are then perpetuated by the viewer who can’t help but compare his or her life to the “perfect” and “I've got it all figured out life” image on the screen. These self filtered images often mask the depression, hypocrisy andsense of lack so many feel behind the glow of the screen, the very thing Martin Mull shines the light on through his work.
*If you see this paper on social media or my blog please leave a positive comment or hit “like”.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. The Noonday Press, 1988.
“Figge Art Museum.” Adventures in a Temperate Climate: A Retrospective of Paintings by Martin Mull, www.tfaoi.com/aa/7aa/7aa6.htm.
Freeman, Samuel. “MARTIN MULL | THE EDGE OF TOWN.” Samuel Freeman | Artsy, 10 Oct. 2015, www.artsy.net/show/samuel-freeman-martin-mull-the-edge-of-town.
Jaffe, Eric. “6 Scientific Reasons You Can't Stop Looking At Ruin Porn.” Co.Design, Co.Design, 2 May 2017, www.fastcodesign.com/3033210/6-scientific-reasons-you-cant-stop-looking-at-ruin-porn .
“Martin Mull Witnesses The.” RISDwww.risd.edu/news/stories/martin-mull-witnesses-the-madness/.
Group 2, MFA VA
1 September 2017
Art and the Covert Contract
Artists forge a unique path in our culture, they beat the drum and carry the banner as they veer off society's carefully scripted and predictable parade route. This is the critical artists mission; to push against this system with integrity. As we grow as artists and individuals we become more self-aware and gain insights to our environment. There are, however, aspects of our lives that can go morally unexamined for reasons of self-preservation and self-elevation. This willful ignorance I call the ‘covert contract’ and it is as apparent in my life as in my art practice. I created work that appealed to the very people whose values and lifestyles I often oppose. In this paper I will shed some light on this contract and how it relates to my work and then turn my focus to this same contradiction that is systemic in the art world today.
Artists are among the few on the front lines pushing back and questioning the “matrix” we live in. The politics, cultural structures and corporate influence inform our thinking, pushing us towards being passive predictable consumers. The French Philosopher Michel Foucault’s writings on social theories offer insight to the pervasive depth of power that influence our lives. In an article on his writings the author states, “He has been hugely influential in pointing to the ways that norms can be so embedded as to be beyond our perception – causing us to discipline ourselves without any willful coercion from others.”(Power/Knowledge). This perfectly explains the pervasiveness of which society has infiltrated our behaviors and defined them to be true. Foucault writes, “What we perceive as true is a result of the regular effects of politics and the social rituals which is then reinforced by? cultural institutions, the media and changing political and economic discourse. What we perceive as true or what is appropriate as we function in society one must question who defined this “truth”.” (Foucault 1991).
Art can spark intellectual discourse to these “truths” and disrupt passive communication. At its most potent form art prompts questions, disrupting long established social norms and patterns. This intellectual effort can lead to awareness in areas in our society where energy is stagnant as it concerns social awareness and injustices. Foucault explains, “discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart” (Foucault 1998). In my own art practice, especially earlier in my career, I had little regard for this essential role of the artist and the little regard I did have was almost unconsciously disregarded.
My upper middle class upbringing in a small Connecticut town informed my art practice when my career gained traction. I grew up around the phatic settings of cocktail parties and country clubs that did nothing to nurture new perspectives and free thought. My creativity and talent that I mined was quickly, yet subtly, diverted and repressed appealing to this social elite class. I was familiar with this group and could speak their language but often I silently rooted for their demise. My complacency in pandering to these individuals and corporate elitist types with all smiles was such a disconnect compared to how I lived my life as an artist. I revolted against the lifestyle I was exposed to growing up and saw it as shallow, materialistic and self-serving. On the surface, however, this non-materialistic, spiritual surfer type and advocate for the environment often pushed against these individuals and what they often represented, until I needed them. This veiled influence that I silently submitted to was superficially offset and made palatable by my outward identity.
There is no better example of this hypocrisy than my experience that has played out at dozens of times at the top art shows along the east coast. Very wealthy individuals exhaustively negotiate with me on the price of a painting, pleading and forcing my price down. I play along and say all the right things and make the sale. Often times it seems to be a sport, and they just default to muscle memory when making a deal. I always think if the roles were reversed I would not negotiate and want to support this valuable member of our society and honor his talent. I remember in one instance, after extensive negotiation, a man had me carry his painting to his 200K Mercedes where he then explained how he wasn't sure which house to hang it in. His lack of regard for an artist who has chosen an unpredictable path was shocking. Equally as shocking was my lack of regard for my art and self-worth. The reason for this was simple: self preservation.
My moralless agenda was to make money, sell my work to the people who could afford it to keep my career going. I was familiar with these wealthy individuals and knew how to appeal to them. I had conscious access to these feelings but didn't give this contradiction much attention. Self-preservation can have a profound influence on behavior. This was my covert contract that I ignored as I developed as an artist. This relationship is a microcosm for a larger contradiction that is present in art institutions.
Its no surprise that the top art collectors and donors to museums worldwide are financial executive types, the same individuals that were directly to blame for the sub-prime mortgage crisis. As the gap between the rich and the poor grows to historic levels of inequality, wealth consolidates. Those who can afford luxury goods and the those who deal art in this sphere often benefit. (Fraser)
One might regard the museum as the mothership of the art spirit, pushing through the discursive seascape with its flags flapping in the wind. The museums however are even more beholden to these wealthy patrons. Museums plead their fundraising case and negotiate acquisitions to the wealthy. Multi-million dollar expansions and renovations to these institutions proceed despite any economic downturn. All the while museum workers get paid low wages and exhibition budgets are tight. (Fraser) The archetypal struggling artist often seek these positions in the name of their ideals. Museums don't even pay the artists to show their work. I know the exposure is valuable but why not both, the money is there. I recently saw an ad in the New York Times for the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. At thebottom below the Bank of America symbol it states “Bank of America is the Global Sponsor of Robert Rauschenberg.” It didn’t specify an organization he presented or another other than just the artists name? What if there is another approach at an individual level that relinquishes to these veiled energies and redirects them?
Art has profound effects on society but it pales in comparison to the ultimate power: money. Why not leverage artistic skills and pander to the elites without moral contradiction. I know many artists who do this one dimensionally but they often lack the moral compass needed to then move this energy towards something other than self-interest. The abstract effects of critical art vs the funding for social projects and organizations of integrity almost seems like two different languages within the same culture. One is clear, universal, and understandable and the other an elite hybrid cryptic slang. Simply put, take their money and do something good with it. The artist can walk this line and produce other more personal and experimental bodies of work in tandem. This may however expose the artist’s integrity to weaken. Everything is in flux, nothing is fixed and as humans are subject to compromise, the system currents can be insidious and erode values. New organizations have emerged and embraced this sentiment, providing a platform for artists to make a difference in society.
Dose Projects out of Brooklyn, NY is one such organization. This is an alternative art model that pairs artists with charitable causes. The artist selects the cause that is important to them and then 50% of the sales goes directly to that charity and the other 50% to the artist. (Dose) This organization and others like it have encouraged me to donate in a similar way to organization. The art I’m selling is a different type of work that I enjoy but is created mainly to generate income separate from my personal narrative pieces which are more critical and contemporary.
There is nothing wrong with creating something beautiful and marketable, even if it’s for some wealthy guy’s house in Nantucket. The academic artists of the 19th century created beautiful works but for the purpose of highlighting good moral values and virtuous behavior . In contrast the modern work of Mondrian and Kandinsky was ambitious in their efforts of a spiritual awakening through their art, serving as a guide of inspiration away from the materialistic world to something greater. (Witcombe) This is a lot of pressure to put on a work of art and perhaps another approach is needed as well.
The role of art to social change in this increasingly divided and globalized world must be effective on many fronts. A large part of this new approach I think must start with confronting disowned parts of ourselves and re examining our role as artists in the context of todays world. This redirecting and circulating of energy will have positive effects on both the individual and that which he or she holds dear in our culture.
Dose Projects, doseprojects.com/about/.
Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison. London, Penguin.
Foucault, Michel (1998) The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, London, Penguin.
Fraser, Andrea. “There's No Place like Home.” Http://Whypublish.wikispaces.com
Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 Michel Foucault panthoen books, New York, 1980
Witcombe, Christopher. “Art for Arts Sake.” Modernism: Art for Art's Sake, witcombe.sbc.edu/ modernism-b/artsake.html.
It was great arriving at this residency more familiar with the program and having some bandwidth cleared up to focus on other things throughout the day. It was also nice knowing what meals to skip and people to avoid (just kidding about the food). Overall, I was pleased with this summer semester. The students and faculty were great, and I made some new connections with artists. One of the real strengths of this program is its diversity. The artists range in age, race, gender, and background which brings them to produce different types of work and perspectives.
The critiques were informative, as always, with some dialectically opposing suggestions, but after taking them in totality, certain patterns emerged and insights resonated. I chose to focus on a completely different body of work for this residency: abstract color studies along with my more traditional impressionistic paintings with a heavier narrative. I became tired of hearing myself talk about my work. Listening to my recorded critiques I realized that my responses were shorter and more to the point as we neared the end of the semester.
I didn't want to abandon my style or medium but rather change the subject matter to a more thought-provoking narrative that is personal to me. Corporations that push heartless, unhealthy products with no regard for anything but the bottom line frustrate me. McDonald’s sponsors the Olympics and advertises its garbage food to kids. The hypocrisy and lack of empathy for the environment, animals and “Main Street” business is astonishing.
In my urban decay paintings, nature is reclaiming the landscape as the ruined iconic buildings are taken over as animals and vegetation move back in. Nature is connected more directly to a universal intelligence that is effortless and has balance. We are not disconnected from this universal intelligence that beats our hearts, but our ego and powerful minds can jump the rails. The urban decay series painted in my classic style worked well, but were somewhat safe and a bit of a one-liner. I need to push this further and expand my universe while not being so one dimensional in my approach. I could crop my reference material to compose more interesting perspectives, adding more abstract qualities. The cliches in the photoshop images that I quickly pieced together to paint from could be exploited and exaggerated to add interest and offer a path to explore.
The multi-paneled color studies I felt were a much needed departure from my usual repertoire, especially early on in the program. The abstract fish print was new for me and a further departure into new territory, helping me break out of my comfort zone. During this process I realized that I need some structure to inform or give some order to the unpredictability of this new work. The separate panels were interchangeable and fit together to form larger work. The abstract fish print was informed by images that were glued on the back of the rice paper and were ghosting through. This gave me a foundation to consistently refer to as the work progressed. I pushed myself to explore these new directions so that my more traditional work would be informed and knocked into a new trajectory.
Critical Theory 2 had some dense readings as expected . I could, in some cases, just follow all the concepts in the readings, but some were more difficult than others. The writings of this David Geers character was out there, he seems like a real wack-a-doodle.
The purposefully difficult writings could be written so much more simply. One of the strengths of our Critical Theory 2 professor is that he has a great way of simplifying these complex theories and connecting the dots for us while still walking the line of their complexities. My only suggestions for the class would be to separate or group similar theories with visual references right after the text discussion rather than at the end of class. This paired with a few key points written on the board would be helpful for comprehension and for distinguishing theories. I understand the challenge of this program is time and of course it would be better not to push through so much if we had the option.
The articles are written for peers and academic scholarly types and therefore need to be somewhat cryptic and more difficult to comprehend. It was challenging to fully grasp certain theories that were buried in the many fancy words, foreign names, places, and related periodicals. A fancy word or reference that I have no comprehension of easily confused me and bumped me off the path. I realized that I need more art history knowledge and to expand my vocabulary so I can follow the ideas more completely.
The article Accelerant Manifesto, was the one article I breezed through and fully comprehended because I’m familiar with the language of politics. The words, names and references in the text I understood. These terms are the connective tissue to understanding the main ideas.
One of the most positive parts of my semester was a relationship with a group 5 graduate. Over the last semester and the beginning of this one, I avoided engaging with this person because he was off-putting. I didn't understand much about him and didn't want to. It wasn't until I was signing up for critiques with group 5 and saw he only had 2 people signed up under his name that I decided to reach out. I knew he was well intentioned, different, and from a different area of the country. I signed up for a critique with him. The next day he said “ So I see you signed up for a critique. What, no one else worked with your schedule?” I explained to him that wasn't the case at all and that I wanted to get a different perspective on my work and was looking forward to our discussion. To make a long story short we had a great critique, talked more in our elective and got along great. I understood more about him, and our interactions from that point on were positive. At the end of our student exhibition for Deborah Davidson, the two tall guys had to stand in the back, and he put his arm around me. That’s what it’s all about, reaching out with an open mind to better understand others and ourselves.