I started writing this post and realized that it would have almost nothing to do with the pictures I’d post along with it (other than they were made at the same time as these thoughts and conversations), so here are words. I’ll make another post later when I’ve gathered my thoughts enough to illuminate the concepts surrounding the pictures.
I got two great pieces of advice from two different people recently that worked well together. The first was from my drawing professor, Anthony Meloro. We were working on a three hour still life set down directly in ink. A student was frustrated that the drawing looked too messy because some of the forms had to be redrawn over the old, incorrectly proportioned forms. He gave a bit of a monologue to the class after advising the student a bit which I’ll paraphrase here:
“Students, especially freshman, have this incredible fear when it comes to drawing anything that isn’t perfect, or photorealistic, or possessing a style and confidence. They think it isn’t worth drawing, or isn’t finished, or shouldn’t be shown. Is this work you’re making bad? Yes. Is it practice? Yes. Is your early work going to suck? Yes it will. Does that mean you shouldn’t keep working or get discouraged by this? No. This is practice, and you’ll fall flat on your face, but getting up from that and doing it again is the only way to continue getting better.”
The second piece of advice comes from a long conversation I had with Heather, whose words I’ll also paraphrase for lack of a perfect memory:
“You shouldn’t be making work because you want to be in an art history textbook, you shouldn’t be making the work that you think people want to see. You should be finding out what’s meaningful to you, what excites you and become better and better at expressing that. If your work is good, people will recognize it as good work. Because look, do you really think you’re going to look back at the work you’re making right now and think ‘that’s when I had it, those were the ideas that I wanted to express, I had it when I was a freshman earning my BFA.’? No, you’re going to get out there and find the ideas that truly resonate with you, and you’ll make that work, and that should be enough for you if the work is truly you, regardless of where it comes out on whatever artificial measure of success you choose to use. So stop trying to figure out what work people want to see or will please people and make the work that’s important to you.”
These two pieces of advice work extremely well to address some of the anxiety I’ve developed in my time at VCUarts thus far.
I suppose much of my frustration stems from the fact that I no longer feel like a beginner but I’m nowhere near a professional. I am an amateur, and that’s a frustrating albeit necessary space to occupy. I’m at this strange, divided moment of “I’ve been very intentional about practicing photography, networking, and studying for three and a half years, why am I not better?” and “I’ve only been doing photography for three and a half years, calm down.” It’s representative of an over-arching trend of my life of simply trying to live two steps ahead of where I should be for my age. I think it’s helped me more than it’s hurt, and it’s times like this that I have to sit back and remind myself, I’m 19 years old, I’m a freshman in a BFA program and am not even in my school’s photo department yet, etc.
I’ve thrown myself directly at many difficult problems, and I’ve gained enough objectivity about my work to know that it’s good but not good. When I get too down on myself, Heather has on several occasions offered the necessary reassurance of “slow down, slow down, slow down, you’re thinking way too far ahead of where you are right now.”
I believe the root of all this is the fact that I love to be impressive. I love to do things well, I like working hard, I like being recognized for my hard work. So, what comes from this is the simple drive to always be ahead of the curve, always be thinking better and doing better than everyone else. Because conversely, I’m afraid of not being impressive, not making great work, not being satisfied with what I’m doing.
This was all well and good in high school when anyone with a personal vision and some measure of discipline to get something done was generally praised and commended by a community of supportive individuals, but I suppose coming to Richmond for school has thrown me into a world and put my work in context, and that’s kind of scary to me. Scary because people are making different work than me, and have been doing it for longer, and are better artists, and I realize how far I have to go.
I think a lot of my personal work and thought first semester revolved around trying to align myself to some novel concept or execution which is seemingly necessary in this world in which everyone has done and seem almost everything in terms of art. In terms of modern, objective artistic merit, my work in high school was awful. 99.9999% of high schooler’s art is, because it’s practice. But in an effort to stay on top of where I was and the new place I found myself, I tried to think myself into some artistic insight which takes years of experience and practice to refine, simply because I was so afraid of missing the point and continuing to make what I saw as poor work.
But of course, having only done photography for three and a half years is a good reason (not excuse, since it isn’t a shortcoming) to not have everything figured out. I’ve got a lot of time and room to improve, though I certainly do plan on figuring it out.