These are all images I made on March 10th and 12th over spring break, in the mountains nearby home. These images spring from some of the things I’ve been thinking and feeling, though I’m not keen on trying to figure out exactly what they mean to me, here in a public venue. In fact, the whole process of writing alongside images for this blog has produced some interesting patterns and currently I’m more interested in examining that phenomenon. And I’ll post pictures alongside my words because they hopefully break up my mundane yammering/public personal therapy session.
I’ll feel a great deal of accomplishment when I have some piece that I can stand behind and be content with solely just looking at it. When I don’t feel like I need to talk about it or write about it or analyze it. It’s not like I spend a lot of energy trying to justify my pieces, it’s just that I feel like analysis is necessary when considering work that I’ve made, and when considering the thought processes that surround the work being made. I believe that answering the questions of “What am I thinking and feeling, what are the thoughts and opinions and what I’ve been reading that cause a particular set of images to come into existence?” are important to the creative process. But why do I specifically feel the need to answer these questions in a public manner?
Back in the summer when I had disposable money and time, I would buy and read photo books of the old masters of photography, in particular Ansel Adams. He had one book I just loved- Examples: The Making of 40 photographs. It was published right before he died and contained 40 of his more well known images along with a page or two of writing along with each photo, detailing the process by which the photo was made technically, a bit about the logistics surrounding the photo, and a bit of creative philosophy sprinkled in. This book was just so fascinating to me, all the details of how a photo was made. This blog was actually started in that line of thought- as a forum for thoughts on my own photos and general photographic ramblings.
When I got to school, I found this blog was sort of a natural outlet for writing about the projects I was working on. It started as just describing what I was doing and talking a bit about what was going on surrounding it, but I realized that this venue for analysis was a beneficial one in digesting and documenting my work from classes. This practice leached into my personal work, and it’s gotten to the point where it almost seems lazy to post images without writing: why post work (especially practice work) if I’m not going to ruminate on its significance?
Basically I went through three stages of thought this year in regards to my personal work, all of which can be followed on, and were probably stratified by, this blog: After I decided that my work from high school and before college was boring, I figured I needed some really esoteric concept to shoot and tried to think my way to that point and got really frustrated and made mediocre work and got more frustrated and read a lot. Then realizing how futile this was, I sort of returned to the practice of just practicing and making images and that was pretty alright. More recently, I’ve come around to a point where I think I’m onto something that means something, I mean to say at least, these mean a lot more to me than “I’m just making pictures of nature”, but I’m really, really hesitant to talk about it.
In the never-ending search for “Truth” whatever it may be, I’ve been reading (I figure books are good places to start looking for such a thing). I’ve been reading these two critics and the thought surrounding their work: Arthur Danto and Donald Kuspit. I won’t go into specifics about their ideas for a variety of reasons which can likely be inferred when I’m done writing, but I suppose the easiest way to start is that I’m most of the way through Kuspit’s 2005 book The End of Art.
It’s a pretty bleak sounding title to say the least, but I don’t really see the book as dire. Again, not going to go into specifics of Kuspit’s criticism for reasons, but when I try to talk about these ideas, it hasn’t exactly gone well. From two close friends I talk to about such things, I’ve been accused of just whining about something I don’t have much experience in (contemporary art), and one of my friends even took it as a personal affront and was pretty upset with how I cast the whole thing. The way in which I was phrasing how I talked about these ideas made it seem like I unilaterally hated contemporary art, that there was nothing worthwhile being made, and I was starting to figure out “the work” that “needed” to be made.
That’s not a particularly productive mindset to be in, especially when I not only find myself in the contemporary period, I’m not even a graduated BFA artist in the contemporary period yet.
I read criticism, aesthetic theory, I read about contemporary artists and old masters I both do and don’t like. I try to look at as much art as possible, and I write personally regarding these topics more than I write publicly. I do this all in hopes of gaining as astute an understanding as possible of why I like what I like and why I dislike what I dislike, and furthermore how my taste and intuition fit into art history and contemporary society. Having an understanding of the theoretical structure which surrounds a field is important to me, because I feel that it grants insight into the thoughts and motivations of artists and artistic movements, which in turn allows for more clarity in personal practice.
So I have this well read and well researched criticism from an artist writing about how Duchamp and Warhol framed contemporary thought from a critic who was in his 20s when Duchamp and Warhol were turning aesthetic theory on its head. And what’s more, the critic is putting beautiful, insightful words to hunches, notions, intuitions I have about what art is capable of, and why I don’t like the contemporary work I don’t like. Very cool! I read this because it’s exciting, because it helps reveal a picture of what I want my work to do: for myself, for the viewer, and if I’m so blessed, for society.
However I suppose I run into difficulty when I try to talk about this picture I have for my work, because I enter the territory of overconfidence, of cockiness, of “I have it figured out”. This is not a good place to make artwork from. In my search for insight, I am too quick to think that I stumbled upon answers and share them with people not necessarily for a chance to hear feedback and have a discussion, but hoping that people will simply say “Wow, you’re so right!” Again, not a good place to be.
So I guess right now I’m looking for a middle ground. My friend Will says to me, good work should be able to stand on its own. I wrote 5,200 words for 20 pieces for my departmental portfolio, and he said this was excessive and absurd. I said that I felt like I needed that many words to talk about the significance each piece had to me. I suppose every piece will always be significant to me, but I suppose talking about them to such length borders on blathering. Ideally, in true formalist fashion, everything that’s necessary to comprehend and appreciate a piece would be present within the piece itself. But there’s the rub: all the thought and aesthetic theory demands a vessel to be poured into, a medium to gain material form.
This is all to say, I need to keep making work. The style of critique which we’ve learned in school is to try and ascertain the artist’s motive in making a piece, what they’re trying to express. Then figure out what decisions they made to that end, and then to decide whether they worked towards or against that end, and then what further actions can be done or what actions undone. Without work, I’m becoming more of an art critic than an artist, because I have an idea of what ideal artwork is without making many strides towards creating it. There’s nothing wrong with art criticism, but it’s a self defeating cause to try and understand theory and then talk about it alongside artwork which does nothing or little towards the end one is trying to accomplish.
What is this all to say?
I suppose I’m tired of trying to come up with a grand picture of what artwork should be, or what’s wrong with contemporary art or thought, or what I ultimately want my artwork to be like. Will was joking with me that my life is a steady march of grand revelations, that at every turn of a page I find some new epiphany of how everything is. I guess to a certain extent, my mind works this way. I am constantly in search of trying “figure everything out”, but I simultaneously believe this is impossible, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. It feels lazy, it feels defeatist to say “well guess I’ll just be along for the ride without actively trying to figure out what will make me better at what I do”.
I suppose to a certain degree I need to squirrel away my views, my vision, my drive, and my opinion of my own work. I have to take criticism, ideas, reading, feedback, experience, I have to take that all back to a room which only I have the key to to build this idea of what my artwork should be. Sharing this, flaunting this, what does that serve? I’m seeking only a pat on the head, affirmation. I suppose the only affirmation that’s healthy to seek is affirmation for artwork, and not for my ability to think about my work or others’.
So I’m not inclined to talk about what these images mean to me. Not because they mean nothing, in fact they are the most recent set of images I feel like I’ve poured everything I have to give to them into. But I feel to write what they mean would degrade their meaning for me. I don’t choose to withhold the meaning and the thought driving them for fear of being wrong. In fact, I’m not even exactly sure it’s possible to be wrong in art any more. I withhold the meaning and let the images stand alone for fear of giving weight to the idea that it’s possible to get art “right”.