Saturday, September 3, 2011

Several Thoughts on the Nature of Being an Artist...


I haven't really utilized my blog in a very long time, partially due to a fear of committing my words to any sort of posterity, and equally a fear that like many people I may delve into the frightening depths of exhibitionism that currently plague so many of us. But these are fears that I must learn to quell, because unfortunately an artist and their work and the ideas that inform and shape their work are usually so integrally entwined that they cannot be unraveled from one another. As an artist I want to exhibit my work, but I cannot escape the feeling that I am really exhibiting myself.

My work is not personal in any conventional sense, I do not paint self portraits, I do not make work that illustrates or incorporates my life in any way (or so I'd like to believe). And yet, I feel sometimes like I am nailing up flanks cut away from my side when I exhibit my work. My work is generally abstract, at least the work that I distinguish as being "art" (I often make other work that straddles the lines of art + other, or is strictly an exercise for me of my skills as an "artisan"). Abstraction is a touchy term, and generally I would prefer the outmoded term of "non-objective", but then no one would know what the hell I was talking about. My most personal work is also at the same time my least personal work.

I hesitate to be to autobiographical, however it is hard to avoid because it seems to me that some elements of my personal history may illuminate my art in some way. I have devoted my entire life to art, and I made the choice so early in life to do so that sometimes it seems like destiny (a concept that I do not particularly subscribe to). The thought of pursuing anything else has become ridiculous, and in some sense would negate everything that my life has ever meant. I started taking art classes as early as I was able, and took as many as I could through college. My focus shifted many times over the years; at one point in adolescence I wanted to be a fashion designer, later and for a long period of time I wanted to be a comic book artist/writer. Then at some point in high school I became focused like a laser on the idea of being a Fine Artist (a term that I would be hard pressed to define today, but understood with absolute certainty at the time).

Everything else (aside from women and a few other constants) fell by the wayside, and I voraciously studied and practiced from all sides my true love. Over the years I've gained a near encyclopedic working knowledge of traditional and somewhat less than traditional art making materials and tools. I have become what I can only label an "amateur art historian" by constantly reading art historical and theoretical texts, art magazines and journals, and biographies and monographs on and about individual artists.

The exact details of what I've done, used, or read are for other occasions but suffice it to say my artistic credentials are long and established. And that has been somewhat problematic to my artistic practice over the years. There have been great shifts and crises in what I think the goal of art should be over the years. Making art has become a great and unsolvable conundrum, and every piece of art that I produce feels less like a finished commodity, than a record of internal struggle that is finished only by some sort of default.


There was a time in my life when I was much younger that I was seeing a therapist. One day the focus fell upon my art, and I told him that I never felt completely satisfied with my work. He made the point that if I ever did feel completely satisfied, there probably wouldn't be much of a reason to continue. Years and years of life and art have come between that moment and this, and that "advice" sure helped me through some frustrating moments. However, I'm not sure how much that statement applies now. I now feel that it is good to take some pride and feel some sense of accomplishment in every work that is created or else there really wouldn't be much of a reason to continue.


In what I can only describe as a surly moment earlier this evening my significant other stated that my " ego threatened to devour Columbus." Or something like that; I honestly wasn't paying that close of attention to be able to quote her exactly. But she's wrong. My ego actually wants to devour the world. I can admit it.

I feel that ego is an absolute necessity for an artist. It is integral to being an artist to have a bullet proof shatterproof teflon ego to survive. It might have been different in the past, but I doubt it.

The dichotomy is that an artist also has to disconnect themselves from their work.

Student artists often feel like any criticism of their work that falls on the indifferent to completely negative end of the scale is a stab in the chest that makes the face flush and the fight or flight instinct come to full effect.

People often make light of American Idol rejects who go on about how great they are and how stupid the judges are for passing on them, but in all honesty that is the attitude that a serious artist needs to adopt. I have seen many artists with very little talent and at best mediocre skill gain some level of success based on their relentless self promotion and ability to shrug off negative criticism. On the flip side I've seen many artists with a great amount of talent and ability so wrapped up in self doubt over any little criticism that they almost never seek attention for their work.


I have had an interest for quite some time in answering the question of what art is, but I'm slowly understanding that I can only define what art means to me. Art is an old concept, and a culturally specific concept, and a universal concept, and well I could keep going, but it is probably best to refrain at the moment.

I know that some people use their blogs for relentless self promotion, but I have no need to promote myself. To clarify: I do not deny that I need to promote my art, and that my art is inextricably connected to me as a personage... but that is not what I intend to use this blog for.

In general, I would prefer to present my ideas about art as completely refined essays... but I am starting to see this blog as a format to expose more of a rough draft, a place to post the infancy of concepts for later clarification. An experiment of sorts... we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Random Installation Idea Number 2: "Lecture"

"Lecture" (working title)

The idea of this is simple enough, and I don't really know why I haven't tried to do it yet. This would actually be a series of videos that could be presented as an "installation", or just popped on youtube or some similar outlet.

The concept is to invite "experts" (the required qualifications would have to be decided upon before starting the project, but I am envisioning it being professors, phd's, researchers, authors, etc) to explain a concept of their choosing to me. We will sit across from one another, and there will be a blackboard available between us if they need it to illustrate their point or write down fundamental elements of the idea. The video will not end until I am able to grasp the concept to their satisfaction, or until they are thoroughly frustrated by my ineptitude and decide to quit.

I will only be allowed to ask them questions if I do not feel that I understand what they are describing. I will have to repeat to them the concept at what I think is the point that I understand it. If they feel that I am not grasping it, we will have to establish the point where my own reasoning is failing and start again from there. If they feel satisfied that I have learned what they have been teaching me, we shake hands and the video ends.

I think I would have to standardize the format of my questions. The idea would be to ask simple and logical questions pertaining solely (as far as I am aware) to the subject at hand.

I think the hardest part of this would be finding "experts" to participate. Also I would need to buy a digital camcorder and a tripod, and learn some basics of video documentation.

I really like the idea of doing this project, but it makes me rather nervous because it would leave me in a rather vulnerable position. My intellectual shortcomings would become a matter of public record, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that.

We'll see. If I can get over myself I might get up the courage to finally do this project.

Random Installation Idea Number 1: "Ghost Hallway"

Over the years I've had many ideas for installation projects. Of course the biggest problems with installations are a) having a space to exhibit them, b) having a budget for materials, C) having assistants to help execute them, and d) having enough money to survive on while creating the piece. There are ways around this, I have seen many fine installations made up of unexpected and cheap or even free materials. But the kinds of ideas that I have are usually grand scale and elaborate productions.

Most of them I am beginning to admit that I will never be able to do. Many of them in retrospect seem like horrible ideas (I will not be sharing those). However some of the concepts are too good not to share (at least in my opinion). If money and free time become more readily available I may still execute them some day, but for now they exist only as plans. Here is a description of the first of many "Random Installation Ideas".

"The Ghost Hallway" (working title)

This project involves a lot of preparation before the actual piece is created.

Step One: is to send myself and volunteers interested in helping out to locations that are deemed "haunted". (Some locations will not have a "haunted" history to them, but the volunteers will be informed that they do). With night vision cameras they will document their experiences, but be instructed to keep as quiet as possible: no running narrative (as they do so often in "ghost hunter" shows on television). Of course being alone in the dark in places that are believed to be haunted will elicit some reactions of fear which cannot be helped. These will not be edited out.

Step One Amended: Further documentation about each location will be collected, and may or may not be available ancillary to the installation proper.

Step Two: Finding or building the proper location. The proper location would be a long rather narrow hallway with very shiny black tile floors (a tile that preferably echoes noise and makes footsteps audible). The walls and ceiling would have to be made or pre-existing to have bad acoustics, in the sense that sound would bounce and echo off of them. It would also have to have access to quite a bit of electricity, and have an accessible room off of it that could house video equipment.

The walls and ceiling would have to be carefully painted a pure gloss black.

Step Two Amended: If the hallway is being built, some preliminary research will have to be done regarding the optimum dimensions (length, width, and heigth) of the hallway to produce the intended effect (see The Effect below).

Step Three: Install countless television monitors lining the walls. Depending on money and amount of video documentation available they can either be floor to ceiling, or mounted in single horizontal rows going down the hallway. It is important that each monitor have it's own video constantly playing on a loop. Their will be no added sound equipment, the built in speakers on each monitor (they have to have these) will be turned up as loud as possible.

The Effect: As the viewer walks down the hallway they will be surrounded by the indistinct greenish images on the monitors, mirrored and repeated endlessly in the floor and ceiling. They will hear the sound of breathing and footsteps coming from the speakers of each tv reverberating throughout the hallway. Viewers will only be allowed to come in from one direction, and no explanation of what they are looking at will be provided until after they exit. Even the title will not be present at the beginning.

Most viewers will probably feel a little disturbed by the experience, as it is intended to thoroughly disorient them. Due to the popularity of ghost hunter television shows, they will probably have some idea of what they are looking at on the monitors, and the perceived subject matter will also add to the overall 'creepy" effect.

The Intention: The intention is to walk a thin line between installation art, a pseudo-psychological experiment, and the experience of a "haunted house" attraction (minus the usual gore and pop-out surprises). It serves to provide the viewer with a wholly new aesthetic and physical experience, and remove them from their comfort zone.

Possible Additions: In the room upon exit documentation of the project may or may not be available to help the viewer make sense of their experience, and a survey of their experience may or may not be available for them to fill out. Also it might be interesting to place hidden cameras in the hallway to play (on a delay) on a monitor in the next room so that viewers can see the effect that the experience had on them.

If the opportunity to actually create this piece ever presents itself, clearly more thought will have to be put into it. Obviously the whole thing would start with scouting "haunted" locations to do video documentation in.

Overall the project would take a long time and a lot of money to execute. I'm not exactly holding my breath right now.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Long Term Project Part Two

I just rescued every last bit of art from my parents attic. Unfortunately I must have forgotten a box that I packed up at some earlier point and it received considerable water damage from a leak in the roof. It was still wet from a recent rain when I picked it up. I brought it home and sicked a hair dryer on one drawing at a time, until I realized that there were way too many to keep doing it that way (plus I blew a fuse doing it!). I took the rest and tried to spread them out a bit in front of a window fan.

They are all dry now, except for a few of the thicker things. About 99% survived to some extent or another. Many have water damage and mildew spots, but more than I expected are completely unaffected.

I don't have a particularly good memory, and most of my childhood memories are hazy to say the least. However in the past week or so I remembered how when I was probably in first or second grade taking Saturday classes at the Columbus College of Art & Design we worked together as a class to make a sort of "mascot" that was printed on a t-shirt. We wound up doing an aardvark I think. I was very saddened while I was going through the box to find the drawing that I did that constituted a good portion of the design was practically destroyed. (I have no idea what happened to the shirt that I received.)

It was one of very few drawings/paintings that I've found that I sort of remember doing.

Oh well!

I recovered what I used to think was a "large" painting, ostensibily a self portrait from roughly the same time in my life. This is also one of the few things that I remember making a bit, and made while in the Saturday Classes. I remember that we separated into groups and took turns laying down on chipboard while the other kids traced our outlines. Then we painted our own "portraits" with crappy tempera. It's not all that interesting as a piece, but at least I sort of recall its making which for me is saying quite a bit.

I'll have to re-focus some effort on this project, because now that I have ALL of the art it is taking up a little too much space in my apartment!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


The following images are a very, very miniscule portion of the project that is described in the first post after the images end. It is titled "Long Term Project". You'll figure it out from there.