There it was again, another discussion of how to determine what a ‘real’ artist was. Shaking my head in utter dismay, I read a plethora of back and forth positions in the online blog. Oh so long ago, I had been introduced to this topic, had no idea what the term ‘real’ artist meant, and hadn’t found it necessary to evaluate whether I was real or unreal. But there it was again and still being discussed, so this morning I began to wonder why this real vs whatever-other-type-of-artist discussion exists and persists. To quote an awesome woman whose name escapes me, “can’t we all be fabulous?” Is a ‘real’ artist more authentic or true in some manner, maybe in skill, or in number of ideas, or simply in their prolific outpouring of repurposed and/or aesthetically pleasing matter? Could it be that the ‘unreal’ artist accrues lower than a certain level of occupational income, such as van Gogh during his lifetime? Or, is it some other distinction that drives this seeded vs seedless rye discussion?
What I can’t figure out is, who has the time and energy to bother with this distinction? Aren’t artists too busy making art?
That Chuck Close quote is my go-to saying, especially as a high school art teacher, but also as my personal artistic mantra. While I haven’t experienced Close’s seemingly life-long non-stop prolific profusion of ideas, I’ve encountered blinks of time when I believed ‘inspiration’ had eluded me.
When I look back on those snippets of idleness, I realize what appeared to be a lack of inspiration was in reality a form of quasi self-doubt. So I was curious to figure out how that doubt took up residence in my thought process in the first place. Why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?
Well, that question brings me to another point, one I share with my art students all the time, specifically the difference between product and process. Usually it goes like this: I ask my students to identify themselves as either a product or process person. The product people tend to focus on the end result throughout their art-making, while the process people travel from one possibility to another, never wanting to finish. As an art teacher, this distinction of contrasts between product and process helps me tremendously to understand my students’ motivations as they engage in art making, and the preliminary product/process discussion also establishes a basis for dialogue when we talk about their approach to their work. Of note, I’ve rarely seen a student, who identifies as a process person, ever struggle to get going, although I’ve had countless long conversations with students, who identify as product people, to help get them started. More often than not, I’ve discovered through these conversations that the product person believes getting started requires them to have the finished work in mind; in a concept-driven art course, this rigidity of thought impedes the emergence of creative energy at the outset. The process person meanwhile, is off and running, allowing their creative energy to take them somewhere, anywhere. This brings me back to my question: why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?
And there was the answer. These days I revel in my creative process and, in the spirit of Chuck Close, I just get to work.
Lately I’ve been considering pottery work with porcelain. Mostly because the translucent characteristic of this clay body lends itself to all sorts of interesting outcomes. It’ll be trial and error for a while I’m sure, but therein lies the joy. Curiosity for how this medium will respond to various hand-building, printing, and wheel throwing techniques serves as the driving force.
The porcelain arrived quickly from the Ceramic Shop (Philadelphia, PA), so I tore open the box to check it out. From the outside of the bag the clay felt a little stiff, but from what I understand from YouTube videos, once the clay is well wedged, it softens up. I was careful to wash the surfaces, tools, sponges, buckets, and anything else that had previously come into contact with stoneware. Again, a YouTube video recommended washing tools, etc. so that no iron bits would contaminate the porcelain clay body.
I used a brand-new wire cutting tool and wedged the porcelain on a heavy piece of clean cardboard, since my bamboo wedging table’s surface was thoroughly embedded with stoneware from previous wedging. With only a pound or so, tried throwing a little vessel with a tiny spout. The clay handled nicely, was very easy to center and form – left the bottom a bit thicker for trimming a nice foot. Next, I threw a little one pound bowl and tried to make the walls as thin as I could without risking collapse. Again, I kept the base thicker so I could trim a deep foot.
So, today I consider myself a potter,but a few years ago I was working on a mixed media series called “From the Outside Looking In,” which was inspired by Tibetan prayer flags. I was intrigued by the premise of these prayer flags as they are meant to invoke words and images from fragmented, separated, territorial, and barrier-driven belief systems of the world in an attempt to harmonize these philosophical divisions. The un-hemmed flags, left in the wind to disperse their intentions, fray to disintegration and are then burned to release every last vestige of prayerful hope.
Art as a temporary entity has always been part of my practice – I’ve left sculpture to disintegrate outside in the elements, I’ve burned or thrown away countless drawings and paintings, because after the process of art making I’m never quite sure what to actually do with the result. Years ago I had work framed but that only lasted for a while and eventually that work was either destroyed or given away. My philosophy about art is the same as my philosophy of life – it’s temporary.
The series started a few years ago when I was teaching an introductory fine art class and was alarmed by the amount of art materials that would go to waste after high school students had created their respective masterpieces. I decided to not only re-cycle, but to up-cycle the waste and create this series of flags. The series grew as the fine art waste churned out scraps of fabric, dyed, inked, batik, or painted, along with leftover paint blobs and scraps of paper. After assembling a flag I would add tiny stitches or an occasional bead to bring tiny pieces of materials to an artistic resolution. Eventually the series grew to over a thousand flags, so I began to consider how I would exhibit these little marvels of trash-picked artistry.
Hanging all of the flags at once in an outdoor space to allow them to float and flutter in the breeze and eventually disintegrate, as the Tibetan prayer flags are meant to do, was one option. However, I had become somewhat aware that the flags possessed an individual simplicity. So, the flag framing began, hesitantly at first, because I wasn’t sure how their delicacy would be influenced by the hardness of a frame surrounding them. Today a number of the flags are in frames – we’ll see how long they last.