Thursday, December 08, 2011

Learning to Unlearn...

I went to what some would consider one of the best Art schools in the country.  (There are some that would even say that it's one of the best in the world!)  What we learned was heavily influenced by the contemporary Art world and what was being made in today's Art market.  But to understand what was going on NOW, we had to look at Art history and Art criticism.  Knowing the rhetoric and theory was a way to form the appropriate context to navigate the wilderness of Art with a capital "A".

The Art world we had learned to make in was an old one, reaching back to the dawn of civilization.  It's tired and jaded and has seen almost every trick under the sun ad nauseam.  It eats up and spits out artists on a daily basis.  You'd think a creature such as this would be lone monarchy, ruled exclusively by its cynical experience.  But it has a consort.  The Art world we learned about went hand-in-hand with that of the Money market.  Money with a capital "M".  The state of the economy was tied to ebb and flow of the Art market like the moon is to the tide.  A booming economy could herald a Renaissance in Art-making and an explosion of new artists.

In that world, you could hang a blank canvas on a wall (which has already been done, by the way) and as long as you could frame it with the right Art historical context and had the right dealer, it would be valid and transcendental and a true Artistic expression.

I learned a lot in Art school.  But the thing I learned the most about was doubt.  I'd ask myself questions like, "Is this Art?  Where does this fit in the Art world?  Who would want this?  Will it sell?  Will Art collectors want to collect this?  Will I be remembered?"

What I learned... what I was trained to do... was to ask questions.  I think a true artist is someone who listens to their own voice and creates answers.  This is not to say that they're an egomaniacal Howard Roark, but someone who listens and considers all angles, but ultimately follows their own gut.  They ask questions and investigate, but come away with findings based on their experiences and their entire world... not just a single facet.

The hardest lesson that I had to learn came after school.  The lesson came when I was out of the warm cocoon of theories, classes and syllabi... it came when the economy wasn't booming anymore.

I had to learn to unlearn.

It's something that I'm still working on.  I am learning to quiet all the voices and the questions... and to simply make again.  I might have titled this post, "Discovering Joy Again", because that is the aim of this self-deconstruction.  It's all about learning to trust in my own voice again.  As pretentious and pompous as this post may seem, it's part of an explanation of my road back to something fundamental and inherent to who I am... a maker of things.  Maybe one day I'll be an Artist with a capital "A", but I'm not worried about that just now.  Instead, I'll go make something.

12 comments:

lunedreams said...

Amazing how hard and unnatural that feels at first. We are trained to think of heeding first our own voice as arrogant or foolish. But in the end each of us must plumb our own depths for the direction in everything we do, whether we realize it or not, and regardless of whatever belief system we claim to be guided by.

I like to tell myself when I'm making something crazy, or doing something the "wrong" way (i.e., not the way everyone else is doing it) that I AM SETTING A NEW TREND! "I declare this the new cool way to do this!" It's kind of fun and funny to visualize, getting out in front with my crazy drum and saying "Follow me!" And then everybody does just because I act like I know what I'm doing. I love artistic license. "I meant to do that."

Godspeed to you down this road! You have a winsome and unforgettable style that should be given its head.

Bobbie said...

Many people continue to be an art student (capital or small "A" at your discretion) long past graduation. It is only when, and if, one comes to the realization that you have reached that they can begin to call themselves a true artist -- one who takes their knowledge of what has come before and moves it into the future with their own voice. Bravo to you!

Spirited Earth said...

reading this post took me back to my own university days..when the Dean of my department, himself a painter, told me that once out of school, i would need to over come my education...a very puzzling thing to hear at the time..

Jenny said...

I think learning to quiet the voices and the questions will be one of the most important things you'll do as an artist. I think it has something to do with learning the rules and learning how to break them.

A few weeks ago, our pottery instructor showed us a large pot that was made over 150 years ago. To an untrained eye, it's probably just a pot, and maybe not a very good one. But to those who have looked critically at a lot of pots, the potter's heart and courage were revealed. One could tell he loved clay as much as he loved breathing, and that he had the courage to let the clay sag, deform under its own weight, and find its own shape after he'd formed it with his hands. That guy had a lot of guts, to turn out a pot like that.

The artist would not have been able to make that pot until he was able to get over himself, and ignore all the voices other than that of the pot itself. 150 years later, a group of pottery students and their instructor stood silent, and marveled that something to soulful and profound could come from a lump of clay. What an amazing legacy.

Marie Cramp said...

Some very deep thoughts and words have been written here. It certainly has given me food for thought as I ponder my own path in this roller coaster called life. I never thought anything you said was pretentious or pompous, it only sounded to me like a soul searching for it's right path. I hope you find it.

TesoriTrovati said...

I think like this every time I sit down to create. Not worrying about what is popular or considere art at the moment but about the way the materials feel in my hands, the care with which the art beads I use were constructed, the play of light and color, the drama of unexpected elements mingling. Maybe it is because I did not study for my art but rather came to it by way of my life I don't have the same questioning. But it is a valuable skill to be able to block out your doubts about what is art and just forge ahead. Something to remind myself of as I consider directions I would like to grow in the coming year. Thank you always for your thoughtful words, your probing questions. We all benefit from the way you write.
Enjoy the day, Andrew!
Erin

Right Turn ArtWerks said...

I'm not sure I can add anything to what was written above - very profound. One very smart professor I had always told me - "Silence your mind Sharon". He'd remind me to get into the artistic moment I was in - feel the weight of the materials, their color, my vision, rejoice in being able to see the shadow or whatever I was focused on. It's not easy to chase the training out but when you can and do, when you become enticed by the moment you're in...well, it's heaven.

Karen Totten said...

Wonderful post. As a recovering art school graduate, I can sympathize! I double-majored in art (painting as my focus) and art history - so I stuffed my brain full of culture and ideas about "what is art". I eventually transferred to another school and changed my major to industrial design and immersed myself in a string of design professions: architecture, art direction, multimedia design, illustration, touch screen interaction design (my current full time job). After YEARS of doing all the afore-mentioned, I craved getting my hands back into tactile media: I wanted to have fun again in a more hands-on touchy-feelie way. Oddly, I feel that my design path has enabled me to unlearn (i.e., not care) about what others declare "art" to be. It has served as a kind of art boot-camp where I have to turn out creative decisions very quickly and in a very ego-less manner - I don't have time to worry about whether or not it is "art" or not because I have to be in the mode of MAKING things without the luxury of worrying about that. The whole thing (re baggage) of "finding your voice" is kinda silly - the point is that I MAKE things. By day, I make things (digitally) for a very large company and my work is seen and used by millions who use the interfaces I design on their products). I have a kind of pride in this part of my work - it is useful and brings (at least some) beauty and clarity to many many people. By night and weekends, I make tactile things. I draw, throw pots, make clay things and jewelry. This is so satisfying to me. I sometimes struggle with wanting to quit my day job and focus on my night job but I think part of me would miss my design career - it has taught me to let go of the angst of classifying what I create into someone else's notion of "art" and to simply: MAKE. When you get totally immersed into the mode of making, the "voice" part just comes naturally - you don't have to looking for it.

Karen Totten said...

* you don't have to GO looking for it *

Cynthia Thornton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia Thornton said...

This is a good post, Andrew. I felt the same way for a long time. The work I was doing 10 years ago was seen as feminine drivel - just pretty and nice and good for illustration purposes, but not 'real' art. My professors couldn't wrap their minds around what I was doing. They told me I wasn't challenging anything with my fanciful paintings in bright colors. I didn't really know how to articulate that I had enough darkness within myself, that I needed to make something beautiful, or I would sink farther down and feel even more hollow. Its hard to express everything, to make what your soul longs to see, without fear of judgement. Luckily for me, I am incredibly stubborn, so I made what I wanted to and they had to put up with it. I still try and make what i want to see and own. So, tell the tiny negative professors within to shove it, since they don't have to live with your work - you do.

Pine Ridge Treasures said...

Very thought provoking post! When I create, I sometimes catch myself asking "Is this what people will buy?" or "Is this art?" Then I tell myself to stop thinking and just make what the beads say to make.