Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learning and Unlearning...

Right now I am in the middle of sorting out my student loan situation. It's an unpleasant task and one that I have put off for far too long.  Part of the process is finding documents that were tucked away in cardboard boxes and plastic bins and have survived (or not survived, as I am discovering) nine moves and over ten years.

While I was digging through the unorganized collective paperwork of over a decade of bad record keeping, I stumbled upon an artifact.  It was a piece I created during a summer residency program.  It was something that I made more for myself than anything else.  I still included it in the showing at the end of the program.  It was simple – a diary page mounted on a piece of wood with a plastic baggie stapled to it.  In the bag were clippings of hair.  Believe it or not, I have tried to sport over the years (with little success), longer hair styles.  The cutting of it was a cathartic act and something that I would do again years later.

Looking back at that work, I see how unprepared I was for art school.  I was quick to pick up the lingo and immersed myself in the rhetoric and theory, and I could put a good spin on what I made, but I didn't really understand it.  

Now that I look back at it, if I had the option, I would burn it all.  (And I might just do that to the fragments that I still own.)

What I see when I look back on those old paintings of hollow-eyed self-portraits is a black-hole of sadness and a struggle for identity.  I was broken and while I had inclinations of it, I didn't fully grasp it.  I was unhappy, but I didn't understand it.  I layered it with pseudo-spirituality and phony metaphysical mystery to protect it.  If I could defend it, sell it, and make my pain a commodity, then it was Art.

I think part of the problem was that I was under this romanticized notion of the "tragic artist".  I fell in love with a myth that the most successful and powerful artists and writers were ones that were indeed fractured and hurt beyond repair.  Their bloody, gapping wounds displayed in art museums and on bookshelves were somehow sublime.  My ambition only damaged me further.

Even later in my work, I see this persistent confusion and desperate searching.  I could conceptualize it and explain it and cite artistic influences and theoretical basis, but all I was doing was masking the quest to fully understand myself and my place in the world.  My body, my sexuality, why I did the things I did and felt the things I felt were all so amorphous to me.  These things were a cloud without shape.  I felt empty, a vessel for this soupy mess and I was trying to give it structure and fill it up with words.  I took comfort in explaining it all away.

Looking back on these artifacts, I see pieces to a puzzle.  Striped of their theory and weighted down words, I see the map they make.  While they outline a country that I do not care to trend again, I see them for what they are and where I've been.


Rebecca said...

Looking back at our younger selves is always a muddle of emotions.....for me at least, it's always a bittersweet experience. But despite our youthful naiveté, I think it's always good to know from where we have come, even if the younger version of ourselves makes us uncomfortable.....I know that's true for me, at any rate!

Works From The Attic by Linda said...

Andrew, you have such a way with words. I have to wonder if you really listen to what you are saying. You have grown so much, evolved into an incredibly interesting artist. Whether a painful journey or a seemingly easy walk in the park, we are all an accumulation of our years of learning, experience, knowledge and growth. You have become a better person for all you have been through. Perhaps at some point you fell into the "tragic artist" genre. Labels are just that. Whether we assign them to ourselves or someone else does it for us, they should not truly define us. Live life for the moment, grow with it, experience it, embrace it for what it is each and every day. You have come a long way and have created something magical from which to grow even more. You are no longer painting yourself into a corner and trying to rid yourself of that tortured emotion; you are now inspiring others and bringing people together in the name of art. That is an amazing thing to do and to experience. You simply need to let yourself experience that...truly experience it.