What are some of the questions you ask yourself as you work?
At some point during my formative education, I remember a teacher telling me to put my writing through what they called the “who cares” test. This ultimately pushed me to elaborate my written work and explain my content beyond a reasonable doubt.
In relation to my art, I still ask a similar question. Often, the result is rethinking concepts and pushing an idea further. Admittedly, there were periods in my past where I saw consumption of my art as success or a failure. At these times, the “who cares” in my brain was self-deprecating.
Over the past year, the condescending tone of that concept was traded for a more self-aware approach.
Maybe I care to keep working on a piece because I am learning something new, creating something for a loved one, or- just maybe- I am making something simply for the sake of having fun. Life doesn’t need to be so serious and goal oriented. Nonsense still requires time to pass and some effort to be made. What a wonderfully wacky way to approach existing and creating.
Certain perceptions, recurring imagery, or themes originate in childhood, then form an objective pattern later in life. Describe an early delving that was foundational to your creative practice.
I was fortunate enough to have a childhood filled with nature. Woods surrounded our backyard. The neighborhood kids would march off with my brother and I under evergreen trees and over brooks. A state forrest rustled just across the street. Gentle waves laced with seaweed were only an hour away. My imaginative play frequently coincided with the natural world.
Even before I began including natural elements in my work, I always found exploring the great outdoors to be one of the most beneficial aspects of my existence. Whether it be a forest, desert, or seaside escape, the sublime of the natural world has a way of putting you in your place. It centers me, inspires me, disciplines me, and motivates me. Nature is undoubtedly part of my creative practice, as it is truly an extension of all I am.
When reflecting on my artistic journey, I recognize how my art is a direct response to my experience within the context my immediate environment. My series of black and white ink drawings as well as my surrealist oil paintings of women were a direct response to my own trauma and struggle with the systems oppressing survivors of sexual assault. These creations originated in 2014 and 2015, eight years after Tarana Burke created #metoo, but two years before the hashtag became a rallying cry against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Although the timing was more reflective of my own experience, my work demanded recognition of the additional traumatization inflicted by the local judicial system, the university, and the resulting condemnation of the survivor by their peers.
There was a long period where I believed if my art did not continue to address this experience, I would no longer be successful. After a brief period stepping back from my work, I began to recognize the times called for something different: hope.
My current work inhabits a space recognizing the issues of today while illuminating elements to be grateful for. My ecological art searches for beautiful repetition and evidence of thriving life in a world that is so gravely threatened.
Throughout my young artistic career, I learned that I, too, need refuge from the forlorn times of today. I have the ability to emit positive energy while elucidating complex ideas through my art. If I am able, I must create to reorient joy in my life and not to tumble in cycles of my own despair.
“What is the idea of artist that you are working out of or heading toward?”
In my experience, my formalized education has inhibited my creative growth the most. Can a numeric or letter-grading system accurately evaluate creativity, innovation, or critical thinking? Do these systems incentivize any of these qualities? Personal experience as a student and an educator in the United States lead me to believe these are not likely outcomes of the systems currently in place.
Throughout my personal career in the arts, I constantly receive information about how to best market my work and what artistic concepts I should explore deeper. Most of this advice works if you want to conform to the systems, algorithms, and perceptions of “good art” that are already in place. Rarely does this advice yield room for more experimentation, learning, and exploration.
I am currently exploring a personal philosophy that I consistently use in my teachings: push your work to the point of failure and then push it further. If you live in a safe space doing all you already know, you will forever inhabit the plateau of your creative world. Failing is an illusion.
Cookie-cutter lessons where children reproduce an image provided by a teacher is a problematic practice. It creates a stale, idealized version of success while celebrating perfectionism. Students begin to feel like if their art doesn’t look exactly like the things they see, it is not a success. I argue creating only what you see is the absence of artistic expression.
What I find particularly terrifying is taking my own advice and being transparent about my journey. My website and social media pages are full of my work using various mediums, techniques, conversations, and expressions. The common voice I am pushed to have by art academia is limiting. The thread holding my work together is that they are created from my own experience; each work illuminates an extension of myself.
In my most recent work, I cannot help but identify with the passage by R. Buckminster Fuller. I, too, “am trying to be lighter.” I am pushing to create with found and natural materials in a way that is more conscious of the environment and my place as just another living organism within it. My work, though still developing, is meant to break down, either from its presence in the public or from erosion and decomposition.
This work further collides with the high art world, as artists are pushed for “archival quality work,” noting the process must include practices that keep the work in tact for as long as possible. I find this concept ludicrous, as it seems like an attempt to immortalize the creator, elevating the individual’s production of consumable goods over the natural order of the world’s cycles of growth and decay.