Makes sense to me!
A creative approach to developing as an engineer: learning to problem-solve like an artist.
Makes sense to me!
A creative approach to developing as an engineer: learning to problem-solve like an artist.
I once imagined the push and pull between the natural and the mechanistic as a desperate struggle: spiritual individuals vs. industrial machines. Is now much easier to see this relationship as symbiotic. Walter Benjamin’s hugely influential work The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction describes what happens when artworks are reproduced mechanically. But in a digital age–when production may or may not mean object-making–the lines between production, editing, reproduction, and consumption are blurred, resulting in tectonic shifts in seeing, making and learning.
It can be easy to forget that the humble pencil and the acoustic guitar are forms of technology. Before graphite there was metalpoint; before the guitar…lutes? Unlike designers who wear their Adobe technologies on their sleeves, for visual artists, tracing, working from a photograph (as opposed to working from life), painting by numbers, digital reproductions like giclee prints, and many other forms of image-making are seen as inauthentic. The corollary for musicians is computers-aided editing software and the excessive use of plug-in’s like auto-tune. When is the use of technology cheating? And what is the difference between a tool and a crutch?
At nineteen I remember listening to an early version of a song I had written, after the track had been recorded and heavily edited by an established record producer using an early version of Pro-Tools recording software. My drummer and good friend Sam said, “We sound like machines!” And the band did, suddenly, sound like robots. The players we were listening to were us, but at the same time not us–we had never performed the song with such a high level of precision (coming of age in the heyday of grunge rock). However, after hearing the song several times in its new brutally mechanistic incarnation, we began to internalize the more precise rhythms. The next performances would grow tighter and tighter until we achieved a nearly machine-like proficiency. We became more machine-like, after a machine showed us the way. (For a related discussion of musicians and digital editing check out RadioLab short: http://www.radiolab.org/story/313542-dawn-midi/)
Just as recording artists create and modify arrangements and performances “in the box” (on a computer), visual artists now make use of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other digital image manipulation software to generate imagery to then paint or draw from, print, 3D print, etc. And just as musicians have learned from computers, artists too now borrow from the aesthetics of computer-generated imagery without ever touching a computer.
Consider Rembrandt’s self-portraits. As a virtuosic painter, Rembrandt often hid or completely eliminated the marks of his paint brush in his early years. Later, he began to experiment with embracing brushstrokes, leaving evidence of the tool as if to say, “this is a painting. Look what I have done with paint! Boo-ya!”. As contemporary artists, we too must grapple with the decision to disguise or parade our tools, from photoshop to paintbrushes.
Usually, computer-artist exchanges happen covertly; the resulting charcoal portraits, landscape paintings, and indie-folk albums read as organic and naturalistic regardless of any digital interventions along the way. But for some artists, digital-machine-partnerships are more evident. And occasionally, the tool becomes an integral part of the product, as the paintbrush did with Rembrandt’s paintings.
Below is a small sampling of visual artists using digital tools more opaquely to inform or create art. Can you think of others? Can you think of recording artists who leave evidence of their digital tools?
In the last few years at three institutions I have taught Intro to Digital Imaging, 2D foundations, 3D foundations, 4D foundations, Drawing 1, and Drawing 2. While I am proud to have taught such a wide range of courses in such a short amount of time–I have long considered myself a generalist–the pace has been challenging as I essentially have not stopped preparing lectures, assignments, and studying. To put it plainly, I have been completely immersed in the world of the Adjunct Art Instructor.
I have never blogged a top ten list and generally find unsolicited online advice cheesy. However, the graduate degree required to teach art at the college level is a Master of Fine Arts. The typical MFA curriculum leaves graduates well-suited to becoming successful artists (provided they are independently wealthy), but vastly underprepared for the rigors of teaching. Additionally, most of the pedagogical advice out there comes from tenured instructors with decades of experience, experience which may distance those instructors from the reality beginning teachers face. If you happen to be on this artist/teacher path like me, you may encounter some surprises while abruptly making the transition from student to educator.
When you find yourself required to stick to a predetermined curriculum but without the facilities and materials required to teach said curriculum effectively, in the middle of longstanding debates between instructors vying for institutional territory, paying nearly as much for a university parking pass as you get paid to teach one class, or eating rice at an increasing frequency while Sallie Mae sends bomb threats, godspeed! Apologize to your friends and spouse in advance for your ongoing complaints and know that others are feeling your pain. But fortunately, there are some things you can control. Here are ten things I have learned in my short time as an adjunct art instructor.
1. Three classes is enough. Teaching four classes is too many classes, if you also want to have a life, make your own work, have energy to make dinner, etc. Three classes does not sound like much and as a student it is indeed completely possible to take four, five, even six or more courses every semester, cranking out the quality book reports from cliff notes, five-paragraph persuasive essays about peanut butter and jelly and making, and looseleaf drawings of skull and demons from 9am to 9pm. As a teacher, however, I strongly suggest taking on only a few classes unless you want all your muscles including your brain to be perpetually sore, even though the brain is not actually a muscle.
2. Teaching is physical and mental. Teaching is far more taxing physically than I expected. Now I am by no means Lance Armstrong, meaning I am not on performance enhancing drugs except coffee and I only ride a bicycle occasionally, but walking from student to student, talking, talking some more, then talking in a loud voice and then a veeeery quiet voice, kneeling to look at drawings, is a small workout. Of course teaching is emotionally and psychologically demanding as well. For artists accustomed to spending long, glorious, quiet hours alone being creative, teaching is essentially exactly the opposite–long cacophonous blocks surrounded by highly social young people on energy drinks and worse or falling asleep who nonetheless require all your creative energy and your very best ideas. Just do three classes, sixty students or so to stay sane.
3. Making a living solely as an adjunct art instructor is impractical. This is essentially a continuation of #1 and #2. I do know others who survive by teaching a large amount of classes at several universities. But frankly, those individuals are cranky and unhappy, and feel (rightfully) that they are being taken advantage of. My friends who are waiting tables are much happier than those who are trying to subsist on a piece-mail adjunct salary alone. Besides, doing a relatively mindless job means that you just might have some creative credits in your mental bank to drop into your own art work when you get home.
4. Find support. Teaching can be lonely. Teachers do not have the kind of community students enjoy, particularly at small institutions. As an adjunct you most likely will not get the benefits that full-time faculty get, nor the resources to even operate your class (something as simple as getting paper or a material for a project can become an enormous challenge). Also, since adjuncts do not attend meetings we tend to come and go without connecting with colleagues and are often in the dark when it comes to decisions about the department, even decisions that have a direct impact on adjunct faculty. Thus, it is important to have one or two full-time instructors in your corner to bounce ideas off of, to talk to and to listen to. I have additionally begun organizing gatherings of other teachers and teacher/artists in town for moral and professional support.
5. Learn at least enough to know what you’re doing. I now, finally, understand why as a student my best professors seemed to have god-like intelligence–they did! There is just no substitute for knowing the material. As an instructor you are forced to learn the content inside and out, if not through repetition then through rational fear of looking like you have no idea what you’re doing. I have learned this the hard way by showing up to classes underprepared and stammering or just admitting that I have no idea (which is obviously slightly better than lying, a skill that some of my high school teachers had perfected but won’t work at a university).
6. Appreciate your students as individuals. If you do not like people–I mean really like people, forget teaching. It’s not a trick it’s a mindset–in the moment to appreciate the incredible beauty and potential of each and every individual despite their flaws like chronic tardiness, laziness, stubbornness, poor hygiene and awful taste in music but I believe (seriously) that true respect can only be gained through true respect, not through coercion. That’s how my parents did it.
7. Stay student-focused in the classroom. The ego is the ally of the artist but the enemy of the teacher. The worst art teacher is the teacher that talks about his or her own art constantly and attempts to make all the student work resemble his or her work. I know this system well as have worked with these instructors and I have made work that looks exactly like the work of my instructors. The typical college-aged undergraduate student is intensely impressionable. Thus, it is essential to allow students to find their own voices (forgive the cliche), rather than subject every student to a particular aesthetic. When a student graduates and more objectively evaluates her own work, if all she sees is her instructor she may feel slighted or disconnected from her very identity. Thus, it’s reasonable to let your students wander their own paths, with guidance of course. Like a good record producer, instructors should seek only to bring out the best in the student rather than putting their own stamp so strongly on the student’s output. This is not only ethically the right thing to do but in return adds a broader variety of art to the universe for all to enjoy.
8. Set the tone. If I show up to class in a great mood, the class goes well and the students are invigorated. If I am feeling depressed or tired, it brings the entire class down. This is a direct correlation and the only way to counteract this is to simply get enough sleep (yeah right) and to continually reign in your emotions. On days that you do not feel like doing a particular lecture or being pleasant, well, just do the lecture anyway and force yourself to be pleasant. If you are a manager, server, customer service representative, or any other member of polite society or a human being you might be saying “of course!” But as an artist, this kind of compartmentalization requires a little more effort as our work is often intensely connected to our inner lives. In the classroom, this can be a large amount of responsibility but also a blessing on good days–when you are in control of a class you are truly in control. Make the class as amazing as you want!
9. Be Flexible. It is sometimes said that teaching is performance. This is true but performance is not necessarily acting; acting is scripted but teaching is relatively unpredictable. From years of performing on stages as a musician I have learned to roll with the mistakes–technical, interpersonal, etc–and that the show must continue. The classroom is the same. Barring emergency situations (and often even in spite of emergency situations) the conversation must go on! The learning must happen, the work must be completed, the paint must be sprayed in the spray booth only, please. Stumbles should be absorbed, like a good pair of shocks. A disruption can only derail a class if you let it, and finding the right balance of rigidity and flexibility is a careful art in itself (I’m still working this out and imagine I always will be).
10. Be yourself. I have tried on different styles, taking cues from the best instructors I have had. While I have learned from so many great teachers, my teaching is (of course) my own. Like anything else in life, if you can be comfortable in your own skin and accept your own shortcomings, those around you will too. My students, I believe, have come to accept and possibly even appreciate my sometimes awkward, generally confident, intermittently impulsive and laid-back approach to teaching. Trust yourself and your students will trust you too.
January 17, 2014 at 8:09 am
Under the pretense that I was an artist, and that the lives of artists should be documented through self-portraiture, I began taking photos of myself around 2000. At that time the idea of turning a camera on one’s self was still commonly seen as odd, despite (or perhaps because of) the sudden proliferation of bad MySpace mirror profile pics. While the practice of spontaneous digital self-portraiture received an enormous boost of in 2013 due to increased usage of camera phones and image-based social media services like Instagram, many still view the practice of taking a selfie as odd or worse–vain, absurd and a reflection of the millennial generation’s self-obsession and inability to enjoy the present moment. But what happens when an artist makes an image of herself? Where is the line between a selfie (#selfie) and self-portraiture?
The artist has long enjoyed a special status in culture, an expectation of self-centeredness or even self-obsession. Thanks to Van Gogh and many others, the self-portrait is connected with ideas of authorship, genius and creative struggle. Strictly speaking, the selfie is a photograph taken with a digital camera and posted to a social network. However, self-portraiture is inherently social in nature; through painting or photographing their own faces and bodies, artists attempt to reveal to others some aspect of their very essence or being. What could be more social than that?
Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait with a bandage on his ear is perhaps the art world’s first #selfie in that it succinctly captures the image-maker in a peculiar moment. While the source of Van Gogh’s injury is still unclear, one thing is certain–the event involved his man-crush of the moment and fellow post-impressionist Paul Gaugin. Perhaps, Van Gogh cut off his own ear in a fit of depression upon hearing Gaugin’s decision to leave their yellow house studio in Arles, France. Or, was it Gaugin that sliced it off during a fencing accident? Either way, the image is nothing if not a provocative update about Van Gogh’s status.
For centuries the words visual artist essentially meant image maker. An image-maker was a particular kind of person and making compelling images required life-long dedication and skill. Now that photographic and digital media technologies have become less expensive and the speed of transmission is approaching instantaneous (i.e. Instagram), nearly anyone with the means and motivation to acquire and learn to use a cell phone can become a prolific–although not necessarily adept–visual creator. This renders the majority of self-portraits in existence anything but artistic. Could an unending stream of images tagged #bored, #drunk, and #cleave really be Joseph Beuys’ dream of the democratization of art?
Since the Renaissance, the self-portrait has been a form of advertising. We feel no shame; as artists, self-promotion is a necessary part of life, for who can survive without patrons? Thus, the self-portrait has survived and enjoyed lasting popularity in art as a two-punch tool: a way to communicate proficiency in one’s chosen medium while maintaining appearances. But Millennials in the twitterverse are not searching for their Medicis. We (and I use “we” loosely as I am caught between Millennial and Gen-X stereotypes) have been voraciously consuming–or reluctantly swallowing–images our entire lives. Why should the right and responsibility to promote and preserve one’s image be reserved for artists and corporations? Seen in this light, the selfie is subversive: The audience becomes the artist, the consumer becomes the producer selling herself back to the world.
For all the selfie’s alluring sociopolitical ramifications and high entertainment value, the quick digital image simply neglects to do well the things that art does well. The selfie does not conform to the elements and principles of design. The selfie is of a positively low-quality. The selfie is impulsive. But isn’t that precisely its charm? The selfie does not apologize for its vanity nor attempt to hide its self-consciousness. The self-portrait, on the other hand, takes itself so seriously that the posturing of artists is often comical. After decades of living in a culture of government and corporate lying and spying, is it any wonder that Millenials distrust the idea of authenticity itself?
The bad selfie (and most are bad) could be seen as a reflection of the distrust of propaganda (as evidenced by the hashtag “nofilter”): a willingness to put oneself on display without the handling, designing, research and development, testing, photoshoping, retouching, reshooting, retooling, editing and censoring, all the artifice of bureaucracy. The artist too, unfortunately, has no choice but to self-censor, selecting and editing ad nauseam, having lived forever with an unforgiving, internal overlord, possessed by the specter of art history and bent on getting things just right. Just maybe, the less a selfie resembles a self-portrait, the closer the image is to truth. For to create art is to lie. To represent is to misrepresent, and to create a self-portrait is to, well, #filter.
Van Gogh was indeed an interpreter (not a truth teller) but his willingness to interpret, to stretch, to bend and color made him a master and a great innovator of modern art. His paintings are some of the most moving works of all time, in any media; in the strokes you feel his presence, his suffering, his joy, his life. This connection with future viewers, forged by a willingness to overshare, secured his legacy. Most people will never attempt to become great painters or photographers. But our desire to share our sadness and madness and joy and everything between through images with any available technology is a reflection of our humanness. Unfortunately, a quick look at the latest selfies in my feed reveals that society at large still has a great deal of catching up to do–the artist has been sharing for a long, long time.
For a continued exploration of this topic in a fun way, I created an Instagram account dedicated to self-portraits of artists. Follow me on your cell phone or browse the images so far at instagram.com/artselfie.
I was looking at Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp’s pinboards today and was reminded of a passage in Foucault’ The Order of Things. The fact that the French thinker Foucault popped into my head while looking at images of “Things that Look Like the Death Star” is sad. But it is also evidence that his text The Order of Things is intensely relevant, and, that somewhere during grad school I crossed a line and am now as much of a nerdy intellectual as I am artist and rock musician. Anyway, check out this list of classifications for animals from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia (presumably) and consider how closely this idea of order and organization resemble our contemporary Pinterest boards:
(from Foucault, The Order of Things)
This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off” look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.
But is this system of organization such a stark impossibility today? Mr. Sharp’s Pinboards are typical in that each board groups images by personal, often invented, organizing principles. Granted, Pinterest pins are classified images, not “actual” things. But images as signs or symbols are essentially objects or ideas themselves, especially now that our “real” lives are so completely interconnected to our “virtual” lives online. I just pinned an image of buffalo looking like ants and another of an embalmed cat. I could keep going. But what does it mean? Foucault, again:
That passage from Borges kept me laughing a long time, though not without a certain uneasiness that I found hard to shake off. Perhaps because there arose in its wake the suspicion that there is a worse kind of disorder than that of the incongruous, the linking together of things that are inappropriate; I mean the disorder in which fragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometry, of the heteroclite; and that word should be taken in its most literal, etymological sense: in such a state, things are ‘laid’, ‘placed’, ‘arranged’ in sites so very different from one another that it is impossible.
If I told you I did some additional research and that there is no evidence that the original passage came from a Chinese encyclopedia but was instead from a story by author Jorge Luis Borges would it change the meaning? (I think not) I can accept the quote as hyperbole and the idea remains as potent. Foucault’s uneasiness with such seemingly irrational ideas of order has given way to an online celebration of new ways of organizing and seeing. Now I’m gonna get back to drinking coffee and pining some things to my own boards, possible orders, glittering separately in the dimension of the internet.
A few weeks ago, working with the non-profit Artworks Cincinnati I led a group of apprentices in transforming a 1998 Buick LeSabre from an old boring car into a driveable work of art! We painted the car over the course of a weekend during Midpoint Music Festival, working alongside several other teams and cars. The car was stripped and primed at John Hall Body shop in Northside.
The client was my own mother. Oddly enough I did not know that she had submitted her car and she did not know that I was a project manager for ArtCars! After learning that she entered her car it seemed only fitting that I work with her. I created three designs from which my mom would select a favorite. She wanted something that would evoke some flower child hippie magic. I knew I wanted something bright, relatively simple, and non-representational and didn’t want to use flowers. So I thought about ways to do happy and celebratory without being too obviously retro or derivative. So instead of the 60’s I started out by looking at 1950’s magazine ads, and added some intense contemporary tetradic color. Like my mother, I think it’s pretty unique, adventurous, and lovable! She is thrilled.
Thanks to David Heyburn for organizing Artcars this year, Artworks for inviting me back as a lead artist and project manager, and the amazing and talented apprentices Dontriel Nuckols, Alex Sunderman, Previn Beal, Taylor Helms, and Paige Roberts!
Check out some in-progress photos and the results below, and if you’re in the Trenton Ohio area, keep an eye out for Mrs. Hedges.
My thesis paper is finally complete! It was not without challenges as I tried to synthesize a large amount of information and a wide range of topics into 35 pages. While a lot of people scoff at the idea of a written portion of a thesis project for an art degree, writing has always been a way for me to organize my thoughts so this was helpful for me as an artist. Most of the ideas in the paper I have been blogging about or will blog about anyway, but if you have trouble sleeping e-mail me and I will send you the entire document…
I am going to submit my paper and then to the final installment of Launch: MFA Thesis Exhibitions. This will be my last official event as a graduate student. Tonight, champagne!
I have been hard at work preparing for my thesis exhibition. The Reception will be Friday April 19th in Cincinnati. Save the date! Details here: MFALaunch.com
My show is now essentially two parts, digital and physical, which is fitting since that has been my conceptual focus. Initially I imagined the exhibition would consist entirely of a digital projection. However, I was inspired recently to create two functional sculptural elements for the space, one a projector stand (more of an assemblage tower) and the other a desk which will house the computer and mouse.
I spent last weekend digging a lot of things out of roadside piles of trash and trashcans at DAAP. But some of my best finds were at One Man’s Trash Inc. where I was fortunate to get a “just lock up when you’re done” from a gruff but generous man. One Man’s Trash specializes in clean-outs of attics and cellars, etc., so I was able to find many very strange, old weathered wooden items in their yard including a beautiful dresser and what looks like an old mining cart. Essentially, I am bringing some rustic, Hi-desert aesthetic into the otherwise boring, clean white cube space of the gallery. Below are some in progress images of the work in progress. For the real deal please come to the exhibition! (I will also post installation shots after it’s up)
I always appreciated sculptures and functional items that included recycled bits of material that would otherwise end up in a land fill. This is not a new idea of course. So-called American folk-artists have been creating some amazing works in this vein for centuries (Noah Purifoy, for one). The popularization of the now trendy term and concept “reclaimed” is reflected in internet sites such as Craigslist, Etsy, Pinterest (for the aesthetics not action) and the “Rise of the Sharing Economy” more generally.
For me the word reclaimed evokes notions of community, recycling, and creativity. The act of creation is essentially claiming–acquiring or claiming materials and then stamping, signing, declaring the new form as one’s own. But while supposedly more original processes such as painting and sculpture are often thought of as the creation of “original works of art”, the notion of re-claiming gives a deserved nod to the universe at work. Someone manufactures paint tubes and canvas. We claim the wood from trees for paint brushes. Trees create more trees. Pigments were formed in the stars, eons ago. Everything that is made is made through materials and tools that are acquired through sale, theft, or some other method of claimed ownership. Reclaiming is a concept that at once reflects our human needs to take and to give.
This list arose as I attempted to find some common threads or links between my last paintings of boxes and the accompanying interactive web project, mintabox.com, and my current research which came out of the Joshua Tree trip but continues to evolve.
Even though I am working a lot with the computer lately, I still think of myself as a painter. Now I am creating interactive paintings. I am also working on a series of 10″ x 10″ static paintings and art objects which I am hoping to show with this project or shortly thereafter. These came about during bouts of occasional frustration with code, which gave rise to an accompanying need to do something physical. They are also round-about solutions to the challenges of commodifying internet art. I will post some images of those soon.