As 2014-15 was my first year officially teaching at the college level (outside the context of my mfa) the past several months have involved a lot of reading and a lot of researching for my curriculum development. Like #I have no life levels of reading and researching which I’m sure any first-time teacher could no doubt relate to. This, needless to say, took away from my time producing in the studio which provided its fair share of challenges in the way of time management. On top of instructing two intro-level sculpture classes which I designed and absolutely loved I was also privileged to be given the opportunity to teach a lecture style survey of post modern art as well as a critical studies course that expounded on related theories. And to my surprise, in spite of robbing me of precious studio hours, all of the in depth research I conducted into the impetuses behind post-modern art actually were very clarifying for me in terms of my own studio practice — a welcome revelation after burying my head in books and watching my sketchbook and studio grow seriously jealous.
While this may seem of little gravity to some, for a disorientated post-mfa trying to find their footing amidst a sea of theoretical discourse, this was actually a pretty significant growth period for me. Let me explain.
Teaching post modern critical art theory was daunting as my work does not really corroborate any of the intellectual commentaries frequently applied to and projected onto art post-dating 1975. If anything, I’d say I’d more comfortably situate the ideas and processes which underpin my work amid those indulged by artists working in and around the 1960s. This affectionate association, one could argue, classifies my leanings as invariably modernist. And, up until teaching critical theory, I had no great qualms with that. I mean, I really hadn’t been one to care much about labels of that nature during my fledgling career as a twenty something student making art within the confines of the institution. It wasn’t until researching for my art history and critical theory lectures which demanded I familiarize myself with the qualities that underscore and differentiate modern art from post modern art (and a damn lot of the muddy ‘isms’ auxiliary to these two largely undefinable territories) that I became preoccupied with gaining a more flushed-out understanding of what constituted a work as ‘modernist’ or ‘post-modernist’ and subsequently, where I fit in in the mix.
Naturally enough, the qualifications my students inadvertently associated with the art we cross-examined as ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ was also in turn deemed ‘contemporary’ or ‘not contemporary’ pending what side of 1955ish the work landed. This, needless to say, implied great ramifications for the artist working in the year 2015 who happens to identify with modernist notions. Notwithstanding, my ongoing ‘mo.’ or ‘po.mo.’ inquiry transcended my curricular research and seeped into my own personal art-seeing endeavors. ‘Was the work subversive?’ ‘Was it universally accessible?’ ‘Was it’s accessibility pending the viewers literacy of some obscure cultural dialogue?’ ‘Was it contemporary?’ ‘Was it …. original?’ blah, blah, blah… And so it followed that in routinely explaining to my critical theory students why an art work could be called modern or post-modern, I involuntarily began questioning these supposed standards within my own work.
It was this probing which provoked an unceremonious yet liberating discovery for me. This being the realization that I identify irrevocably with many modernist sentiments.
I was alarmed and delighted. But mostly, upon digesting this revelation, I began to sense within myself a pervasive insecurity directly correlative to my latent awareness that todays pluralistic art world seems evermore receptive and tolerant of art that functions in an intellectually subversive capacity that eschews the quintessentially modernist pretense that ‘form can mean’.
Being that my own work adheres unflinchingly to the latter assertion, I was finding myself in the midst of an internal crisis trying to validate for myself the impetuses behind the formation of my work for fear that they were not intellectually challenging enough to stand up in the post-modern market place of anything-goes-ness.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t, and am not out to make pretty things just for the sake of making pretty things. I never have been, and I’m not interested in making a case for art which bases itself singularly on this stance. I want to make people think, and I think art provides a unique and vital function in its ability to do so. However, I also think its ok to merely be charmed or intrigued by art and not really be able to nail down why. In essence — to be bewitched by it.
This is enough of a challenge in and of itself, no?
It seems to me that post-modernism or pluralism or whatever the hell you want to call it would elicit a decidedly cerebral critique diametrically opposed to this notion. Which is precisely why, as someone who happens to possess a proclivity towards deriving meaning from abstraction, I have often felt inferior and that my work lacks rigor in it’s lack of intellectual provocativeness and esoteric meta narrative.
In light of this I have long felt compelled to provide a defense for why I am not interested in pandering to po.po.po.- mo. avant gardes by admitting passively that abstract sculpture is in fact outmoded. Because I wholeheartedly think that abstract sculpture still has a lot to say — even 50 years after the heyday of modernist abstraction. Or atleast that it has the potential to do so. This conviction is based on my unrelenting belief in the forces of phenomenology and anthropomorphosization respectively in there unique tendencies to enliven three dimensional form.
Objects have continually subsisted as the most irresistibly juicy sources of inspiration for the production of my work in their vast range of surface treatments and utalitarian functions. Objects can implicate and reflect our own humanness. Objects can provoke an involuntary re-examining of our own physical presence as we uniquely exist in space. Objects, furthermore, are always the most willing of subjects for the task of being personified and bedeviled into Dickensian scripts about imaginary characters performing all sorts of activities for the fulfillment of our strangest desires and fantastical narrative preoccupations. For these reasons, even if it makes me a dated modernist, I still think that producing abstract objects is relevant. Although I should perhaps qualify here, that it is also because of these precise traits that I feel that my work (and the work of all others whose art resides in a similar sculptural vein) is invariably linked to design. Which, not unlike abstract sculpture, is too often met with dismissive scowls in the context of discussing contemporary art.
If you went to art school, you’ll understand the stigma that design tends to carry. Design methodologies and vocabulary in general are essentially taboo if you are a ‘fine artist’ who identifies with traditional media. And if your like me, you may have occasionally felt ashamed in affiliating with design-related fields, whether they be fashion, industrial-design, or any other non-fine art genres unapologetically linked to utility. However, what I would argue here is that design-related vocabulary plays an indispensable role for the abstract artist who seeks to engage in dialogues about an objects form and how the specific manipulation of this form can impact the viewers perception of the work. That ergonomic design and the phenomenological art object both seek to implicate the human body, and that in so far as the towering living room floor lamp is imperious to all its onlooking object fellows in the same way that a steel Richard Serra sculpture becomes immediately understood as an imaginary warlock surely is evidence enough for this.
At this point, I am quite happy to admit that, like the above mentioned examples, the thing that I feel enables my work to function in any successful capacity is its ability to appear autonomous. To this end, I believe there is no greater place for me to source my research than our highly designed, ornate world and the objects which are contained within it. That cakes, ice skates, tables, Persian rugs, tortoises, coffee makers, and mops are all marvelous pieces of formal inspiration for me is something I am officially ok with not feeling ashamed of even in light of there supposed lack of socio-political force or inherent subversiveness. And because of this, I’m going to start featuring a lot more random sources of inspiration on this blog of a similar nature (which may perhaps seem arbitrary) but that at any rate will function to help me begin to understand in a more substantial way why I am so drawn to the formal world.
I will probably blab about why I think each featured item is so delightfully relevant to what I am trying to say through my own sculpture, and this may get boring for my reader. And I get that. Its pretty self indulgent. But honestly, I’m just really excited that for the first time in my artistic practice I feel no obligation to apologize for being inspired on a formal level. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m ok with the notion that form can mean. I’d make socio-politically charged shit-disturbing work if that was genuinely how my mind worked, but it simply doesn’t. What makes this seemingly inconsequential realization profound for me is that it permits a complete realigning of where I get to seek inspiration for the collective formation of my work — granting a newfound liberty to look earnestly and rigorously to areas which are unabashedly associated with CRAFT and DESIGN. yes… craft. even. So, if you want to read mildly convoluted rants about the things which happen to captivate me as a simple, optimistic, visually minded object maker, then you will want to stay tuned.
<insert disclaimer: if you have been looking at my blog for any length of time, you’ll see that a great deal of my favorite art functions in a very ‘postmodern’ subversive/cheeky way, so I’m not biased! I love this sort of work! I’m just saying that the work that I make doesn’t function in that way and I’m officially liberating it as such. > woo hoo! soooooo excited to tell you about my recent textile obsessions, you have no idea.. shits gonna get real.
ya, thats me. gettin my read on.