Thursday, January 31, 2008

Camping in Bad Weather

Rain on tent tapping
children breathing in and out
primal mother love

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Outsider Art

I was first introduced to what is called “Outsider Art” in Chicago, when I was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Some of my friends and teachers were onto this trend very early. It was a loose group that sometimes hung out at Phyllis’ gallery just off of Michigan Blvd. She had the first show of everybody who turned out to be anybody--Tolliver, Finster, Howard, Simon, Yoakum, etc. etc. etc. Ray Yoshida and Roger Brown were crazy-mad for this kind of art and bought a lot. I don’t remember if Wolfli ever was shown at Phyllis' gallery, but I do know that Jim Nutt, one of her main stable members, bought one or two at some point.
I think we were all attracted to this sort of art in part because we also felt a bit like outsiders. New York was king and Chicago was clearly the second city. And this art and the art we made didn’t look anything like the work being made in New York.
Not that every artist or teacher at SAIC was into imagistic art. There were some abstract artists. But the cool people were the Hairy Who’s and all the subsequent groups on that family tree.
We loved crude. We loved rule-breaking such as compositions or proportions that didn’t make any sense. We loved guys who put religious content into their work. We loved Maxwell Street on an early weekend morning where you could find bizarre things. Ray and Roger were competitive and their apartments sang with the love of the unexpected.
I can’t recall who discovered Joseph Yoakum--it might have been Whitney Halstead or Don Baum, but it was well known that he fancied young ladies and chocolate cake. So on my first and only visit to his studio, I baked him a cake. My oven had no thermostat so the cake turned out to be very mushy on the inside, but he liked it anyway and gave me two drawings as a gift.
I wasn’t in any position to be buying art at that point but I did manage to purchase a Pauline Simon “Matisse Odalesque” for fifty dollars before I moved to Africa. I still have all three pictures.
I sometimes like to try to approach my own work the way an outsider artist does--without thought to conventions or logic and not worried about what dealers or customers might think. Outsider Art at its best is pure art. Urgent. Compelling. Strange. Raw. Unimaginable.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Humor in Art--Part One

Humor in art can be problematic. Jokes can wear thin and since good art withstands multiple viewings, jokey art doesn't hold up well. People have long parodied art--Dali's Persistence of Memory and Leonardo's Mona Lisa have been played with repeatedly. Duchamp himself had some fun with Mona by putting a mustache on her. At the time is was audacious of him; now it could be a typical New Yorker cover.
When I was in graduate school I made stuffed paintings that were "trapuntoed" (is there such a word?) from the back. I would stuff them with polyester and painted frames around them which were also stuffed.
My interest in body builders led me to making an image of a body builder flexing his bicep. The painting style itself was rather cartoon-y and not realistic. So it was an easy leap to get the idea of adding squeak toys inside the fabric where his muscle was. I titled it Squeeze My Muscle and had a sign next to it which stated it was okay to touch this piece and squeeze the muscle. (It was shown at the august Art Institute of Chicago in their Fellowship Show.) Suffice it to say that there was a certain response to this artwork, to the extent that the museum guards told me one woman laughed so hard that she literally wet her pants. Custodians had to be called in to mop the floor. My piece had done its work. Is it great art? I'm not sure. I still stand by it artistically and intellectually but only time can determine its greatness, near greatness, goodness or so-so-ness. We get ideas. We need to make them. We put them out there and hope for a response.

Is Creativity an Important Part of Most Art Lessons?

The Art Education world prides itself on how it develops creativity in students. My thinking is that what most art educators think of as "creativity" is anything but. Giving someone a paper plate "Mask" and a few markers and then telling them to "be creative" doesn't often produce exciting, original work. Showing a sample project--I hate the "project" word but that's another rant for another time--doesn't result in creative solutions, either. Students have great difficulty in not copying the teacher.

Part of the problem is that in other classrooms there are right and wrong answers and it is hard for students to realize that in an art setting this rule doesn't much apply. It's also true that most art specialists are not artists and therefore not as attuned to the concept of creativity as an important part of an art lesson in the first place.

Creativity comes from being encouraged to take risks and combine dissimilar things or ideas in a new way. With art lessons that embrace experimentation, not product, there is a greater chance for creativity than with recipe-style lessons.

If you are an art teacher, try to make your students comfortable with the idea that you don't have a clue what they are going to produce. A rule of thumb for me is: if you know what your students' work is going to look like, it's probably not an art lesson. It may have value in terms of following steps, working with tools and materials and looking great on a bulletin board, but it's not helping anyone become more creative.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Most Depressing Day

The Most Depressing Day
According to some, January 24 is the most depressing day of the year. People are saddled with Christmas bills, it’s dark out, it’s cold, people are sick, there’s very little to look forward to in the next few weeks holiday-wise and generally it’s a good time for feeling crummy.
My experience this time of year is different. We are exactly half-way through the school year, which feels good since I teach. And because the weather’s so bad I’m getting a lot of work done. I’ve managed to get my storage lockers down from two to one and I’m dealing with all--okay some--of the loose ends of my projects. I’m throwing out old files and cancelled checks from years ago. I’m managing to face up to the fact that maintenance is just as important as making piles of new art. What good is a stained, wet pile of art that you didn’t have time to get off of the floor because you were so busy making more art?
So I’m chipping away at taking care of things and dealing with the work I’ve already done. With some exceptions, of course. My daughter showed me a new printmaking technique a few weeks ago that involves polyester plates and direct printing. So tomorrow I’m going to show a couple of my fellow teachers what I’ve learned and we’re going to print up a storm and then go out to dinner.
And the point I am making is..? Balance, everyone. You put in time to maintain your studio and to take care of your art. You attack unpleasant things that you’ve been avoiding like lining up your tax stuff or getting your medical forms sent in. And then something new and wonderful shows up and you play. That’s how to handle January.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Importance of Things

I have a friend who is 65ish, retired from his day job (which he never loved much) who is interested in all sorts of subjects: science, music, old movies, history, dusty old books and a lot inbetween. He was an only child and spoiled as befits an only child. He loves Christmas, even though he doesn't celebrate it in a religious way, and has composed carols of all varieties that get played at his annual Christmas Eve Party. He might be considered a curmudgeon by some, but I find him honest, delightful and utterly refreshing.
Over the last 10-15 years he has begun an odyssey of sorts into his past. He is trying to acquire the things that he remembers and/or longs for from his past. He has replaced all the pieces of his childhood train set and even bought a few extra items that he never had as a child. He has his original chemistry set that Santa once brought him and has gone about trying to assemble a complete collection of all the games and toys that he once owned.
I write about this because as I look back on my early adulthood things played a huge part in my life--mostly the things I lacked. When I think back on the me that I was I’m embarrassed. The story is so sad.
Here I was, a young married woman living in Canada with my resident-in-Urology husband. We had no money and I was working at whatever art-type jobs I could find to help support us. When it came to getting a present, all I wanted was a Raggedy Ann Doll. I can’t quite explain it , except that I had a fascination about the “I Love You” heart and that I must never have gotten such a doll as a kid. (Stay tuned for the occasional foray into that world.) My new husband, bless his soul, went out and bought me a doll. But he bought me the Andy Doll instead, which just wouldn’t do. Now how pathetic is that? Woman in her 20’s-- a) wanting a doll as a gift and b)disappointed because the wrong doll was purchased. I cringe to think about it. Somehow, I got the Ann doll soon after and had both of them. I guess life was better. I was able to move on, and it was about time.
Having little or nothing, especially compared to other people in your subgroup, can make one feel so empty and worthless. I felt inadequate. I was less than other people somehow. Now I know that that wasn’t true, but I wonder if I could have learned this earlier. To this day I can name things I wanted so badly that never came: A Ponytail diary, scrapbook, wallet or just about anything else. A khaki coat with a raccoon collar. A professional hair cut. A transistor radio that was being given to a lucky winner at Kresge’s. A normal family, Okay, that last thing would have been asking way too much.
Today, I think, things can be burdens. I pay a lot of money for storage. My unsold work needs to be kept somewhere safe and dry. I can’t quite part with memories or objects that have “value.” I’m trying not to give in too to much desire. I’m trying not to start buying all my childhood wants on ebay. But I will admit to the occasional search...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Art & Life

Welcome to the sister site of Quirky Visions.