Art Discussion: To Suffer In Your Arms

to-suffer-in-your-arms

Happy February! This art discussion seems appropriate given that February has been appointed the month of all things lovey dovey. This drawing is one of my older ones, from about 8 years ago. Still, I’ve remained attached to it even though I can see spots where my pen and ink skills have certainly improved. It’s just the right mix of elegant and morbid, and I used an interesting process to come up with the concept. I had an assignment in my college drawing class in which we had to create a collage first, and then draw from that image we created. I used to be big into collaging (This collage actually won a contest in Deviantart’s collage club, of which I used to be quite the active member.), so this technique was right up my alley. I liked how collaging helped me come up with new image pairings I may not have thought of through sketching only. The loving couple used to be a cheesy perfume ad – major upgrade.

Outdoors, people are rioting and attacking each other. The couple are “safe” inside, shut out from all the cares of the outside world. But, even though they seem deeply in love, they too have wounds that they have imparted on each other. The woman is so enthralled with the picture in her mind of that perfect embrace, that oneness, that sense of not being alone that she ignores her own suffering. A dead dove lies shot and bleeding on the table, his blood bright red like the cuts and bruises on the woman, and the morbid image of the smiling, bleeding woman on canvas hung on the wall.

Love and peace are two words that are often spoke of together, as if married. What is odd is that despite all this, love is often in fact a destroyer of peace. People do all sorts of things in the name of a feeling they call love. In favor of love, common human decencies are thrown out the window without a look backward. People ruthlessly force their own ideas on others, sometimes to that others’ demise, all the while saying and wholeheartedly believing that this behavior is only because they love them and want good things for them.

Take a look at the relationships of any number of people you know as well as your own: you will find that often times once romantic love infiltrates a bond, you can expect things to be anything but peaceful. Love adds two entirely new dimensions to the already multifaceted structure of a relationship between two people, each different person with their own separate ideas of what both giving and receiving love is supposed to look like. 7 years after I pondered the simplification of love as the solution to everyone’s problems, this fantastic article was posted to Observer; “When we believe that “all we need is love,” … we’re more likely to ignore fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all of the hard stuff?” Love, like any other experience, can be healthy or unhealthy and it would do us all well to remember that. 

Love of only one or few things can easily grow into an obsession. With obsession comes possessiveness, jealousy, and a loss of attention to all else causing any other parts of life to shrivel and decay. Our perceptions can be tricked into a sort of bubble of “only I and what I love matter in this world”, when guess what, a whole lot else matters. The world keeps turning, and we let things that will inevitably be missed later fall away. Similarly, an intense, burning, passionate love of too many separate entities can cause overwhelming anxiety and leave an individual asking,”How can I show love to all of THIS when I only have _______”. One can end up feeling like the only spring left in a world of thirsty travelers. It can be hard to forget you are not the center of all that you love. In the case of love that is unrequited, you may not even be on the edges of what it is you love. And inner peace further erodes.

I, however, am still quite a fan of love (and always have been) and believe it can
accomplish wondrous things. I guess what matters the most and what we must think about always is where our love is coming from. Does it come from our own fleeting wants and demands, is it forced or artificially manufactured out of a sense duty with no real
compassion behind it, or does it flow from a deeper source? Love should always be external, because of who other living beings are, not internal, because of what we long to own. Love that comes from selfish desires undoubtedly leads to brutality.

Advertisements

6 Surefire Ways To Make Artists Cringe

Of all the many articles composed entirely of lists published online on a daily basis (Thank buzzfeed for that one.), “Things Never To Say To A _________” seem to be the most popular. As a society, we are becoming more conscious of the power of words and how they influence our perceptions of others we share this world with, and though hypersensitivity and searching for reasons to be offended can be some of the natural fallout from this kind of shift, I think all and all it is a good thing. Individuals no longer feel the need to stay silent about things that bother them to avoid a possible awkward confrontation. It’s like hey, I deserve respect just like anyone else in this world, and it’s actually ok to ask for it! Plus, raising awareness via the airing of grievances normally shoved deep inside just begging to be unleashed is fun, deny it all you want. Artists or anyone in a creative field tend to hear the same sorts of grating comments over and over again in their day to day life, and it can get mildly irritating at best, at worst totally defeating. I am a person who honestly believes most people are not jerks, and at least in my experience these comments are normally not ill-intended, but offered up as a lighthearted joke, or meant well and even supposed to be complimentary. Whether trying to compliment or get a laugh, these common comments really have opposite effect on the creative person in question who has spent a lifetime developing their specific skill. Hey, nobody’s perfect, but knowledge is power, right?

G.I. Joe, what a guy.

1. Let’s just umbrella this one: Basically any comment that questions one’s intelligence. “Cool! I wish I could go into art, then I wouldn’t have to go to college!” “Wait, but you’re smart, why did you go into art/interior design (or insert other creative field here, I’m simply speaking from my own personal experience.)?” Or my personal favorite, “Oh, that would be a great field for me, I hardly passed high school.” This should be common sense, but for those for whom it isn’t, it is seriously rude to address anyone, be it an artist or individual of any other vocation, with any variation of these comments. Some of my favorite artists are self taught, and some didn’t finish high school. Everyone learns differently but despite that fact, education and skill assessments are mainly based on rote memorization so some are destined to struggle. Income is also a factor: college is freaking expensive. There is absolutely no shame in not attending college if it doesn’t work for you. The issue has nothing to do with the level of education and everything to do with implying certain fields are easy or “blowoff work”. Most if not all creative people, through obtaining a degree or alternate means, had to work their butt off to get where they are regardless. Don’t assume. Also, comments like this are kind of a slap in the face to someone who did spend four years and insane amounts of money getting a degree. Not necessarily freelance but most other graphic design and illustration jobs require a degree, and in many states one must have a bachelor’s to officially call themselves a licensed interior designer (versus a decorator or something else).

2. Starving artist jokes. If a person really is starving, then it’s probably not something to laugh in their face about anyway, huh? Have some compassion and buy them a sandwich. If this is not the case then… what are you even talking about? The joke kind of loses its punchline. I (and many others sharing the field) am not some delusional crazypants hanging on to a pipe dream of stardom and fame. That’s why I teach, and also went to school for interior design so I could still use my creativity but open up the field a bit. Options, baby. Also, realize that working a creative job besides “world renowned painter” or “international rock sensation” is not giving up or settling. It’s not a failure. I love what I do and I honestly would get bored if all I did was work in my studio creating fine art pieces all day, every day.

3. “So you just get to play around with paint all day? What a fun job!” Yikes. This is the adult equivalent of acquaintances in college thinking I had coloring for homework. The reality, “Yay! Because I’m an interior design major art minor, all my classes get to be 3 hours each session instead of 1, and I get to stay up till the wee hours of the morning finishing studio projects no matter how well I budget my time, because workload expectations are completely insane compared to other disciplines!” Certain semesters, I pretty much never went out. This is one of those comments that I’m sure the person meant well, like “You have an awesome job!”, but after running around like a chicken with my head cut off all day keeping track of different jobs at multiple locations, diffusing student difficulties or outbursts, spending most of my spare time at home prepping for free (I’m not complaining, I love my students, I love my job, and I feel in some small way I am making world better place, but still.) in between finishing up commissions and keeping up my multiple online venues in which I hope the time I put in will actually pay off eventually, equating my job to “playtime” is the last thing I want to hear. “It’s cool you get to do what you love” is probably close to what you meant, and a much better way to communicate the sentiment.

4. “Can you do Project A/B/C for me? I’m not going to pay you but it will be great exposure!” when in reality the only exposure you will be getting is the precedent that “Hey everyone, this guy will work for free.” I’m not saying be a Scrooge, but there is a difference between helping out a friend/family member, doing volunteer or charity work, or supporting a small business or non-profit whose cause you want to help get off the ground and who really can’t afford to pay, versus someone who can pay but is just being lazy and wants something for nothing. David Thorne also has some hilarious insight on this subject via a colorful email exchange.

(Excuse the language, but I think we can all appreciate the sentiment)

5. “You’re so lucky you’re good at art.” Luck hasn’t got a thing to do with it. We are willing to acknowledge the part hard work plays towards proficiency in other fields, but with creative areas we act like the art fairy sprinkled rainbow pixie dust on certain people’s heads and now they are good at everything. Hours of study, practice, observation, classes learning from those more experienced (even in summer!); a lifetime of all of these things has gotten artists (and musicians, actors, etc.) to the level they are. As a kid, I wasn’t involved in after school clubs and activities and didn’t do much with friends. I came home and drew till bedtime; every day. It sucks to feel like your hard work goes unnoticed, and when others always use the words “luck” and “talent” as an explanation for why you’ve become successful, it negates all the sacrifices and sweat and tears and failures that went into the process to get where you are. This view is definitely a cultural thing. Here in the states, if we are bad at something, our response tends to be, “Well, I’m just not a _______ person I guess” and we move on to the next thing. In other parts of the world, especially in Asian countries, if you do poorly at something, your response is to work harder to improve; “I must not have practiced enough”. You can’t expect to be good at painting if you’ve never picked up a brush before. Why are you surprised when your work doesn’t turn out looking like a Van Gogh? You haven’t put the time in yet. This “you have it or you don’t” mentality with the arts is a psychological brick wall I run into time and time again in teaching, especially with students starting as adults. This attitude may seem harmless, but at best it’s simply not constructive, and at worst it’s self-sabotaging.

6. “So then do you do a lot of drugs?”

The Value of Including Others’ Stories In Your Work

I’ve been talking a lot about stories lately.

Last year, I had the privilege of participating in ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI. ArtPrize is an international art competition held annually and decided by public vote in which the entire city is turned into a gigantic art gallery. For ArtPrize, you want to go big so I devised a 15 part series of drawings titled “One Thing To Say”. There was no guarantee of getting to display, so I was on pins and needles (I mean, 15 drawings take a long, LONG time) until I had secured a venue at Monroe Church.

A selection of the 15 part series "One Thing To Say".

A selection of the 15 part series “One Thing To Say”.

The premise was this: I asked a sampling of individuals this question: “If given the chance to say one thing that would be transmitted into the ears of every person on earth simultaneously, what would it be?” Methods of communication, of reaching people, in this modern age are virtually limitless. There have never been more avenues with which to share one’s views publicly, to impart something to multitudes of other people all at once. It is an amazing and fascinating opportunity. Yet, with so much freedom to express, one of two things seem to happen most : The ability is taken for granted, so we say nothing that is truly meaningful to us at all, or we abuse that which is so readily available, leading to a projectile vomiting forth of our thoughts and opinions on all things big and small, so easy to reach multitudes with one button click and little revision or afterthought. If we had to boil down our communication from pages and paragraphs into a small collection of related thoughts, a single sentence even, what would each person say? With one shot to speak to every person alive in our current time, what would be revealed as the most important to each of us, and what would that say about us personally?

"One Thing To Say", Monroe Church ArtPrize 2014

“One Thing To Say”, Monroe Church ArtPrize 2014

Me, timehop to 5 years past, showing my completed "Occupancies" series and some very black hair.

CMU Student Exhibition: Me, time travel to 5 years past, showing my completed “Occupancies” series and some very, very black dyed hair.

This was not the first time a design was prompted by the responses of other people outside of myself, some strangers some not. The first time I tried this approach was for the Student Exhibition my senior year at CMU. I entered two projects. One was a four part series of drawings. I asked a random sampling of individuals “If the inside of your mind were a physical space, what would it look like?” I then created four opposite environments in which I placed the “cast of characters”, or individual answers I received. Open “boxes” atop their heads depicting their described environment laid each person’s thoughts bare. This project was a way to combine my two loves, art and interior design (well, 3 loves – I also enjoy people watching /slash/ discovering fascinating intimate information about complete strangers). The second project was an art book. For this one, I asked the question “Think of all your life goals, those things that MUST happen before you die. Then pick the most obscure one. Funny or serious, just be honest.” I turned these answers into an illustrated book entitled “Underneath” that ended up winning the Best of Show Grand Award.

Underneath, art book

Underneath, art book, cover

Underneath, art book, watercolor and ink

Underneath, art book, watercolor and ink

Letting others’ stories inspire you in your work allows you to reach out to more people, and bridges connections between those you reach across ages, races, backgrounds, and beliefs.

One thing I aimed to reinforce with “Occupancies” as I chose whom I placed in which setting and how they interacted with the others, was that there do exist universal threads in our emotions and struggles and striving, no matter how different our brains might seem to work compared to those around us. With “Underneath”, I aimed to give a voice to those longings within us that we keep silent. Everyone wants to talk about wanting kids, finding true love, getting that dream job, but come on – we all know deep down that isn’t all there is to life. For most of us, that just isn’t enough. I hoped people would read the responses and smile, and laugh, and sometimes even nod in agreement as they realized, “I’ve imagined that before! I thought no one else thought about doing that, I thought no one else wanted that, I thought no one else…!”

Kurt Vonnegut wrote one of my favorite things once, “Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.” We are taught to cling to what makes us different, and wave it as a banner, and uniqueness is good, but it sure can be a lonely feeling to be convinced that your mind and soul is an isolated space with no doors and windows, a place that no one can see into or understand. I’ve been there, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Communicating others’ stories through art is a unique challenge (and one that I don’t take lightly!) to consider life through a different state of mind in order to depict another’s inner thought life, and to realize through the eb and flow of a life, we all have different experiences but go through similar stages of feeling, positive and painful, doubting and confident. We just think we are the only ones so no one wants to vocalize how they feel, and therefore everyone else feels they are the only ones and …. so it goes, the cycle continues. But it doesn’t have to.

—————————————————————–

“Underneath” and “One Thing To Say” can be viewed in greater detail on my website, “Occupancies” can be found on my behance portfolio. High quality prints of my recent ArtPrize illustrations are also available in my ebay store or etsy shop.

Art Discussion – “The Way I See It …”

In progress!

A rare in progress photo! I nearly never take these.

Many times I like to keep quiet about the specific message I had in mind when creating a piece, because I like my work to be allowed to speak to each viewer differently based on their own unique thoughts and experiences. At the same time, I myself am a curious individual and I hate when other artists flat our refuse to share what a piece means with their audience. So, every so often on this blog I want to pick a piece with a lot to say and explain the thoughts behind it. Today I’ve selected “The Way I See It”.

The Way I See It ... , 18x24 Watercolor, Ink, and Prismacolor Pencil

The Way I See It … , 18×24 Watercolor, Ink, and Prismacolor Pencil

In this piece, an average young woman sits, quiet and composed. She sits straight-backed, hands in her lap, legs together. The viewer can discern her reserved and unimposing nature simply based on how little space she purposefully occupies. Like many, she is probably good and bad, but mostly good. The other figure looks at her and sees evil. He can only see her shortcomings or what he views as such, and blames her for them as if any part of her person he doesn’t like was a planned attack against him. He paints her as a vampire, a monster, a whore. While she passively sits, he smears paint on her clothing and on her skin as he touches her. (An interjection, the gender choices in this piece are not significant. It is simply easier to depict the main character in this narrative as a woman so I could draw from my own perspective of when I have felt treated this way. The figures’ roles could easily be reversed, or it could be two men or two women.) The artist is delighted and proud of his portrait, his telling of her story and who she is as a person, be it true or not. Truth doesn’t matter when one is convinced they are right.

We run into serious problems when we let others be the artists or creators of our story, when we let them tell us who we are. Like the paint smears covering the young woman, as we let them sully what we think of ourselves, our own essence literally floats away before we even notice. Meanwhile, their incorrect perception creeps in like a vapor, taking its place.

Stories are tricky. We are not omnipresent, nor can we view the past or future in real time. So, when we view a situation, we are only inputting a piece of the overall story. We don’t like incompletes, it’s why in Hollywood Blockbusters everything gets hurriedly and inconceivably tied up all within the last 5 minutes of the movie, and we love it. Back to the situation we’ve just viewed, one of many in a given day: how do we complete the story we’ve caught just a chapter of? By either consciously or unconsciously inventing the rest of it in our minds. We can fit the puzzle pieces together so seamlessly that we often will even remember the inferred story as fact. We may have come close to truth … but then again there is a good chance we have not.

“What you remember is determined by what you see, and what you see depends on what you remember … a cycle that has to be broken” Tim O’Brien writes in his novel Going After Cacciato. No object or person is visually neutral. Think of our brains as a giant search engine. I’m going to get very simplified here – we see a person in a blue shirt. We “type” the input “blue shirt” and up pops images, videos, memories of all the experiences we’ve ever had with people with blue shirts. It’s hard to emotionally separate our memories from this new experience. We could see a person we’ve never even met as malicious simply because we’ve had negative interactions with others who look like them in the past. We could see a country or city as sinister, be wary of a new activity or experience because our memories literally distort our perceptions.

Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, and she also has a few great Ted Talks which is how I discovered her. This talk I’ve included a link to below about stories is fantastic. I was so interested when I came upon it after finishing this piece, because it deals with many of the issues I was thinking about when I came up with the artistic concept. I would highly recommend a listen.

I would also welcome any thoughts you may have on stories, perception and memory, or any different way you might have interpreted this piece. Sharing is fun, don’t be shy!