Weird lessons from the studio…

It seems that what I’m interested in making these days is shockingly retrograde: pencil drawings and paper mache figures. It fels like it’s been so long since I’ve had a sustained studio experience that I’m going back to grade school or something. I just spent an hour ripping The New York Times into little manageable strips and it made me quite happy. I think I’m going to have to contemplate a future where I abandon any ambition for my work to be sophisticated.

The theme in all of this is return to unfinished business, knock the house back to it’s foundations and rethink the floor plan. But here’s a comment from my not-dead-yet social engagement side: is all this juvenile impulse a turning away from the real, intractible problems of the world around me and a rewriting of those problems as internal? It’s easier to knock down my the house of myself than it is that of the world.

And does that connect a little too easily with my impulses towards guilt?

All of this is abstract and maybe that is the best argument for a return to basics.


  1. I always think the best work is an honest personal engagement with one’s passions. Social engagement is easily forced and current enough to look often look good — even if it’s not solid work.

    Seems like you are really onto something.

    But you know that.

    Hope the time away is good.

  2. Sorry for the double “look.”

    I had another thought. My concerns about making internally driven and self-referential work often manifests in the same concern that you speak of — the belief that it’s easier to engage myself than to engage the world. When I’m honest with myself, I realize that my “guilt” about this is connected to my Modernist training. Modernism has a strain of masculinism that eschews the self-referential as effeminate (and, therefore, irrelevant). For me, combating these fears is part of a process of engaging and transgressing the sexism of the “art world.”

    As an educator of social activists, the hardest teaching an learning I do is around asking for a recognition that no socially engaged work means anything if the activist hasn’t done his / her own work. For me, the bigger concern is engaging the world when we are blind to our own needs. It’s like Flannary O’Connor’s great story, The Lame Shall Enter First.

    I humbly recede from my soap box….

  3. perhaps it’s something in the air.

    I spent last night over at the Mission Cultural Arts Center finger painting on plates and sending them through the mono printing press with newsprint. Next thing you know I’ll be making potato stamps.

    maybe it’s not that deep, maybe it has no greater social significance beyond honest play time. If its turning your crank, go with it.

  4. I decided to read the comments before responding and noticed Pete wrote what I was thinking. Although…his words are much more eloquent than mine.

    For me, the most powerful activism begins with ourselves, and looking to our hearts. From there, our work, and our being, even unintentionally, can change the hearts of others. I’ve always seen that as proactive activism instead of reactive activism, which is also needed at times but doesn’t carry the same type of change.

    Reaction allows us to yell, scream, make a statement. It may buy us the time needed. In opening hearts we find substantial change.

    Example. I can attend all the rallies I want. It’s one side against the other. Emotions run high. Yet, in my life and in my job, from being myself and allowing others to get to know the inside of me…they realize I’m not that scary. At work I hear many stories of homophobes who have simply gotten to know their coworkers who were there…being present and open. Working side by side. In that, they dropped their fears.

    It’s not as sexy. Nor is it dramatic. But it sticks.

    And if this makes no sense at all…it’s due to the fact that it’s the end of a crazy day and I’m headed for a walk on the shore. My body needs the salt air and the Sound.

  5. Heh. I hit ‘submit’ too fast.

    There’s something strong and sure in periodically knocking the house back to the foundation, as you said. I liken it to cleaning house and finding hidden treasures among the natural clutter that’s built up with time. It’s a courageous move.

  6. I’ve been knocked back to my foundation, but my perspective is a bit different because my art is still in it’s embryonic stages (less than one year). Had I not stopped making art ten years ago I’d probably think what I’m doing now is really naive.

    I don’t think your impulse is unique to just you. The current social and political climate in this country has built to such a fever pitch I think most people are feeling a need to return to simpler times, expressions, and desires. Don’t question it because you might stop yourself from creating something extraordinary – just run with it. The crudest expressions are often the strongest.

  7. I just spent an hour ripping The New York Times into little manageable strips

    I do that every Sunday and I don’t own a guinea pig. What do I do now?

    is all this juvenile impulse a turning away from the real, intractible problems of the world around me…?

    Um, yes, but the “intractible” part means it’s as valid of a response as any other. But don’t internalize it just because some idiots have managed to scramble to the top of a heap.

    You’re clearly craving tactile interaction with your creative work. Go for it!

  8. Let’s hear it for basics! I dunno about your primitive implulses being symbolic of your attunement to guilt, though. It’s a sensible connection, but sometimes you just want to play, or simplify, or re-connect with something basic.

    Most of the guilt I have about my art is not doing enough.

  9. we have a paper mache baked chicken. it’s all golden brown and delicious looking. i bought it at a junk store about 8 years ago. it was three days before christmas. the guy at the counter looks at it and looks at me and goes, “someone’s about to get the best christmas present ever.” i gave it to three days later and that dude at the store was totally right.

    i have no good reason for telling you that story.

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