One of my classes and I had a brief conversation about my work as artist. It’s very rare that this aspect of my self comes up in that space even as it shapes everything I do there. In art, I think and act in ways that are nuanced and ambiguous and that focus and stretch me, and, in the classroom, my goal is to challenge my students toward that type of consciousness.
We’re reading Thomas Paine’s The Crisis #1.
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
I got excited by the textbook’s introduction to the selection that features the legend that George Washington had Paine’s essay read to the troops to boost their morale. I mused that the idea the of using of an essay to such an end is right up my boring old alley, that that’s the type of thing – wordy and earnest – that I do in my own art work, that I think our culture is terribly overstimulated so I go out of my way to make my work slow and, often, silent. “But let us continue reading.” “You’re an artist?” “Yeah.” “What kind of art?” “Video, books, photographs…” “Are you going to publish a book?” “Maybe.” They wanted see my work, so I directed them to this site. I warned them that it’s dull here. They said they could make it ‘lit’ for me if I wanted. I politely declined. But, before we continued with our analysis, I did mention that, rather than be mysterious, as an artist, I like to ‘show my hand’. I explained that in particular this part of my website, excerpts, is meant to show the thinking that goes into my work. “But let us move on…”
I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent.
Anyway, that exchange has me thinking about another thing I do – or, rightly, don’t do – as an artist and that is seek an audience. I leave my work where it belongs in the world, whether that’s online or on a screen or on a bookshelf or in a corner, for whomever to happen upon it. Should it get seen or read or used or contemplated – activated in any way by curiosity or a conscious move toward the piece – , I’m satisfied. But, as I rarely put my work in dedicated art spaces, for the most part, I never know if other people engage with it. There’s a chance interaction will happen, there’s a chance it won’t, and that uncertainty keeps me honest, I think (I hope), as I must move along without evidence or proof, just a sense of possibility. That is, to me, an appropriate posture for this moment.
Perhaps painters and sculptors accept that their work might not be contemplated even when it’s installed in a frequently visited art space. Maybe writers get their books edited and published and simply hope that someone will buy and possibly read them. But when a painting or sculpture or book is ‘appropriately’ showcased, there is the expectation that a person in that space is looking for art if not that particular work. Other than this website, I typically skip showcases. I wonder what my practice would be like without this site…
Anyway, I re-launch (there goes the neighborhood…) later this week.