“How is this art?”
To teach is to make yourself vulnerable. To stand before students is to open yourself up to questioning, to expose the glaring gaps in your knowledge and hope nobody notices. Unfortunately, I teach 9th graders and they notice everything you wish they didn’t and nothing you wish they did. “How is that art?” is a question I get asked every day. My classroom is decorated with posters featuring the work of Kandinsky, Rothko, Klee, Picasso, and many other prominent modern artists. My students see these images and want to know what makes them famous. The problem is they want a simple answer. They don’t want to hear that art history is a story and that you have to start at the beginning. They don’t want to hear that art is a different language they have to learn to speak and that learning to speak a new language takes time and hard work. They don’t want to hear that the projected slides and posters on the walls are not the art and that you have to see the real thing to have the real experience. They don’t want to hear that what a Rothko painting means is not a sentence I could tell them, but an experience they have to have in a dimly lit gallery. Learning to look at art is a process that spans a lifetime. I find that prospect thrilling. Imagine a lifetime of making discoveries, having moments of epiphany, seeing something you thought you knew become new again. I do my best to communicate that excitement to my students, but more often than not I have to swallow my pride, tell them I can’t explain why Rothko is a great artist, and let them smugly say, “so you don’t know what it means.”
Have any of you dealt with this? What are some ways you have found to help people understand art better?
Various studies for “Nimrod’s Blueprints”
I’m working on a new drawing to illuminate the Tower of Babel called “Nimrod’s Blueprints.” There may be several drawings in this vein. The drawing will be similar in style to the drawing on the homepage of my website. It will be a kind of postmodern blueprint–a kaleidoscope of connected images without a narrative structure that focuses on the interplay of individual elements.
Edit March 2015: See the completed drawing here
“For the artist drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase, it is quite literally true. It is the actual act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of him, to dissect it in his mind’s eye and put it together again; or, if he is drawing from memory, that forces him to dredge his own mind, to discover the content of his own store of past observations. A drawing is an autobiographical record of one’s discovery of an event – seen, remembered or imagined.” -John Berger
What do you think? How does drawing serve as an autobiographical record in your own process?
Alan Moore (words) and Dave Gibbons (illustrations), Watchmen, Chapter 2: Absent Friends (DC Comics, 1986), page 27
All good artists are trying to tell the truth about the world. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons on Page 27 of Watchmen, Chapter 2: Absent Friends (DC Comics, 1986) weave multiple narratives into an illusion-shattering whole that lays bare the fractured world they see around them. They create a super hero story that is honest to the truth of human nature in the world they see around them. They use multiple overlapping stories told through completely interdependent panels to show us the fragmentation of ourselves and our reality. This page shatters the illusion of our gridded reality and forces us to face the world without a mask. Continue reading
Here’s one of the pages
Here’s a link to the full comic. Enjoy!
In the book Brick by Brick Stephen McCranie talks about the importance of developing a taste for good art. “Taste for good art is compass that points towards mastery. Your taste is a teacher when no one else is around.” You are you own most patient teacher and often as you navigate your own process you have nothing else to rely on but your own sense of what makes good art. However, this creates a problem for many artists. Your understanding and appreciation of art develops at a far more rapid rate than your ability to make it. This means your taste is always several steps ahead of your power of execution. The successful artists are the ones who use this distance between taste and ability to constantly push themselves to improve. The artists who fail or give up are the ones who become overwhelmed and frustrated by their inability to live up to their own expectations for good art. No artist is ever fully satisfied with their own work, that’s why they keep making art. Taste is a compass that points towards mastery, unfortunately some can only see the difficulties barring their way.
What are your thoughts? What ways have you found to deal with the chasm between your taste and your abilities?