The two weeks teaching session at Penland was tremendously rewarding on many levels. I am still a little overwhelmed about it… It was eye-opening to see a viable, self sustaining art community filled with great people. It was fascinating to see group efforts by artists and supporters of arts: The ceramic people working together in wood-firing, my class engaging in art discussions, the school raising funds with its auction, work study students filling in the school jobs creating more opportunities to participate and so on and on. It was inspiring to meet interesting people, who are building a network based on sharing, growing together and etc., instead of clinging onto establishments, networking to win approvals and so on. And I felt a good grip and a positive tension in structuring a program where people share ideas and grow together.
Although I don’t quite know how to materialize my feeling yet I feel encouraged and good about how things can be… And at the same time, I painfully realize my own ineffectiveness in cooperating with other artists, people in the arts, and the other community members. It makes me wonder about my role in the arts community.
Bringing out art works to the audience is a group effort. In an ideal world, we the artists’ job might only be making the works. Period. But in reality many of us are involved in the process as a dealer, curator, lighting specialist, photographer, web designer, catalog designer, advertising agent, art shipper, art writer, teacher, and so on. And the multitasking tendency extends to anyone who is involved in the arts. As many of us face economic difficulties, this tendency intensifies. It stands to reason that the people in the arts need a tighter network to be more efficient, more organic, more flexible and more effective.
But I do realize this is not a simple matter. First, artists need plenty of studio time and the solitary moments extending out of the studio to be productive. Any group efforts outside of the making process cuts into this precious time.
Second, with limited venues and opportunities, some of us feel the need to prioritize our networking among key people of influence–curators, established artists, critics, art writers and so on, creating a structure of hierarchy based on the establishments and the art market. The ones who fall through the structure feel the need to compete instead of sharing and cooperating among them.
Third, experiencing art works requires a proper context. We extend ourselves to multitasking not just because of the necessity but quite often it is the easiest and surest way to ensure that the work stay within the optimum context. And we might choose not to work with our community venues with our community friends if we see the venues or the participating artists (in case of group shows) to be an inappropriate match to the work. Or your local venues might exclude you for the same reason.
And finally the fact is that the most of us don’t need art for our immediate lives. And our notion that art can cultivate imagination, art can let us see alternative possibilities or art can ground us to the humanistic values and so on can easily be met with cynicism and skepticism when they turn into practical calls for support for the arts and the artists. Those people, who are struggling to live in your community will politely let you know that the artists are not the only ones with concerns, or they will gently remind you that you can leave the area if you don’t like it.
With my absolute beginner eyes, I imagine what I can do for the art community in my area. And I realize that many of us in our community are already taking initiatives to bring the art experience to our lives. And I realize that one way or the other I have managed to stay a halfhearted participant in some of those efforts. It’s been a very much humbling moment for me.
So how can I be more effective in my community as an artist? Or is it worthwhile at all to consider it if there is any risk of sacrificing my work?
Here, the force of nature enters the discussion: The wife.
I have discussed about this with my wife. It turned out to be one of the most tense, excruciating conversations we’ve had. And it was compounded by the fact that I was away for two weeks to attend the Penland session, leaving her with two children. Her notion that I am doing art for myself and all the justifications I give are self-serving certainly stung me with shock and sadness.
But if I am putting a priority on the way my work comes out regardless of what the community wants–which seems to be the case after all: I don’t take votes from the community members or I don’t even think about my community while I work–I can’t really say with all honesty that what I do in my studio has any merit for my community with certainty. Of course I certainly don’t do anything to harm people or to be disrespectful, but that’s just me trying to be humane like many of us do. I do have wishes and hopes for what my art can do. But I won’t let that be in the way of my creative process. And if there is any inequality and injustice toward artists, it might make more sense to see it as a broader issue of economic injustice and corporate assault against cultural values and the society at large. And any efforts to complain about my local art communities, art market and so on should perhaps be aimed at building my own community. After all, what have I done to even say with confidence that I belong to any of them?
One thing I can do for my community perhaps is to show my appreciation and my gratitude for letting artists get away with what we do. After all, I’m just a weirdo stuck in my studio doing what I like to do: To find my voice.
It was great to have Nick Schwartz‘s woodfiring class “Painting with Fire” next to our studio. The energy and the excitement of filling the giant kiln with hundreds of clay pieces, which would be firing for days, set the nice tone to the whole environment.
The end of the session auction raised record amount of funds for the school scholarship programs. You can spot my print at the far right.
I couldn’t have done the course without the help of the two awesome assistants Drew Johnson and Rachel Garceau.
Drew came up with a really cool ceramic piece during the session.
Rachel working on her installation.
We got to be friends quick, through art.
Alberto Careaga worked on his mini clay installation and photo projection experiments (photo by Alberto)
John Riggi working on his big Astro Turf tapestry.
Dustin Farnsworth‘s monumental piece at the Penland Gallery. Truly enjoyed visiting his studio.
Enee Abelman utilized the studio concrete floor in narrating a beautiful stop motion clip.
A wonderful piece I came across by Sibley Barlow while I was taking a walk through various studios. According to its catalogue, Penland “offers 98 one- or two-week workshops in books and paper, clay, drawing and painting, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking, textiles, wood, and other media.” While I stayed, there were 200 students in various studios working in different fields. It was great to walk around and see what was going on…
Here is a shot from our studio. It’s probably from the last day–the tearful, last discussion session. I’d like to thank all of the artists–Enee Abelman, Red Behnke, Audrey Bell, Dustin Farnsworth, Kinsey Fitzgerald, Rachel Garceau, Mitch Gathings, Drew Johnson, Mila Kagan, Christine Kuhn, Bri Larson, Joe Lee, Rachel Meginnes, Laura Peery, John Riggi and Marita Torbick–for making the class very special and very much worthwhile. Thank you so much.