What I'm reading
Reclaiming Artistic Research is turning out to be a fantastic book that talks about the artistic process as a powerful form of research that is a very different approach than academic research. Academic research tends to focus on adding small bits of knowledge to already existing knowledge. Artistic research is an open space of not knowing and non-knowledge where brand new ideas and forms are created. Artists strive to hold open space to think about things differently—a space filled with uncertainty and ambiguity.
Thornton Dial (1928-2016), a prolific artist born and raised in Alabama, became prominent in the art world in the 80s. Using a variety of media, he’s known for his large-scale assemblages of found materials. Discarded or overlooked objects that he uses to communicate urgent ideas ranging from human rights to natural disasters to current events addressing topics of war, bigotry, racism and homelessness. He could “commandeer any material into a painting” and make it sing. I first became aware of his work from seeing this piece online and its power caught my breath, even as a small reproduction. Hoping I can go to a show of his sometime soon.
This lo-fi contraption is a graphite pencil taped to an 18" metal rod is used on every painting—large and small. I like the delicateness of the lines it makes and the assertiveness of the movement it allows.
My work develops in a state of not knowing. I don't have a plan in mind when I start, I have no idea what the finished painting will look like. I even don't know immediately when a painting is done. Working in the unknown this way is challenging. Having no idea if this brush stroke, color, mark I'm going to put down will make or ruin the painting. Again and again, day after day, minute after minute, doubt and fear creep into the psyche—rejection echoing in my head.
It's easy to get seduced into avoiding today's painting session because I can't muster the mental grit to sit in the darkness of the unknown again. But the reward of having endured the unknown and eventually finding my way out is beyond compare. What I seem to be learning over and over is the need to let go. That’s what is so hard about sitting in the unknown, expectations start to creep in and take me out of the present moment. And it's in the present moment where my art is created—where the magic happens. It is in the present moment where I am not afraid to sit in the abyss of not knowing.
I don't take enough time to document things that catch my attention. Simple things that pull me out of my normal mindset and just let me look at them for a quiet moment. A few things that caught my attention recently:
I have no trouble starting a new painting. In fact, it's probably my favorite part of the process. There's no wrong answers at the beginning stage. Every mark has potential but they'll likely be covered up by the end so there's no consequence. I love starting a new painting. (Finishing a painting...that shit's hard.)
I've been trying to start this blog for months! "I'm no writer," "No one'll read it," "I have nothing interesting to say--I'm just trying to figure stuff out" are just a few of the things that rattle around in my mind. But I think that last one--figuring stuff out--might be a good place to start. The what's, the why's, the how's. So I'm hoping this blog will be less about gratuitous pontification and more like scribbles in a notebook casually exploring things that interest me with no grand goal in mind. Seeing where it takes me and making adjustments along the way.
Image: Procreate sketch on iPhone. ©Mark Dunst. All Rights Reserved.