Take a Look…It’s in a Book!

I’m feeling a bit…disheartened recently.

I’m in flux, which is a place I hate to be.  I’m frustrated because I see things I like in my work, but I don’t like the way in which they are appearing, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to make it “right.”  It’s also not helping that the MFA studios are moving to a new facility and so I won’t have access to my things or my studio until January, and that I’ve been focused on planning Working Method’s trip/exhibition at Fountain Art Fair… I feel so discombobulated, disoriented, and distracted!  It took me two weeks to write this post…

To sum up though…Basically, I don’t know the next step I need to take…

So, as always, when in doubt, I’m reading books and looking at art. (Art Basel Miami is this week!)  Remember that list of books I posted awhile back?  The one I said I wanted to have read by reviews over two weeks go?  That’s OK if you don’t, because I almost forgot about them too!  Yeah.  I only got through half of those books.  F in the research category for me. But those are what I’m reading now, so that counts for something right?  The two I’ve found most interesting thus far areComplete and Utter Failure by Neil Steinburg and The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.  (Here’s a link to a TED Talk that pretty well summarizes a good portion of the book…Watch it, it’s really good!)  They both bring up some really compelling issues that seem to dovetail quite well with the direction I’m headed.  They also re-contextualize the concept of failure, pointing out that what we view as failure may not actually be failure depending on the circumstances.

In Complete and Utter Failure, Steinburg proposes that most of what we consider failure is self-assigned and therefore an interpretation open to debate.  He goes on to say that failure is mostly a function of time, framework, and perspective.  This is something I think is very valid, particularly in relation to looking at the quiet, personal failures in which I am most interested.  These perceived failures (say ceasing your climb up the 50 foot rock wall half way, even though you set out to climb to the top) do not carry the consequences of true failures (your harness snapping halfway up the rock wall).  And yet those perceived failures are perhaps more emotionally devastating, carrying added weight in our perceptions.

Something else out of Steinburg’s rather entertaining book that stuck with me, is a discussion of failure to match your past performance in your most recent endeavor.  He framed this conversation around a mathematical principal known as regression to the mean.  Basically, as I understand this, if there is an average level of performance, then a person who exceeds that average is more likely to perform closer to the average in their next attempt in order to help preserve that average.  The example Steinburg uses is Michael Jackson and his phenomenal success with Thriller, and then his subsequent (still successful) records that did not sell as well as Thriller.  I would really like to use this concept in a performance somehow.  I think its very relevant, especially seeing as our culture seems to be laboring under the impression that each outstanding achievement must be succeeded by yet a greater one, and so on, ad infinitum.  I feel like I’m on the verge of making an artistic break through with this idea…. But who knows.

Now, in Iyengar’s book, she talks about the psychological idea cognitive dissonance, which essentially means having thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes which are inconsistent with your own actions.  She writes:

“For most of us, though, it’s not so easy to reconcile the multitudes with in us.  In particular, problems arise when we experience contradictions between different aspects of our selves, or between our beliefs and our actions… Admitting either alternative will threaten some of he most central elements of her sense of identity as a reasonable and authentic person…. [I]t can lead to anxiety, guilt, and embarrassment.”

Again, I feel like there is something there to be used in my work.  When we strive for our extreme expectations and fall short, the emotional disturbance felt is that of cognitive dissonance.  It then becomes a matter of how we justify this disconnect to ourselves… What story we use to explain away the difference.

So close to something, so far from something.  I’m finally going to post this now…

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