Public Critiques are Somehow Less Anxiety Inducing…

Another thing that has kept me from posting recently was a visiting artist event in which I was involved.  Although this one I didn’t know I was participating in until nearly the last minute…

FSU brought in Stuart Horodner as part of our visiting artist lecture series.  He’s the boss man in charge at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and just recently published The Art Life:  On Creativity and Career (Which was a really good book by the way), and one of the faculty arranged for public critiques to happen.  Four grads were selected to have their work reviewed by Stuart, but we didn’t get told about it until a week before it was supposed to happen…

As I’m sure you can imagine, that was a little stressful.  I was less worried about the actual critique then I was about figuring out how to install my work in the gallery.  It was chaos for a little while… I had to go buy TVs and export videos several times, battle difficult projectors, paint things, oh and I had to read the book…  But it turned out just peachy keen in the end.  I showed an updated version of my Bending the Break/Breaking to Bend video, with a new audio component, and Fairy Tale Logic.  Bending the Break/Breaking to Bend was pretty much installed as I had it installed at Working Method back in January, but I finally got to install Fairy Tale Logic the way I’ve always wanted to… On two monitors!

Fairy Tale Expectations, Video Installation, HD Video, 2012
Fairy Tale Logic, Video Installation, HD Video, 2012

As a really awesome bonus, Craig Drennen, who is currently a studio artist at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, an instructor at Georgia State, aaaaaand the dean at Skowhegan, came down with Stuart to participate in the critiques.  While my peers may or may not agree with me, I had a really great experience.  The main thing that I wanted to get out of the crit was that someone, outside the hermetically sealed environment I have here at school (yes, that may be a little bit of a dramatic way to describe it), related to or understood the things I was addressing in my work.  Between all the doubt and frustration I had been experiencing lately, this was really the best thing I could hope for.  And I feel like I got that, as well as just positive feed back in general.  For what ever reason, I found this process much less anxiety provoking than our usual reviews…  Which I told to my committee head.  The way that Stuart ran the reviews was critical, but constructively so.  I sometimes feel that our committee reviews are not so constructive…  But again, that’s my opinion.

IMG_0452
Me being critiqued… Rocking the bright pink blazer my friend convinced me to buy and wear to the SPE conference last month. Her logic for the pink blazer? No one can forget the girl in the brightest, pinkest blazer that ever existed!

 

For some more pics and info you should click HERE!

 

In any event, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in grad school.  It came pretty close to the Guerra de la Paz collaboration last spring…but not quite as awesome!  Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to show you how the battle scar I acquired during that installation looks now:

Not to terrible, but you can still see the three distinct scars from falling through a chair!  I love it :)
Not to terrible, but you can still see the three distinct scars from falling through a chair! I love it 🙂

Why can’t grad school just be awesome experiences like these?!

On that note… Adios!

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Grad School 1, Courtney 1/2

Well, it’s that time again.  Re.Views.  Friday morning.  10:30

Despite my stress level the last few weeks, I’ve been kicking grad school’s ass, and I’m totally ready for this.  For serious.  I’m on a roll.  I’m focused, I’m getting things done, I’m constantly having ideas, making connections, researching.  I’ve also been working my butt off for the gallery, submitting work to shows, and just generally feeling pretty good about stuff.  So I’m not so worried about how my reviews will go.  I finished everything I wanted to finish for them, plus a little, and I know that I worked as hard as I could.  All I want to do before Friday is relax a little and get my thoughts together so I have good questions for my committee and good answers about my work for reviews.

These are the first, official reviews for the year, the ones that actually go into the binder of doom with my name on it, that resides in the department head’s office.  Ok, so it’s not so dramatic as that… But there really is a binder with each grad’s name on it, into which all of our review pages go.  And they do live in the head of the department’s office.  According to those pages the score lies as thus:  Grad School: 1, Courtney:  1/2.  Yeah… I didn’t do so well in most of my reviews last year, and I think I’ve covered what a hot mess I was…  I pretty much kicked it in the last review, but there were 3 others that I sucked it hard.  After Friday, I fully intend for that score board to read Grad School:  1, Courtney:  2 (at least)!  This is the face I will give to my committee:

This is my “Bitch, please” look. I will not be intimidated dammit!

Also, I had a deja vu moment today.  That’s always a good sign!

I Found Transcendence. At a Sticky, Chipped Formica Table.

No, seriously.  I did.

I was at the point where I was going to break this morning.  I was feeling as though I had completely lost control and focus, and that I was never going to accomplish anything. I was so tense it was insane.  And then I decided I wanted a doughnut.  But not just any doughnut, I decided to have one from Donut Kingdom.  So after my slog at the gym this morning, I scooted on over to the tiny joint.  Oh god.  It was the most amazing thing ever.  I had a doughnut and coffee, and suddenly everything was OK again.  Somehow that doughnut magically granted me the mental fortitude and emotional strength to get through my day.  In fact I had a smile on my face the rest of the day.  All because I sat down to eat that sugary, diet destroying breakfast treat at an icky Formica table.  I don’t know why, but for those few, quiet moments, I experienced transcendence.
Maybe this means I should start eating my feelings again?
Then again, maybe not…
I don’t think it’s been a secret that I’ve been a little on the edge lately.  I have been working incredibly hard on a number of things to prepare myself for reviews next week.  Namely the videos that I worked on trying to shoot last week…  *Sigh* Additionally, I’ve been putting together a scholarship application and several show submissions to  hopefully get my new work exhibited some where other than Working Method.
All of this has been for the single reason that I intend to exceed my committee’s expectations completely.  And no, this isn’t a joke about my crazy expectations/anxieties/failures.  I’m for realz yo.  At the risk of sounding paranoid and semi crazy, I feel as though there is a great deal riding on this review.  I want to prove to them at the outset, during this first “official” review, that I want to be here, I deserve to be here, and that I have what it takes to achieve the goals they set for me and that I set for myself.  Needless to say, I’ve been driving myself up the wall trying to do all of this.

I’ve accomplished the majority of what I planned to do.  I have finished shooting and editing 2 of the three videos I planned, I did a second performance, I applied for a scholarship to attend a conference in the spring, and had have submitted works into three shows.  But I haven’t finished the project they wanted me to finish, and two other things I started early in the semester have fallen by the wayside and no progress has been made on them since my last committee meeting.

In any event, new images of the performance I did last week, as well as the other things I’m tinkering about with soon.  Hopefully some video too.

The Weekly Round Up (Diane Rehm Style!)

OK, maybe not really Diane Rehm style, as I don’t have an amazing radio show to which I can invite intelligent experts to discuss things in a civilized manner, but I can do my week in review!

Awe, who am I kidding, there’s no comparison.  Diane wins.  But that doesn’t mean you can leave!

I digress…

(I’ve always wanted to say that!)
So what did go on this week?…

I started my week off bright at early with a 9:30 am committee review Monday.  That meant I had to be up by 6:30 (I am not a morning person…even with coffee) and out the door by 8. Ugh.  In any event, if you remember in my last post I said I had committee reviews right then and there, but that only 1/3 of my committee would be present.  Yeah.  I wasn’t lying.  2 of my 3 members didn’t show up, so I had to reschedule a meeting with the 2 lazy bums who didn’t show. (Just kidding!  No one on my committee are lazy bums, they just had other obligations!  Don’t hit me!  I love my committee!!!!)  So I had that.  And I feel like it went pretty well.  They gave me some good feedback, and it was actually a good energizer for the week as an entirety.  It also helped give some directions to a few things I’ve been floundering on a little bit.

As a result of my reviews, I had A LOT of things to think about and work through.  The first of which was something I’d already been pondering, which was how I define failure, success, perfection and expectations.  These are things that have been running through my mind since my studio visit with James Elkins, but my committee gave me a few more insights and ways to approach the problem.  I started by going back to the dictionary and thesaurus to see what the actual definitions to these words are, and now I’m trying to trace the meanings these words back to my own interpretations to see how the line up, and perhaps find out where my versions originated.  Then maybe I can understand what these words mean to me.  If that makes any sense to you.  I also had a professor suggest that I look at the way my family defines these terms and see how that impacts my understandings.  I plan on sitting down to do that soon.

I also fried my brain reading song lyrics and poetry trying to find something to replace the excerpt from Art & Fear I used in …expectations lie…  I’m looking for something that is subtle, but much more relatable (Huh.  WordPress doesn’t think that’s a word.  Interesting), about expectations and/or failure.  The excerpt I used was, while technically appropriate, refers to a very particular, closed system, and I want something more widely applicable.  My committee whole heartedly agrees.  There were some crazy suggestions flying, like finding a country song, because those are all about failure…. Um, yeah.  I don’t know so much about that.  (I can’t stand country music).  Anyone have any suggestions?  I need to find something soon, because I have plans to re-shoot that video with in the next week.  I want to have the new version edited and finished for my November 9th reviews.  I have considered using Ben Folds Five’s song Brick, because it has always made me think of failure and expectations, but I’m not so sure.  I did a couple of test shots, and it just doesn’t seem to flow well.  Perhaps because it’s written to be sung, or perhaps because I think I sound weird.  Who knows for sure?  No, I do know… it’s less about me hearing my own voice, and more about the sound of the words as spoken units.  It’s also awkward that it’s from a male point of view, and it is being recited by a female.  Oh the troubles of my life…

 

Moving on, as Ms. Rehm would say.

 
I did something I love this week… Going to the library!  I do absolutely love going to the library.  I am a nerd like that.  Libraries are totally awesome.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t for pleasure.  It was all business.  I went to look for books on failure (which are surprisingly few) and perfection (there seem to be many). This is my current reading list:

Perfectionism:  Theory, Research and Treatment

The Queer Art of Failure

The Art of Choosing

The Success and Failure of Picasso

Failure!:  Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices

While I love to read, and these books are really interesting… It takes FOREVER for me to get through books anymore.  I barely have time to read most days.  BUT I must read all of these by my next set of reviews.  That is my goal.  I want to glean what I can from these books and see if I can apply anything to my work.

NEXT!

It hit me this week how much I love making things.  I realize that sounds odd coming from an artist, but I don’t often get to make things anymore.  One of the things I find hardest about doing performance work, is that when I am finished, I have nothing to show for it, except maybe some photos or a video.  There is no concrete, physical object.  Now, I’m not saying that you must make objects to be an artist, but (for me) there is something satisfying about having a final product to show for all of the (occasional) blood, (profuse, literal and metaphorical) sweat, and (inevitably for me) tears.  It also makes me fee like I did something besides think a lot and then do something that perhaps in another context would simply be a normal, every day action.  Besides, it’s cool to make it look like my studio is a buzzing hub of activity.  I’m trying to find a balance in my work, to where I can do performance, but there is still a object generation component as well.  It’s tricky…

Needless to say, I don’t often need to make things in my studio, which is slightly troublesome, since working elsewhere is distracting.  BUT when I do get to, I get all giddy and intense (like camping).  I also love going to the hardware store for these projects and pretending like I know what I’m looking for/doing.  And that my friends, is exactly what I did today so that I could build this:

What is it you ask? Well… It’s for a video I’m working on.  What can I say, Kate Gilmore inspired me.  I kid you not, I spent hours watching her videos on Tuesday.  I’ll have more pictures and hopefully some video up here soon.  I’ve been trying to shoot this video for awhile now but keep hitting road blocks, like reflections, EVERYWHERE.  No joke y’all.  I had to spray paint my tripod matte black because of all the reflections I’m getting.  I literally had to leave my studio yesterday because I was getting so frustrated with it.  I will be attempting it again tomorrow.

 
What else?

I’m working on some liquid light tests for my old friends, the Flawless prints… It’s going.. slowly, but surely…I feel like I could spend the next five years trying to make these work. I had it suggested that I should do them as cyanotypes instead of using liquid light… Damnit.  Why didn’t I think of that?!  Oh, that’s right, because I have next to no familiarity with alternative processes… FAIL.  We’ll see what happens.  I had a little brain flash in relation to these the other day, so it might work out after all.

Speaking of photo processes… Remember how I waxed poetic about how I love photography?  Well… I still do, no worries there.  In fact, I (finally) get to start teaching photo in the spring here at FSU.  Awesome.  I found out, not through an official announcement, but via an email from a non-art major student who wants to take my class.  I feel like there is a metaphor for my life in there somewhere…

So that was the weekly round up.  Not nearly as cool as the Friday Diane Rehm show, but I can always pretend right?  Like when I pretend I am Julia Child or Jacques Pepin while I’m cooking.  Everything tastes better that way.

 

 

 

 

Serendipity and Delicious Morsels of Chocolately Wisdom

After my intense ponderings on Ubu Roi, I present some fluff to fill the empty spaces in your head.

Last week was my first of fall classes.  The preceding week was all that fun orientation/bureaucracy junk that the university likes to put us through.  You know what I’m talking about.  Tedious, brain numbing activities and events that really bear no relevance on the education itself.  It seemed that after a very chill and productive summer, FSU clearly wanted to take my life over again as soon as possible, with paperwork, computer glitches, and financial aid nonsense.  It wasn’t all painful… though a lot of it was.  Like a teaching orientation I wasn’t supposed to be at, but was told I needed to attend.  Or the absolute longest, most difficult LGA meeting EVER.  There were definite moments of enjoyment though.  Getting to meet all the new grads entering the program and seeing their work/hearing them talk about it was a high point for me.  As were all of the food-centric events.  I gained 5 pound during orientation week.  No joke.  I do so love to eat.

But I think the best part about my return to school this year was the absolute pure serendipity of EVERYTHING.  And it all started with this:

It’s shocking how clean my nails look right now.

I came across this beautiful little hug from fate at a potluck toward the end of my week of orientation nonsense.  If you’ve been following me here for any amount of time, you’ll know about my struggle with and against the concept of Flawlessness and Imperfection.  At the moment I found this delicious morsel of chocolatey wisdom, I was poised on the verge of a full blown anxiety attack about my art and returning to school to deal with faculty and fellow students.  I wanted to have complete control of how everything would go down, and obviously couldn’t.  I wanted to hide from all my fellow MFA-ers and live in a hermetically sealed studio this year… And then I found this, as I was having a conversation with my major professor ABOUT my Flawless II installation at my last show.  Clearly I had to smile, and realize everything was going to be OK.  It was like this tiny, tasty omen.   I honestly cannot describe it any better.  It was as if puzzle pieces magically fell into place.  I was told that my GA hours would be spent doing what I love most… Helping students in the darkroom with printing and processing.  Every time I had a conversation with someone, the knowledge or information attained fortuitously linked into a conversation I had either just had, or a conversation that took place later that same day.  (I’m not even joking.  EVERY conversation.  It actually got a little eerie.)  I was easily able to get meetings with everyone I wanted to meet with, and in those meetings, more serendipitous occurrences took place.  For instance, I was out lining an idea I have for an ongoing piece about stopping to acknowledge my obsessive behaviors to a professor, and she had just read a book relating to this idea.  Another professor, while discussing my feminist leanings, had just heard a report relating to a concept I had brought up.  Finally, while discussing an idea I have for a performance, my husband pointed me in the perfect direction for research, where I found amazing material to not only use as support for many of the ideas I’ve been pursuing in the last few months, but that is helping me to extend and define my thoughts.

Ah-mazing.  All from a Dove chocolate.  Maybe I should invest in Dove?  No, I can’t do that.  I don’t have any money to invest.
I hope serendipity makes a visit to all of you imaginary readers soon!  Until then, just because I haven’t mentioned it in awhile (and I’m hoping my serendipity kick will help me out on this front):

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT!

Not my pic…Taken from a random Google search of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

 

If this doesn’t make any sense to you… Go here.

If Three Trains of Thought are Running on the Same Track…

I have to be up in three hours.  Yeah, you heard me.  Up and going in three hours, at work in 4ish… But I can’t sleep, my brain has been churning non-stop since about 6 pm, and I can’t seem to shut it off, even with my normal routine of reading myself to sleep.  (Currently I’m reading Jasper Fforde’s The Well of Lost Plots, which you should totally, immediately check out…but not until you’ve finished reading my blog.)Bear with me here, this is another one of my random thought tangents that magically tie all of my unconnected thoughts together at the end.  Yay non-linear thinking!

What got my ceaseless thinking going, was that as I was laying down to read and go to sleep, I was, um, checking…something… on my, uh, cell phone…  Oh alright, I confess, I was playing a silly game. The game, while not particularly thought provoking, did suddenly give me a huge rush of deja vu (it was in fact a game I had never played before).  Now, you may be asking yourselves why this matters, and more to the point, why you should continue reading about my already been there moment.  Well…because I said it did, and because I said you should.  So there.  Also I promise if you keep reading there will be a surprise for you down at the bottom of the page. But only if you keep reading!

The way I look at deja vu is that when you experience those moments in life, it means that you are on the right path, that you have made good decisions and things are headed in a positive direction.  This way of interpreting deja vu was introduced to me by Christine D’Onofrio a few years back, and it’s really awesome.  It’s like a tiny wave from the future/past every time.  It is actually quite comforting to think of it in this way.  Try it, you’ll like it.

My moment of deja vu got me excited because I haven’t had one in a really long time.  Which, after having uprooted myself and my husband, taken on even more student loan debt, and struggled through my first year of grad school, did not exactly have me feel so great.  And, as I am wont to do, I was starting to question myself and build myself up into an anxious wreck in anticipation of the start of the school year.  In the past few days, I had, in all seriousness, been asking myself if I should really be in grad school, if I really had what it takes, etc…  I think I was (am?) starting to dread the school year (something that may very well be a first for me), because I don’t want it to become a repeat of last year where nothing was accomplished.  If you missed the finer points, I think the 2011-2012 school year went something like this for me:

Chaos of moving, anxiety, avoiding the studio, making bad art, crying, making some more bad art, drinking A LOT, anxiety, crying some more, avoiding the studio, making even more bad art, making pumpkin cookies, drinking again, crying yet again, kind of getting my shit together, anxiety, making ok art, making terrible art, hiding under a table, getting drunk and watching the Twilight movies (yes, that was a low, even for me), crying once more, drinking a little bit more, baking cup cakes, and making some decent art.  

Yeah…that about sums it up.  No really…That’s pretty much how it went.  Who would want a repeat of that?  It was spectacularly disastrous (So much for being the Best At All The Things).  So it was partly reassuring to have a small moment of peace, in which I was shown that I was, and have been, going in the right direction.  It made me smile, quietly to myself, which is perhaps the best kind of smile.

But my deja vu train of thought got me thinking about something else…  Earlier in the evening, I had been proofreading/critiquing an admissions essay that one of the Husband’s cousins had written.  Long story short, I was harping on him to make his final goals (beyond education and the specific university he was applying to) crystal clear.  I must have told him in five different ways… Good thing it was via a word doc and email…other wise I may have gotten punched in the face.  In doing this, however, I thought back to what my ultimate goals were and why exactly I was working toward my MFA.  Once upon a time, I had hoped to teach at a college or university, and if I was really lucky, as a tenured faculty member.  But tonight I realized that may not be the case anymore…

While that line of thought was running, I had a third, but parallel line going, about how much I really love what I do.  I love being an artist, I honestly do.  For me though, making art has never been about making money, or having an audience.  In fact, I’ve never sold a damned thing (and I’ve been working as an artist in some capacity for 10 years now), and I make art pretty much for myself.  It’s a cathartic and expressive experience to me, it is how I make sense of the world around me, and how I make sense of myself.  Yes I do show my work, but if people respond, react, or even like my work, its just an added bonus for me.  I know many other artists and many of my colleagues out there are cringing at this attitude right now.  But it is the truth of how I operate.  It is as much a part of my art work as it is a part of me.  Do I want to be successful and be able to support myself solely on my art?  Well of course, but statistically speaking that’s highly unlikely, so why be untrue to myself? And it is for this reason that I’ve always planned to teach in addition to making art.  I also happen to really love teaching.

When I teach older kids and adults, it’s so amazing to me to watch them when they finally grasp and truly understand a concept, to see them get excited about an idea or a project, and then witness the results that your guidance has help to supply.  Several times when I’ve taught workshops, my students have been so fired up to try the techniques out for themselves because they had never thought of it, never seen it before, or didn’t think that they could do it themselves.  And have come up to tell me as much.  They ask questions that really push me to my limits, causing me to think, re-examine my assumptions and perceptions, and of course learn even more so that I can answer those questions!

Teaching little kids, it’s just so fantastic to me seeing them create in such an uninhibited manner.  And to see them work out how exactly to do something, or solve some kind of creative problem is just mind blowing.  In fact, yesterday at work, I gave my class some free time to do what ever they wanted, and one of the younger boys asked to make a book again.  At the beginning of each two week camp session, I have been having the kids make simple little sketch books out of printer paper, card stock and yarn.  This little boy liked the activity so much, he has made one of these books nearly every day for the last week and a half!  I asked him if he would like me to show him how to make another kind of book, and he was so excited that he dropped the book he had just started working on.  I walked him through the 4 or 5 simple steps it takes to make a folded book (that’s a random youtube link giving the gist of folded books if you’re unfamiliar), and then let him go at it.  He then proceeded to make 3 of them, trouble shooting little mishaps along the way, and then telling me how cool they were.  Wow, what a really awesome moment for me, because it really reinforces the fact that I have all of this knowledge for a reason, and even if I may not use it in my own work, I can share it with others to help them learn about art!

So in sum, I love what I do, both the art making and the teaching aspect.  That’s why I was so crushed when I found out I wouldn’t be teaching at FSU in the fall.  The opportunity to teach is a HUGE reason why I chose to come to school here.  But it’s OK,  because even if, when I finish my master’s degree, I don’t wind up finding one of the rare full time university gigs, I can still teach.  There are always community colleges, community centers, art camps, museums, schools… Again, I know some of my colleagues might go apoplectic at this idea, but to me, it’s still teaching, I’m still sharing art and art making with the world.

And that, my long suffering, ever patient imaginary readers, brings me around to my moment of deja vu.  Despite my anxieties and self doubt, I have some how found myself in the right place in my life once again.  Graduate school, while terrifyingly daunting, is providing me not only with better critical/theoretical thinking and challenging me in my art making (so that I can hopefully make a career out of it), but stronger teaching skills and a better resume as well.  I lucked into the best summer job ever, making art projects with a group of really great kids.  It helped me to remember why I fell in love with art in the first place and reminded me that I love what I do, whether its making or teaching.  Even if I have a rough patch… I can survive it, learn from it, and find my self in the right place once more.  Now if I get really lucky, Lafayette Arts and Crafts Center will not close, and I will be given the amazing opportunity to teach photography classes there this fall!

Hope you all enjoyed another random tangent brought to you by me and my crazy brain.  Keep making some art, even if it is bad.  Eventually you’ll get through it and make some OK art, and then in turn you’ll get through to the good art.  🙂  It happens to us all.  Or maybe just me.  I can’t prove anything either way.

PS, I now I have to be up in 1 hour.  So maybe I just won’t even go to sleep.  Thank the art gods that tomorrow (today?) is International Dance Day at camp and I don’t actually have to teach anything….  Oh!  And I lied about the something cool down at the bottom.  Well, not really lied, as I did have something to post for your amusement and gratification for sticking with me through the tangent, but my internet connection is being uncooperative…I’ll save it for the next time.

Now I think I’m just getting punchy.  Have a lovely one!