I’m going to give a disclaimer right here, right now: This post might very well go to the dark side of incoherent ramble and there’s a possibility that no one will follow my train of thought. But that’s OK, what’s important here is that I follow my train of thought. Toot toot!
A few weeks ago, the grad photo seminar I’m taking was required to read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. I wasn’t so concerned with this, as the book is super short, and I had read bits and pieces of it as an undergrad. I was looking forward to revisiting it actually because I remembered loving what Barthes discussed when I read it at UT… This idea that photography is a reminder of our own mortality, and his concepts of the studium and the punctum. For realz. It was a very… romantic… discussion of photography, and when I was first exposed (Ha! Unintentional photo pun) to Barthes it just made so much sense. But upon reading it again, I found myself increasingly irritated by what he wrote and by the way he presents (presented? since he’s dead?) photography. Now granted the book was written in 1980 before digital gained it’s foothold, and before photography became so completely accessible to everyone, but I just wanted to throw up all over the book. Or punch Mr. Roland Barthes in the face. Something. I know, totally inappropriate reaction, but I was disappointed and frustrated. It no longer made any sense, and instead of rediscovering something I thought I loved, I realized I hated something that I thought I loved.
I don’t know why I was so surprised and taken aback by this. I have been struggling for the last two years with photography (before I even started grad school!), trying to figure out why it wasn’t working for me anymore, trying to understand why I love it but am so flummoxed by it. Coming into this current semester, one of my goals had been to re-introduce photography into my practice on some level, beyond documentation of my performances, because I really missed it, and because it seemed stupid to me that something I had once loved so much, and was such an integral part of my practice, was something from which I had completely walked away. And this goal was part of the reason I enrolled myself in the grad photo seminar. I thought it would give me some space to address this goal. In certain ways, it has allowed that, and has given me a lot of food for thought on the relationship between photography and performance art. So that’s good…
But then we read Camera Lucida.
And then we discussed it in class.
And I had an all encompassing anxiety attack during that class discussion….
I’m not even sure how to plot the trajectory of this attack in order to explain it, suffice to say I came to class prepared to discuss this, and see how others had interpreted Barthes romantic vomit. But then, as we began the discussion, I started to wonder about my own reaction and interpretation of this text. I mean, somewhere, down underneath all the crazy, behind the performance art, I’m supposed to be a photographer, or a tiny part of me was at one point, right? Shouldn’t that mean that while I may not agree with what the author had to say, I should on some level appreciate it? That I could at least see it from a different perspective than my own. But I couldn’t. I just straight up hated it. And that got me thinking about a) wether or not I really loved photography the way that I thought I did, or even at all, and b) if I should even be an artist if I hated a theory so much. I mean, I felt like a fraud in so many ways. I keep talking about why I love photo, I made a point to teach photography here, I’m going to the SPE conference in March… But I wanted to run screaming from one of the books on photo theory. It was a big, hot mess. I worked myself up to the point where I could barely follow the conversation, let alone participate in it.
Voila, anxiety attack.
I’m so good at that.
Anyway. I was really upset over this. And I actually cried on my way home. I was that impacted. So, I’ve been thinking this over a lot in the two weeks or so since it happened, without much progress.
In the intervening time, I had reviews, and several studio visits. Each of those caused me more and more frustration and anguish, because not only was I questioning the entire foundation for my artistic career (photography), I was seeing this widening disconnect between my ideas and my actual work. I had developed all of this work that visually and emotionally had no connection to the ideas and stories that were supposedly their basis. “Cool” art as one of my professors dubbed it. A clean, slick, pretty aesthetic, and yet nothing I am trying to address is anything but hot and messy. The two are most certainly not jiving, if you’re picking up what I’m laying down.
I wanted to leave school. I wanted to stop being an artist. To be clear though, it wasn’t the faculty’s fault I was in this mind set. The studio visits and reviews I had were actually very helpful to me in terms of clarifying and understanding the disconnect that I intuitively understood to be there, but could not quite grasp in reason or put into words. It was me, feeling very much inadequate to the task I had set myself. In short I was feeling like a failure to myself. Ah… my old friend, we meet again. Hold this thought because it’s important…
Well, so that’s how everything was sitting for the last few weeks of my life. I was pretty much at loose ends. I didn’t really touch anything in my studio, instead I just sat and stared at it a lot. I dragged my feet on teaching related things. I avoided people in general. It sucked. I’m sure I was a peach to be around. And yet I kept having these strange moments of serendipity and deja vu. Which had to mean I was somehow on the right path…
I’m sure if anyone ever reads this blog more than one time, they’ll figure out I’ve got a few psychological and emotional problems. No, I’m not just “crazy” because artists are supposed to be crazy. I actually hate that I’m “crazy” and that I’m an artist, what bad luck to be a stereotype! I actually hate the word crazy, it’s a far to unsubtle and general a descriptor. But that’s my issue… What I’m trying to say here is that clearly I have a lot of things that need working on, and work on them I do. I do both individual and group counseling, and it’s really helpful for me. For instance, in my individual sessions, we talk a lot about how my psychological and emotional behaviors often play out in my art work, often times with out my realizing it. I point this out, because I had this huge, amazing moment of understanding (which is where the subtitle for this post comes into play) that relates to my art work.
In my session yesterday, my counselor pointed out to me that people who struggle with expectations tend to deal with them in one of two ways; either become a perfectionist (which in some ways I fall into this category), or they develop avoidance issues (which I had never considered in relation to my own behavior before). She suggested that I might want to think about how I avoid things when I feel that I can’t achieve my own expectations or goals. I agreed and then went on about my day.
Several hours later, I was sitting in a lecture hall, listening to one of the many job candidates that FSU has been bringing in recently (FSU has something like 4 job searches going on in the art department), and I found my mind wandering. I started thinking about situations in which I don’t deal with things, and I was trying to determine the reasons why I may not have dealt with whatever it was. In most cases it’s because I feel like I can’t succeed in my aim, or that I assume the worst case scenario in terms of outcome and I just gave up…if that makes any sense. Then suddenly it hit me. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I DID WITH PHOTOGRAPHY. I started a series about a year before I went back to school, around the same time that my work started to shift toward more interior, psychological and emotional issues, and I got frustrated with it because it wasn’t conveying my intent. I was failing in my aim. And then when this failure (in my perception) continued when I came to FSU, I completely walked away from photography.
Giant. Fucking. Exclamation Point.
So right in the middle of this job talk, I have this moment of clarity. And of course I’m freaking out, and can barely sit still, which I have to do for another 45 minutes. Terrible. I felt like I was going to explode or something, because once my mind started racing along about this, there was no stopping it. Almost right away I realized how this idea impacted the rest of my work too. This “cool” art I had started making. I was avoiding the emotional content because I had been unable to incorporate the visual and emotional in previous experiments. This was why I had stopped halfway through so many projects… My mind was blown. This is what my notebook page looked like:
So this is a good thing I think. I went into my studio and cleaned it, took everything off the walls, and put all of my stuff away. Time to recalibrate and reconsider. It’s a good point in the semester for me to do that too, because I’m headed to Chicago in a week for SPE, but I’m staying a week so I can go to museums and galleries and just look at some flipping art that isn’t my own. I feel much more focused now for some reason, it’s strange.
So now I’m culling through my ideas and the projects I started this semester in order to get some perspective on them. Writing notes to myself and deciding which I will continue in the wake of this epiphany and which I can discard as a means of avoidance….