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…

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.