Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Mission: Why I Teach Visual Voice Workshops

 I believe that making a certain kind of art can transform your life, and the lives of others as well. I believe that most artists originally found this vocation because they were born with extra-sensitive antennae. These antennaed beings pick up on things that are happening around us long before the "waking sleepwalkers" do. I espouse Kandinsky's pyramid theory, which states that the very best artists are visionaries, paving the way for the rest of society. In fact, his theory was never more true than it is today, as noise from the information age drowns out the quiet that we as a culture so desperately need to follow intuition. Multinational corporations pay trendspotters great sums of money to determine what The Next Big Thing will be, and those trendspotters consistently look to artists for those answers. It is part of our job as artists to have our ear to the ground, at the very least, to our own ground, and tell the truth about what we hear.

For 20 years, I have been helping students find their visual voice, testing various methods to open up a number of possible directions for each and every student. Decades ago, it was easy to look at a painting style & tell where artists had attended school: each disciple painted like their mentor. It is simple to teach students a series of steps and techniques to achieve a certain end: it takes a great deal more time and effort to tease out each individual's visual vocabulary, to help them find the medium and process that will serve that vision and make for the most powerful work of art.

Painter Philip Guston once spoke about the fact that certain figures had been trying to appear in his work for ten years, and he kept obliterating them because he wasn’t ready for them, he kept removing them from his paintings, until he finally let them “win”. This workshop is designed to keep you from wasting those ten years.... to DIG at your unconscious, rather than pushing the messages away. 

"A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with."  - Robert Frost

It is not uncommon for me to hear my beginning students talk about wanting to develop their own unique "style", referring to style as if it was a t-shirt, or pair of boots. They think about it as "a look", the same way one might go to the mall, try on a few different variations on a theme, and finally settle upon one as being their cool, identifying trademark. 

This is a shallow, superficial way to think about the important work that will mark your short presence on this earth

The art that we think of as having unique, identifying features, those formal aspects that allow us to immediately see the work as "a Van Gogh", or "a Cindy Sherman", happened naturally as part of a searching process to articulate a specific, singular vision. The vision comes from being "tapped in" to your own experiences, being able to distill, extract, and articulate the most powerful aspects of those experiences. 

I often meet artists who have led rich, deep lives, traveled all over the world, raised children, known heartbreak, fought in wars. It then blows my mind to see them painting conventional Landscapes, Flowers, or Academic Nudes.... why?! With a heart and brain full of the memories, feelings, and experiences of a unique lifetime, and few decades left on this earth to leave your mark, you want to paint a vase of flowers to look as realistic as possible?!

Now, it is true that every time we think that a certain subject matter is completely exhausted, someone comes along, and explodes that idea, like Ori Gersht, for example:

But most work I see in the aforementioned genres exists because these are default choices, because, a long time ago, someone put the idea into your head that this is what art is supposed to look like.

"If it looks like art, chances are it looks like somebody else's art."  - Chuck Close

As corporate globalization and near-monopolized media homogenize more of our experiences, this problem of discerning and asserting our individualism will only get worse. Billions of people, all over the world have had the exact same "Dancing With The Stars" finale burned into their brains, or the same Charlize Theron perfume ad. I spend a majority of my time as an art professor trying to expose my students to as much unusual work as possible, just to balance out the infinite number of advertising images they are exposed to each day. The compositions, and, sad to say, content from these advertisements have permeated their consciousness to the point that they don't even recognize them, or know how the images got there.  

Every person we meet is a sum of their unique life experiences: the specific moment in history that they occupy, the geographical place they come from, the family they were born into, the trials they have faced, their day jobs, the things that they consume to feed their spirit. THIS is where authentic art comes from. And, when you do the research, you find that looking inward, or even looking out at the world through the lens of your own psyche, is where the world's most powerful art has its genesis. 

“There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”  — Martha Graham

This is not a workshop designed to create "confessional art": it is a process to facilitate cleaning your lens, sharpening your focus, and coming up with a map of locations where you can begin to point your telescope. Over the years, I have developed exercises to help artists eliminate clichés, explode forgone conclusions, expand parameters, and dig deep, to mine for that vision that will lead to the work they were born to make. My Visual Voice workshop involves both intuitive and analytic exercises to extract and develop this vocabulary, as well as tips to continuously reassess this information as you grow and travel along your extended artistic path.

Digging deep to practice radical sincerity and authenticity will transform your work, your audience, and finally, the world. I believe this with all of my heart. The universe doesn't need another impressionist landscape: we need your messy, honest, unique and beautiful truth. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I just learned a carload of things from you. Thanks. jean yates