The Medium is Not the Message
June 15, 2012
Late last summer, when things were briefly less complicated, I made plans to attend the Sixth International Encaustic Conference. After a spring & summer spent painting, I wanted to learn more about how this medium fits into the gallery & museum experience.
Later, Joanne Mattera (artist, blogger, & director of the conference in conjunction with Truro Center for the Arts’ Cherie Mittenthal), announced Ed Winkleman as the keynote speaker. I had been following his blog along with several others for information on professional practices (etc). So, along with wanting to deepen my work in the encaustic medium, all of this had me looking forward to the event. As the winter came & went, the conference became the marker that kept me going.
The tone for the conference was set from the very beginning with Marybeth Rothman‘s “Beyond Technique” talk. She made clear that her drive to give the talk came from the experience of showing her work at the previous year’s hotel fair. People kept asking “How” (technique) she made her paintings, not “What” (content) she had made or “Why” (motivation). This (in some ways new) medium of encaustic can be so captivating that we lose sight of things beyond the surface of the piece. It’s a battle I also have when I am painting with encaustic. I’m so enthralled by the transparency, the luminosity, and even the fragrance of this luscious material that I almost want to say “who cares!” about meaning. I don’t do it. But sometimes I want to.
The excellent talks (or rather lectures, yay!) continued with Nancy Natale‘s “Wax and Bricolage.” I received knowledge not only of other artists adding additional materials to their work, but also a little how-to and context for discussing the work. Laura Moriarty presented “Funding Your Work: A Practical Guide to Dreaming Big”; besides being full of information presented in an engaging way, Moriarty had the additional compelling example of completing the funding & publishing of her artist book Table of Contents. Saturday morning there was a panel discussion on “Creativity in Our Practice,” with Pamela Blum, Paula Roland, Toby Sisson, Howard Hersh, and Elise Wagner. The discussion ranged from the process of following inspiration, to the value of critique & more. A quote we won’t forget: Blum stating that she learns more from her tormentors than her mentors. There is a wealth of information from dissenters! And we can pick & choose what’s of value. Sisson talked about the incredible dialogue she shares with colleagues in the academic setting, while Hersh countered with a preference for working alone. These are my off-the-top-of-my-head recollections, but there was so much more. Later Saturday, Patti Russotti presented “Photographing Your Work”; she’s a fitting choice for the topic since she co-wrote Digital Photography Best Practices and is a New Media Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. I learned much needed standards for getting great pics of my work, which is vital for web, print, and exhibition. Additionally: data management. How to organize all those files. Have you thought about it? Neither had I. Susanne Arnold gave the lecture “Ephemeral Figures in Wax”, an amazing overview from what seemed to be the beginning of time through NOW, the ways wax has been used in artmaking. It was a stunning collection of images, connections, and information, a real history of the medium. Thank you, Susanne. The evening, of course, was the keynote delivered by Ed Winkleman, owner of Winkleman Gallery in NYC. As many know, he is a source of generous information for artists seeking gallery representation. The semi-informal presentation allowed for audience questions about encaustic works in the gallery setting (have great packaging/shipping!), as well as, basically, how the mysterious gallery art system works for those who want a part of it. The last talk I was able to attend (on Sunday) was Deborah Kapoor‘s “Displaying Work Outside the Frame”, another great survey of the way artwork of all kinds, including encaustic, can be presented outside of the usual “two dimensional flush against the wall” scenario.
I wish I could give details on so many other talks or demos; I wasn’t able to attend each & every time frame, much less be in two places at once. I haven’t even had time to discuss the Friday night abundance of encaustic specific openings at galleries in Provincetown– such an incredible place for hosting all of this. There was the Hotel Fair on Sunday morning, which gave me a chance to see half of the artists showing work outside of their rooms (since I also showed work, I couldn’t leave my room during the first half of the event.) Sharing my work with others in this way was deeply gratifying. I participated in an art trade (I happily got a piece by Tracy Proctor which I’d had my eye on, one that mentally takes me to Lake Tahoe. Thanks, Tracy!) And just having a concentrated couple of days to spend time with artists from all over, who are invested in their work & use the material I love… I’m not sure that there’s anything else like it. The continuing critical dialogue I had from the first morning until my last dinner was amazing, and could only have happened as we all addressed the What and the Why of our studio practices. I feel so fortunate that I began painting with encaustic in early 2011, so that I could be a part of this weekend.
So, this conference was the marker that set up the year. By participating in this event & meeting so many great individuals, I was able to move my studio practice forward after a difficult time. I knew I would show work at the Hotel Fair, and I pushed myself to paint my way out of the silence that threatened to take gloomy residence in my studio. The framework of the event challenged me to explore the pliable characteristics of the encaustic medium. I found the message that I wanted to tell.
And the medium is not the message.
(Except for when it is.) 😉