Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Reading for Your Art Practice

As an artist: When you see someone else’s art that really resonates with you, when you say Yes! That’s it! That’s what I was trying to say! And you doubt yourself, and you tell yourself, See, you can’t do it. Someone else got there first. It’s a losing battle. But then you know you have to dig back in and find your own words (visuals) to say that thing you can’t quite articulate verbally, and you kind of have to forget what you saw. You hope that you find a way to make those images that you need to make, doing it in a different way, to say what you need to say, in a way that is not like what you saw, in a way that does not repeat what has been done, in a way that is your own. Because what you have to say cannot be said by anyone else. Which means if you haven’t made it yet, then no one has. Which means your work isn’t finished. What you saw is not what you were about to say. So, you decide only you can say what you need to say. And you resolve to get back to work.

Cheryl McClure, Gray Day, April, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches
Ruiz-Kim, “Broken Repetition”,
encaustic on panel with photo pigment print,
12 inches x 9 inches, 2013

It would be nice if every day as an artist, I could embrace the path I’m on, you know, the “journey” and all that. But in that regard, some days are hard. I can see another artist’s work and simultaneously admire it and get irritated that I’m not there yet in my own work. As I’ve already talked about in these Studio MFA posts, part of my intention with this self-directed work is not only to push myself to face the frustrations that inhibit my studio practice, but to defy them. I’m frustrated by the constant questioning; I have to decide on answers. I’m doing this to clarify things for myself, not to prove anything to anyone else.

Writing out my inquisitive process in a way that (I hope!) makes sense allows me to push myself towards answers for my studio practice. This week I will be posting notes from one of the books I read for my self-directed class Artists and Object-Making in the Art Market. I came across the book Leonardo’s Brain as I sought to learn what makes visual artists make visual art. I want to describe the value of making artwork outside of the market context. Art vs. the Market has been an sore subject for a while now: the commodification of everything, raging consumerism, the pirating of small-time artists’ work for big-business profit, the corporatization of education including art schools, the pressure of careerism for art school graduates… . I have to consciously uncouple 🙂 from all that. Maybe it’s sort of sad and basic that I have to put myself through this process. But I have to trust my process, that following through on these nagging questions will get me to the real crux of what I need in the studio.

These are the topics I’ll be posting on for the next few days; all of them started with the parts I underlined in L. Shlain’s Leonardo’s Brain. I focused those parts into these topics. I’ll post my notes one subject at a time.*
I swear, the posts will be a lot easier to understand than these topic titles!

  • Bilateral Constructions & the Paradox of the Holon
  • I See: Sfumato, Anamorphism, Suchness, & Explosions
  • Puzzle-Making: Ambiguity as Invitation
  • The Survival of Aesthetics

UPDATE: Instead of new posts for each topic as I expand on what I’ve learned for a Subject/Book, I will be adding to static Pages, once for each of three classes per semester. That way I won’t get too crazy with the number of emailed post notifications that end up in inboxes. Email notifications don’t go out for Pages. 

Here’s how I went about reading a book & applying it to my studio practice. (This is labor-intensive! I’m so glad I’m self-directing this inquiry through the #exMFA, because I can’t imagine putting this much effort into ideas that don’t apply to the current questions I have in my studio!)

  1. Read the book. 🙂
  2. Underline & take notes on the pages as I go.
  3. Finish the book.
  4. Get irritable about it for a couple days.
  5. Make a vague list of topics in the book that excite me.
  6. Start writing off the top of my head, reflecting on what I read.
  7. Collect quotes on the topics.
  8. Focus the topics into titles that I like, that address questions I’m resolving in my work.
  9. Corral my writing to stick with the topics I chose. Am I asking the right questions? Am I answering them? Is the purpose of the post clear?
  10. Make separate posts on each topic.
  11. Post them to the internet.
  12. Start reading another book.

* Since I’m still homebound and recovering from my bike accident, I’m only working on the Subjects/Books part of my #exMFA. Still to come: Critiques via a group I organize, Mentorship via somehow, and Events via lectures & gallery + museum shows.


%d bloggers like this: