February 7, 2017

Art, Identity & Doing the Work

1998 invitation to Louise Bourgeois show at Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh, PA
 (camera at top is a magnet, not part of the image)
Artists, makers, writers, creatives - you know who you are - how do you feel when you aren't doing your work? The work near and dear to you, not the job(s) that pay the rent. Personally, not working makes me feel like half a human at best. I've written more than one post here about identity as an artist, struggling to find a medium after color photo technology left the darkroom and I did not follow, and trying to find a way back into the work. And it is a struggle. A mighty struggle because not working, not making art, is akin to not breathing. Or not breathing enough. It's not a complete flat-line, but brain activity is definitely slowed, sluggish. Joy is dimmed, obscured. What is a potter without a wheel, a weaver without a loom, a writer without a pen, an artist without the necessary tools of expression?

I have been processing (ugh - bad photography pun is intentional, sorry) this lack of identity, lack of a voice, for a decade now. Am I any wiser? I don't know. But I do know that I keep flipping back and forth between believing I a photographer without an outlet (color darkroom access*), a photographer who needs to learn to print digitally so I do have an outlet (halfway down this post), and the possibility that I am no longer a photographer (this post). Is my resistance to digital photography self-defeating or self-preserving?

I have a lot more to say about this - I have been wrestling with it for 10 years now, people - but in the interest of brevity, here's a few things that are somewhat related to this question of artistic identity/output that I have found helpful. They all come from participation in The Magic of Myth: The End of the Quest, an online class through Squam Art Workshops.
  • The King's Stilts by Dr. Seuss
    A wonderful story (it doesn't rhyme! I had no idea Dr. Seuss wrote without rhyming) that serves as a reminder to follow and practice your joy, art or whatever it may be; or deny your true nature, silence your voice, and be no good to yourself or anyone else.
  • "Make Good Art" commencement address by Neil Gaiman
    Exactly as the title expresses - no matter what external crap or greatness is happening, continue to make good art that is a an expression of the unique you. Link above connects to the video of the speech.
  • This quote from an article I have yet to read,
    "I was telling the story as a victim of my circumstances, as though it was happening to me. The truth that set me free, ultimately, was that it had all happened or been perpetuated through me—and I could author a change as soon as I wished."
    Guilty of this one. The story I tell myself is that I stopped making photographs because I lost darkroom access. When, in fact, I could be making photographs digitally. But, for some reason(s), I have not "authored" this change in working methods.
  • The prescient suggestion to write down what it is I love about the color darkroom process and to explore if these elements can be found in other forms of visual expression.
    This exercise, in combination with the elements listed above, has led to a subtle shifting. Whether the shift sticks or not, I have no way of knowing. But this is progress.
I know that making art is the important thing, the necessary thing, for me to do. Whether it's with photography in one form or another plagues me. It plagues me because it is how I see, it is familiar, it is what I am trained in, it is what I have lived and practiced since the 90s. But, since I can't do it the way I would like to - in the darkroom - what now?  . . . to be continued in the next post

*The color darkrooms I have used over the years are not the sort of thing you can rig up in a bathroom or closet. The print is exposed with an enlarger, similar to black and white printing. Rather than developing and fixing the print in open trays of chemicals, however, the exposed color print is fed into a processor. The processor is a large, cube shaped machine that consists of internal rollers and separate chemical baths. The exposed print is fed through the machine and chemical baths by the rollers and comes out the end a finished print.

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