Posts Tagged ‘teaching’
It’s beautiful up here. And I’m feeling like I’m having an actual piece of vacation. Even though there’s work in the morning, I have felt relaxed and happy all afternoon. In fact I feel good enough to rant.
Sometimes the New York Art world (which is shorthand here for the Current State of Affairs in my chosen field) makes me furious. These mornings here I meet with and talk to artists, many of them on a brief hiatus from their regular lives in New York. In so many cases, I hear stories of people frustrated and cowed by a system that they percieve as unyielding and oppressive. Now there’s oppression and oppression, these aren’t people having to struggle against totalitarian regimes in conditions of desperate poverty. Their wounds are more often than not self inflicted, stemming from a belief system that makes them feel like failures. But I have to ask myself, where are they picking these beliefs up from?
And it makes me ask, as someone who has taught artists for twenty years, what the fuck are we teaching artists? How is it that so many people exit art school with a hunted, hounded sense that they only get one shot to be noticed by the right people to get inside the system that will then treat them like some sort of piece worker, churning out stuff until it is no longer interested in what they have to offer? How is it that so many artists have so little sense of their own agaency, or hope that they can make their own lives meaningful? Why do so many feel defeated out of the gate? When did the notes of cynicism, pusillanimity and self sabotage become part and parcel of the art curriculum?
Artists have created spaces of freedom, and turned them into cages of attitude. So many of the people I talk to when I do these sorts of visits are afraid to make the work they really want to because they’ve been given the message that it is too confusing, or too goofy or too obsessive or just too something for anyone else to be interested in it.
Artists and art teachers: we are the guardians of our own power and our own freedom. The next time you start talking to students about how they will never have a career, or how many of them will stop making work or how they have to position themselves and get “exposure” or any of the other tripe that passes for “realism” in art school, shut the fuck up. you are perpetuating a system that keeps artists at the bottom of the heap.
Safely ensconced at the Vermont Studio Center, where there is good food, temperate weather and a few hours of work a day, chatting with artists about their current projects and art, art, art. Last night I gave my lecture, showing most of te work images that are up here on the site, and trying to change up the formula. It went on for a while, perhaps a bit beyond the capacity of some viewers, but I did manage to come to some new ways of seeing things in the work, and freed myself from what can feel like a yammer session where I hit the same beats over and over again.
Having much of my stuff pas in front of my eyes, some of it quite embarrassing serves a good reminder of all of the things left undone in my sculptural life. Some of it is quite alien, like looking at the work of someone I barely know. I see how attracted I am to swags and pendulous shapes, how my sense of color has evolved and how horizontal everything seems.
Maybe I need to spend some time stacking, and building, instead of hanging and finding.
Beyond just providing me with glimpses of what I’m up to, I still have to wonder about the social occasion of these talks, this particular method of showing. I wonder what the work does without my voice. And there are times where I’m tired of providing, not explanations, but connective tissue between works. It is the legacy of contemporary art that we provide words words words. The last thing I am is an anti-intellectual, but so much of our language can feel exhausted.
With that in mind, I’m off to the studio I’m provided with here, so that I can make some things, to skip past my all-to-ready chatter.
Here we are, all fresh in Farnham waiting for the beginning of day two of our workshop: Pablo Bartholomew, Sabeena Gadihoke, Sunil Gupta, Deborah Willis, and me with my big fat head. The talk was good, the possibilities for future collaboration intriguing, the sandwiches plentiful. I’ve learned a lot. Central to all of the discussions is the question of what do you teach photographers, and how do you teach it? To answer that you have to closely examine where the person comes from before you think of every thing else. At many points in the conversation I had my presuppositions pleasantly challenged, which is the sort of thing that needs to happen more often.
Hearing about the vast cultural differences and conditions in India, Britain and US, one is tempted to throw up your hands and walk away, but there are such interesting histories there, and such rich chances that I feel the conversation needs to continue. As always, I’m mostly focussed on the ways in which people struggle to work together to make change, and there was a huge amount of expertise in the room. Just in the photograph above you have people who have made a huge difference in articulating the new photo histories, new types of artists organizations and have written and witnessed at a level that I could only begin to aspire to. So I’m happy to sit there and listen to the ideas that come forward, and to try to curb my impulse towards offering my standard sorts of solutions for everything; online interaction is not the only answer.
One of the main points of this gathering was to set the terms for a second working session in NYC this coming fall, and it looks like we made some real progress towards that.
This job has made me think and grow in ways that I hadn’t previously imagined for myself.
It was a day of rail travel and discussion, and phone drainage and a little confusion. But also a day of learning a great amount and meeting new colleagues, which made it rewarding and exhausting. More discussion, and trains, on the morrow.
What a wekend! I attended a great conference on queer sexuality, and In the midst of it ran to Bard to participate in the graduation ceremonies. At the finale of the commencement, confetti cannons went off. It was the first time I’d ever been so close to them. The students were properly excited, the parents proud and I myself well chuffed at all their achievements. We had a fantastic time, and I got to reconnect with some of my friends on the Bard faculty.
And then Boom, the school year is over and here I am, back in the office trying to collect my thoughts.There’s so much to catch up on and even more to plan for. I feel like I need some simple sitting still time, with no distractions. I think my body was telling me much the same thing yesterday, as I began to feel sleepy and achey, sure signds that if my mind wasn’t going to let me rest, my body would insure that it happened. Luckily, things weren’t too bad, and I was able to be up and around today.
And so, abruptly, I’m deposited at the end of the school year. The past week has been taken up with end of the year boards, intense discussions with students and co-workers and last night, the final party where we present our graduating class with our own private certificates. I am wrung out emotionally. The talent and commitment that the students have brought to their work this year, the insights of my fellow faculty as we discussed each person’s final projects, and the bittersweet joys of congratulating and saying goodbye to them have all left me unable to focus. I’ve been stumbling through today trying to come back to earth. Now I can begin to dig out from the pile of emails and other commitments that have been hanging fire in the background.
I’m very proud of all they’ve done, and happy that I get to work with the great people here. Last night during my little speech I kept tearing up, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the students. What can I say, this is the sort of thing that makes me a huge softie.
Now, like turning a sharp corner, summer is here. Today I feel like I haven’t planned for it at all. Not strictly true, but it’s hard not to be a little shocked by it all.
The talk that I gave at the Art Student’s League on the 15th of this month is now available as the first download in their new podcast series, hosted by Grady Turner. Hear me waffle on about race, sculpture, sexuality, teaching and other subjects barely of note. To download, point your browser here.
Thanks to Grady for giving me the opportunity to say the word “um” more than anyone ever should!
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve got a bag problem. Every where I go, I carry a bag, usually a large and heavy one. I own more bags and packs than I can really count. And I’m always on the look out for another one. Tale a look inside the one I’m toting, and you’ll see a crush of papers, books, magazines, my computer (with additional wireless mouse), my camera, the wallet that holds the cards I don’t use so much, a set of eating utensils, receipts for tax filing later on, a batch of pencils a set of pens, and up to three sketchbooks at any time. Oh also other bags packed away inside the bag so that when I go shopping, I don’t have to use a plastic bag. Whenever I leave the house I am prepared for every conceivable situation: I’m ready to stop at a cafe, sketch and update my blog, I’m ready to take notes on other projects, call people, record my impressions, or read.
I’m carting all of this stuff from place to place. But let’s take a look inside the bag to see how I’m carrying it: crammed together, jumbled, overlapping. There is a system there, by which I mean that I generally know where things are in the various pockets, but none of those things can be said to be placed with thought or with care. And they are carried in haste . Often I have the experience of pulling something out that I wanted and finding it bent, crushed, and I’m slightly embarrassed by my own thoughtlessness. That feeling is compounded if the thing is something that someone gave to me, or a book that I was just looking at at the store, convinced I had to have, a thing dearly purchased. I think that I’m not alone in the experience of turning out my pockets at the end of the day and finding scraps of paper worn beyond legibility, or cracked pens or just stuff whose origin is now forgotten by me.
The point is this: If it’s something of mine or for me I carry it with little regard. The one way the situation is different however, is when the thing I’m carrying is for someone else. I’f I’m bringing someone a gift, I’ve got it in a separate bag, tucked in safety. I’m conscious of how I’m holding it as I walk, trying not jostle it. I want to deliver it in good shape.
This is what teaching is: it is a way of reminding ourselves that the ideas that we carry and haul with ourselves every day, all day, all the ideas and suggestions and bits of wisdom that we have accrued as tools to get through the world mean little if they are not for someone else. When I’m going to teach something, to give it to someone else, I hold my knowledge of it differently in my mind, and as such I pay actual attention to it. I can for it, because I want to deliver it in good shape. I often say that I talk about the things I do in class to students because I need to hear them. Teaching can do that, because the ideas have a direction, they aren’t just there to clutter up my mind and get in my way. For me to hide behind or within. I have to look at them and decide whether or not they are worth giving to someone else. Even now, I’m writing this post because I need to read this reminder. Because I’m trying to make a show, and running against the walls of my own confusions. So I’m going to try to teach my way out of my trap.
Artists should teach because it gives them another way of passing on the cultural DNA of the things that they love. Every idea about making or showing some thing that I have, comes to me from some one else. I have it in my mental baggage now, but I’m going to die. Those ideas die with me unless I pass them on. I’m just the bearer, for a short time, of a way of being in the world. Teaching gives me form to understand how I should honor those ideas, by treating them as gifts given and gifts to pass out. Otherwise they are simply clutter.
Yesterday was full of hustle and bustle, teaching class and then hightailing it down to FIT to lecture on my work and to meet with fine arts students and faculty for an extended Q&A session (which employed a novel way of dealing with student shyness), followed by a race to my polling place and then home where I collapsed into an unsatisfying early evening nap that made finally getting to sleep tougher than usual.
I’ve been doing a lot of talking with people lately, working on planning and other responsibilities, so it came as a bit of a surprise to realize how little of the talk has been about my work or how distanced it’ve been from taking the long view of it. One of the real benefits of lecturing is that if forces me to go over my previous work and reassess it and to also hear from other people what they think is going on with it. There’s always some point that comes up in the discussion that opens up a new path for me in thinking about the things I’d like to make next. The FIT class was novel as well in that it was the first time that a group of students had looked at both my interview with Ian Berry in the catalog for my Tang Museum show, and the interview that I gave to Vice magazine a couple of years ago that was about sexuality and my relationships to various communities. So the questions that those students asked were pitched in a much more personal way than they have been in other classes I’ve talked to. It was refreshing and the method they worked out for ask ing help with that: each student had written down two questions and they had all been put into a bag. Students then drew questions to ask, but they most likely didn’t get the ones they had written. It meant that shy students got to ask questions, but didn’t have to be responsible for them, and people could ask things that might have been seen to be combative in another context.
I got asked about a lot of thing, including BDSM, and also why this website is so hard to navigate. That was one that brought me up short – I didn’t think that it was so hard to navigate. I fear that my responses were pretty rambling, but I was grateful for how thoughtful the questions were, especially those that put me on the spot. There is a lovely and extensive recap of the visit from a student’s point of view here. Thank you Cassandra, for saying such generous things. And also thanks to my pal Julia for inviting me to lecture in the first place.
Something that came up in class today that has stayed with me:
It’s very tempting for artists to try to explain themselves. Especially after the experience of art school, where one is always asked for clarifications and reasons for things. But the temptation can be to explain through the work itself, to include pieces or statements in shows that serve to guide the viewer to certain conclusions about your work. The problem is that explanation can easily slide into justification, and justification can easily turn to apology.. We need to ask ourselves this question: am I providing access to the work, or trying to justify it?
The urge to explain is strong. No one wants to be thought obscure. But someone else’s explanation can take me out of my own experience of the work.
As a viewer, I don’t mind working. I don’t mind having to return to a work of art to find something else in it. And as an artist, I’d like to think that I could attract viewers that were up to that challenge. Works of art at their best provide their own justification, not by spelling everything out, but by providing us with the opportunity for joyous experience. Artists – don’t explain, practice making those experiences.
Out in the hallway my students are hard at work installing their thesis group show, for Friday’s opening. I may be broadcasting from a fool’s paradise, but there have been no major traumas yet. Work is going on to the walls at a steady clip, and the show seems to be surprisingly light on the tech this year.
Just finished my chicken and rice from the Biryani Cart, happy that the morning gloom has given way to sunshine. There’s something about the weather returning to manageability that brings my mood along with it. I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels for almost the past two months.
Also that I “haven’t kept up with the world” in that time. I feel only dimly aware of world events (we got healthcare somehow, that crazy pope is in trouble again, and we’re still in Afghanistan, right?) And even more out of touch with happenings on LJ. SO until I get caught up, I think I’m just going to shut up and post pictures.
A member of the New York Correspondance School sent a package to the class here at Austin Peay. Inside we found twenty pairs of sequined bunny ears and the phrase “How to Bowl like a Bunny”. So of course we all donned them and proceeded to bowl for the evening while the jukebox played things like Root Down, and Joan Jett singing “now I wanna be your dog”. A great way for us to all get to know each other a bit better. Afterwards I had some ramen and slept like a rock for seven hours.
The weather has been a little schizo, snowing on and off. Clear and then cold, some hail. I feel calmer than yesterday, partly because of the sincere responses of the students. I’m easily frazzled in so much of my life, but in the classroom and in the studio, it’s hard for me to be unhappy.
It’s clear and warm in Brooklyn. I’m going to go out in it (again) in a little while. Got to soak up any autumnal pleasantness as I find it. For the first time in many days I’m not waking up with an immediate deadline or meeting hanging over my head. What lightness!
Last night I also got to see the fantastic work by a group of Alumni from ICP here. I was thrilled to see people going out in to the world and doing new things. There was so much pride flowing throughout the room, and I loved being able to add my little bit to the pile. So here’s another way I’m lucky: I read people complaining about the privileged, know nothing, whiny students they have to deal with, and I’ve got to say that that is not my case at all. People have varying degrees of commitment and success, it’s true, but overall, I have nothing but admiration for them. They set up an organization, sheetrocked the walls, and threw a New York art event. So very groovy.
It’s all about moving past fear, fear that nothing will happen for you, that you’ve got nothing to say, that other people control your destiny. Action puts the lie to those fears.
(as if to underline all of this, itunes just threw up Chic’s “Good Times”. Clams on the half shell, and roller skates, roller skates)
This morning I spoke to a group of students from Duke University as part of a cultural program supervised by my friend Jeff. Every time I’ve done it I’ve been gratified to meet with enthusiasm and hunger that these people have for the chance to be out in the world making things and garnering experience.
It did mean that I was running a bit late for all the rest of the day heading from the Duke talk to a quick lunch to our crtitque class at ICP, where my students continue to bring out interesting ideas and ask either hard questions, back to the office in order to check some additional stuff to dinner eaten on the street, to desultory grocery shopping to ensure that I would have yogurt for tomorrow’s breakfast, until I find myself now here at home tuckered and without a post. No real energy to draw either. And an early meeting tomorrow as well. Sigh. Jobs is jobs, and I should be glad to have one.
So later, on further down Avenue A, I had a shake. I didn’t win anything at bingo, and I left before the best prizes were being given out, but I hope that my donation did some good – and a pal won some booze.
Clear and cool today: not as raw as the weekend, and the work in my class engendered some great discussion. People seem to be settling in and enjoying themselves more. I’m eating enough apples to keep a battalion of doctors away.
Last night was the end of the year dinner for my students, out little in-house graduation before the official event at Bard on Saturday. A generous trustee hosts it at their house every year. The students got dolled up and we presented them with a certificate that I designed. It’s a lovely event and this year seemed especially emotional. I’m very grateful to have been able to spend the last couple of years with these people. I got a little teary during my short speech to them. Maybe it was the excellent red wine.
And now is the chance to get some of the built up pressures of the past couple of months dealt with. Through some talks with good friends I feel like I’ve developed a clearer picture of how I want the next year to go. The warm weather is helping with that as well; somehow walking out the door in just my shirtsleeves always fills me with a sense of possibilities.
Oh and the boot? A friend told me her husband has been following the blog, and so when she showed off the footwear, I told her I’d put it up here for his delectation.
How can it be almost four pm already? It’s the time of the year when everything just comes on the heels of everything else. The people I work with are short tempered and stressed. I’m trying to cultivate my calm.
I’ve also taken on a few days of additional teaching as a favor to a friend these past couple of weeks and it’s been instructive to compare the cultures of various schools.
When teaching, I always wish that I could listen more and speak less. I feel like I do alright in that regard in my regular classes, but sometimes the temptation to clarify and restate is too great when I’m in new situations. I end up feeling abashed for all my mouthiness. The classroom is an interesting situation, given that what I’m trying to teach is critical thinking as much as it is creative practice. For me, those two things have always gone hand in hand. But the trick with teaching them is that you can’t dictate them, you have to create the condition where people find their way to them. Hence the struggle to say the right thing.
Nine times out of ten, if I’m not saying something, it’s because I’m trying to figure out what to say. The situation is worsened in a medium like email, where emotions can run high and escalate at a moment’s notice. Emails seem to carry with them the injunction to be answered point for point and tone for tone, for good or for ill. I see people ratcheting up each others’ stress levels and look for a way to moderate that. But then again some people do not wish to be moderated.
Listening and breathing continue to be excellent sugestions, as much as I am tempted to ignore them.
…are what I need to buy today on the way home. But really this post is about IMsL.
This was the first Leather Contest I’ve attended, and only the second title contest (in the late 90′s I was part of helping the Metro Bears put on a run/contest that had very little impact). On the whole I have stayed away from organized leather, but if there was going to be a first one, I’m happy that it was this one. The stakes, while high for the contestants, seemed low for the rest of the event. People were there for a whole array for reasons, only one of which were the contests.
It was very interesting to be at a women’s event; my Seventies feminist training kicked in and it combined with my shyness to make me quite reticent about approaching people. I was trying to mind my ps and qs, not wanting to be intrusive and to listen twice befreo speaking once. I wasn’t always successful, but on the whole it was more relaxing than it sounds.
My class fell victim to the vagaries of San Francisco’s climate. Since what I was teaching involved smoking, it had to place outdoors, on the patio outside of the hospitality suite. This was fine when the sun was shining directly on it, but once there was no sunshine, the classroom turned chill to such an extent that people were stepping inside to watch from beyond the glass patio doors. I had to cut things a little short, both on the demonstration end and in general, because it was just getting silly. Scheduling also meant that many folks could only attend part of the class, which meant that there was a constant trickle of people in and out of the session. That tends to rattle me, and I feel like I didn’t do as good a job as I might have. I did have a stalwart demo bottom, and good friends in the audience, two factors that made the whole thing much easier.
There were many great people there to connect with, and despite the above mentioned shyness, I did have some wonderful conversations and saw some hot action. My own experience was mixed. I had one encounter go wrong on me and was really rattled by it. Luckily my friends were there to help me process it all.
Maybe its because I was fairly close to the operating staff, but the event seemed exceptionally well run to me; things happened when they were supposed to with a minimum of fuss. When that happens, it means that everyone can relax and enjoy what’s happening. Problems don’t become crises.
On the whole I feel like the women’s community is a lot more vibrant and diverse than the men’s. And it’s really interesting to me the way that a younger generation is upending questions about gender style and play. There’s a kind of giddiness in the exploration and reconfiguration of rules that speaks to my heart (and other parts, since I find that kind of energy very hot).
I don’t think I’ll ever find a place in “Leather Tradition”, and I’m not really interested in doing so in any event. But I am glad to have been a small part of IMsL. And very grateful to folks who brought me there.
Sometimes teachin’ is fun!
A great evening at TES: big turnout and people seemed to genuinely like the class.
And I had a very comfy foot rest for most of it.
Got some free time tomorrow evening? Then come by TES for my class:
“The Artist’s Way to Designing Scenes”
It seems that if it has an acronym, I’ll teach at it.
What does that have to do with the milkshake photo? No idea.
For the first time in many many years, I have registered for the annual meeting for the College Art Association. It’s being held in Los Angeles from February 24-28 in 2009. This is an annual convocation of Art History professors, other artschool types like myself, and often swarms of itinerant artists looking for jobs. Lots of obscure panels, flying theory and generally bad coffee.
While I’m going in part to represent the program I work for, this is also an excuse to see folks in LA, a place I haven’t been to in close to five years. It’s also a chance for another hookup with certain studly baker. I’m willing to endure a lot of academic blather to bury my face in that luxurious fur. I have no idea where I’m staying yet, but I’ll let you all know as soon as it becomes clear. Problem is, I don’t drive, and yet still expect to sample the delights of Irv’s and Dupar’s.
The table around which we interviewed all day. And the two preceding days.
I was quite lucky to be taken to dinner afterwards by a friend. And she did not ask me to interview her, which was quite a gift.
I’ve been so overwhelmed that I quite forgot that it is Question Month. So please ask anything. Comments are screened here and you can post anonymously. Questions will be answered one at a time.