Creative Practices for Visual Artists: Time, Space, Process 1138299197, 9781138299191

Contrary to popular belief, the practice of art isn't just a product of innate talent or artistic vision; artwork e

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Creative Practices for Visual Artists: Time, Space, Process
 1138299197, 9781138299191

Table of contents :
Creative Practices for Visual Artists- Front Cover
Creative Practices for Visual Artists
Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter 1: A Shifting Landscape
A New Approach
Chapter 2: The Problem with Creativity
The Real Art
Modes of Creativity
Talents vs. Intelligences
Another Problem with Creativity
The Biggest Problem with Creativity
Chapter 3: Time and Space
What Is a Studio?
Physical Spaces
Spaces in Time
Interior Space and Silence
The Perfect Studio?
Chapter 4: Research and Embodied Knowledge
The Pursuit of Technical Mastery
Embodied Research Outside the Studio
Feeding the Artist
Chapter 5: Productive Interaction and Conflict
The Gifts of Anxiety and Fear
Concurrent Projects and Interleaving
Creating Interaction and Conflict
Embracing External Interaction and Conflict
Unwanted Interaction and Conflict
Starting Again
Chapter 6: Process Is the Product
Why Do Artists Make Art?
Artists’ Stories
Chapter 7: Creative Practices
Research Proposals
Weekly Schedule
Weekly Strategies
After the Class
Other Sample Research Proposals
Chapter 8: Participating Artist Biographies

Citation preview



Creative Practices for Visual Artists

Contrary to popular belief, the practice of art isn’t just a product of innate talent or artistic vision; artwork emerges from an intentionally constructed and maintained artistic practice. Developed from interviews with more than 75 mid-career artists, Creative Practices for Visual Artists examines the methods and approaches highly successful artists use to stay creatively robust for a lifetime. Offering practical strategies and concrete solutions, it also looks at the impacts of digital and social media, as well as recent changes in the educational system that can hinder the formation of a strong artistic practice. Artist and educator Kenneth Steinbach addresses key issues such as: the role of embodied research and non-objective experimentation; reframing one’s approach to studio time; forms of productive conflict; the positive role of anxiety; and the importance of failure for the artist. The book will be useful to students and emerging artists, the instructors that teach them, and established artists looking to develop stronger studio habits. The companion website,, provides links to artists’ websites and further information. Kenneth Steinbach is Professor of Art at Bethel University in St. Paul, where he teaches courses in Sculpture, Design, and Creative Practices. A recipient of the 2014 Arlin G. Meyer award in Visual Arts from the Lilly Fellows Foundation, he has also received multiple grants in support of his artwork and research, and an excellence in teaching award from Bethel University. Kenneth exhibits his artwork throughout the United States, and is included in numerous corporate, academic, and individual collections.

Q Taylor & Francis Taylor & Francis Group


Creative Practices for Visual Artists

Time, Space, Process

Kenneth Steinbach

First published 2018 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business  2018 Taylor & Francis The right of Kenneth Steinbach to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-1-138-29919-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-29920-7 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-09811-1 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Swales & Willis Ltd, Exeter, Devon, UK




1 A Shifting Landscape


2 The Problem with Creativity


3 Time and Space


4 Research and Embodied Knowledge


5 Productive Interaction and Conflict


6 Process Is the Product


7 Creative Practices


8 Participating Artist Biographies


Index 106


I would like to thank Routledge for their investment in a first-time author, and their guidance through the entire process. I am grateful to them for offering me a platform to discuss these issues that impact so many developing artists. Thanks also to faculty colleagues at Bethel University Art Department who enthusiastically supported this research, and the development of the Creative Practices class within the curriculum. Specifically, Jessica Henderson and Lex Thompson who tolerated interruptions of otherwise enjoyable lunches to discuss these ideas at length, offering keen insights at pivotal points in the research. Also to Bethel University for funding part of the research through an Edgren Scholars Grant, and to Emily Swanberg, my student partner in that grant, for her diligent and insightful work researching and arranging interviews, and helping to interpret results. I also offer my appreciation to the administrators at Bethel University, for valuing and supporting full-time tenured faculty as the foundation of a quality education, a philosophy that is becoming increasingly rare among colleges and universities in the U.S. I owe a debt of gratitude to readers Claudia Haas, Jody Williams, Cherith Lundin, Heather Bren, Krista Anderson, and others who selflessly contributed precious time reviewing the manuscript, and to Heidi Kao for her work transcribing interviews. Also to Caroline Kent and musicians Dave Birckelbaw and Sally Grayson for their contributions to the discussion of modes of creativity, and Dr. Joel Fredrickson for his wisdom on the discussion of intelligences. I am most grateful to my parents Ralph and Vivien Steinbach for a home that was a celebration of creativity and making. In a perfect world, every young sculptor would have access to Ralph and his overstuffed six-car garage that never failed me in providing the tools, materials, or expertise needed for all my projects over the last forty years. And also to daughters Kylie and Harper, whose courageous and creative lives have been a constant source of admiration and hope. Knowing that they are representative of their generation fills me with a deep and highly warranted optimism in the face of the many problems facing us today. Finally, I give my utmost appreciation to my wife Kari, without whose insight, encouragement, and wisdom this book would simply never have been possible.

Chapter 1

A Shifting Landscape

Angela, a sophomore art major in my Three Dimensional Visual Thinking course, looked at me with an obvious expression of frustration. I had just completed a ninety-minute discussion and demonstration for the Linear Space and Form Project, one in which students begin by cutting two-by-four wood studs into thin strips and assemble them into wood structures that embody a sense of physical motion, without actually moving. After outlining the assignment and how to work with the wood, I asked each of them to draw a dozen “interesting” potential solutions in their sketchbooks, due the following class. I told them they would be showing the drawings to the class, and dismissed them. Angela followed me into my office, and after pausing to take a seat, continued for several minutes with a series of polite but focused questions about my definition of “interesting.” Most of her questions revolved around how my grading rubrics were constructed, and how I would be evaluating projects with criteria that were obviously subjective. My attempts to encourage Angela to invest time experimenting with materials or drawings were declined on the grounds that she didn’t like to start anything before she understood was what required, and how she was going to complete it. Thinking that there was more to her story, I asked her to tell me about her experience at the university so far. She had arrived as an art major a year earlier, and after some initial successes, had lately been struggling in classes that she felt were at times frustratingly vague, with teachers offering little in the way of concrete examples and specific guidelines. The grading, too, seemed arbitrary as often as not. She quickly learned to ask her fellow students what each instructor “really” wanted. One seemed to prefer complex visual texture. Another seemed to love references to art history. A third would reward projects that were large and ambitious (I suspect this was me, though she was kind not to say). Asking her peers was simply more efficient. She didn’t have time to waste. She confessed that Google was often her first response when faced with a new project. She would find forums where similar projects were given and see how other people had solved them. She wasn’t really sure if this was allowed but didn’t think it shouldn’t be, either. Finding these solutions was just more

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efficient, suggesting that it wasn’t necessary to generate solutions yourself when there was so much available online, so many possibilities. Though she didn’t copy those solutions directly, her attitude seemed to be, Why start from nothing when a solution is likely already out there somewhere? When I asked her to tell me about her own artwork, it was clear she was mostly just moving from one project to the next, and then one class to the next, with little attempt to make connections between them. Though, curiously, she also said that she thought the goal of her education was to help students “develop their own personal styles.” My initial response was to chalk up some of these concerns to a bit of perfectionism, or maybe Angela was, in the language of learning styles, more of a verbal or logical learner. Or perhaps it was related to financial pressure. When I asked about her schedule, I found she was among a number of students who were trying to complete their degrees in less than four years, a group that had increased sharply since the economic crisis of 2008. This would often give them semesters with eighteen or more credits (twelve to fifteen credits a semester is considered full-time). Since they needed to maintain a higher grade point average (GPA) to be allowed to take more than a full-time load, they tended to be very focused on grades. Many of these students were, like Angela, working at least half-time in addition to their course loads. As I began to talk over some of these concerns with a network of art teachers from across the nation, it was clear that variations of my conversation with Angela were being played out constantly, and represented dramatic changes in how students were approaching their education and the development of a visual arts practice. It seemed that as art educators the ground had shifted underneath us in significant ways, and we had not fully caught up to the new realities of who our students were, and how their environment was impacting their ability to develop a healthy practice. These changes seem to come from three principal forces. The first, which has been hinted at, is that the high cost of college has eroded the time that students have available for making art. Escalating costs mean that, relative to a decade or two earlier, more students are taking the maximum number of classes allowed, working extra hours to pay for school, and reducing the number of classes taken simply to expand their knowledge in an area of interest. Students are also far more likely to focus their academic goals toward what they perceive are more immediately bankable skills, in order to pay back student loans. This, of course, does not include the impact on students who simply can’t afford to go to college at all. The second force affecting Angela and her colleagues is the ascendency of digital platforms and media. These students are “digital natives,” a phrase that refers to those born after the ascendency of the Internet, and who have never been without digital technology and its influences. This is often a descriptor used as a shorthand way of talking about a demographic that is perceived as

A Shifting Landscape  3

being digitally preoccupied, removed from the physical world, and obsessed with social media: a characterization that is unhelpfully reductive and more than a little judgmental. It is important to acknowledge digital media’s widespread impact on a group that has lived intimately with these technologies throughout their lives, however, and interacted with them at important developmental stages. There is a sense that digital platforms have not only rewritten the way in which we live, work, and communicate with each other, but have also rewritten many social codes and contracts. The degree to which we now have immediate access to virtually unlimited content on the web has created a radically different relationship to images than in the past. The philosophy inherent in the Internet, which is to make content available to anyone at any time, has defined it as the default resource for any problem; artistic ones included. The hard reality now is that many developing artists begin projects by searching the web for potential solutions. Online searching in this way, which often falls somewhere between researching, crowdsourcing, and shopping, raises challenging questions such as: When is one ethically and legally allowed to use ideas or imagery from other artists? At what point does inspiration become appropriation? or What makes something “mine”? Evaluating the advantages and ethics of such Internet research is complicated by the fact that artists routinely borrow from each other in ways that are mutually agreed upon and beneficial. A musical example can be found in hip-hop, which is built upon a spectrum of interactions that range from sampling of riffs and melodies from previously published tracks, to reinterpretations of songs between equally collaborating performers. While not all of these interactions happen face to face, performers play off each other in a way that showcases the other’s work, developing layers of musical richness and connection between them.1 The visual artist who is looking to find solutions online is typically not looking to collaborate with others or establish recognizable connections to his or her work. More often, these found solutions will be reworked in some way in order to obscure the source. This concealment is telling; it indicates that the work is being appropriated in some way. This appropriation can take many forms, such as lifting part of an artwork to create a website header, or putting a song underneath a video track. While a student may get away with this within the boundaries of a class assignment, it is a clear ethical and legal problem when stolen work is used in professional situations. It is easy to forget that most artworks on the web are under some form of copyright, because the way we encounter them suggests otherwise. It is far more prudent to assume that any image found on the web may not be used because of copyright restrictions than to assume is it available for use.2 Even if an artwork is not protected by copyright, there are ethical considerations in passing off another’s work as our own.

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More often, artists searching the web are not looking to lift images and ideas directly, but shopping for ideas to get started much in the same way that divergent thinking in problem-solving offers up a multitude of potential directions from which the artist can choose. This is less problematic both legally and ethically, as these ideas can be translated into new directions. Visual ideas can be very polymorphic, with the ability to be reinterpreted in countless ways. Many artists were deeply influenced by Jackson Pollock’s rhythmically energized non-hierarchical compositions in the 1950s, which were revolutionary concepts within the Western canon at that time. The better artists allowed his paradigm-changing paintings to transform how they thought about relationship to the canvas, the nature of space within the paintings, and the freedoms afforded the artist within abstract expressionism. Others just tried to copy the way he threw paint. However, web searching for inspiration instead of solutions habituates us into thinking about art and artistic practice in unhelpful ways. The flattening of content that is the result of Internet word and image searches reduces complex visual ideas to the lowest common denominators, defined by keywords that often have little to do with what is really going on. Artworks and careers that take decades to develop are compressed into brief experiences that sit cheek by jowl with works from entirely different cultural and geographical contexts, the result of frequently obscure connections to the initial descriptors. Important movements become reduced to competing “styles” rather than different visual strategies for understanding and relating to the world with roots in social and historical contexts. Most often we are told what we are experiencing in an image, either by text or context, so the narrative content becomes far more important than its visual characteristics, prioritizing quickly recognizable imagery over visual texture and richness. Continually shopping for solutions, rather than developing one’s art within a holistic practice leaves the artist with no critical mass of knowledge and ideas. Artists working in this way are constantly drifting from one idea to the next with few connecting threads between individual works. The locus for decisions is located outside of themselves, and they are forever asking “What does this teacher/client/curator want and how can I deliver it?” instead of approaching each new opportunity with an attitude of “How can I interpret or reinvent my artistic interests to bring something new to this opportunity?” Such disembodied and externally located motivations are exhausting over the long term, and can lead to a sense of burnout and cynicism about artistic work. Perhaps the most influential force impacting Angela and her peers is the culture of assessment that developed in the current K-12 educational system in the U.S. after the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. For some time I had been noticing a shift in the way students respond to open-ended creative challenges, particularly those that involved ambiguity or the potential for multiple outcomes. I had also noticed their growing skepticism about the

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value of speculative projects and research and the possibility of discovering solutions through physical labor: activities that artists have always invested in. Much of this can be traced directly back to pedagogy implemented as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requirements that focus on specific, singular, defined outcomes that can be more objectively assessed. This way of educating hits the arts particularly hard. When a student in a math class does not understand quadratic equations, for example, he or she is more likely to frame that failure of understanding as a personal challenge with the content. The same student wrestling with the ambiguity that comes in projects that have the possibility for multiple outcomes (such as what one finds in an art class), is more likely to perceive their struggle as a deficiency with the course, the instructor, or themselves. He or she is less likely to perceive open-endedness, the need for self-direction, and the possibility of many equally viable options as an inherent part of the content to be mastered, and tends to look at them as unnecessary obstacles getting in the way of learning the content. Such challenges are seen as unproductive problems. Recent studies have started to pull apart the curiously complicated impact of these forms of assessment on learning. It seems that tasks that require the learning of physical skills, or lower-level learning such as memorization or acquiring specific forms of knowledge, are enhanced by the expectation of assessment. However, such evaluation is actually a hindrance in higher-level learning such as analysis of ideas and making new insights. In such situations, participants tend to come to better solutions, and often come to them faster, when there is no expectation of evaluation.3 Clearly there are aspects of both low- and high-level learning within the Linear Space and Form Project. None of Angela’s questions were about the low-order requirements of mastering wood handling skills, or having a sense of implied motion. She was very familiar with this way of working, and could interpret and resolve those aspects easily. Her questions were focused on requirements that represented higher orders of thinking that would allow her to develop a unique and successful solution from among many potential directions. After considering her educational background, this apprehension seemed a pretty normal response. Given her limited experience with such open-ended requirements, why would she act differently? Nowhere is the impact of these educational changes more sharply felt than in how Angela and her colleagues deal with failure. Almost certainly she would fail a few times while she wrestled with some of the ambiguity in these requirements, and she knew it. In a K-12 educational climate where failure most often leads to lower grades and is seldom seen as a productive force leading to new directions, insight or ideas, there is little value in risking it. Students experiencing this through years of education have deeply negative associations with failure, to a degree that they may not fully appreciate as they begin to develop an art practice. Failure is simply the enemy.

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A New Approach After identifying these forces, helping students respond to them seemed to require more than an occasional conversation within the classroom. It is clear that these problems represent deeply seated behaviors and reactions that have been developed in response to years of social, parental, and academic forces that were not likely to be dispelled by a lecture or two. I felt a more long-term interventionist approach was needed, so with little more than a title and an inkling of an idea, I proposed a Creative Practices class to address these new challenges: a course offering that my faculty colleagues graciously accepted. All of the conclusions in this book have been road-tested in Creative Practices. A full description of the class is outlined in Chapter 7. While a continual work in progress, the overarching goals are to provide the resources and structure to dramatically reorient a student’s relationship to his or her own work, shifting it away from an academic mindset of completing assignments, and toward a self-directed way of making. In the class we talk a lot about how the culture of assessment shapes the student’s relationship to learning and the development of an arts practice in both positive and negative ways. We work to establish a new relationship to studio time, and to develop an authentic body of personal ideas and processes that support a long-term practice. In retrospect, it was a class I had been preparing to teach for a long time. Hired into a failing art department at a small college more than twenty years earlier, my first teaching assignment required me to rework curricula that defined painting projects, right down to the type of brushes students were required to use on each part of their gridded photo-based self-portraits. This could not have contrasted more with my own studio education, which was often characterized by the sole instruction on the first day of class to “just work.” Such freedom in developing visual ideas felt natural to me, the son of a builder/inventor, whose youthful home was always stuffed to the eaves with projects that members of my family were working on. The first weeks of teaching drawing, design, and sculpture in my new teaching assignment were marked by constant friction and frustration for both my students and myself. It was apparent that my central challenge as an educator was to bridge the gap between these two approaches, teaching students to construct methods and practices for making that I had never fully articulated for myself. It was a challenge that continued through all of the eight different studio classes I taught each year. These early experiences were a gift. Forced to experiment with teaching methods and ideas to see what really worked, I was able to quickly develop teaching expertise that otherwise would have taken far longer. Teaching multiple media simultaneously also allowed me to see commonalities between content areas that are much less apparent when one is focused on a specific media. By the time I left the school six years later, the combined efforts of the three faculty members had improved the department so much that students were getting into highly rated Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

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graduate programs. More importantly, however, students were making strong authentic work. The subsequent years teaching in the art department at Bethel University in Minneapolis have allowed me to observe first-hand the changes in K-12 education as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the impact of digital platforms and media over the last two decades, and increasing college costs in the U.S. This continuous history in higher ed allowed me to see the nature and scope of the problems facing developing artists, but in light of these new challenges, the solutions seemed less obvious. I felt a strong need to build upon primary research that was as free as possible from prejudices and preconceived notions. Towards that end, I began researching and interviewing successful artists that had at least a continuous decade of successful commercial, critical, or social engagement behind them. I also chose artists I did not previously know, in order to gain a fresh perspective on the subject; a decision I believe helped sharpen the conclusions in this book. The majority of these interviews took place by phone, though I was fortunate to conduct some in person. Diversity of artistic approaches, geographic locations, ethnic backgrounds, and cultural viewpoints was a key goal in selecting these artists. Happily, this was easily achieved. Outstanding candidates abound, and the study is much richer for the involvement of these varied perspectives. Of the more than 75 artists interviewed, the great majority are outside the U.S. cultural centers of New York and Los Angeles, as indeed are most American artists. About a fifth of the subjects are internationally based, with artists from Asia, South America, Europe, and elsewhere. In addition, I tended to gravitate towards artists whose motivations seem to lie, in some significant part, outside the financial realm and within a different type of cultural interaction. I am enormously appreciative of all the participants who invested significant amounts of time in the project, particularly those who reached across cultural and language barriers in order to provide rich and nuanced answers to my questions. Each one was a personally rewarding experience, and the process affirmed my belief that the often mysterious calculus of artistic practice is far more similar than different across time, culture, and geography than it is divided by those differences. The focus on interviewing only visual artists was an intentional one, believing that it would tighten the conclusions considerably, and eliminate the blurring of distinctions between artistic practice, creativity, problem-solving, and other forms of creative enterprise that often occurs in broader studies. The decision to focus on mid-career artists with at least a decade of independent making stemmed from the belief that it was important to allow the influences of mentors and formal training to shake themselves out of their practices, expecting that those adopted motivations would wane and that the artist would develop his or her own self-sustaining methods. Focusing on this demographic also had the benefit of talking to those who had wrestled with issues of career, money, and family obligations. Negotiating through these real-world tensions

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seemed to further strip away layers of assumption and pretense, leaving what was most essential. In this way, the study leverages the accumulated experience and wisdom of these artists, constructed through trial and error over years in the studio. It is a heuristic approach that likely reveals my Midwestern roots; one weighted more toward practice than theory, believing both in the scalability and universality of such wisdom. This book is not about how to financially or professionally succeed as an artist. Many good books already exist on the subject. The term “successful” as I defined it in selecting my interview subjects was inclusive of commercial, critical, and social achievement. Though most of the participants are financially successful, all are regularly putting work into and getting feedback from some form of community in exchanges that were not exclusively financial in nature. Instead, this book focuses on how to be a better artist by developing a strong artistic practice. As such, it represents an optimistic (though hopefully not idealistic) point of view, that an artist developing themselves to their fullest potential will find a way to make a living. I do not put blind faith in the wellknown axiom “Do what you love and the money will follow.” It does seem however, that those who have developed the skill set needed to develop and maintain a successful long-term practice can often effectively turn those same skills toward developing ways of getting paid. I would be dismayed if the contents of this book became criteria for assessing the quality or character of any specific artist; the reader included. Certainly there is no one who would perfectly fit a platonic ideal defined by this research. Some of the artists I interviewed completely neglected activities that the great majority of their colleagues routinely employ, and no one seems to do all of them all of the time. Seen in their totality, however, artists’ methods are far more alike than not. The conclusions within this book are best understood as a way of thinking holistically about an interior and exterior environment the artist constructs for him or herself, based on an interacting suite of behaviors. It is a methodology that focuses more on soil than seed, believing that the commonalities of process between those who paint en plein air, or construct semantic theory-based installations, or work in functional ceramics, are far greater than their differences. Every artist has to contend with ideas through research and prep work, get to a studio, wrestle with materials, get the art in front of an audience, and deal with the response from that audience. Then do it again the following week. There is no formula for this process, but there are logics of intuition that can be learned, and best practices that can be gathered from other artists in such a study. The decision to not include reproductions of artist’s work may seem curious for a book on visual art, but was an intentional one made after discussions with colleagues. One of the central themes of this book is that recent changes in the education and environment of developing artists have created a tendency to work toward predetermined goals instead of developing work within a studio practice defined by embodied research, physical experimentation, and

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developed personal directions. The danger in including artworks as examples was the potential for the artwork itself, rather than the supporting activities it is intended to illustrate, to become another form of predetermined model or objective. The reader is encouraged to view the artist’s works by following the links at, or visiting the artists’ websites directly. Seeing the artwork within the larger body of work, along with written and critical statements, provides a fuller context that helps one to see a more complete picture of where the work emerged from, and why. It must be said at the outset that there is, of course, a limit to conversations about artistic practice.4 As one approaches the innermost processes and motivations, to dissect the artistic process further is simply to kill it. Artists make physical objects because the focus of their interest is, at fundamental levels, contained within the process of making itself. Part of that process is the pleasure of working with and mastering materials and forms, and the discovery of visual ideas that the artist has never seen. Attempting to compress these processes and motivations into the framework of language risks damaging them. Artistic practice is filled with ontologies of cause and effect, where the maker and the thing being made influence each other so profoundly that teasing them apart jeopardizes both. I am quite content to leave mysteries at the heart of the process intact, and to focus attention on the activities and properties that surround and support it, offering resources to those who invest in the timeless challenge of turning space and matter into objects and moments that challenge us, connect us to each other, and expand the ways in which we engage the world. After some initial bumps, Angela did very well on the Linear Space and Form Project, working through her own way of thinking about “interesting.” Her project was long and lean, a flurry of thin wood strips that sprawled over the top of her studio workbench, crawled across the floor, and up a chair. Easily the largest in the class, it was a fresh vision as well, emerging late one evening when she had the studio to herself. “I started experimenting, and once I had an idea it just kind of took over the studio” she said. She is now a successful graphic designer, applying those same skills to a range of projects her clients put before her. It is students like Angela, who challenge and ask difficult questions, who keep the process of teaching continually fascinating. They also seem to be the ones who make the most of their education. Hopefully this book will provide the means to help them go further.

Notes 1 Byrne, David (2012). How Music Works. San Francisco: McSweeny’s Publishing. Byrne’s chapter on collaboration offers an insider’s view of several forms of collaborative musical interaction. The chapter “Making a Scene” is an insightful analysis of how the musical programming, interaction, and architecture of New York club CBGB in the 1970s–1980s facilitated such a productive scene in the early punk movement.

10  A Shifting Landscape 2 Use of artwork is only allowed by the permission of the artist, or when the work becomes part of the public domain when its copyright expires. For artworks created after 1978, copyright lasts from the moment of the artwork’s creation until 70 years after the death of the artist. Further copyright information can be found at: www. 3 Daniel Pink develops this idea more fully in his TED talk The Puzzle of Motivation. 4 For an expanded look at this topic, see Elkins, James (2001). Why Art Cannot Be Taught. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Chapter 2

The Problem with Creativity

The word creativity suffers from a range of unhelpfully broad meanings. In popular culture it has come to mean an unwieldy mixture of ideas that include inventive pursuits, aspirational feelings, and problem-solving methods. Within the university setting, each field tends to understand creativity within their own paradigms of language and assessment and for their own objectives. Psychological and sociological studies tend to frame creativity within a set of cause-and-effect relationships, while the business world places a heavy emphasis on productive solutions and applications. Outside academia, creativity is cited as a force for positive change in virtually any situation, and is the subject of many books and websites that focus on personal growth and wellness. Few other words evoke such a range of interwoven associations that are simultaneously desirable and maddeningly vague. The problem for the artist is that creativity, as the word is used in most of these contexts, is simply not the way that most art gets made. It will be helpful moving forward to sort some of the ways this term is used, and which are relevant in the development of an artistic practice.

Problem-Solving The process of studying creativity in a formal way dates to the beginning of the 20th century, with the goal of understanding and defining the process so that it could be leveraged for business and industrial applications. A test designed by Karl Duncker illustrates a typical method. In his scenario, a person is given a box of tacks, a candle, and a book of matches, and asked to affix the lighted candle to the wall so that the candle wax will not drip onto the table below. Finding a solution usually requires trying multiple options by physically experimenting with the materials, and considering unconventional ways of using them. The most common solution, which requires a very literal “out of the box” way of thinking, can be found in the endnotes. Creativity in such studies is most often defined as a way of generating new and useful solutions to specific problems.

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Identify a problem Research the problem A period of divergent thinking in which solutions are generated A period of reflection in which possibilities are sorted Convergence upon a solution

Figure 2.1  Traditional creative problem-solving process

Out of such exercises emerged a model that could be applied in a variety of situations. This model has remained remarkably consistent since its earliest description,1 and most often looks something like Figure 2.1. Contemporary models tend to focus on the period of divergent thinking (step 3), seeing the generation of ideas as the most important stage of the overall process. A key part of this step is to refrain from self-editing out of concerns that an idea may be impractical, unoriginal, or stupid. The more one free associates and makes connections to other ideas, borrows (or steals) from other fields, and challenges the assumptions about the original problem, the better. A divergent-thinking session by an individual or group will often generate dozens, or even hundreds of potential directions to explore. The act of generating these options and allowing them to interact with each other exponentially increases both the number and quality of potential solutions. Sometimes immediately usable results will emerge directly from this process, but more often this process works by triggering new ways of thinking, ideas that were not apparent at the outset, and possibilities that can be built upon and further developed. Such a process can be very effective in destroying established patterns of thought and creating channels of opportunity through radical openness to suggestion, suppression of judgment and ego, and the challenging of a problem’s assumptions and boundaries. The energy generated by this method can also be highly infectious, carrying participants along in generating and executing ideas they might not usually consider. It is most useful when confronting problems with specific parameters, such as design, production, or engineering situations, where there are more established and measurable goals. Because of the applicable nature of this problem-solving approach, many books and online resources on creativity are really focused on variations of this strategy. Studies on creativity in sociology and psychology tend towards problemsolving ways of thinking, as such situations produce measurable data that

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can be objectively assessed. As a result, a great deal of published information on creativity is really talking about a narrow range of activity within a much greater sphere of responsive, transformative, and expressive ways of thinking and making2. This pervasive problem-solving mentality can create difficulties for the developing artist, who will often approach their practice in a similar way, perhaps without even realizing it. Goals such as wanting to please constituent groups, or looking for critical or commercial success are not inherently flawed within themselves, but seeing the artwork principally as a solution to a perceived problem defines it to a great degree before anything is ever made. What is more, the nature of the problem-solving process tends to be stubbornly fixed in a way of thinking that is more informed by language and metaphor than by visual exploration and metonym. As a result, problem-solving methods are too constricting for a process that most often relies on visual discovery and research. An artistic practice generates works and ideas organically through an interactive and sustained process, while problem-solving, by definition, works towards developing concrete and defined solutions. These two approaches are very different, and as a result, significant difficulties result when one regards an artistic practice in such a way. This is true even for the more applied fields such as functional crafts and architecture/design, where opportunities frequently come to the artist with specific objectives. Even within these concentrations, the work is not just a way of solving problems, but gains far greater potency and meaning when it emerges from a sustained artistic practice that is more open-ended. Developing artists can also, consciously or unconsciously, look to business sectors as models for their practice. Such a mentality brings with it a number of assumptions about how and where an artist needs to invest their time and financial resources in order to receive the greatest return. An art-making practice, particularly for younger artists, rarely responds well to such pressures. While inefficiency is not an essential element of a healthy practice (contrary to some stereotypical views), an artistic practice does require behaviors that look a lot like inefficiency from the outside—explorative investigations, time to deeply consider ideas, forms of research, and embracing productive complications. The artist who approaches his or her work with an emphasis on efficiency can be dismissive of such necessary investments. The tendency to think about one’s practice chiefly as a form of simple problem-solving is further influenced by the way art is most often experienced by students at the K-12 level. After the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, educational goals shifted towards content that was more tightly packaged and focused in a way that allowed the work to be more objectively evaluated. In short, it moved further toward a problem-solving way of thinking. Art in these environments is typically taught in classes that define it within educational blocks that have specified learning objectives. Krista Anderson,

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a university art student, described a typical assignment from her third grade art class in which students were instructed to reproduce the sunflowers in a Van Gogh painting, and evaluated on their ability to do so. The exercise included art history, materials, and techniques that were likely shaped in response to mandated educational requirements that could be objectively assessed. What seemed to be missing was any opportunity for the young artist to take the image apart, or add things to it, or invent a new palette for the project, or simply paint her own flowers (and most likely fail a few times along the way). This packaging of a learning block is not inherently detrimental to the teaching of art, and in fact can be very useful for the teaching of specific technical and cognitive skills. But as Krista explained, “That project was pretty typical of all my art education.” A steady stream of similar experiences reinforces problem-solving as the principal method by which one approaches his or her studio work: baggage that the artist has to contend with as they began to work independently. The solutions generated for such educational requirements also tend to separate one’s work into a series of distinct and disconnected episodes, further challenging continuity between classes or the opportunity for the artist to develop a critical mass of ideas within their own production. The increased structure of the classroom also limits the potential for the kind of individualized teacher/student interactions that can counteract some of these forces. Even for artists who understand this influence, what has been internalized in the course of twelve years of education is not easily discarded simply because one is aware of it. Such habits run deep. Art students in K-12 education after 2001 have been taught that meeting externally defined goals, rather than developing a sustained and self-directed process, is most important. Not only have students learned how to work within this system, they have also learned how to “game” it, focusing tightly on those sets of activities that bring the most reward for the least amount of work; an effect that standardized assessment allows to a greater degree. A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) grad student stated it this way: There’s a real strategy for working within this system. It’s easy to learn what needs to be done to get the desired grade. Subsequently, when those grades are praised, our strategic, lazy behaviors are reinforced, working against any existing drive towards creative thinking. In short, students have not merely learned a behavior; they have internalized a set of values about making that are very limiting, and even damaging to the construction of an artistic practice.

The Real Art In contrast to such a problem-solving mentality, an artistic practice generates works and ideas organically through an interactive and sustained process. Where the focus of problem-solving is on specific and conclusive solutions,

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the focus of an artistic practice is larger and more expansive, and includes far more speculative work and research not immediately applied to the making of the project at hand. Creating and maintaining a practice is, to a large degree, about establishing a new way of thinking and working, and then feeding that process. Days and weeks are spent investigating visual ideas, experimenting with materials and reading about their subject. Time is spent dwelling with the work and ideas in the studio in order to understand it in very deep ways. It is not unusual to hear artists describe this process as their “real” art, and the production of the physical art object/experience as a by-product. Many artists see their practice not as a process designed to produce art, but as a way of engaging the world and exploring visual ideas out of which artwork often emerges. The artwork is a result of their practice, but it is not necessarily always the goal. For a student trying to complete a college degree, who is likely working outside school and taking a heavy load of classes, the idea of investing money and labor in developing such speculative ventures may seem not only inefficient but unrealistic. The increased costs of higher education over the last two decades have increased time and financial pressures that have the potential for real and significant negative impact on his or her education. As a result of these costs, students now take a higher number of credits in a semester and fewer classes that are not required for their degree. While social and electronic media often gets the larger share of blame for consuming one’s spare time, the requirements of the increased homework of a large number of simultaneous classes and increased work hours to meet higher tuition payments likely have far more impact. Successful student artists respond to these pressures while still in school. It takes a leap of faith to invest time and money in classes, experiments, and other pursuits that enrich one’s practice, but it is an essential one to make. These investments may be as significant as adding an additional major or minor in areas that would reinforce and enrich one’s main area of focus, or as simple as joining extracurricular activity or study groups, or structuring time differently. The goal is to move away from approaching one’s education as a series of disconnected classes to be passed, assignments to be solved, and teachers to be pleased, and to begin to work toward establishing a larger, self-sustaining way of engaging visual ideas. It is a far better strategy to think about one’s work holistically, and begin intentionally developing these habits and practices that will sustain one over time. The complicating feature about a problem-solving approach is that it is quite possible to make salable art, design workable buildings, and generate graphic design campaigns working exclusively from such a methodology. Indeed there are galleries, clients, and employers who prefer this type of artist/ designer who would suggest that the world has little interest in an artist’s individual practice, and would counsel them to be done with such thinking that is seen as irrelevant or even elitist. The developing artist, with an eye on student

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loans payments to be made in the near future, may believe him or herself to be far more marketable if they adopt such a perspective. What is often not appreciated is that many galleries, clients, and employers are looking for artists who come to their tasks with a reservoir of potential ideas, interests and problem-solving strategies that are the product of a strong practice. It is common for an arts project prospectus to offer few guidelines for a potential commission other than a budget and a floor plan, or to hear a client ask, “Could you come up with some ideas for this layout?” These open-ended requests frustrate artists who need to work within a problem-solving paradigm. This dynamic is true for the more applied fields such as crafts and architecture/ design as well, where opportunities frequently come to the artist with specific objectives. Even within these concentrations, the work gains far greater potency and meaning when it emerges from a sustained artistic practice. In the long run, the artist who plies their trade through a problem-solving lens may find themselves not more marketable, but less so. Work that is made without a foundational practice often rings hollow, unsatisfying and inauthentic to both maker and viewer. An essential part of being an artist/designer is bringing your own process, physical sensibilities, and ways of thinking to the work. In doing so, the artist offers qualities that are far more valuable, though perhaps less tangible, than simply solving a problem. The houses of Frank Lloyd Wright are transformative experiences not because he solved the functional problem of designing a warm and dry place to live, but because his houses embody a set of ideas about materials and construction that shape how we think about living within a physical landscape. To dismiss the need for a personal investment in one’s work that would allow this kind of transformative experience is to abandon what is genuinely valuable in exchange for what is merely useful. Artwork requires an authentic connection to the maker; the kind of connection that allowed Wright to deeply invest in his designs. Such investments are those most frequently left out in a problemsolving way of making.

Modes of Creativity Research over the last half-century has expanded our understanding of creativity beyond this problem-solving model to one that looks at the process more holistically. These contemporary models are more likely to view the individual as a creative being, and recognize the ability of creative activities to transform one’s self, culture, and environment. Out of this new landscape comes recognition that creativity is not a distinct talent, but an inherent part of all human thinking. Most theories suggest that creativity does not exist as a series of distinct abilities, such as a capability to draw representationally, but emerges in different ways depending on an individual’s motivations, the specific circumstances within which they are working, and their cognitive abilities and experience.

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Within the field of art, creativity emerges in many ways: ••

•• ••





Within existing craft traditions: Expressive skill in working with materials that depends upon higher levels of expertise and experience, frequently in response to established traditions. Functional ceramics or furniture making are typical examples, as well as theatrical and musical performances that follow existing scripts or scores. In real time: Original performance within time constraints, such as jazz, improvisational theater, and extemporaneous dance. Often the performance represents only a fraction of the overall time invested in study and practice. As a cathartic response to one’s circumstances: The impulse to make art in order to express intense emotional states such as sorrow and rage. The seminal NWA album Straight Outta Compton, while musically rich and innovative, is also a powerful articulation of personal frustration and social injustice. In making novel connections:3 Combining things in ways that become greater than the sum of their parts. A flurry of this type of creativity was seen in the infancy of the digital age as activities such as shopping at the mall, socializing with friends, selling your old junk, and going to the movies were combined with new digital technologies, resulting in Amazon, Facebook, eBay, and Netflix. Similar changes occurred in the visual arts as expanded possibilities for connecting with audiences created online opportunities that are far more relationally focused and cross-cultural. Within curatorial decisions and critical responses to the work: Criticism and curating that illuminates fresh ideas about a work, rather than simply evaluating it against existing criteria. This can be seen in the re-framing of the work of non-Western Artists, indigenous groups, folk artists, those with cognitive disabilities, and other marginalized and oppressed peoples over the last century, to help others see and value it on its own terms. Within collaborative communities: More than just group work, it is a communal form of making in which the process of developing and executing are collectively owned. The Swiss duo Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann are two artists who have worked collaboratively since 1990, completing large environmental installations that sprawl over buildings and take over urban streets. In interviews, they cite the complimentary nature of their respective interests and abilities as the generator of productive interaction that is different from what each of them might produce individually. As a subversive force: Calculated challenges to existing systems that lead to greater insight or social change. In his work Remembering, Ai Wei Wei created an installation with 9000 children’s backpacks as a way to call attention to the thousands of children killed in the 2008 earthquake in the southwest region of China as a result of substandard construction. This, and other related works by the artist, were undertaken in part to bring about social change.

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This accounting is certainly not exhaustive, and the modes listed do not represent truly congruent categories. For example, it can be argued that while some areas of art focus intently upon craft traditions, all art responds to these traditions in some way, either by embracing or rejecting aspects of them. Curatorial and collaborative modes, by contrast, generally occur within a much smaller number of specialized circumstances. It might even be a disservice to list these various modes in this way, suggesting divisions and separations in a process that is better understood as a holistic entity. These methods of creative activity are also not mutually exclusive. One can easily participate in two or more simultaneously. In fact, the biggest difference between how creativity works for the artist and how it works in most other fields is not that artists use special and distinct forms of creativity. One can find examples of all these in many other fields. But artists use more of these modes simultaneously and in combination with each other far more than other vocations typically do. In a single canvas a painter can be making novel connections between multiple painting traditions as a way of contending with strong emotions, and executing parts of the work with moments of great spontaneity. The greatest value of such an accounting likely lies in the way in which we understand the pervasiveness of creativity within all human activity. It is a safe bet that most artists have participated in most of these forms at some point, intuitively engaging them as needed. They are strategies that are used as situations require; to a very large degree they are ways of thinking that are enhanced through experience and education. We often focus on the more spectacular examples of creativity, such as the design vision of Steve Jobs, or the theatrical staging of Julie Taymor’s The Lion King, as examples. And this is creativity working on a very high level. Such illustrations are clarifying (as well as motivating) and help us understand the distinctive differences between them. But it is important to remember that all forms are far more alike than different, wherever they occur. Creativity is a natural way of human thinking. It is a pervasive, insistent, and ever-present characteristic of whatever we undertake. It is manifest all around us, in every direction and field, in everything that people do. We invent, we problem-solve and generate. We transform our lives in actions that cannot be predicted by our circumstances. We organize objects and talk about them in ways that shape our communities and impact our world. We make objects and experiences that speak back to us, changing who we are. New forms of objects, experiences, and meanings are constantly being generated. One is hard pressed to imagine a field without such transformative actions. While there are occupations within modern society that do not require (or even allow) creative engagement, those instances do not diminish the fact that given an opportunity, creative transformation could flourish there. Rather than seeing creativity as limited to the specific activities listed above, they should be thought of as the modes in which creativity is often made visible. It is simply everywhere.4

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The priority in a visual-arts practice should be to develop an environment within which these forms of creativity are allowed to flourish and support the making of art. Ideas with strong potential are actually very common. Most artists’ sketchbooks are filled with dozens of them. It is the environment within which these ideas are placed that determines whether they develop into successful works or not. The artist’s job is not to search for the seed of the next great idea, but to cultivate the soil out of which new works emerge. Crafting such an environment requires supporting one’s practice with defined spaces of time, feeding one’s self with ideas, working a physical process, and a commitment towards open-ended results. Given this environment, creativity shows up.

Talents vs. Intelligences Talent is a word almost never used by professional artists. It is a way of thinking about one’s abilities that minimizes the importance of hard work, the impact of education, and the ability of an individual to transform him or herself. Dilettantes and lazy critics tend to believe in the value of innate talent far more than anyone who has worked a practice for any length of time. As one artist stated, in a phrase that seemed representative of most on this subject, “I don’t really believe in talent, I just work my ass off.” The term talent is also not used in psychology, replaced by the idea of intelligences: a way of thinking about innate abilities that is more nuanced, recognizing the complexity and range of human experience and the self-determining nature of individuals. It is clear that everyone is born with unique combinations of potentials and ways of thinking in which the individual reasons and interacts with the world. These modes of intelligences are typically sorted into: linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, spatial, kinesthetic (the ability to use physical skills), interpersonal (understanding others), intrapersonal (understanding oneself), naturalistic (concerned with observing, understanding and organizing patterns in the natural environment), and existential/religious potentials.5 The traditional view of talent suggests a fully developed potential or skill that one is born with that merely has to be picked up and used, while intelligences are a person’s unique set of capabilities that have the potential to be developed. We all possess all of these intelligences to some degree. That we possess some in larger measure is not a road map of our destiny. They are simply potentials. Intelligences are also not defined by one’s interests. Much to the frustration of every teacher at some point in his or her career, students who have strong potentials do not necessarily have the accompanying desire to develop them. It is interesting to consider for a moment the way in which these ways of thinking have been historically valued and applied. With traditions stretching back to Greek and Roman eras, Western art has tended to emphasize ideas that reinforce a representational perspective, such as mathematical/logical, spatial, and naturalistic ways of thinking. Other aptitudes have certainly been valued and used in different contexts, but the focus within visual art has been largely

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centered on these qualities. Depictions of landscape, for example, have been composed within mathematically based one-, two-, and three-point perspective systems that are systematically outlined on the picture plane (logical/mathematical ways of thinking). Architecture, objects, and figures are then placed in relation to each other within this system relative to symbolic meanings (spatial and religious), with the entire scene crafted with an eye towards capturing their physical likeness (naturalistic). This is unlike many other cultures. Australian Aboriginal artwork tends to view depictions of landscape in relation to the tradition of the Songline, a lyrical description of the features of the land that is sung as a way of recording the terrain’s physical characteristics. First perceptions of the highly patterned and abstracted compositions appear almost entirely non-objective, seemingly the result of a freeform investigation of repetitions and shapes. Further investigation reveals them to be highly coded and symbolic in nature, capturing both personal and cultural stories, and often speaking into the relationship between the distant past and the lived present. Depictions of landscape in this tradition have kinesthetic, musical, and intrapersonal meanings that are far more fluid, standing in sharp contrast to those of the West. In another approach, Japanese landscape painting depicts representations of landscape with an emphasis on naturalistic rather than mathematical space. The rendering of the space is based on observational perspective, a way of organizing space that removes the rigid mathematical grid and relies on a seen, but systematic, way of looking at the creation of three-dimensional space. In addition, the picture plane also functions as a space for calligraphic text, for writing that stands in relation to the drawn imagery. This creates a dynamic between them that offers yet another way of thinking about landscape—one that sees the individual in relation to the landscape as an integral part of it, as opposed to a Western perspective that removes the viewer from the scene. Some of the most valuable gifts that the modern and post-modern eras have offered to both artist and viewer are the expanded ways of thinking that are valued within a visual-arts context. Students at the Royal Academies of Art in France and England one hundred and fifty years ago spent most of their time studying a very narrow range of ideas and forms of representation based on classical Greek and Roman imagery and symbolism. Learning from the works of ancient and Renaissance masters through drawing was a large part of their education. Most had little regard for the work of the Impressionists, who were not part of the Academy system. Attuned to working within a specific set of intelligences, the academics become unable or unwilling to find artistic value outside of their clearly defined realm, seeing the Impressionists as coarse, undisciplined and focused on common subject matter. The work of the Impressionists has certainly been validated over time; a vital addition to the field of contemporary art. This pattern of upheaval and reorientation to new ways of thinking has been repeated endlessly, and continues to play out in studios today. For all

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of the occasionally frustrating complexities, ambiguities, and contradictions of contemporary art, this inclusiveness has offered greater agency to ways of thinking that were previously disregarded. Such inclusiveness has allowed marginalized social groups that were formerly unheard to have a far greater participation in contemporary conversations, and to have their work valued on its own terms. This inclusiveness has offered us increased insight into the range of human experience, and we are far richer for it.

Another Problem with Creativity Published information on creativity is a mixed lot of helpful, unhelpful, and occasionally distracting ideas. The best of these resources contain insight and wisdom that can be reminders of key ideas. Others can be wildly romantic, dismissive of the need for workaday habits and swooning over exaggerated accounts of talent and success. Biographical accounts of successful artists are probably better at conveying a more accurate sense of what it means to be an artist, with a less romanticized look at the process that puts it into a larger framework that includes the artist’s overall ideas, research, and past work. Examples from successful practices are powerful, and it is not unusual to hear artists quote from such stories that had clearly impacted their work and lives. Crafting a vision of one’s future is an integral part of any career, perhaps more so in a profession driven more by individual motivations. Stories we hear from artists about their processes provide both example and kinship with others who have traveled through it. The generous application of energy, openness, and self-confidence that they evoke can provide needed motivation and vision for the artist. In a career that is so frequently solitary, they can offer a form of community, with stories on which to hang one’s ambitions for the day. But within the genre of books, articles, and blogs on creativity and artistic work, stereotypes and unhelpful clichés abound. Much of what is written and talked about would suggest that a healthy artistic practice is, to a significant degree, about feeling creative. Often written with beautiful layouts and photographs, they offer inspiring quotes from art superstars, and a breezy confidence that belies the very real experiences of anxiety and failure that dwell within any practice. Filled with fortune-cookie aphorisms that are malleable to the point of fitting virtually every situation and personality, these “inspirational” texts focus on capturing and repeating those moments of effortlessness in the studio where we find ourselves unable to do anything wrong. This emphasis on how one is feeling at any given moment creates an expectation of emotional validation in the studio that established artists don’t value. Instagram profiles notwithstanding, it simply doesn’t matter for the great majority of the time how “creative” one is feeling in a day-to-day studio experience. These emotions are highly fleeting, and indicate very little of worth. Such an emphasis focuses on the least important and least reliable part of the

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process. Constantly chasing after them is an exhausting exercise and a highly counterproductive one as well. As we shall see in later chapters, successful artists move the emphasis away from asking questions such as “How am I feeling?” to a frame of mind concerned with questions such as “Is this work/idea compelling?”, “What am I finding?”, “Am I curious about doing more of this?”, “How can I feed this idea better?” Many even seem to find a kind of delight in the face of such resistance, seeing an opportunity in this challenge to expand their expertise, their knowledge, and their work.

The Biggest Problem with Creativity Models and examples of creative and artistic processes are retrospective in nature, serving more to decipher and understand past examples than to offer a path through current ones. Often, as soon as a way of making art becomes successful, it ceases to be repeatable. The giant, gaping hole in the midst of every model and example is the experience of living through this reality, with all of its false starts, uncertainty, and routine failure. Artistic practice is always new in ways that we cannot predict, and in ways we often do not appreciate in the moment. No model or example can prepare the maker for what lies beyond what one currently knows to be true, or what has been successful in the past. Realizing that a treasured idea is not working out, and having no solutions, insight, or prospects, does not feel like any kind of process. In these moments, the last way that one might describe such experiences is “creative.” Working within a practice offers moments of intense focus, great clarity and productivity, but it also generates periods of disorientation, unrewarded labor, and discouragement. These experiences are not hindrances to the creation of new work; they are an integral part of the process through which new work is brought into being. This process most often involves some form of destruction or letting go of what one has known to be true. Often this deconstruction and rebuilding of one’s knowledge is a welcome one, as the artist learns new ideas and new ways of working and thinking. Humans have always been explorers in this way, giving up ways of making and thinking for better ones that move past our previous limitations. But these deconstructions are not without loss, and such loss can be intense. For the artist, these experiences may be as significant as giving up directions in which one has invested weeks or months of one’s life, or, in the case of many artists interviewed for this study, moving out of the media in which one has one’s degree. The majority of mid-career artists have worked in at least three different creative fields since completing their education (typically an MFA), and more than a third are not currently working in the same media in which they have their degree. Many of these transitions represent a combination of both enthusiasm and pain, as the artist moves from a field they have loved and studied deeply, into an area that offers promise or challenge. Artists with

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successful practices are not immune to these tensions and emotions; they have simply learned to understand them as important elements of their process. A willingness to intentionally do so is what separates a real and viable artistic practice from one that is defeated by such routine challenges. A clear understanding of what creativity is and what it is not allows the artist to properly see their practice for what it is: a highly self-directed activity that is principally shaped by the intentional actions of the artist who works to create an environment for him or herself out of which artworks emerge. The next chapters will help us to see how such a practice is developed and maintained.

Notes 1 For an overview of pre-1960 models of creativity, see Arieti, Silvano (1976). Creativity: The Magical Synthesis. New York: Basic Books. 2 An analysis of different types of creativity can be seen in Unsworth, Kerrie (2001). “Unpacking Creativity,” The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 26, No. 2. (April). Unsworth makes a distinction between “closed” systems, in which the problem has been formulated before the creator begins the process, and “open” systems, where the creator is actively in searches or invents problems to be solved. Artistic practice clearly falls into the “open” category, with participants involved in qualitatively different activities such as evaluation and scanning that are not present in “closed” systems. 3 See also Stephen Johnson’s chapter on “The Adjacent Possible” in Johnson, Stephen (2010). Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books (an imprint of Random House LLC). 4 James C. Kaufman and Ron Beghetto, have suggested a “big c/little c” model of creativity that can also be helpful in understanding how creativity works in different contexts. Modes of creativity in this model range from “mini c/little c” experiences that are personally transformative and used in everyday problem-solving, to “Pro C,” or “Big C,” creativity that would encompass the modes of creativity listed above. Kaufman, J. C., and Beghetto, R. A. (2009). “Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity,” Review of General Psychology, 13, 1–12. 5 Gardner, Howard (2011). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Chapter 3

Time and Space

In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard suggests that our lived experience within architectural and physical spaces is so pervasive, laden with expressive content and interwoven with our own development that it has become a foundational organizing principle of much of our psyche. Our memories and responses to these spaces are dynamic in the way in which they arouse physical responses and evoke associative meanings. As a result, architectural metaphor forms the structural basis of many artworks. This can be seen in novelist Jorge Luis Borges’s preoccupation with labyrinths and libraries as a way of thinking about the limitations of human understanding; in Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home, in which the Fun(eral) home she grew up in becomes a device through which she explores relationships with family members; and in movies such as The Shining and Inception where the architectural settings literally represent the state of mind of the central characters. Our experiences within architecture and space are very charged and dynamic. A key aspect of this mind/space resonance for Bachelard is that not only do we tend to internalize architectural spaces into the way in which our minds are organized, but being within architectural spaces impacts our thoughts and actions in powerful ways, and as such offers tremendous generative energy for us. Echoing much of the sentiment of Winston Churchill, who once declared, “We shape our buildings, thereafter our buildings shape us,”1 both understood that we are deeply influenced by structures we create for ourselves. This is important to understand, as one of the most creative acts for the artist occurs before he or she ever puts chisel to wood or pencil to paper. It is in making the space within which the artist works. Architectural spaces are purposefully designed and built to be supportive of what happens within them. They have boundaries that separate the interior from the exterior. These boundaries are permeable, allowing entry, but not at all times and in all circumstances. Such spaces are designed in a way that not only shapes and supports what happens in the interior, but also creates the expectation that these activities will occur. Stadiums support baseball, and garden sheds support tulip planting. In a similar way, the spaces needed for an artistic practice are purposefully created and supportive of the specific act of

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making art, with boundaries that separate it from the rest of our lives. These boundaries are permeable, allowing materials, ideas, processes, and people into the interior in a selective way. Such spaces are created with the expectation that art-making will occur within them, and are maintained to keep this happening. A key to understanding how this works in an artistic practice, however, is to realize that such created spaces are not only physical in nature, but also relate to spaces in time, and how we cultivate an interior silence for our practice. The novice thinks of studio time and space as a pragmatic need, necessary so work can be fabricated but without real agency or impact on the work or practice. The experienced artist understands a deeper function: intentionally creating forms of space generates energy and ideas that move the work along. They are deeply supportive of the act of making art. Taking a closer look at the various forms of space will help us better understand how better to support our own practice.

What Is a Studio? At heart, a studio is about separation from the world, though the kind of separation needed by different artists is not always the same. Some artists seem to be capable of working in the midst of great activity, even literally within the marketplace, while others require almost hermetic-like isolation. All of them, however, are seeking forms of intentional distance from the world. There are a few reasons for this. Studios are spaces free from uninvited observation and critique. For experienced artists, projects in their early stages often are best served by silence. These works are highly malleable, easily shaped by both unsolicited encouragements and criticisms that unduly influence the art before it really gets started. Sometimes these ideas are too personal or experimental to be immediately put out into the world. Studios are where these tentative explorations are allowed to germinate, free from unwanted influences, and find their own unique directions. While a smaller percentage of successful artists are very open with studio visits and find them necessary in the development of the work, most share the sentiment of New York artist Lorrie Fredette, who explains: I imprint easily. These kinds of conversations really affect what I am doing. I am pretty selective about who I bring into the studio, and have learned not to do so until later in the process, when it is too late to change direction.2 (Lorrie Fredette, interviewed January 2013) The fact that experienced artists do not ask for frequent feedback in their process should immediately raise some questions for the student artist, who most often faces routine critiques that discuss many aspects of their work in-depth.

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It would be helpful for the student to start a conversation with faculty about this, in order to gain some insight into the rationale for including it to such a prominent degree within academia. Studios are also places free of interruptions, or at least where interruptions can be controlled to a significant degree. While disruptions by colleagues or family members can be a factor, smartphones are, of course, the most common culprit. In a social climate where space for uninterrupted thought is under assault by our pervasive interconnectedness and a stubborn belief in our ability to multitask, rejecting some of our digital habits is essential. An individual working at a task requires up to twenty minutes to return to a fully productive state after they have been interrupted by digital technology.3 Allowing oneself to be interrupted in the studio just a few times an hour by any form of social media, regardless of whether one is on the sending or receiving end, effectively cuts the amount of productive time by half. Simply turning off the phone in the studio can literally double one’s effective time for making. More to the point, however, is that allowing these disruptions is an indication of a set of values. Someone who sees their studio activity as so unfocused and unremarkable that they will allow themselves to be frequently interrupted by minor news events and social media conversations will probably make the corresponding kind of artwork. Those who see their studio practice as a period of focused investigation that requires their best time and attention will create work that reflects those values as well. The underlying question that is posed is, “How good an artist do I really want to be?” Artists who reach levels of excellence in their work have answered this question by eliminating such distractions. A studio is also a space for leaving your work behind. Often, after making a work the artist is still so attached to his or her initial impulses that they are effectively blind to experiencing it afresh. In a very real sense the artist cannot perceive aspects of the work that are stunningly obvious at a later time. Not looking at one’s work for a time can be an important part of his or her process. The first few moments in front of a piece after time away are often the most revealing, when both success and shortcomings can become strikingly obvious. Painter Rebecca Rutstein describes this process as creating a moment that reveals the work’s “true self,” and she can see it with fresh eyes: I come back to the studio the next day and turn on the light, and that is the moment when I see if it is working or not, and what I need to do. Stepping away for a time really helps this process. (Rebecca Rutstein, interviewed July 15, 2014) Overexposure to our works in process erodes our ability to be open to new possibilities. We become blind to their problems, and dulled to their achievements. One of the chief drawbacks of making art in a living space is the inability to gain this needed distance. Artists in this situation will find it helpful

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to put the work away when they are not working on it, in order to perceive it anew when returning.

Physical Spaces The discussion of studios so far has focused on the functions a studio serves for the artist, rather than its physical space. This is an intentional rethinking of the definition of “studio” in light of the changing realities in the art world over the past few decades. Digital platforms now play a huge role in hosting forms of silence and space in a way that simply was not available before. The great majority of artists are using digital media in some aspect of their practice in a way that meets virtually every definition of the word “studio.” The economic realities facing young artists may simply not allow for ideal physical spaces, resulting in alternative strategies for creating them. Out of both need and opportunity, the idea of a studio is now more elastic, encompassing many types of physical and digital spaces for different needs. Furthermore, the expansion of art into post-studio directions such as relational aesthetics, street art, film/video, performance, and web-based works further challenges traditional approaches to studio spaces by redefining the physicality of the artwork, where it resides, and why. While a large part of Alexis DeStoop’s practice as artist and filmmaker involves working with others for the production of his films, his travels are an important element in the development of his work. For his installation Kairos, DeStoop, a native Belgian, spent months in the Australian desert researching the area, responding to the “overabundance of space” he found there. “But,” he says “it was not an empty space. It held the traumatic events that had taken place through the process of colonization. The direct connection to this colonial past became very important to me.” As part of the process, he visited mining sites and remote areas and interacted with its indigenous inhabitants in a way that allowed him to understand the impact of this mining history and also to respond to the landscape’s beautiful emptiness. “The past is not just the past” he says. “The past trauma is still maintained. It is an ongoing process that is very much revealed when you go to mining areas. It is not just a historical fact.” Expanding the concept of “studio” in this way allows him to deeply engage with his subject in a manner that is not possible any other way. (Excerpts from interview with Alexis DeStoop on September 17, 2015.) For most artists, some form of a physical studio is an essential part of maintaining a strong practice. Such spaces are valued because their very nature immediately creates necessary forms of separation, space and silence. Fortunately, the most essential features of a workable space: a place free from unwanted observation and interruption, and where one can leave the work behind at the end of the day, are largely within the ability of the artist to control regardless of their financial situation. While some form of physical studio is most often needed, there are many ways that this can be achieved.

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Many successful careers have been launched from basement-corner or bedroom-wall studios. However, there are materials and processes that require a separate physical space. Traditional oil painting and ceramics require an isolated workspace due to the environmental hazards they present. Many seemingly innocuous processes are literally poisonous with long-term exposure.4 Working with resin in one’s living quarters, for example, is an excellent way to develop environmentally induced asthma. In an era before much was known about the cumulative effects of exposure to cadmium and lead, more than a few painters died from grinding and using their own pigments unprotected. Many other media require processes and equipment that are simply incompatible with a living space due to the mess or scale involved. Moving outside traditional ways of thinking about working spaces can be highly energizing for one’s practice. Early in his career, performance and installation artist Patrick Killoran worked entirely from a set of proposals that were developed and packaged within a set of black folders. With no formal studio, the lack of a fixed space was a dynamic force in his practice, forcing him into the world in order to find opportunities to both realize the works, and put them into the community. This included works such as Lost and Found, where Killoran created five hundred identical wallets for a fictional “Thomas Swallow,” complete with precisely the same receipts, identification, money, and handwritten notes. The wallets were intentionally lost, one at a time, in Birmingham, England and New York City. “For me,” he says “making my work was always about carrying that creative capacity within myself. No matter what the conditions are, I’m going to be able to produce the work. I’m just going to adapt.” (Excerpts from interview with Patrick Killoran on July 2, 2015.)

Spaces in Time Just as physical spaces are dynamic in the way in which they arouse responses and meanings, so too intentionally creating a space in one’s time generates energies and opportunities for the artist. It is rare to encounter a successful artist who has not structured the time they invest in their practice, and as such, it seems to be a baseline requirement for any artistic practice worth having. Most often for successful artists, studio practice is seen as a principal activity in their lives, most frequently carved out of the best part of their days. While some artists talk about this time-space as a way of honoring one’s gifts, practice, or muse, most see it simply as a realization that making their strongest work requires the time when their minds are clearest. We would think an athlete with championship ambitions deluded if he or she trained only when they felt like it. Studio work is not so different. Making space for working may seem a curious concept for those still in school who are accustomed to either working independently on their own

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projects as they choose, or within the tight structure of academia that drives the work forward. However, suddenly facing, after graduation, a lack of deadlines and structure that academia provides is surprisingly disorienting. In the absence of this environment, trying to manufacture motivations for oneself is not as simple as one might initially think. Often, believing that simply being dedicated or ambitious, or being a good enough artist, or finding the right idea, will be enough to keep them motivated and working regardless of the environment they create for their practice. While this may work for a piece or two, or even a larger body of work, it is rarely sustainable over a longer time period. Trying to force an art practice into one’s life without making time for it often results in its slow death, as it has to constantly battle for the artist’s time and attention in a world filled with other obligations and opportunities. It seems that there is always something more interesting going on, particularly if the work in the studio is not going well. Curiously, one of the most common characteristics of a successful studio schedule is inflexibility. While the specifics vary from artist to artist, the majority maintain something close to banker’s hours, working between 20 and 25 hours a week in actual brush on canvas production, with up to ten additional hours for reading and research, and eight hours or more hours a week for the promotion of their work. Even those artists who report a wider variation from day to day or week to week demonstrate an uncompromising investment in time in the studio over a longer time period. In fact, a fixed studio schedule is one of the single biggest indicators of a productive long-term practice. Its importance can hardly be overstated. Why is this inflexibility so important? On a pragmatic level, such structure frees the artist from the simple but nagging question of whether and when one should go to the studio. For some, mastering this bit of behavioral housekeeping has had a transformative effect, rescuing them from a paralyzing cycle of thinking they ought to go to the studio, but continually finding (or making) obstacles that keep them away. They are walking into the studio regardless of how they are feeling, what might have happened the day before, or how well the work is going. Too much flexibility gives undue power to the fleeting circumstances of one’s emotional state, energy level, and moments of selfdoubt. Unwavering schedules can be seen as points of liberation. Visual artist W. Tucker, who defines his practice as a process of evolution that is “mistake driven” decided early in his career that he could simply choose to not have fear about what he was making, and the only way he could really fail as an artist was to not show up. As a result, he works six days a week. When the work is not going well, he says “I try to enjoy the process and not be in pain about it. I just work through it.” (Excerpts from interview with W. Tucker on June 9, 2015.) But more importantly, an inflexible schedule tends to shift the focus of studio work from the production of preconceived ideas, to one in which the artist participates in an interactive long-term process. Developing artists will often work in the studio only when they have a project, then pack up and leave

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when it is done, returning only when they have another idea. Artists working a practice behave differently. They see the process of making as multifaceted, with experimenting and research as essential elements of the overall process. They are not as bound to the dogma of producing predetermined work efficiently, or, more accurately stated, they regard the entire process of thinking, researching/reading, experimenting, and physical making as “the work.” All of these activities are unified and interactive, and cannot be pulled apart. “I don’t like the term ‘inspiration,’ I just spend time with the work” says painter Nick Brown, who often eats meals in the studio to augment his fortyhour-a-week studio schedule: “If you’re paying attention, you find new things to explore as you’re working.” Brown’s large-scale oil paintings are based on photographs he takes while hiking, and further refined through watercolor studies. He also documents his process with written notes and occasionally writes fiction as a way of understanding aspects of the work for himself. The final works, in which the paint is as much as an inch thick, have a dense expressive energy. “Paint has a very uncanny way of kind of capturing your emotional and psychic space,” he explains, adding: If you’re always trying to work to be successful, you’re never improving. I try to find something in every painting that I haven’t done before. That’s where the greatest gains are made and that’s where I have the most enjoyment. What keeps perpetuating new work is the work itself. (Nick Brown, interviewed August 4, 2015) As Brown’s process illustrates, this way of framing studio time allows the artist to expand how they think about and develops their work, helping to enrich it and often leading to the next project. The artist reframing his or her time in this way will explore areas of research as a way of understanding his or her subject better, and of making connections to other fields outside the visual arts. He or she may invest in speculative projects, or perhaps start a related work in an alternative media as a way of expanding their practice. The act of creating a fixed time-space for one’s practice works to transform the studio experience into a field of inquiry that enhances one’s art and generates new directions. An artist whose studio work is focused on completing preconceived works will tend to see such activities as far less relevant, or even as unneeded distractions. The momentum generated in a series of days in the studio is a force that moves one forward in thinking and making. The moment we leave the studio we are assaulted by a world insistent on capturing our attention and pulling us in other directions. An unbroken string of days outside the studio erodes one’s ability to function at a higher level, and at a sustained pace. Cognitive gears get rusty and our perceptual skills that we have painstakingly acquired begin to degrade. The artist loses threads of continuity that lead to insight and richness. Consistent and frequent time spent in the studio is far more productive

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than the same number of hours spread out randomly over a longer time period. Physical and perceptual skills are sharpened with regular use, and in a way that is simply not possible to replicate with infrequent studio time. An often quoted adage among musicians is “If I miss one day’s practice, I notice it. If I miss two days’ practice, the critics notice it. If I miss three days’ practice, the public notices it.” The artist working a consistent and frequent schedule becomes progressively better over time, thinking and making more deeply and clearly. An inflexible schedule also allows (forces?) the artist to discover the gifts embedded within the experiences of being anxious, bored, and frustrated. While one might curse such experiences in the moment, these negative emotions offer the artist important clues. Listening to what these moments have to say is a way of discovering what one truly values, and offers an opportunity to discover new directions that are not pursued when the work is going well. As we shall see in an upcoming chapter, the experienced artist consistently moves towards anxiety, fear, and uncertainty as a way of discovering new directions and potentials that have meaning for them as makers. Moments of boredom are inherent in every job, and the arts are no exception. Discarding ideas or projects when experiencing routine boredom is most likely to result in little to show for one’s time in the studio. Persistent boredom is often an indication that the content and ideas we are wrestling with are shallow, or not complex or challenging enough, and can be an important indicator of the need for change. Boredom can push us to think about our work in new ways, and spend time researching and reinventing what we have already invested in. “I want to teach a class on boredom” says Ray Ogar, a musician, artist and designer who teaches at University of Central Arkansas: Students now have no opportunity to be bored. A class like this would require students to question where one’s personal boredom originates. In such a course, a project would be positioned after weeks of creative output by students receiving richly worded project briefs and intense feedback. Now handed a “boring” project brief: do the students evolve or crash? Boredom or lack of stimulus becomes a lesson in how to reframe a problem as one of limiting materials and placing creative constraints. (Ray Ogar, interviewed February 5, 2013) In a similar way, an occasional bout of frustration is normal in any career, but persistent frustration in one’s process or results forces the artist to come up with new ways of thinking and making that can be extremely valuable. Artists use these negative emotions in a variety of ways, but they are all actively used. An inflexible approach to time-space creates a situation where the artist faces them directly, and extracts these indispensable lessons. Developing artists need to face these kinds of challenges. Much of the hard work in art education, and in the early stages of one’s career, is dismantling unhelpful ideas that one has adopted about making art. Some of

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these include the notion that communication, or beauty, or expression in art are simple concepts that are easily understood and clearly achieved; that potential artworks are first imagined and then fabricated; that talent is innate and deterministic; that new ideas and quality work are immediately recognized and valued; and that creating and working within an artistic “style” is a paramount goal. Ideas such as these represent simplistic and impoverished visions of what art can be, and their pursuit in the studio most often leads to dead ends and frustrations. Such frustrations are extremely valuable in the way in which they point the artist in directions that are far more productive. Without a willingness to learn from moments of anxiety, frustration and boredom, an artist’s studio work descends into little more than a series of pleasant diversions. They are an amusement to pass the time, but have little potential for producing authentic work that would impact the maker or the viewer. Structured studio time-space is a simple but effective way of allowing oneself to face these challenges and learn from them in order to construct a more authentic practice. An unstructured approach to studio work permits (and even encourages) the artist to walk away when things get difficult, leaving the most important lessons unlearned. Framing one’s studio time in this way contrasts sharply with the way art is usually taught. Art projects in school are typically defined by specific requirements that include a deadline, technical and conceptual goals, but relative freedom in the amount of time the student is required to invest in them. This approach subtly encourages developing artists to spend as little time in the studio as possible. This is entirely reversed for established artists, who most often have studio time that is structured and defined, meaning that they are constantly working within a set amount of time, but have goals that are far more open-ended in terms of what they are making and why. It is helpful as one develops one’s career to intentionally reframe one’s approach to time so that it works to enhance one’s process, rather than fighting against it. Working only when one has a project to complete limits experimentation, minimizes research and reading, and rushes works to completion. This way of making denies the artist the opportunity to fully invest in these necessary foundational actions upon which a strong artistic practice is built.

Interior Space and Silence Successful artists also create an interior space or silence that isolates the work from agendas that would tell the artist what the work should be before he or she begins making it. These demands can take many forms, but are often concerned with externally defined notions of success. For the artist with professional ambitions, it is difficult not to be influenced by others’ successes, and bring agendas into the studio that demand the work further their career and reputation. An artist may also want to address social, political, or religious causes in his or her work, or may simply want to continue a direction that has

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been successful in the past that has been played out. There are many forms of ambition and many demands that can be made upon one’s work before anything is begun. Such agendas are not inherently negative. The balancing act for the artist is that an overemphasis on these demands within one’s practice is not simply distracting, but a force that actively degrades one’s ability to work. Focusing on external motivations makes one less able to develop new solutions and ways of thinking. Researchers using the candle, match, and tack test discussed in Chapter 2 found that when subjects were offered greater rewards for faster resolutions, they took longer to solve the problem than those that were simply given the problem and allowed to work it out on their own schedule.5 It is necessary to create a space for oneself in which these agendas are not allowed to dominate the process, so activities such as play, curiosity, exploration, and love of physical materials and processes can be in the driver’s seat. Jasper Johns illustrates this tension well. His statement, “To be an artist you must give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist” establishes clear boundaries around studio work, an approach that allowed him to explore a spectrum of ideas without preconditions. This is not to suggest, of course, that one’s work cannot be salable, or critically successful, or speak into social concerns the artist might have. It should be remembered that Johns was arguably one of the most critically and financially successful artists of the modern Western era. The space he created for himself in the studio did not come at the expense of being able to navigate professional goals. Successful artists find ways to make a space for working with these external realities, without allowing them to inhibit the free investigation of ideas and nurturing of new projects. As we have seen in looking at how artists shape their approach to physical studios and time, intentionally created spaces are not inert, but impact how we act within them in generative ways. The creation of interior silence is also a productive form of emptiness. This is a concept that often has more resonance within Eastern philosophy and religion than it does in the West. A 2,300-yearold parable from the Chinese philosopher Zhuang-Zhou illustrates the perpetual nature of this tension between external demands and interior silence for the artist. I paraphrase: Shih the master carpenter and his workman pass by a great tree that was used as an altar for the spirits of the land. His workman asks him why he does not consider making boats or other functional objects from the tree. Shih insults the tree, saying that the wood was useless for such purposes. Later, the great tree appears to him in a dream, and says, “What other tree will you compare with me? Will you compare me to fruit trees? When their fruits are ripe, they are knocked down and their branches are broken. So it is that their usefulness makes their lives bitter to them and they are destroyed. It is so with all things. Suppose that I was also ‘useful’. Would I have become as great as I am?”6

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Each artist likely has a different interpretation of what the “altar of the spirit” is for his or her own practice. It can be read metaphorically as a need to maintain an interior space that allows for play and experimentation, free from more “useful” demands. It can also be read as a need to keep a sense of identity, or exploration, or spirituality within one’s practice in the midst of the demands of the marketplace, or as a need to keep a sense of artistic integrity in whatever project one is working on. There are various strategies for creating a productive interior space, often beginning with “centering acts” that focus the artist at the beginning of the studio session. Forms of meditation from both Eastern and Western traditions are commonly employed. Others create rituals such as drawing, or doing manual labor such as applying gesso to canvases, wedging clay, or sweeping the studio to begin a work session. Reading and writing are also frequently used as centering activities that turn down the volume on agendas and exterior demands. Many artists maintain an interior space by making the work they are drawn to, wherever it takes them, and then invest in finding audiences and markets for it. Installation artist Cesar Cornejo explores many potential ideas through drawings and models, finishing them as fully realized projects as he is able to find spaces. He describes his studio work as “more like a laboratory than a traditional studio,” and says: I work on projects, and develop them to a certain point, then put them on a shelf. When an exhibition opportunity arises, I take them down and develop them more fully. This helps me to keep going and I don’t get stuck if some are not realized. As an example, in 2008 I had an idea for a sculpture that synthesized the concept of a community-based museum that I had been working on for some years. I envisioned the piece to be made in ceramics and metal, but I made a first model in raw clay and metallic paper, mimicking how it would look when finished in the actual materials. I photographed it and added it to my portfolio. The following year I had a meeting with a gallery in Lima, I showed them several samples of my work and they selected that piece for an upcoming auction in one of the main museums in that city. With that commitment on sight, I completed the piece by firing the clay and replacing the metallic paper with aluminum. The piece was very well received and became the first of a series of sculptures that I produced between 2009 and 2015. (Cesar Cornejo, interviewed August 27, 2015) Developing speculative works in this way and then finding destinations for them insulates Cornejo from agendas and forces that could potentially negatively impact his practice. A different strategy employed by artists is to approach their practice in a way that is flexible enough to accommodate many different kinds of opportunities with authenticity, seeing little distinction between those directions they

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generate for themselves and those that come from outside opportunities or commitments. Historically, this has been the dominant model for artists who most often worked for political, religious, or wealthy patrons on well-defined projects with tight artistic boundaries. Most of art history is, in fact, a study of works that have been brought into being in this way. That artists have been able to transcend these demands and make art that spoke to their communities in an authentic voice and continues to speak to us today, is evidence that such restrictions can be a productive force that pushes the artist in new directions: an idea discussed more fully in Chapter 5. However the contemporary artist contends with external demands in their practice, it is helpful to understand the importance of maintaining and supporting an interior space that allows room for curiosity, playfulness and open-ended exploration. An interior silence also helps to insulate the artist from their interior critic. No doubt all artists have an imagined voice that whispers in their ear from time to time, accusing them with real and imagined failures and proof of their inadequacy regardless of past achievements. For some, contending with this insistent and irrational monologue is the central struggle of their practice, and one that requires a focused, long-term effort.7 Perhaps such self-criticism should not be unexpected in a career where one often works alone, faces frequent rejection, and can be humbled by failures in the studio at any time. It can be helpful to observe how often these voices revolve around external markers of critical or financial success, or recognition by peers or teachers. A surprisingly common response by successful artists to their interior critic is to decide, “I’m just going to make what I want. I don’t care if it’s any good.” An intentional shift toward self-driven experimentation, research, and physical making in this way can help to diminish the impact of these voices. It is interesting to note that of the artists interviewed for this study that reported extended periods when they were “stuck” as an artist, many cited either internal or external expectations to continue a successful body of work as one of the main reasons. Painter Deborah Zlotsky described such a situation earlier in her career: My first serious paintings were figurative: exploring light, form and color because I loved the poignancy and weight of fleshiness and the complexity of color on and under the skin. But as someone new to art-making, being labeled a figurative painter—something that happened after five or six years of exhibiting my work—seemed inaccurate and too narrow. I wasn’t in love with representation in the way I noticed other representational artists I admired were. The labeling woke me up, and pushed me to realize that the figures and situations in my paintings were too overt and narrative. If I had a story in me, it was something much more complicated and hidden. Once I noticed, I made a list of the things that were important to me about sensation and description, which allowed me to add those other elements I felt were missing: a sense of history through the accumulation of

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actions, more complex and ambiguous spatial relationships, and a process that allowed for accidents and change. I began to experiment with other ways of working once I could release myself from pressures that were ultimately self-imposed. (Deborah Zlotsky, interviewed June 19, 2014) Since that time, Zlotsky shifted her focus away from a representational approach and towards methods of working that were more abstract and process-based, although her recent work often includes tiny trompe l’oeil passages that reference the body and everyday objects. Creating productive interior space is not the pursuit of an imaginary utopia where one is freed from external obligations or input. It is instead a constant process of keeping such obligations from overwhelming one’s practice in destructive ways. Even if one were able to create an “ideal” scenario, free from any pressures, such a situation would likely become sterile over time, isolated from enriching influences and interactions that challenge the artist. A productive interior silence is not isolation from these influences, but an intentional space carved within them that allows research, working within physical processes, and open-ended investigation to do their work.

The Perfect Studio? Starting and maintaining a practice does not require perfect conditions. Ideal studios are rare, particularly for younger artists. Experience, education, and a supportive community are certainly helpful, but not necessary. The amount of money needed for a practice is easily overestimated. All artists bring agendas and critical inner monologues with them into the studio, and wrestle with them frequently. Better working conditions and resources are helpful and should be pursued as opportunities arise, but a lack of them is not keeping anyone from immediately starting and maintaining a vital visual arts practice. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the achievement of artists who have done so in the face of deeply adverse, even oppressive, circumstances. In refugee camps, prisons and institutions, under despots and in economic dead zones, art is an activity that often flourishes in response to these environments, rather than being destroyed by them. These external difficulties can give one’s work urgency and meaning, a way of responding that transforms both the artist and their circumstances. The artist Martin Ramirez8 faced unimaginable limitations as a result of his institutionalization for schizophrenia within a series of hospitals for most of his adult life. Although a diligent artist, hospital staff failed to see any aesthetic or therapeutic value in his drawings, and initially discarded them. Ramirez was forced to constantly scrounge for resources, even to the point of making his own paper, until a sympathetic doctor recognized both the quality of his work, and his dedication to it, and began furnishing him with materials. His

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oeuvre reveals the work of a twentieth-century master, a man wrestling with interior and exterior challenges as he sought to understand the same questions that have occupied artists for millennia: his identity and relationship to family and culture, the legacies of the past; the primacy of death and the possibility of afterlife; all played out within his compositions that evoke landscape, theater stages, and church architecture. His perseverance and artistic success in the face of such limited resources and possibilities is an affirming reminder of our own potential. Demands of expansive studios and large blocks of unencumbered time represent a sense of entitlement about what is required to make art. Everything needed to start and maintain a practice is within one’s reach. Today. While established artists may have larger studios and more time within which to work, most started with far less and built to their present circumstances over a long period. All that is needed is the creation of a time-space, the cultivation of an interior silence, and some form of studio, regardless of how humble it might be. The act of starting a practice, (or restarting a practice), even with modest time commitments, has the effect of reorienting other parts of one’s life. There seems to be an expansive quality to these experiences, as they constantly move into new regions and find new venues of exploration. To a large degree, curiosity, playfulness, and love of ideas and physical processes are self-perpetuating. Even a modest commitment to creating such spaces on a daily or weekly basis can start one on a path that is transformative. What is often misunderstood is that experienced artists are able to tolerate more variation in their approach to physical studios, time, and interior space than developing artists, and, as such, do not always make the best role models for those who may not see what is really going on. Observed from the outside, one may not perceive the disciplined approaches to time or interior space described here, because in a very real way these creative spaces have expanded to fill their lives. Over years, they have internalized these ways of thinking to a degree that they carry the necessary forms of silence with them. They are continually engaging in speculative labor, research, and making work, even in the midst of other projects. The world is indeed their studio. Artist Hector Zamora describes this phenomenon: My studio is extended to all activities connected or not with my work. I use the museum, galleries, and institutional spaces as my studio/workshop, as well as the traveling process itself. I understand my workshop/ studio as the space/time where I have the possibility to think and work on my projects, so a specific space is not necessary anymore. (Hector Zamora, email correspondence, August 2016) While many successful artists describe art as a life (a description that makes it seem like successful artists are simply workaholics), it is more accurate to say

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that an artistic practice expands over time, filling the lives of those that pursue it with diligence.

Notes 1 Quoted in palacestructure/churchill 2 The artists interviewed in this chapter are: Lorrie Fredette, January 2013; Rebecca Rutstein, July 15, 2014; Alexis DeStoop, September 17, 2015; Patrick Killoran, July 2, 2015; W. Tucker, June 9, 2015; Nick Brown, August 4, 2015; Ray Ogar, February 5, 2013; Cesar Cornejo, August 27, 2015; Deborah Zlotsky, June 19, 2014; Hector Zamora, email correspondence, August 2015. 3 Sullivan, Bob and Thompson, Hugh (2013). “Brain, Interrupted,” New York Times Sunday Review, May 3. 4 A good resource for the artist is Rossol, Monona (2001). The Artist’s Complete Health and Safety Guide. New York: Allworth Press. 5 Daniel Pink TED talk. Pink discusses research by Sam Glucksburg. The Puzzle of Motivation. 6 Paraphrased from The Sacred Books of China (1891), translated by James Legge. In The Sacred Books of the East (1891), edited by F. Max Muller, Vol XXXIX. London: Oxford Press. 7 Two helpful perspectives on this struggle are found in Pressfield, Steven (2002). The War of Art. New York: Warner Books. And Lamott, Annie (1995). Bird by Bird. New York: Anchor Books (a division of Random House Inc.). 8 Milwaukee Art Museum.

Chapter 4

Research and Embodied Knowledge

Artists invest in ways of understanding their subject matter to a degree not widely known by those outside the field, and often not well understood by developing artists. A successful artist, just like a successful chef, surgeon, or politician, knows his or her field in expansive and thorough ways. Much of this kind of knowing, however, is different from that found in most of academia, science, and business, which are typically based within an analytical framework that seeks to maintain an objective distance between the observer and what is being studied. Artists are much more interested in making personal connections to the subject of their interest. This way of understanding, called embodied cognition, is shaped by the entire person, including his or her physical body, intellect, emotions, history and experiences. Its physicality and uniqueness to the individual is an essential part of its nature, allowing the artist to relate to his or her subject in personal and physical ways.1 Writers often invest in this kind of embodied research as a way of understanding subject matter more fully. A biographer studying a historical figure may visit the subject’s childhood home, stand in the places where they stood, eat the same meals at the same restaurants, and look at historical images of their former neighborhood. While everything that is learned may not be directly evident in the final text, such a lived-in experience allows the writer to know and depicts aspects about his or her subject in a way that factual information alone cannot convey. Developing embodied knowledge, then, requires the pursuit and construction of forms of knowing a subject that relate to the entire person. There are many ways in which this is often done, some of which are a natural part of the art-making process, and others that occur well before artworks are begun. It will be helpful to look at a range of ways in which artists invest in this type of research.

The Pursuit of Technical Mastery One of the central forms of embodied knowledge for the artist occurs within the art-making process itself. It is the pursuit of technical mastery within the artist’s media. While not rigidly defined, technical mastery is most often

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characterized as a high level of proficiency in manipulating one’s materials. In the classical Western tradition, it would be seen in a sculptor’s ability to carve a convincing foot according to established traditions, or a drawer’s creation of the illusion of three-dimensional space within a drawing. During the modern and postmodern eras in the West, the role of technical mastery went through a dramatic reassessment in which it was largely separated from historical standards, and put in the service of the individual artist’s goals. Moreover, post-studio directions in art, such as performance, relational aesthetics, web-based work and others have aggressively challenged historical understandings about the value of physical craft. As a result, the developing artist today faces a lack of consensus about the definition and value of technical mastery. This creates a dilemma, as the ongoing pursuit of this form of embodied knowledge has always been one of the most productive forms of input and learning for the artist. The individual who has mastered copper plate etching, for example, has had their practice deeply shaped by learning to negotiate within the uncompromising physical realities of many processes and materials. He or she has had to develop their ideas within the context of mastering the application of ground, drawing and etching the plate, choosing appropriate methods of wiping and printing, and selecting papers and inks from among hundreds of choices. The embodied knowledge acquired by working in such interconnected challenges shapes the artist in important ways. There is a resiliency that one develops by repeatedly failing in difficult tasks. Achieving high levels of expertise demands also that the artist become keener at observing and handling subtle aspects of the process. It grounds the imagination in a rich material sensibility that allows them to imagine potential ideas more accurately. But perhaps most importantly, technical mastery internalizes ways in which the artist speaks through the process in a manner that transcends any specific media and philosophical position. Technical mastery does not limit the artist to the media of their expertise, it gives them an interior template from which to quickly grow in new media because of their mastery in their previous media. Because contemporary processes are far more specific to the individual, it may be harder for the artist to define what technical mastery looks like in his or her practice. Andy Goldsworthy manipulates and rearranges stones, leaves, ice and branches into astonishingly ephemeral and delicate constructions within their natural environments. He is clearly a master in an artistic field he has largely created for himself. Through this material dexterity he examines and celebrates the natural world with all the thoughtful intensity of traditional Japanese landscape paintings, affirming a human relationship to the natural world based on harmony, balance, and beauty. While his work stands outside most traditional ways of making, he nevertheless demonstrates a level of understanding of his thorns, leaves, and stones as any classicist has in the figure. This embodied knowledge is apparent in every work he constructs. Working in such individualized ways often leaves the artist without obvious paths to achieving a high degree of technical mastery and, thus, without

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such deeply embodied knowledge of materials and processes. Those working outside traditional approaches should be asking themselves: “What are the parallels in my practice?”, “How am I acquiring deep knowledge and skills in my processes and materials?”, “Am I investing to a similar degree in pursuing forms of mastery in my own directions?”

Embodied Research Outside the Studio While the pursuit of technical mastery is an essential form of embodied research within the art-making process, other forms of embodied research take place outside the studio. The time invested in such investigations is substantial. Most artists typically spend between two to five hours researching for every ten hours of studio work. This means that a painter with twenty hours a week of actual brush-on-canvas production (the amount most frequently cited) is spending at least four hours, and up to ten hours each week, in additional research. A few artists invest as much as one hour of research for every hour in the studio. It is rare to find someone that invests less than 20 percent of his or her studio time in this activity. This research takes a variety of forms, but all have the goal of preparing the artist to work before they walk in the studio. It may be tempting for the developing artist to minimize the need for such work, but experienced artists clearly value this investment, and support it with a lot of time that could otherwise be spent with brush on canvas. Norwegian artist Marte Johnslien offers an example of other types of embodied knowledge as she discusses the beginning of a project: I start with trying to find what I call the “logic” of the project. This sometimes includes doing research in libraries and archives, traveling to places to photograph and gathering material and experiences, interviewing people or simply spending hours on the internet. I search for information I feel contains tensions, questions and complexity, and a place for me to enter and make it my own. It’s almost like fuel. I start with a framework, a logic, and from there the project almost starts taking over.2 (Marte Johnslien, email correspondence, September 2015) Her brief description of her working process outlines several forms of embodied research that are very common for artists whom we will look at in the rest of the chapter. They include the collecting of objective information that is curated to her interests (library and archive research), the collecting of images that the artist finds or generates (gathering material and photographing), physical interaction with specific locations and materials (travel and gathering experiences), interacting with others to see how they perceive the subject (interviews), and dwelling with information (spending hours on the internet). Each artist researches in their own ways, and for equally unique reasons, but there are consistent themes that emerge. One of the most common is collecting images as a way of developing new projects. Most artists seem to

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have sketchbooks, folders, shoeboxes, databases, or phones full of such found objects and images that are gathered for potential use directly in their work, or simply as a way of thinking about ongoing or new ideas.3 Dean Monogenis’s paintings depict fantastical architectural structures that defy the laws of physics as they hover above and nestle within strange and wonderful natural landscapes. In developing his works, Monogenis references a database he maintains of thousands of photos, allowing the images to inform his curiously impossible compositions and to suggest new directions. This collection of images is a combination of Monogenis’s own photos and found photographic imagery, as well as drawings that he makes at various locations. I paint almost in a collage kind of way, adding information from other sources, including photos I have taken, photos from the internet, and things that I draw to make stencils. The work changes and evolves as I paint, and as this information is interpreted into the work. (Dean Monogenis, interviewed August 6, 2015) This curated database of images is used as a means of introducing new and complicating imagery into his painting process that takes him in directions he likely would not go if left to generate all the imagery himself. Another aspect of embodied research is intentionally interacting with images in a deeper way through drawing, or other ways of examining it. Steve Prince, whose work explores issues of spirituality, social justice, and storytelling, has developed a rigorous drawing habit that has, to date, filled more than 200 sketchbooks. He works in sketchbooks as a way to document scenes around him and develop imagery for his artworks. He says: Mark making is a form of memory for me. As I draw people in airports, or objects I find on the ground, or a scene I find interesting, I am looking at that environment as potential vocabulary. I am making connections and looking at what it can be in another context. I refer to the sketchbooks constantly, I have six open right now for a new project I am working on. When I look at a drawing I made again, it takes me back to those ideas, and I am not so much remembering what I drew, but seeing it in front of me. My thoughts are encoded in the very marks themselves, as well as in the notes I take. Sometimes I look back at past drawings and say “What was I thinking?” Some ideas never leave the sketchbook since I am not comfortable with them. But many times I find them loaded with symbols and memories of the infinite beauty around us. My work in these sketchbooks is a constant dialog that never stops. (Steve Prince, interviewed August 12, 2017) For artists such as Steve Prince, successful projects most often emerge from this kind of image and information gathering. New projects are born out of

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such speculative ventures that can go on for months or years before being developed further. It is a way for the artist to consciously and subconsciously dwell within a new area of creative terrain and consider it from different perspectives over time. Part of the value of interacting with the world in this way is in observing it with greater perception and clarity. A visitor who spends a few minutes to draw his or her reflection in the mirror-like stainless steel surface of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago, either on paper or a digital tablet, is having a qualitatively different experience than the hundreds of tourists who take selfies with it each day. While the tourists are leaving with a playful memento of their experience with the work, the drawing allows one to more deeply consider the visual aspects of the beautiful and organic distortions that Cloud Gate generates, and the meanings behind those distortions. The activity of drawing, or making a photomontage of images of the work, or a small three-dimensional model of it generates a sharper level of seeing and interaction that integrates the image into one’s memory and thinking, with a much greater impact on his or her life, and, for the artist, on his or her practice. That it takes longer, and is more involved than a phone shot is precisely the point: giving one a moment in which to dwell with an image and moving our interaction with it from the realm of simple recognition to one of interactive experience. The difference in the ability of these two experiences to impact the artist almost cannot be overstated. It may be tempting for digital natives, who are fluent in the cycle of replacement technologies, to see some of these forms of embodied knowledge and research as necessary for a previous generation, but no longer relevant; wondering, for example, why anyone should bother making a drawing of a work in a museum when any mid-range phone allows one to either take a photo or locate the work on the museum website—which would include biographical information and other works by the artist as well. It would seem an obvious case of new technology rendering a previous technology obsolete. However, these new digital platforms have not replaced our need for dwelling with ideas and images in a more considered way, and can work against our need to do so. We live in a culture awash in persuasive content. A large percentage of the images we experience in a given day are crafted to capture our attention and fully divest its meaning in a second or two, with messages that are fast, emotionally hot, and typically appeal to a narrow range of desires related to social status, sexual attraction, and money. These messages are so pervasive that we often don’t realize their omnipresent nature. It is the water we swim in. It is also more difficult to dwell with information in a deeply considered way on platforms that are designed for interconnectedness and speed, and that frequently and assertively offer multitudes of immediate diversions. As we participate in this way of thinking, we become habituated to a way of relating to visual ideas, and the kind of imagery and experience we craft for an audience.

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In addition, with abilities that can be faster than analog counterparts by multiples of more than 100, digital platforms have greatly increased the speed of working with images. Such experiences are often blindingly fast; much faster than our ability to meaningfully comprehend or internalize. This can acclimatize us into an interaction with images that is much, much quicker than is useful for the artist, and in ways that shape both the quality of work and the type of content that is made. Being able to copy and paste an image from one artwork into another in just a few seconds, rather than having to redraw it by hand is a tremendous asset. But the artist who never works from an embodied physical action such as drawing on paper, or with a digital pen/mouse on a screen, can be dramatically limiting the physical and expressive range of his or her work. Physically redrawing the image offers an opportunity to reflect on it more fully. One will see new aspects of the image, and may find solutions or ways of enriching the work that they previously rushed past. The artist may also simply enjoy the act of drawing in a way that makes the work better. Studies demonstrate that taking lecture notes longhand is far more effective than taking notes on a laptop4. This is attributed to the need to distill information and reinterpret it in one’s own words; an act that requires more evaluation and engagement with the meaning of the text. Notes taken on a laptop, which can be recorded at a faster rate, tend to be closer to transcription; an act that does not require much more than hearing what is being said. The speed and fluidity of digital media and applications such as the Adobe Creative Suite can be used to work with imagery in a similarly detached manner. Often the increased speed and shortcuts of digital technologies are marketed as key features, when the reality is that these may be among the last things the artist needs. Livetracing an image when a precise drawing would be better, or running a photo through predesigned filters instead of making intentional tone and color balancing choices are ways in which the artist can give over control of processes in unhelpfully detached ways. Of course, digital platforms do not automatically lead to such disengagement, and offer many new ways of working and seeing. The ease and speed of the technology can make their indiscriminate use tempting, however. While it may reflect some degree of generational bias, successful artists report that it is hard to replicate the directness, physicality, and lack of distraction of a paper sketchbook. And there is much less temptation to check one’s email. That paper sketchbooks are almost universally used among successful artists is also good evidence of the value of this kind of experience. Savvy artists at any level of experience understand the gifts that both digital and physical platforms bring to embodied research work, and tend to see digital platforms as supplemental, rather than replacement technologies. They assess the new capabilities digital platforms offer, folding useful technologies into their working methods, and discarding those that are not. This is a process that has been playing out as long as people have been making art. The large-scale transformations that the digital age has brought over the last few decades have not changed this dynamic, but the pervasiveness of these dramatic changes has made determining what should be kept and what should be replaced harder to

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discern. Both the artist who discards all analog methods of making for digital ones, assuming that speed and ease of use are always positive characteristics, and the artist who refuses to embrace any replacement digital platforms out of a sense of fear or sentimentality, may be working from an unwarranted prejudice that leaves a lot of good potentials out of his or her creative toolbox. Gathering experiences such as travel, talking to other individuals, and interacting with specific sites and materials, are another key way to develop forms of embodied knowing. “A building is a type of a body,” says St. Louis artist Jill Downen, discussing her work Beauty Mark, at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. For the development of her large-scale installation, which was her second at that site, Downen challenged herself to “make an artwork that was incomplete without the building.” (Excerpts from interview with Jill Downen on August 1, 2017.) Research for Beauty Mark began with a site visit at a time when the gallery was between exhibits so that she could experience it without distraction. Her goals were to “understand the proportions of the space in relation to the body,” a study that included spending time in the space to consider architectural features, as well as the more subtle qualities such as the way people traversed the room, and the properties of light throughout the day. Extensive photos were taken, but most of the on-site research was focused on simply experiencing the space and documenting her thoughts through written notes and recorded verbal comments. Of particular interest was a crack that wandered across the expanse of the gallery floor. Downen made graphite rubbings of the fracture, in order to capture its specific shape and texture. Back in her studio Downen constructed a model of the room based on floor plans she obtained from the museum. The model allowed her to take hundreds of cell phone photos in order to see the space from different vantage points and understand how the work would feel within it. “Models are important,” she explained. “They are a way to hold the space and see it from vantage points that you cannot under regular circumstances”. The final work included applying a layer of gold to the fracture in the floor, and recreating some of the “scars” that had been left on the walls when she dismantled her previous work ten years earlier. As Downen demonstrates, artists think through and develop their art through many physical processes. As she navigates layers of investigation, the art is being conceptualized, refined, and formed. It is important to observe how physical this process is. On-site she is making notes, recordings, drawings, and rubbings. In her studio she is making models, making photos within the models, and making the art. The development of the work is dependent upon her hands being in motion, accumulating forms of embodied knowledge. A foreshadowing of these forms of embodied research can be found in the way that all of us explore and celebrate the subject of our interests as children and adolescents. During a period of her childhood, my daughter was intensely focused on dogs. During that time she drew and painted pictures of dogs, made friends with every dog in the neighborhood, created a school fundraiser for the Animal Humane Society, walked dogs at the animal shelter, and playacted as

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a dog for an alarmingly long number of months. While lobbying was not the goal, eventually two dachshunds became part of our household, a fact that only seemed to increase her interest in every other dog she encountered. We can most likely find examples of these earnest gestures from our own past that can provide a template for how we can expand our interactions with the subjects of our interest. While we may blush at the naive way we may have gone about some of these explorations, the fearlessness and range of this playfulness is a lesson to be recovered. When Picasso stated, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up” he most likely was not just talking about ways of dealing with pictorial representation of objects and space, but also a child’s bold and self driven exploration of his or her own interests, in any direction they might find, simply because they want to explore it. A challenge with these forms of research is that they are not always apparent within the final artwork, which can allow the developing artist to minimize their importance. Such forms of embodied learning have also not always been valued within educational systems that traditionally focused on educating students as future workers.5 This is even more the case now, as those systems are more tightly concentrated towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula, and with an eye toward objective assessment. As a result, it can be a new concept for the developing artist to value such activities, or even consider them forms of “knowledge,” since they are experiential and subjective, and as such fall outside objective definitions of what knowledge is. It is important for the artist to reclaim these forms of knowing for his or herself, as a way of developing a body of ideas and experiences that support one’s practice.

Feeding the Artist At his house in Tennessee, printmaker Koichi Yamamoto begins his day, like many of his neighbors, by reading the news. Unlike most of his neighbors, however, Yamamoto studies the events in very different ways. He begins by selecting an event, either a natural or man-made disaster, or a political development. Over the course of the next several days, Yamamoto will continue to study reports of it from multiple American news sources, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Russian news sites for often as much as two hours a day. He seems most interested in finding news stories that reveal layers of culture and history, rather than stories that document day-to-day events: I read to understand the different perspective on the one event. What each government, or media will emphasize about it, and how one topic can be viewed from different points of view. I am more interested in how we manage to carry on the routine of history, and how this changes over time. (Koichi Yamamoto, interviewed August 1, 2017) Yamamoto’s intaglio prints are densely patterned combinations of representational and abstracted imagery that evoke landscapes, faces, animals, and

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ghostly apparitions. He makes the prints by developing individual plates, which are then printed on top of each other in a process that relies on elements of chance to determine the final work. While he says that occasionally he will use some imagery he finds in the news, this topical research is not a principal source of ideas for him. It is tempting to try to force a connection between this reading analysis and Yamamoto’s prints, but it is a connection he denies, preferring instead to see them as separate activities. However, Yamamoto’s reading is an example of an important form of research that is engaged in by the majority of successful artists. The defining characteristic of this research is that it is an exploration of content that is pursued in order to enrich one’s understanding in other fields, and curiously separated from the subjects found in one’s practice. Most often it is centered on reading, but it can take other forms as well, such as listening to TED talks and interviews with artists and those from other fields. In a significant shift away from the other forms of research, the goal of this input is not directly related to the artwork, but feeding and sustaining the person as a thinking being. Most often, successful artists are prodigious readers who are investigating multiple content areas. Among the artists interviewed for this book, it was unusual to find someone for whom reading was not an important part of his or her life, and, in fact, most read three or more genres of writing regularly and in considerable depth, often on a weekly basis. While these specific types of reading should not be seen as prescriptive, it is helpful to look at what shows up most often as a way of understanding why this is important. In descending order, the most common types of reading are: •• •• •• •• •• ••

the hard sciences and psychology philosophy, both aesthetic theory and other areas poetry history spiritual writing art journals and magazines.6

This reading and research has a much less defined relationship to studio work than the embodied forms of knowing discussed above, and seems to shape and feed the artist in other ways. It creates an intellectual life outside one’s work, offering an opportunity to consider and interact with ideas away from one’s practice. Just as we need a break from seeing the work from time to time, these outside interests offer a break from our artistic areas, while also keeping one’s thinking sharp. And while such investigations may take a different direction, ideas do flow back and forth. Poems can spark new ideas, psychology helps one better understand the roots of his or her work, and reading Kant can lead to a new understanding of nature that impacts how one paints. Northern Minnesota artist Andy Messerschmidt, whose densely packed paintings and installations simultaneously evoke underground comics, acid-trip visions, mandalas, and theatrical sets, says that “reading is hugely important

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for me. I sometimes spend as much as half of my studio time reading.” This includes a broad spectrum of works that range from the writings of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, to books of poetry, and the theatrical stage sets of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Messerschmidt also mines the other end of the academic spectrum, with books such as the “Ancient Mysteries” genre, the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, and UFOs and unexplained phenomena. He explains: I am not reading to find imagery for the work. What I am reading is embedded a few layers beneath the surface of the work. I hope to have the work operate through reference points whereby a viewer plugs into the most indiscriminate and mundane images, eventually arriving at a more epic prospect. (Andy Messerschmidt, interviewed June 19, 2015) To a large degree the artist in a university setting is experiencing this rich input of ideas from other classes, and may not fully appreciate how it impacts them as makers. Because the relationship between this kind of input and the making of work is difficult to precisely quantify, it is easy to consider them to be merely correlative (suggesting that an individual is innately gifted/intelligent, so they are a good artist and also read a lot), rather than causal or linked (understanding that an individual makes strong art in part because they investigate ideas in other areas). Developing artists who dismiss this kind of investment may wonder why they seem to get stuck more often, why they keep falling into the same stylistic devices and tropes, and not have the spontaneous insights they had while still in school. Seeing university educational experiences as merely simultaneous and not interactive, they may not understand the depth to which learning about urban design, reading the poems of Robert Frost, or studying geometry enriches the landscape they are painting.

Interwoven Because of the personal and subjective nature of these forms of embodied knowledge, as the artist investigates his or her subject they become interwoven with it on conscious and subconscious levels. As this research is more subjective than what is often found in the sciences, humanities, and business, it does not follow the same “rational” rules. Such embodied research represents the full spectrum of our humanity, with all its quirks, subterranean motives, and contradictions, and, as such, we interact with it in different ways, often in ways that do not seem to make logical sense, even to the artist. It is not unusual to hear an artist say that they keep rereading the same texts or sources, or are driven to acquire everything written about his or her subject, or revisit a location again and again without really knowing why. One interviewee has reread a series of historical novels dozens of times, to the point where he is not willing to admit it outside the research interview. He is not simply “obsessive” as he humorously suggested, as obsessive actions

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do not provide agency for moving forward, or offer new perspective that he clearly gains from this action. His continual rereading offers him a form of grist for the mill that feeds his process again and again. What is changing in this equation? The books remain the same, but the artist experiences them in continually new contexts. They are compared to other books he is reading, or in the context of new social relationships, or seen in the light of new works he is developing. He constantly experiences aspects of these books anew, because his life and context are always in flux. This kind of deep knowledge that such a study affords opens the door to more complexity and richness in our thinking, allowing contradictions and paradoxical ideas to coexist. These are the kinds of tensions that feed the artist. It is a process that supports a practice, not by offering conclusive answers, but by creating more interesting problems and ideas that can be engaged in one’s work. Not only do these forms of research allow the artist to develop new ideas within their practice, but this interwoven experience in turn also shapes the artist. Western perspectives tend to see qualities such as curiosity, openness to suggestion, and the drive to make as innate talents we are born with. They are, however, traits that a self-determining individual continually develops for him or herself; ones that expand and develop as they are used. The artist who follows a rabbit trail of an idea into the library and loses an afternoon in the stacks rarely becomes less curious after the experience. Choosing to cultivate inquisitiveness and openness to new directions will consistently (though not always predictably) be rewarded by increased capabilities in one’s work and a greater awareness of one’s artistic potential. It is a process that expands as it is used.

Notes 1 A thorough description of embodied cognition can be found in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2 The artists interviewed in this chapter are: Marte Johnslien, email correspondence, September 2015; Dean Monogenis, August 6, 2015; Steve Prince, August 12, 2017; Jill Downen, August 1, 2017; Koichi Yamamoto, August 1, 2017; Andy Messerschmidt, June 19, 2015. 3 Twyla Tharpe has a discussion of the power of this type of collecting in her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon and Schuster 2003. 4 Cindy May, “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientific American. June 3, 2014. 5 Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds. West Sussex, UK: Capstone Publishing 2001 is an excellent analysis of this educational bias and its impacts on our students. 6 Art journals and magazines are widely read, but for most artists play a minor role in the generative aspects of his or her practice. These periodicals are looked at more for the purposes of advancing professional goals and keeping current in one’s conversations, as well as discovering new artists and new work by familiar ones. They do not seem to be the kind of generative input that the other forms are.

Chapter 5

Productive Interaction and Conflict

I find a good way of describing what I try to capture in my artwork is “resting in conflict.” I’m always looking for subjects and ideas in the work that have some cognitive dissonance. They are the ones that open up into new spaces and ways of thinking. I try to find that thing that we consider static, and destabilize it. (Chicago-based artist Nate Young, interviewed August 3, 2017)1

We tend to think of our imaginations as being very powerful tools, capable of conjuring new artworks and ideas into being. As a result, developing artists often follow a pattern of attempting to execute preconceived artworks in the studio. The reality is, however, that our imaginations are actually very limited. As many students have experienced during the first few hours of focused observation in a drawing class, we actually see very little most of the time. As a result, our minds seldom internalize a level of material and visual richness necessary to imagine potential artworks. It is also not possible to simultaneously imagine a potential artwork and evaluate its merits. What is held in the mind cannot be separated from our own egos and desires. As we imagine a work, we are simultaneously imagining our responses to it, and others’ responses to it, all of which have an uncertain basis in reality. Even a quick thirty-second sketch on the back of an envelope or electronic tablet gives enough concrete form to ideas so they can begin to be more objectively observed and wrestled with in a way that is not possible when the idea is held only in the mind. Experienced teachers know that when they hear a student artist say “I know exactly what I am going to do for this project. I just have to make it,” the student is in serious trouble. The curious paradox of artistic process is that these tantalizing initial visions are really just triggers that begin a process, and almost never represent the finished artwork. Artists who have been making work for longer hold their initial ideas and inspirations loosely, accepting the limitations of their imaginations as quite normal. The wisdom in this approach is the realization that better work

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is most often developed through an interactive physical process that leads the artist into new ways of thinking about and making his or her work. Experienced artists are also not interested in simply fabricating what can be imagined because they understand that such visions are always, to some degree, stuck in the artist’s current mindset. Experienced artists are far more interested in participating in an interactive process that leads beyond what the artist knows and is better than what can be imagined. Carol Prusa is a Floridabased artist who makes multilayered drawings on three-dimensional spherical forms, combining imagery from organic, geometric, cartographic and other sources. She began her formal education as a chemistry major who “liked the questions more than the answers,” but chose art after a pivotal encounter: I met an artist, and thought I could never make art, because it would be too hard. But then realized that if I could never do it, every day I would wake up and have to figure out something new, and it would be endless. I would never succeed, so that seemed like a really good pursuit. I ultimately ended up in art because it is where you are always working to the limits of your ability, and always changing it up. (Carol Prusa, interviewed December 21, 2013) When discussing her ongoing experiments with material and visual ideas, she says “It’s a dreary path to keep on making what you know. You have to find strategies that fuel you for the long haul, and failure, experimentation, and risk taking are important to that.” Working beyond one’s current knowledge and abilities requires strategies that interrupt existing ways of working and expands one’s thinking. Part of the solution lies in forms of embodied research the artist undertakes that feed their practice. While essential, this is only part of the solution. Transcending one’s current abilities also requires developing a process that intentionally pushes the artist into new directions. Often characterized by phrases such as “throwing me off my center,” “messing it up,” or “complicating it,” these practices deliberately introduce different forms of challenge and disruption that force the artist out of their current ways of working. Some of these forms of productive disruptions can be relatively low key, such as the tendency to have overlapping bodies of work in process at the same time. Others can be quite intensive, such as moving into a new media, or working collaboratively for someone who has always worked alone. But all have the effect of introducing productive forms of resistance, interaction and conflict into the artist’s practice. Intentionally complicating one’s practice may seem counterintuitive, but consider for a moment an example found elsewhere. Historically, port cities such as New York and Hong Kong have been laboratories of innovation. The interaction and conflict between diverse social groups within these hubs, while not necessarily easy or predictable, produced genuinely new ideas in the arts and sciences, forms of business and commerce, and philosophy.2 In a similar

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way, introducing productive forms of interaction and conflict into a studio practice helps to generate innovative forms of thinking and making.

The Gifts of Anxiety and Fear These forms of interaction and conflict can be very energizing and productive, but they can also evoke some level of fear and anxiety. It is part of our human nature to resist disruptive events that complicate our lives and lead into potentially risky areas. While fear and anxiety are useful outside the studio, helping most of us avoid the kinds of freelance acrobatics that create YouTube stars, risk taking in the studio is essential. The developing artist can perceive fear and anxiety as an indication of directions that should be avoided. The more experienced artist, however, understands a greater reality: that these emotions are a constant presence in the studio, and an integral part of the artistic process itself. Experienced artists do not feel the impact of these emotions any less intensely or often. They have simply learned to understand these emotions and to use them in productive ways. Students who have spent time in assessment-heavy educational cultures have much less experience in dealing with fear and anxiety that comes from ambiguous situations such as art-making. With projects that are clearly defined, these emotions are seldom encountered as a positive force. Learning to lean into them takes some practice. Fear and anxiety are uncanny in their ability to indicate what we value. Mature artists listen to them while working, realizing that these emotions can pull the artist toward ideas and conflicts that have agency. As a former mentor used to tell students “Make the art that scares you.” It is a succinct piece of advice that leads the artist directly into content in which they clearly have a personal stake. Trying to avoid or dismiss these emotions, rather than being appreciative of their wisdom, eliminates an important internal compass.

Concurrent Projects and Interleaving There are many ways in which artists create and move into productive forms of interaction and conflict. One of the most common is to have more than one body of work in development at a time. Most artists take between eighteen months to three years to go from an initial idea to a finished body of work. Designers usually work on a shorter timeline, but both typically have more than one project or body of work on the go simultaneously, with many having three or four going at once. This is partly due to outside professional demands, which are seldom tidy. In any given month an artist or designer may be developing work in the studio for an exhibition, meeting with colleagues for a collaborative project, and starting the initial sketches for a new direction. Rather than seeing this as a distraction, many artists say that this variation in their dayto-day schedule is one of the main benefits of the profession, offering diversity and challenge which they find very energizing.

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Even in the absence of these outside influences, however, artists often choose to have several ideas in development simultaneously; an approach they arrive at intuitively. Such a strategy introduces forms of productive interaction and conflict into one’s practice in a very natural way. There is often cross-pollination between projects that can help solve problems and lead to new directions. Developing more than one project at a time also allows the artist to take a break from a work while keeping hand and mind engaged. Such continual involvement in a physical process keeps the artist at high levels of productive making and thinking, while allowing necessary time away from a work. Concurrent or overlapping projects help the artist from overworking pieces. Sculptor Steve Heilmer describes the pull of this tendency, which can be disastrous for those who carve marble, as he does. One of the dangers for the artist is that we love the physical act of making so much we often want to keep working after the piece is finished. We connect with the process, and use it as a way of thinking about our subject. It is easy to work past the point where we should stop, when the piece is actually done. (Steve Heilmer, email correspondence, October 2017) Working on concurrent projects also reduces the pressure that any specific piece be successful, a pressure that can keep one from taking the necessary risks to push the work as far as it can go. Developing projects simultaneously also strengthens the artist or designer’s work and increases his or her ability to move in new directions. The benefit of this type of experience is supported by recent educational studies on “interleaving,” a method of learning in which one moves back and forth between different, but related skills within a specific area. In a math class, for example, one might solve word problems, graphing problems, and formulas, as the student learns statistical analysis. Such variation around a specific topic tends to increase both the ability to learn and retain ideas long term, as well as the ability to handle new kinds of problems.3 In the studio, the artist who fabricates a model of a potential artwork, writes a verbal description of the work for a proposal, and works on a set of related drawings for exhibition is clearly working and benefiting in the same way from this experience. “I definitely wear multiple hats in my different roles as artist, educator and curator, but they are all linked. It’s been interesting to see how they’re all equal, and they all fuel each other.” So says multidisciplinary artist Jenene Nagy, who has worked as an educator and curator for several organizations, and was a founding member of TILT Export: a nomadic art initiative that has worked in a variety of venues. Her early curatorial projects were undertaken to both gain experience and to expand Nagy’s professional circle. “I felt it was important to make myself as professionally nimble as possible. The curatorial

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projects became a networking system.” The impact of curating, however, has not been limited to professional influences. There is an overlap between the studio, the gallery, and teaching. All of these roles allow me to become more motivated to help people learn how to pause and ask questions, and to see the world in new ways; optically, perceptually, and in relation to their physical body. I try to do that with the shows I curate and also in my own work. (Jenene Nagy, interviewed April 22, 2014) Interleaving is distinctly different from multitasking, in which a person attempts to simultaneously do two different things, such as chatting on social media while trying to drive, or listen to lectures, or talk to a romantic interest in person. Multitasking is attempting to split one’s attention in real time, with often predictably disastrous results, while interleaving is focusing intently on one task at a time, through a series of distinct, but related tasks. Students would do well to consider the idea of interleaving when selecting courses. Pairing a 19th-century art history class with a science course on the development of Darwin’s theories, or literature course on the transcendentalists takes advantage of these interactive dynamics. Looking at the same ideas from different fields of knowledge, through different philosophical lenses, and wrestling with them in unique assignments, allows the student to understand and internalize content in very deep ways.

Creating Interaction and Conflict Artists also introduce productive forms of interaction and conflict directly into their process by making problems for themselves in the studio. Often this is as simple as moving into a new medium. The majority of artists interviewed have worked in at least four media in their professional lives, and often work in more than one at a time. “There’s this feeling of being startled awake when you dive into a new process cold. You have to try to move forward, and it fuels your ambitions because you are going into this unknown territory” explains multidisciplinary artist Troy Richards. “Working in different processes are important to the ideas because when I stick very closely to a single process, it begins to frame the conversation and dictate the ideas in the work in a specific and simplified way.” As Richards suggests, moving into a new medium creates energy that disrupts predictable ways of working. Not only are the artists discovering and developing aspects of their work in a new format, but this action enriches their entire practice by allowing them to see their work from a new perspective. Other productive problems could include challenging oneself to work on a new scale, working collaboratively, or accepting a different kind of professional opportunity. While not all of these disruptions will be successful, artists frequently ascribe the beginning of important new directions to such

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experiments. As Kate Vrijmoet discusses in her profile in Chapter 6, challenging herself to paint a portrait every day for fifty consecutive days completely reoriented her relationship to painting. Fiber artist Andrea Graham says that when she first experimented with felt making, the media that she has since worked in for more than a decade, “it was like falling in love. I tossed and turned at night, and was just consumed with the possibilities of this medium.” Reinventing one’s previous works is also a way of introducing productive forms of interaction and conflict into a practice. “I don’t like the finality of thinking that something is done” says Justin Randolph Thompson, whose practice involves a nearly constant state of reinterpreting previous works “Setting a goal is fundamental, because it pushes you in a direction, but I never want to arrive at a point at which I stop. Ending is too comfortable.” Thompson’s work Shine, in which he applied 24K gold leaf gilding to the shoes of a range of volunteers from the viewing public, demonstrates his approach. For the work, Thompson constructed a sculptural shoeshine stand in response to the AfricanAmerican history evoked by airport shoeshine stands, and images of the papal throne he saw while living in Italy. Realizing that the performance was “a dialogue unlike anything I ever had with an audience,” Thompson decided to continue some of its themes and reworked aspects of Shine into Rag Poppin’, a related performance which included live music and performers snapping rags in the stylized manner of shoeshine street performers. In the subsequent dozen works built around the theme of the shoeshine stand, he has designed and created uniforms, slang languages, and built elaborate sets that have included as many as forty performers. Those pieces that have passed always get to exist in another work. Everything gets walked right back into the studio. The works cross pollinate each other, and all the different iterations of that project become more dynamic every time it shows up. (Justin Randolph Thompson, interviewed June 25, 2015) Each of these reinterpretations are nudged along by Thompson’s research into music, minstrelsy, and history that expands his knowledge about the social context around shoeshine stands, and allows him to address the theme from different perspectives. Early on I was told that I needed to focus on a body of work, where I always wanted to focus on twenty bodies of work. That was a criticism that I fought against, but that diversity has really come to define what I do. (Ibid.) This expansive approach has allowed him to constantly reinvent and reinterpret his works, finding new energy and ideas again and again.

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When faced with a painting that she feels is getting too predictable, painter and performance artist Christie Blizard uses another dramatic but effective way of introducing productive disruption. “I will paint the stupidest, weirdest, most awkward thing I could put in the painting right now, right in the best part of the work, in the area I have been trying to protect.” In spite of her humorous description, Blizard’s actions are far more tactical than might initially be suggested. The acts are meant to be disruptive, but are not utterly destructive. These are liberating gestures that remove a sense of preciousness and allow the work to evolve and change. By forcing it in new directions, she has to reevaluate previously held ideas about what was successful in the work, and where it could lead. She adds, “Often it works, but even if the painting is horrible I had to get it out of my system.” (Excerpts from interview with Christie Blizard on August 7, 2014.) Introducing intense forms of conflict directly into one’s work in this way can become revealing and productive, if a little nerve wracking at times. Such disruptive actions also seem to work best when they are at the edge or even beyond the edge of possibility and collapse, with the artist genuinely unsure if he or she can complete them or not. Half measures and modest goals do not seem to produce the same results. Such internal challenges also require the artist to have a measure of faith in his or her own ability, and a willingness to believe that disrupting a practice in such a way will lead to greater rewards. As the above examples indicate, much of what successful artists attempt in the studio does not result in finished art. By their own accounts, most artists say that between 20 percent and 50 percent of the potential artworks in which they in invest some form of time and treasure are completed and exhibited, with something closer to 20 percent being far more common. Aside from the surprisingly low percentage of completion, what is interesting is that artists typically don’t define their works as successes or failures, but talk about them in ways that are far more descriptive and contextual. Naming is powerful, and once a work is labeled either a success or a failure, it inhibits the artist’s ability to see new potentials it might hold. Artists with a mature practice tend to refrain from such conclusive assessments, considering all of their works part of a larger process, each with a degree of achievement and worth, and each with some shortcomings. Many seem to take a distinct, even humorously perverse pleasure from the collapse of previous directions and ideas, seeing them as a challenge and embracing them as a point of transformation and innovation. Troy Richards succinctly summarizes a very common attitude among artists: Failure is always an option. I just don’t care if something fails, it doesn’t bother me in any way. You get to a point where you can make a work and suffer for a long time, and if it doesn’t work out, or even if an entire show doesn’t work out, you think well ok, terrific, let’s move on. (Troy Richards, interviewed April 19, 2014)

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The developing artist who has spent a decade in a pedagogical system that places a high value on assessment may not appreciate the degree to which his or her long history in that system has shaped how they assess their work. Such artists are more likely to see it in binary terms, using the language of success/ failure to an unhelpful degree. In this light, looking at one’s practice as having an 80 percent failure rate can be very discouraging. Such educational experiences have also shaped perceptions of failure as a sterile experience, incapable of leading anywhere other than to the conclusion that one is not doing as well as he or she should be. Experienced artists have a strikingly different attitude; one in which failure leads to better work. Reorienting one’s understanding of failure toward a more productive view is not always quick or easy, but it is essential to a healthy practice.

Embracing External Interaction and Conflict The artist leaving school may be glad to see the end of the rhythms of education, believing that without such deadlines and restrictions he or she will be far more focused in their practice. But like my Uncle Milton, who left the family farm and joined the navy at age 17 because he “was tired of people telling him what to do” he or she may find their practice after graduation not to be as free from external restrictions as might have been imagined. And this is a good thing. Without such external stimuli, the artist is often adrift and unfocused. With this reality in mind, graduating art students are often advised by mentors to quickly get involved in an exhibit, critique groups, and other projects. This pragmatic bit of wisdom is not merely a nudge into the professional world, but comes from the awareness that the most difficult time for the developing artist is the transition from academic settings that are structured around deadlines, to professional paths in which opportunities need to be pursued, and often created for oneself. External requirements are a reality for every artist, and represent a very common, but also very rich form of interaction and conflict. Utopian dreams of a practice unencumbered by outside requirements ignore the fact that deadlines, exchanges with clients and collaborators, and new artistic challenges, bring ideas and energy into one’s work that can be very productive. Henrique Oliveira is a Brazilian artist whose large-scale wood installations transform the buildings that contain them. The massive works seem to grow out of the white museum walls, buckling ceilings and floors, sprawling through the gallery as they invade and conquer the space, sometimes threatening to take over entire buildings in a furious organic energy. The creation of each work, in which Oliveira conceives and develops the works in response to the unique features of each architectural location, begins with a day or two of drawings on-site, followed by a period of planning. The works are constructed on-site.

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Oliveira describes the evolution of the works early in his career: I was working mostly on canvas, when I started to research plywood as a kind of collage language. The layering process, typical of plywood board fabrication, becomes apparent when the wood starts to disintegrate when used outdoors as fences for construction sites. They were all over São Paulo and I was attracted by their painterly characteristics, as aged surfaces, shapes and colors of paint residues. The first works that I made directly on walls would take the shape of architecture elements that contained them, fitting between pillars or following the shape of rooms. Moving outward from a flat modern painting space towards a physical space, those first installations started to become tridimensional, wrapping columns and gaining bulbous volume. First as a response of the shape of buildings, and then latter becoming progressively independent of the space, to the point where it was possible to conceive them as free-standing sculptures. But then I stepped back to find a mid-ground, which seemed more interesting. Today some of the works bring the sensation that they are breaking into gallery spaces, ripping off walls or ceilings. I try to create a feeling that they are much bigger than what you can see in the space where they are contained. Like the top of an iceberg, it would continue in the imagination of the viewer. (Henrique Oliveira, interviewed July 17, 2014) The responsiveness of Oliveira’s installations to each unique site represents a way of working that is challenged by, and responsive to the unique physical situations of each exhibition space. Of course most of the external restrictions that artists encounter are more workaday and related to client demands, professional opportunities such as curated exhibits and niche opportunities, or perhaps making work in response to social needs or causes. While such restrictions may not have the profound effect they do in Oliveira’s work, they function nonetheless as a way to introduce productive forms of interaction and conflict into one’s work. Responding to such external situations pushes the artist into new directions, challenging him or her into thinking about making in new ways. It would be naive to expect these experiences to be consistently easy and welcome, but the result of such interactions is most often stronger work and a stronger artist. Changing one’s environment by traveling can be another way of introducing productive forms of interaction into a practice. Ximena Garrido-Lecca’s work often contrasts ancient and contemporary material strategies and construction methods as a way of talking about the passage of time, and the cyclical nature of human activity. Her multivalent practice includes sculpture, installation, video, drawing, and painting. She says:

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I am interested in cultural changes that emerge through modernization and the marks left by human activity within the landscape. I like tracing cycles by which things transform and the idea of working as a sort of chronicler, registering these changes. (Ximena Garrido-Lecca, email correspondence, September 2015) Garrido-Lecca often travels as part of her process, finding energy for new works as she gathers information: Sometimes these trips can be a starting point, by visiting a place, doing some research on-site and looking around for things that interest me. I often use photographic images I take on these different trips as references for my work. (Ibid.) She finds that travel is also helpful in breaking through problematic ways of working and thinking. “Being ‘stuck’ is a normal part of a creative process,” she says. “I think that a lot can be achieved through mental blocks, the unflushing of thoughts can bring new ideas that were stuck somewhere in the way. Traveling and changing your regular environment always helps with this unblocking.”

Unwanted Interaction and Conflict Most forms of interaction and conflict discussed here have been those chosen by the artist to some degree. It might be helpful to consider the impact of unwanted problems that come into the artist’s life. These might include financial problems, health/mental health issues, or family and relationship struggles. Like many challenges, it is tempting to see them as only having a negative impact. One canny faculty member at a graduate school offered a very real lesson in this way of thinking when he took a large group of printmakers to the horse track and convinced them to bet heavily on a “sure thing.” The horse immediately lost, and left the students unable to buy art supplies. The students were forced to make prints (about horseracing, of course) that they sold to recoup their losses. While the faculty member never admitted that the crisis he created might have been calculated, he did seem to enjoy pointing out to me that the prints the group made out of desperation to restore the funds were better than what they had been producing before. If the artist approaches unwanted problems as having the potential to have a positive impact on their practice, it can help move the artist in new directions. While a young painter may want to work with large stretched linen canvases, the cost may require the artist to find alternative strategies such as

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working in a new media, or collaboratively, or digitally with freeware, or to create strategies for developing funds. He or she may find the affordability of cardboard takes their work in some fruitful directions, as it has for artists going back to Manet, Schiele, Degas, Picasso, and most other household name painters at one point. Margery Amdur explains that for her, such unexpected challenges emerged during a very prolific time in her career, during a time when her work was receiving substantial critical attention. This work was baroque in nature, embellished, yet made out of industrial materials. Window screen wire, aquarium tubing, lace patterns, home decor patterns, were my materials of choice. Initially, I followed dress and slipcover chair patterns that I purchased at fabric stores. I stitched yards and yards of window screen as if it were textile yardage to create domestic accoutrements with works that provoked conflicting desires . . . Look, but don’t touch. (Margery Amdur, interviewed July 21, 2015) Amdur was offered a show in a Chelsea gallery that offered opportunities for artists to exhibit experimental work. Wanting to fully take advantage of the large exhibit space, she took out a homeowner’s loan and hired students to assist. The show, Highly Strung, while a personal and critical success, was also an unsustainable effort. I took chances and was willing to go out on a limb . . . but I also realized after spending the kind of money that I did, I had to be more fiscally responsible. The challenge was how to do this and to create work that was authentic and not forced. (Ibid.) A period of unsettledness followed, during which Amdur allowed herself to make what she called, “bad art,” while wondering if she had, in fact, lost her artistic voice. A serendipitous encounter with a Paint-by-Number kit provided an intriguing possibility: After completing one, which was really about staying busy and marking time, I purchased several, and yes, I followed the enclosed directions. Somehow along the way an “Aha!” moment happened, and I decided to use these kits as templates from which to leap. (Ibid.) The experiment eventually expanded into a seven-year run of large canvas works and installations, as well as her first public commission at an underground subway station in Philadelphia.

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Artists often respond to the realities of depression, illness, familial problems, or social conflict that come crashing into their lives in positive and productive ways in their work, even using their work to create a different relationship to these circumstances. Edgar Matisse and Chuck Close, both highly successful painters, experienced illnesses that dramatically altered their ability to paint. Both responded by changing their process so they could continue to work. Close developed a new method of painting his large portraits that did not require fine detail; one that allowed more expressive coloration and interpretation. Matisse turned to paper collages. Calling it “painting with scissors” he found that his illness led him to an artistic area that was ultimately more satisfying, saying "Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated.” Making art is not a zero-sum game. It always holds the possibility of transformation into a much greater reward. While not all forms of interaction and conflict may initially be welcome, they nonetheless have generative potential as they push the artist into new directions and ways of approaching their work. Because of the interwoven nature of art and artist, these acts have the ability to resonate in the life of the artist in transformative ways.

Starting Again The artist looking to restart a practice after an extended time away from it may find him or herself facing such unwanted and unexpected challenges. Not only may perceptual and technical skills have dulled from lack of use, he or she may also have to fight to re-establish time-space and other forms of space required for working. Art-making is connected to the life of the artist, so taking an extended leave for any reason means that to some degree the artist is working from a different place. His or her practice is going to respond to those changes. This can be particularly true when leaving school. Bodies of work produced in academic settings are often stubbornly affixed to those programs. School environments drive one’s process forward in powerful ways, feeding the student with physical support and direction from teachers and mentors. Leaving this structure will almost certainly be disruptive to an artistic practice. While going through this transition can be challenging, in retrospect it will likely be very positive. Statistics from this study show that among successful midcareer artists, the majority are not working in imagery and methods similar to what they were doing in school, with at least one third working in a different media altogether. It would be unrealistic to expect a college student to be able to outline a lifetime’s direction of work, a phenomenon we expect in few other professional directions. Often the artist attempting to pick up where he or she left off after a time away from the studio needs to face the hard reality that the agency in the previous direction is gone and he or she needs to start anew. But as Bachelard

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observed, “As soon as an art becomes autonomous, it makes a fresh start.”4 Difficulty in restarting a practice may be an unwanted problem, but like any other unwanted problem, it can be a generative experience. Whenever the artist thumbs a lump of clay, puts charcoal to paper, or records and arranges a sequence of video clips, he or she is facing a mystery of the first order. The process of turning inert matter into meaningful objects and experiences always anticipates some type of new beginning. This is true whether the artist has made one work or a thousand, and whether the process is undertaken in order to make work for gallery sales, or in an attempt to affect political and social change, or tell a story, or follow one’s curiosity in a process of seeing and making. The most consistently successful artists continually embrace the assumption that making authentic work requires this willingness to start afresh, regardless of what they may have just completed. Painter Caroline Kent describes her approach to continually being responsive to new beginnings: I discipline my mind to keep investigating in new areas. The rigor in my painting practice comes from a dedication to being responsive to the world as a unique set of circumstances. I am less interested in established standards of quality, or even being “original” and more interested in using painting to have a conversation that is relevant to the culture right now. I want to push my visual vocabulary and find my voice that resonates with others. It is not an easy path, and requires mastering things that are multidimensional and complex. (Caroline Kent, interviewed August 3, 2017) A dedication to being continually receptive to new ideas, while challenging, often leads into very productive directions. For the individual who wants to invigorate or restart a practice, it is important to take a long view of these activities. Forcefully implementing the activities outlined in this book will likely not work without a genuine connection to the rest of one’s life and practice, and space for it to develop. Artists typically integrate these activities into their practice over longer periods of time. It is likely a better strategy to start sustainably, but more authentically, by carving out a degree of space that is supportable over the long term, and pursuing forms of research that connect to one’s current ideas. As we saw in the discussion of time and space, it seems to be more beneficial for the artist to work in regular sessions. Even a routine of making drawings for twenty minutes a day over morning coffee has a tendency to expand over time. Such investments have no guarantees, but artists are used to that. The paradoxical nature of making visual art repeatedly demonstrates that while the diligent artist is rewarded over time, such rewards are returned in unexpected ways. Investing in developing a strong studio practice is very similar in this regard, returning both personal and artistic rewards in ways that cannot always be predicted, but continually materialize for the artist willing to do the work.

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Notes 1 The artists interviewed in this chapter are: Nate Young, August 3, 2017; Carol Prusa, December 21, 2013; Steve Heilmer, email correspondence, October 2017; Jenene Nagy, April 22, 2014; Troy Richards, April 19, 2014; Justin Randolph Thompson, June 25, 2015; Christie Blizard, August 7, 2014; Henrique Oliveira, July 17, 2014; Ximena Garrido-Lecca, email correspondence, September 2015; Margery Amdur, July 21, 2015; Caroline Kent, August 3, 2017. 2 Steven Johnson offers a thorough analysis of this phenomenon in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books 2010. 3 Steven C. Pan. “The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning.” Scientific American, August 4, 2015. 4 Bachelard, Gaston (1958). The Poetics of Space. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, p. xxxii.

Chapter 6

Process Is the Product

The way in which we think about the nature of the artistic process shapes how we construct a practice for ourselves. Developing artists are more likely to believe that successful artists are gifted with reservoirs of vision and drive that propel them forward in their work. Whether this gift is the result of “divine madness” given by muse or deity, Freudian sublimation, evolutionary byproduct, or personality quirk, the answer is often seen to lie within the artist entirely: a hardwiring that drives a person forward throughout their lifetime. The impact of working from such a paradigm expands out in many ways, suggesting the following: •• •• •• •• •• ••

Talent, which is most often defined as an ability to work in representational ways of making, is innate. The artist overcomes problems to execute a singular vision he or she has for the work. How one feels about a work while making it, or the amount of labor required to do so, is a good indication of whether it is successful or not. The display of technical mastery is essential. External markers of success such as sales and commissions are reliable indicators of artistic achievement. The artist has expectations of continuing to make art because he or she is creative.

Experienced artists tend to work from a paradigm that is much more self-aware and self-directed, suggesting a different set of ideas: •• •• ••

The entire spectrum of intelligences is represented among successful visual artists as a whole, and can be seen in the way in which different individuals develop their work. Representational ways of making are among many equally viable tools. The artist’s initial ideas most often represent an impoverished vision for the work. What is discovered through the physical process of making is most often richer and more compelling than what can be imagined.

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•• •• •• •• ••

The studio is often a research and development lab where the majority of new artworks are started through the process of experimenting and working on other projects. Productive forms of resistance, interaction, and conflict are sought out. Acquiring forms of technical mastery is a key form of embodied knowledge, but one must be willing to set such mastery aside at times in the service of better work. External markers of success are important for a professional career but have an indeterminate relationship to artistic achievement. The artist has expectations of continuing to make art because he or she walks into the studio each day and makes things.

A key difference between these two perspectives is in the way in which experienced artists are much more focused on the care and feeding of their practice. The shift from an emphasis on making specific and predetermined objects, to focusing on developing a process from which artworks emerge is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a mature practice. As seen in previous chapters, this involves layers of research, the creation of space in which to work, and nurturing helpful forms of interaction and conflict. Process really is the product for the successful artist. Complicating this understanding is the fact an artist may not always talk about what they do in such terms, but when one looks at how he or she works on a regular basis, it is clear that the overwhelming majority structure their practice in this way.

Why Do Artists Make Art? So far this book has focused much more on how, rather than why the artist works. Stopping here would leave a very skewed perspective of what a healthy practice looks like. It will be helpful to consider some of these reasons, and to hear from the artists themselves about why they walk into the studio day after day. The seventy-five artists interviewed for this study offer widely divergent reasons for making art. Many cited a continual fascination with their materials and their ability to formulate poetic, religious, social, or critical responses to what they see in the world. Some said that their work is a way to deal with past trauma, or make connections between people, others just wanted to see what was going to show up next in the studio. Many refused to respond to “why?” at all, stating an inability to formulate a response, or politely suggesting it was a pretty stupid question. Any attempt here to generalize from this range of responses would be vague to the point of unhelpfulness, or represent a position that omitted many of the respondents. It would also have to ignore the fact that even those offering the most articulate and complete response seemed to acknowledge that it was, at best, a partial answer. A common aspect of their replies was very revealing, however, as seen in these excerpts from the interviews:

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“I tried to get off the boat many times. I just don’t see myself not being a maker. It comes from a place of understanding myself in relation to the world.” “I have no other intellectual statement than that of my hands.” “It’s all a process of self exploration. We are teaching these paintings how to teach us.” “Sometimes it feels that we don’t really have a choice. Even when I am jumping through hoops and doing a balancing act, I can’t imagine my life without making.” “As much as possible, I don’t want there to be a separation between art and life.”1 These comments show the deeply interconnected relationship between the artist and their work, to the degree that their practice becomes one of the primary ways in which the artist interacts with the world. As he or she develops his or her practice, the process becomes integrated into how they think, process ideas, and relate to others at fundamental levels. Western models of the mind tend to regard consciousness as far more fixed than this idea would suggest, and, as a result, phrases like those above are often treated as hyperbole or metaphor when they should be taken much closer to literal fact. Making art comes from a place of understanding oneself in relation to the world; what the artist’s hands produce is a primary form of meaning and language; the artist needs to work and cannot imagine his or her life without making. Once the gravity of these kinds of statements is understood, listening to artists describe their art and practice is a very different experience. Mature artists are not interested in creating a practice that simply steals ideas off the web, or forfeits all decisions to a teacher/client/curator, or focuses on executing prescribed ideas. Artists are uninterested in such ways of working because they do not allow an engagement with the world through an authentic process of making. This engagement resonates into the life of the artist, impacting the maker in personal ways. If, indeed, the idea of artistic “talent” has any validity, it is likely to be found here, in an artist’s resilient willingness to invest in developing a practice to a degree that it becomes part of who he or she is at these fundamental levels, in spite of interior and exterior forces that would minimize and discourage it.

Artists’ Stories In order to more fully understand not only how different artists work within a practice, but why they are continually drawn to do so, nine artists are profiled below in a more in-depth way. The artists chosen represent a range of approaches, offering a spectrum that should not be thought of as conclusive.

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Reading between the lines a little will help to see the degree to which the artist is interwoven with their practice, and how he or she develops processes that continually expand into new ideas and directions. These artists also tend to simultaneously be involved in forms of play and curiosity, and yet see their work as having agency in the world, with an impact that is not limited to professional achievements. These stories will illustrate an idea brought up earlier, that an individual who would participate in all the activities outlined in this book is an idealized one, and in all likelihood doesn’t exist. While this book is an attempt to flesh out “best practices,” for the artist, it should not be interpreted as a set of criteria to be completed, or a prescription for how to become an artist. Most successful artists do most of these things most of the time, but no one participates in all of them to the idealized degree that might be implied. More typically, an artist develops a few of them to a greater degree, and others less so. The reader is encouraged to view the artists’ websites to get a fuller sense of the art referenced, within the context of the artists’ oeuvre. Links to the websites can be found at Deborah Aschheim “One of the freedoms I take advantage of as an artist is an ability to look at an idea from different points of view” says Deborah Aschheim: Over the last twelve years I have been interested in the idea of memory, and have looked at the subject from different perspectives, looking at what memory means from an autobiographical narrative standpoint, what it means from the point of view of a neurologist and the actual wiring of the brain, and from a cognitive psychologist. Lately I have been interested in the idea of collective memory, and the more public space of architecture and history, which is something we have a personal relationship with, but is also shared.2 (Deborah Ascheim, interviewed April 1, 2014) Aschheim’s research into memory takes many forms. She has interviewed and collaborated on projects with scientists and helped to start an artist residency program in the neurology department at the University of California at San Francisco, and, as part of her residency, had her own brain scanned. She also undertook a daily reading habit, working through more than fifteen different compilations of studies of experimental psychology, including the Oxford Handbook of Memory.3 It is a depth of investigation that a psychologist friend said was “the most insane thing he had ever heard” for a non-scientist. Such research not only allows Aschheim to understand the current thinking about memory, but the way in which it is studied. She explains: “If you are going to work with professionals in another field, you have to learn their language” (ibid.).

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Within this larger study, Aschheim has created bodies of work that deal with facets of personal and collective memory. These include sculptural studies of utopian architecture from the 1960s, installations that reference models of neural frameworks, and drawings of historical events. Her Kennedy Obsession works are apparition-like drawings on Mylar based on events in the life of John F. and Robert Kennedy. Working from imagery found in the historical archives in both the Nixon and Kennedy Libraries, the drawings document unknown “B-roll” scenes of the Kennedys’ travels and interactions with crowds. I became interested in the JFK era as a way of thinking about societal memory and how that functions. I have an infinite appetite for reading biographies of presidents of that era. I have probably already read ten books about Kennedy. When I pick one up at this point I am mostly interested in the layers of revisionist history as the stories have changed over time. How we see it now compared to how it was viewed before, what is known now compared to what was known then. (Ibid.) The intensive level of research she undergoes for each project would likely be unnecessary if one were simply looking for imagery to borrow for one’s work, but Aschheim’s goals are not so limited. “The most important thing for me creatively is to ask what am I curious about, and what can I do to process and understand those ideas.” The research is not just seen as the means to locate imagery, but an essential part of the work itself. The entire process is a way of understanding her subject. Part of the catalyst for Aschheim’s focus on memory were extended family members who were suffering from forms of dementia, though her interest has since broadened to include the ways in which collective memory is continually rewritten. A lot of times the original inspiration for me being interested in something will be something traumatic or what I am anxious about. It’s not really art therapy, but I get obsessed with an idea because of a personal concern about it, and I will want to understand it. Somehow in this process of making I transform my relationship to the uncomfortable idea by getting so much knowledge about it, that it somehow deactivates it as an unsolvable problem. As much as possible, I don’t want there to be a separation between art and life. (Ibid.) David Bailin “I never understood artists that need light and fresh air for their studio. My studio is a bunker,” says Arkansas artist David Bailin laughing. “It is a

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place where I know that I am safe and I can bring my insecurities, angers, and frustrations.” (Excerpts from interview with David Bailin on February 11, 2014.) Bailin’s large-scale drawings, often five feet square and larger, are layered with pentimento imagery, stains, and erasures that create a texture over the surface of the paper. “As I draw the figures I am modeling their faces on myself, my father, or my brother,” he says, “but the characters are Buster Keaton living within a Kafka story or parable.” The pinstriped-suit office dwellers in Bailin’s Paper Trail drawings spend their days within strange corporate and natural environments that suggest Sisyphean labors as they push file cabinets through flooded wastelands, stride purposefully upon ramparts of stacked books, or light fires in their briefcases. These same figures also inhabit his Dreams and Disasters series, a collection of disintegrating landscapes that evoke the sensation of dreams and nightmares half-forgotten upon waking. Typically working through a series over several years, Bailin finds that when he becomes a bit too proficient in his technique, the body of work is coming to a close. A quote by painter Milton Resnick has become a touchstone for him in this process. (Artists) begin to be too good, too capable—too technically able—to do whatever it is they’re doing. Then their technique eliminates them from falling to the bottom of the pit. Enduring pain can be avoided altogether. They have acquired the technique that keeps them from suffering. At that point, a funny thing happens: they’re no longer good artists. It happens to almost everybody. When they get to be old, a very few can escape it. (Resnick, quoted at discovering-milton-resnick) Bailin says: Many artists find this pit terrifying, and try to find ways to avoid it. This “pit” is something I really don’t want to experience, but it is invigorating in a way. It is connected to the idea that if doing the art doesn’t have some blowback for you, if you don’t feel that there is some frustration and irritation and anger in the process, then, why do it? I have friends who can’t understand how anyone can do any work if they are not in the “zone” where there is no sense of time, where you are making correct decisions, and everything is working beautifully. I dislike that. If I wanted that I would watch TV. For me the “pit” usually lasts about six horrible months and during that time I give myself permission to make terrible artwork, make mistakes and explore different type of techniques without the feeling that I am working on something important. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get through. (David Bailin, interviewed February 11, 2014)

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A pivotal interaction with an important gallery director earlier in his career had an impact on Bailin. I have always been sincere in the drawings, but when I was younger it was important to make a grand statement. I was full of bluster, and tended to define originality in terms of rejection and synthesis. By rejecting current art practice and synthesizing seemingly opposite styles I thought I could create original, breakthrough art. The gallery owner told me that the work was ok, but he didn’t see me doing it for more than a few years. “I don’t see you in this stuff” was the phrase he used. Initially I was defensive. It took a couple years to realize that I had all these ideas and requirements for the work, but really didn’t leave room for myself. Now I see originality as finding a way in which the work, the techniques and methods, matches who you are, your thinking process and the theme you are exploring. (Ibid.) More recently Bailin has developed his Erasing series, a body of drawings made in response to his father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In the series, Bailin faithfully draws images from his father’s photographs, then erases sections of them, leaving ghost images and scarification across the surface of the paper. The works clearly reference Robert Rauschenberg’s erased de Kooning drawing, though Bailin is quick to point out that making the original drawings himself is a key difference. It is feeling the loss of all my work and meaning. “The final work in the series will be erased right to the ground” he says. “Much like my father’s memories, they will be entirely gone.” Matthew Bourbon Speaking of his lifelong dedication to painting the figure, painter Matthew Bourbon says: There is something fascinating about finding a new way in painting old forms. Painting has the static quality of photography, but it also has a visceral, embodied physical quality, that encourages an examination from the painter’s point of view revealing a trail into the artist’s thinking. (Matthew Bourbon, interviewed April 3, 2014) With canvases that interweave figurative painting with linear and geometric abstraction, Bourbon focuses on making psychologically charged works that explore power relationships, opposition, and dimensions of the psyche. Bourbon calls his first gestures on a new canvas “opening the painting,” likening it to the opening move in a chess match. “From there it is responding to that opening move, and then a continual process of reacting and doing something else, and reacting again” as he pulls in new content and new ideas.

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I don’t have a sketchbook exactly. I have a book of titles. There are notations in there, schematics about what I might do for the next show or the next painting, but I don’t have a traditional drawing practice. I also stockpile images on my computer. (Ibid.) Bourbon initially started generating source material by photographing films on television. “I used cheap cameras and film developing to create distortions and capture processing imperfections. I also use advertising newspaper clippings, mail catalogs, my own photographs, all of which became source material for the work.” Much of the capturing and storage of this source material has now moved to digital folders with images that he can rifle through. “I find a folder, pull out a photo or two and can riff on them, like jazz.” Bourbon tends to work intently on one to two paintings simultaneously, but typically has four to six in process at any time. These range from canvases six foot square to small ten-inch by ten-inch panels. It interests me to do the equivalent of a haiku, a short story and a novel at the same time and have all those kinds of thinking going on at once. The bodily experiences are quite different. Bouncing between them changes the calculus of what I can do. There is also a pragmatic side to working on different scales. The larger paintings are generally more difficult to sell so it would be difficult if they were all that size. But I try not to get too involved in those kinds of concerns if the work is telling me to go a certain direction, if there’s a drive to do something in a certain way, I’m certainly not going to mediate that because I feel like it’s not going to sell. Having multiple paintings going at once also allows you to breathe and take a break from something that is driving you insane and you can move your ideas and your thought process elsewhere, in a freer way. This is especially helpful at the end, because the analytic work of getting things to a place where it’s possible to stop becomes increasingly more intense. While I admire artists who are singular in their vision, and have a dedication to a practice that is very distinct and consistent, I am not able to get myself to that place internally. And maybe that’s part of the reason of making multiple paintings, and paintings within paintings. It feeds my desire to do lots of things. I am interested in the multiple voices competing in the paintings, and the contentious way they are made. My studio is at home, and I try to get into my working space every day. Even if I am not making anything, but just sitting and thinking about what comes next. At some level, going into the studio is a kind of a “gut check” a faith in what you are doing. I am kind of a skeptical person. There are times when the process feels great, and times when it feels terrible, which I have come to realize is all part of the arc of making something. Perhaps our nagging critical side that always wants more from the work and is

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never satisfied is what inevitably keeps one from being stuck, because it forces you to reach further for what is always outside your grasp. That said, while there are certainly points of struggle and frustration that can be quite painful and difficult. I am so deep into the concentration of the painting process that it always seems like there is a next step. I never get stuck for long because there is always a path leading off somewhere. (Ibid.) Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann Located in a small town near Bern, Switzerland, Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann have worked as a collaborative team since 1990. In speaking about their collaborative history as makers, they explain: We started to work individually. Sabina painted and made drawings and Daniel made photos. When we began to collaborate, these two media were the ones we used and combined. From the beginning on we were interested in working with space. So often our photos and painted works went into space or were combined with objects and became installations. Then we started to do performances as collaborations with other artists or musicians, with old slide projectors, overhead projectors and liquid, paint, photocopies on transparent foils. These used images of objects, texts, and other imagery. We also installed a small screen-printing workshop in our studio and printed many works like wallpaper, posters, editions, and even printing on objects. Many of our photos were self-portraits and later we also made a few video works. We really like the wide range of possibilities in our work. Technically we are constantly learning more stuff, getting to know more and different materials, it’s such a huge palette and to be able to choose (and make the right choice) still feels very exciting to us. (Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann, email correspondence, September 2015) This broad sense of experimentation early in their work set the tone for a practice that continues to use a range of materials and collaborative interactions. Each of the twelve to fifteen projects the duo undertake every year begins with planning and research. They assemble a large photo archive of images for each project, as well as referencing a loosely organized electronic archive of found images, videos and text that serves as an ongoing source of inspiration. This initial research, which includes technical drawings and potential ideas, takes about two thirds of the time of the entire project, with the remaining time spent fabricating and installing the realized pieces. Most of this initial research is done on the computer, with models constructed by carpenter assistants. Recent projects include a series of otherworldly stairways that float and twist above the viewer in gallery spaces (Beautiful Step series), a collection of elegant installations with inflated white fabric tubes that redefine the viewer’s

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relationship to architectural sites (the Comfort series), and geometric paintings on streets that stretch for hundreds of meters. Finding energy and direction in the possibilities and restrictions that each site provides, Lang and Baumann emphasize the importance of working with each location. Invited to work with a small museum in the Swiss mountains, Lang and Baumann were challenged by the heterogeneity of the building, which had several architectural styles. “We couldn’t imagine anything that would function inside these different spaces,” they explained. In response to these obstacles, they developed a wood structure that sprawled through the entire building. Painted black inside and out, viewers were able to cross from one side of the museum to the other inside the wood structure (which required stooping and using ladders at times), transforming the museum into a secondary architectural shell around their work. Traversing the length of the work allowed the viewer to experience the existing and new structures simultaneously and from a very new perspective. The work nicely illustrates their approach to the productive restrictions that each location offers. We like to get involved with a site, space or situation. This functions like a third party, and influences the work by the way we react to the specific situation and its history. We always try to ‘embrace’ difficulties in the sense that we sometimes like constraints or limits (in a technical, financial or other way) it urges us to be very clear and formulate our idea precisely. (Ibid.) Judy Millar “I want to find new things that I haven’t seen before,” explains Judy Millar, a New Zealand artist who moves back and forth between painting, sculpture, photography, and installation; frequently within a single work. It may be something I want to discover or find out. I call this the “what if” time. This could be as simple as seeing what happens when I use two colors together or it might be a more complex conceptual question. I’ll often start new thoughts by just assembling a group of materials. These can be either painting materials or materials that can be worked in three dimensions. Then I’ll just hang around the studio until a certain amount of boredom sets in. Boredom is useful in getting to new places. It quietens you so that you can hear the infinite voices inside yourself. Inevitably this leads to picking something up and trying out new possibilities. This can’t be rushed. It’s a matter of paying attention without having any desire for a specific outcome. I would describe it as disinterested focus. After I take one step, with time the next step reveals itself. This process is mysterious and can’t be unwound. Looking back, it’s not possible to say that because of one thing another thing happened. It’s not a chain of cause and effect.

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No situation in the studio can ever be repeated. It’s unique, and so each time I work I’m in effect starting over. (Judy Millar, interviewed, email correspondence, March 2014) Millar’s works often use monumentally large reproductions of painted brushstrokes and half-tone dots that cover the surface of sculptural structures that hang from the ceiling, wander off the gallery walls, and nestle within architectural spaces. Millar uses these diverse media to explore ideas about perception, process and physicality in a contemporary age. I have a computer file of literally thousands of photos of small 3D models for prospective sculptural works. These have come about through building imaginary gallery spaces and building models for works that develop certain tensions in those spaces; perhaps expanding the apparent distance between floor and ceiling or producing a work that divides the space in a way that appears at the same time to expand the visible space. Posing quite specific questions leads to entirely new and different approaches to using the material at hand. If any of these models come to be physically realized I of course encounter all the structural problems posed by gravity and often the works need to change. Many of the models I have produced are simply unbuildable given the present construction methods I have access to. Nonetheless they have been crucial to discovering new ways for me to think about how a work can inhabit space. Working with different media approaches and materials has always been a very natural thing for me to do, I don’t think of this as being interdisciplinary. I’ve grown up in a world where I got to know about paintings mostly through looking at photographs or photographic slides of them. I very often take photos of my own works in the studio to gain a more emotionally distant view of them. All my work begins with either direct painting or direct manipulation of simple materials such as paper, cloth or card. But from there it seems necessary to set up a feedback loop where the work is reflected back onto itself. Photographic manipulation and print media enable me to see what I’m doing more clearly. They set up different distances for me to view the work from. I’m very conscious that relying on the subconscious or “gesture” will inevitably end up with very habitual responses. By using the distancing mechanisms of photography and print I’m able to challenge my automatic responses that lead to narrow habits and predictable thoughts. (Ibid.) Wendy Red Star “I never thought I was going to be an artist. I wanted to be an equestrian,” says Wendy Red Star, a Portland-based artist whose work moves fluidly between

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photography, collage, sculpture, and installation. An art foundations art class in her undergraduate school set her on a different course. I liked sculpture. It made sense to me. I was free in my unknowing of art and explored a lot of ideas. But when I got to grad school I realized that all the other art students had gone to art schools. They had libraries in their studios and really knew critical theory. It was a very steep learning curve. While I knew nothing about art theory, I found that the students and teachers were educated, but uneducated about issues of race. (Wendy Red Star, interviewed September 21, 2017) As she explored ideas that related directly to her Crow heritage, she says: They sometimes didn’t want to talk about my work because it made everybody nervous, and I became the “go to” representative for anything related to the non-dominant culture and other ways of thinking. Another big challenge for me at the school was the idea that the viewer shouldn’t know anything about the identity or gender of the artist by looking at the work. That is 100 percent the opposite of what I make, which is all about cultural richness and personal experience. (Ibid.) An important work during this time was her Four Seasons photo series. For each of the four photographs in the set, Red Star created scenic dioramas that evoke the traditional homeland of the Crow peoples in the American North and Midwest. Photographed within each diorama, Red Star is dressed in traditional Crow clothing, surrounded by cardboard coyotes and deer, and artificial plants and flowers in front of photo-mural wallpaper of snowcapped mountains and rolling prairie. Shot in deadpan studio lighting, the photographs are filled with jarring contradictions, mixing authenticity and clichés in a mirroring of contemporary perspectives of native peoples. During discussion of the works, Red Star was told that no one would ever exhibit them and was encouraged to make other kinds of work. “Instead, the series was a giant door opener for me” she said. “It showed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has traveled all over.” While exhibiting regularly after school, Red Star went through a period of reassessment of her practice. I always had fear around making. I didn’t produce a lot of work compared to my peers, and I would worry about not having enough ideas to produce work for shows. I decided I wanted to take it seriously, and that I was going to pursue art with an intent to make it happen and not doubt myself. Since then I always have work for the shows I commit to. I use the exhibits as a form of motivation.

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There is a lot of torture for me in the process. Some people might call it procrastination, but for me the long part of my practice is the actual thinking, walking in the woods with my dog, that kind of thing that takes a long time. I have ideas that have been in my head for 10 years. The production happens fast, but they are ideas that I have been thinking about for a long time. (Ibid.) Part of this thinking process includes various forms of research. These can include interviews with Crow members and historians, scouting materials at antique stores and trading stores, and visits to museums. “I have spent a lot of time in the archives of the Denver Art Museum recently. I sometimes get a little jealous that the staff can handle objects in a way that I am not allowed to” she confesses. “What engages me with my process is this continual process of learning new things. Exploring these ideas within the different vehicles of output in my work is something that turns me on in my work.” (Ibid.) Carlos Runcie Tanaka “Working with clay comes natural to me, it is a fluent language,” says Carlos Runcie Tanaka. A one-time philosophy major at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Runcie Tanaka chose instead to dedicate himself to the art of pottery making, undertaking studies in Brazil, Italy, and Japan. In the early years, my work was connected to the art and craft tradition and based in the teachings of Bernard Leach and Hamada Shoji, two important master potters and thinkers. Their aesthetics and ideas had strong impact on me and I decided to choose ceramics as a way of life. (Carols Runcie Tanaka, email correspondence, May 2014) Since that time his work has remained centered within the ceramics tradition, but has expanded to include large sculptural works and installations that use a wide range of materials such as stone, blown glass, paper, origami, photography, and video. I produce objects at a steady rhythm, often with no specific purpose but the sake of making them and enjoying the process. Between functional ceramics and installation work and other projects, I usually have several things going on. I keep myself busy, and my concentration changes and goes from one area to another very easily. Sometimes I produce work outside of my studio but I prefer to control every process in my own space. This results in a stronger control over the aesthetics and the making. (Ibid.)

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Runcie Tanaka says he does not have a formal method for making work: This kind of strategy is not my strength. I depend on the natural forces and events of life that drive me to convey a given story. A strong relationship must exist between my life experiences and what I am trying to express. I am always producing objects and ideas, but they really come to shape when something unexpected happens to me. Sometimes these are life threatening events: an almost drowning experience in 1994, a hostage situation in 1997, an open-heart surgery in 2008. My work is also fed by interests such as biological science, archaeology and geology. I compulsively collect diverse objects, ranging from pre-Hispanic clay vessels and sculptures to living cacti. Arranging and displaying them in my living space influences the spatial solution of later projects. I have been always looking for answers to issues of identity and history through my artistic process. I preserve almost all the work I produce in the studio. The ceramic objects are sometimes re-fired, they undergo multiple firing processes until I feel satisfied with the result. Sometimes the objects break during firing or as they are used. These events are highly respected. Just like the Japanese ceramic masters who will mend the cracks by filling them with resin and gold, I put back together the fragments with new clay and re-fire the object until it returns back to the original form or a new form is made, with the inevitable scars from the process. I started to work with ceramics because I needed to do things with my hands instead reading Hegel, Heidegger and Kant. Now, I have no other intellectual statement than that of my hands. During the process I look for the permanency of the live clay, infusing my spirit into it or, perhaps, revealing the clay’s own spirit. I’ve been growing together with my materials. I keep discovering new ways of sensing clay, and it responds to my touch, intention, and intuition—it is a joint effort: the wheel, the hands, the clay, and someone else . . . (Ibid.) Kate Vrijmoet Kate Vrijmoet, a Seattle-based painter who also explores projects in relational aesthetics, demonstrates many aspects of process. In discussing the development of her Accident paintings—a series of large-scale works in latex house paint that depict tragic events at the moment of awareness, such as Chainsaw Accident and Shotgun Accident, rendered with humorous detachment and splashed red paint—she explains the series beginning: It was a time when I was looking for direction. I was in a barn studio that allowed me to work in a big and messy way, but I didn’t know what to paint. A trusted mentor suggested “just start painting, fast and furious.” I asked the question, how might I show up consistently and paint “fast and

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furious?” My solution was a project that would make me accountable, portraits from life, one (life-sized) portrait per day for fifty days. Members of my community posed for me. Once the project ended, I wanted to continue in the method and style I had developed—it was spontaneous and worked for me. I grew up with five brothers, and when I was thinking about what to do next, I looked to them instead of looking in the mirror. I have an unconventional sense of humor, and wanted to capture the absurd clumsiness of my brothers as they were growing up. (Kate Vrijmoet, interviewed June 18, 2015) Referring to herself as an “armchair neurologist,” Vrijmoet steeps herself in readings on both neurology and social science, saying she “can’t get enough.” This was an investigation that informed her work in her Non-ordinary Reality water paintings series: a body of enormous oil paintings from the perspective of looking out beyond the pool surface from below the water, painted in intense hues of blues, greens, and pinks. The series began with a summer spent photographing the ripples on the surface of the pool. Eventually she found herself fully immersed in the pool, shooting the ripples from below, but when she began photographing people on the edge of the pool from underwater, distorted from the motion of the water, she said “that was it.” While the distorted figure is “the thing you look at,” Vrijmoet says, “the subject of the paintings is the viewer, relocated under water by the tilted axis. These paintings sometimes recreate the aural experience of being underwater—the muffling of sound.” These two bodies of work, along with interactive events that explore and build human relationships, fulfill unique creative goals, requiring different levels of craftsmanship and moving in different expressive directions. It is a diversity that she clearly relishes, talking about how ideas from one project inform another. It is also a diversity that serves her well in her day-to-day routines, where she says, “when I get stuck, I can move to something else.” While these three directions are derived from her life and experiences, they emerge from a sustained and responsive interaction with her ideas, materials, and processes. The result is far more interesting than any predetermined work might be. She says, “When I complete a piece, I don’t have a sense of ‘hey, look what I did,’ rather ‘wow, look what happened!’ As if they come through me but not of me. I don’t have a sense of ownership; I am a viewer just like anyone else, seeing it for the first time.” (Excerpts from interview with Kate Vrijmoet on June 18, 2015.) Héctor Zamora Héctor Zamora’s site-specific installations are playful yet provocative inquiries into the colonial past, the perils of industrialism, and the possibilities of human connection. His expansive approach to media includes using such diverse materials as live fruit and plants, beached fishing boats, and large-scale

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performances with dozens of performers. Recent works include Memorándum, an “intervention” at Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City where dozens of female secretaries worked at desks within a five-story scaffold filling out biographical forms with inkless typewriters; and Orden y Progreso (Order and Progress), a project in which a fishing boat was slowly dismantled in a public square in Lima, Peru. Zamora’s occasionally chaotic but rich and multilayered works are, as he says, “life as it is.” Always working on at least two projects, and sometimes as many as four, Zamora’s approach to the idea of a studio is very fluid and expansive, saying that: My studio is not limited by the physical space. It is extended to all my activities whether or not they are connected with my work. Many times I am using the museums, galleries, and institution spaces as my studio/ workshop. The traveling process itself becomes part of that. I understand my studio/workshop as the space/time where I have the possibility to think and work on my projects, so a specific space is not necessary anymore. (Héctor Zamora, email correspondence, October 2015) A typical project starts with a site visit: I have clear strategies to get as in-depth as possible on the physical, social, cultural reality of a space. Space is a combination of things, it is not just volume. I ask to visit the more representative places of the city or town or community where I have to work. I travel a lot by myself by walking or regular public transportation in order to get closer to the day-by-day reality of the place, talking with all of the people from the institution involved, to the people on the street that I meet getting food. I sometimes ask to visit places out of the city, such as forest areas, desert areas, and so on, looking for the particularities of the place in all dimensions. During the research visit I can start to identify some highlights for the project I use to make notes, images, sketches. If I have interest in some particular issues, I research by visiting workshops or factories and also in books and online media. I also ask the production or curatorial team that is supporting my project for more information about those topics when I am not on site. (Ibid.) This research includes collecting images and objects, amassing data, and making sketches while on site. Zamora says: I drift between them. They are all very important in the development of my projects, though sometimes one of them can be more relevant depending

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on the project. The visual, physical and conceptual data creates a fabric made by joining and weaving links between them. These unexpected intersections are a key of the project, a chemistry that can work as the catalyzer. It is like the grammar structure of a phrase, the final result depends on how you use the available elements and how you display them to make sense and to generate reactions. I think that I have learned that all the processes are organic, following the natural curve. Sometimes a project can be clear from the beginning, and some are only fixed at the last minutes during the installation process. Some of them can become great projects, and others can be less powerful. But at the end the entire process is bringing a body of work that in the panoramic view is more interesting that just one piece. (Ibid.)

Notes 1 Artists quoted here, in order, are: Margery Amdur, Carlos Runcie Tanaka, Andy Messerschmidt, Saskia Jorda, Deborah Aschheim. 2 The artists interviewed in this chapter are: Deborah Ascheim, April 1, 2014; David Bailin, February 11, 2014; Matthew Bourbon, April 3, 2014; Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann, email correspondence, September 2015; Judy Millar, email correspondence, March 2014; Wendy Red Star, September 21, 2017; Carlos Runcie Tanaka, email correspondence, May 2014; Kate Vrijmoet, June 18, 2015; Héctor Zamora, email correspondence, October 2015. 3 Tulvig, Endeld and Craik, Fergus I.M. (eds) (2000). The Oxford Handbook of Memory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chapter 7

Creative Practices

Like many art spaces at colleges and universities, the studio used for Creative Practices class at Bethel University in St. Paul is an appropriated one, occupying an abandoned gymnasium in a 1970s-era building tucked away on the edge of campus. Inside, painted basketball court lines still mark the floor and the netless basketball hoops, occasionally pressed into service hanging sculptural works, still hover at each end. To the outside observer the space feels a little out of control. The outside walls are lined with individual student studios created with moveable walls that constantly seem to be in a state of remodeling. Piles of art stacked in the corners threaten to topple, and hundreds of photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures are tacked to the walls. On a Monday morning in February, a group of fifteen art students ring the large paint-spattered table in the center of the space and sip coffees as they try to shake off sleep. No doubt for many it has been a short night. This is Creative Practices, Art240. Class is about to begin. The essential elements are very different than a typical college studio art class. The emphasis on defined work time is perhaps the most striking change. Students must create a list of visual interests, ideas, and research areas that they explore five days a week, from sixty to ninety minutes a day. Sixty percent of the final grade for the class is based on the amount of time the students spend working in these daily sessions. With an emphasis on open-ended experimentation, students are not allowed to work on anything for more than one studio session and are discouraged from making finished artwork. Instead, every week the instructor introduces new ideas and strategies that students implement in their daily work sessions. There are no critiques, but each Monday students bring in everything they have made the week before and have a “show and tell” session with peers in small groups. At the end of the semester the students compile everything they have made into a book, which is presented to the class. These changes are strategic in the way they address the specific challenges that contemporary students face as they work to develop a solid visual arts practice. The educational history that most students bring to the class

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prioritizes making art (or art-like objects) to meet specific predetermined objectives set by the instructor. Creative Practices radically decenters this traditional power dynamic by having the student determine the direction and nature of their research, and receive a grade based on the time investing in developing their practice, wherever it takes them. Orienting class conversations to a more “show and tell” model also helps to redefine artists’ relationship to their practice, allowing (even forcing) students to develop more personal narratives and strategies for making that are defined by their own interests, research, and identity. The instructor’s role also shifts to one closer to a coach or a mentor than a traditional teacher. While students are discouraged from focusing on making finished works in the class, they are not prohibited from doing so as long as they don’t work on anything for more than a single daily session. The overarching goal in the class is to keep students experimenting, and open to new influences and suggestions. Through these investments in dedicated time, experimentation, and research, the artist is developing an embodied understanding of a process that is both behavioral and intellectual. It is a form of learned wisdom that is, to a large degree, specific to the individual. Reorienting one’s approach to studio time, feeding oneself with new content, and consistently challenging oneself through exploration and experimentation are the means by which this wisdom is constructed. The class works to build a strong foundation in all of these areas. Through these acts the artist becomes habituated into a process of repeated transformation that builds on itself in generative ways. The challenge for the student is that while all of the key ideas in the class can be learned, only some of them can be taught. The importance of establishing dedicated daily studio schedules, for example, can be outlined and illustrated in just a few minutes. But the ability of this simple change to transform one’s practice is lost on those who do not implement it. Likewise, the benefits of different forms of research are not fully appreciated until one has gone through a long-term experience of investing in such enquiries. It is possible to complete the class and never really integrate the most important lessons into one’s practice. The instructor is able to facilitate it by offering a rationale for the value of investing in such time and research, creating the expectations and conditions for it to take place, encouraging and supporting, (perhaps even demanding) the student work in this way. But in the end it is up to the student to show up in the studio each day and wrestle with the challenge of constructing a practice for him or herself.

Research Proposals Students spend the first few days of the course outlining and defining a personal set of visual ideas and research/reading they will explore during the semester. The directions range dramatically from student to student but they should not be laid out as a set of specific goals or objectives, such as learning a piece of

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software or getting better at throwing pots. The first drafts of the plans that students generate are often filled with such defined objectives, since this way of thinking reflects previous educational experiences. While such concrete skills are certainly worthy and necessary aspects of any practice, predetermining the results of the class with such objectives allows the student to avoid the real and sometimes terrifying work of open-ended experimentation. As such, refraining from such predetermined and conclusive ways of thinking/making represents one of the first big challenges. It is helpful to think of the research proposal as a constellation of interests that the student explores, rather than a defined set of skills or abilities to be acquired. While goals and objectives tend to be aspirational and directed towards specific content one wants to learn, developing a research proposal often calls for more reflection and consideration about past experiences. It is helpful to ask questions such as: “What visual ideas do I get lost in?”, “What creative projects have brought me the most challenge and satisfaction?”, “What direction would I go if I were assured of success?” Often, it is a good exercise for the student to ask him or herself what directions are sources of fear and anxiety in their work. Ideas that create intense negative emotions are those in which we have a personal connection, and that we care deeply about on some level. Considering these ideas can be very valuable for defining a set of interests that draws one into the studio, building the foundation of a strong practice. It is helpful to define more than three to four areas of visual interest for the research proposal. Working with fewer than this number is unhelpfully narrow, while having more than eight areas of visual interest seems to be unhelpfully broad. The research proposal should have an expansive, rather than conclusive direction and language. A student in the class recently proposed: “I want to become better at drawing portraits.” While this is certainly a worthy objective, and one that supported her overall career goals, the description is phrased in a way that emphasizes finished works. After some discussion, she redefined her goal as: “I am going to explore the interaction between portraiture and other fields, such as architecture, landscape, history, fantasy/etc.), and see how many ways I can expand what I think a portrait can be.” Whereas the first description is conclusive and based on previously held notions of what defines a good portrait, the second one opens up into other potentials and quickly begins to lead into new and more challenging possibilities. It suggests a direction that is more uncertain and unpredictable—attributes that successful artists have learned to listen to as they often pay off in unexpected ways. Students are also asked to outline some of the media that they will initially be using, and are encouraged to include more than a single area. The limitations of any media should not be allowed to curtail the priorities in the class. An insistence on traditional approaches to ceramics or oil painting, for example, will quickly run afoul of the requirement that students not work on anything for more than one day. The essential elements of the course—that

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students invest in a prescribed time of intensive daily experimentation and not work on the same thing for more than one day—is very helpful in establishing new ways of working and thinking. A painter using oils in a traditional way will likely need to work in another manner, perhaps making faster sketches in paint, using analog or digital photo/image manipulation, or a combination of these approaches to generate some of the experiments. Likewise, a ceramicist may need to move into an additional media or method to generate some of his or her daily works. The goal is not to be legalistic about the way in which this is done, but to get to a place where daily experimentation is expected and supported. Part of the research proposal includes reading and other types of visual investigation and embodied knowledge. Again, students often gravitate toward more academic or technical readings that are more typically used in education. The student who wanted to work on portraits also suggested books on human anatomy, and others on the history of portraits. While such books may be good for solving technical problems and understanding the anatomy of the figure, they do far less to push the artist into new directions or challenge him or her on a conceptual level. It might be a better experience for the student to research biographies in other media, such as film or writing, and even try writing some biographical sketches as part of her process; an experience that more fruitfully challenges and complicates her ideas. Such personal investigations enrich the artist’s thinking about their work and are done in order to develop forms of embodied knowledge, but this investment may not immediately show up in the work that is being produced. As a result, it can be neglected by students who fail to see any value in it, or simply don’t feel that they have the time. In a recent semester in Creative Practices, these two successful research proposals were submitted. Jenna, a junior graphic design major, is very interested in the visual culture of rock music from the 1960s–1970s. She decides to research and experiment with fonts, album artwork, and graphics from that era, creating them with both analog and digital methods. The instructor suggests that she could invent fictional band names, albums and concerts to give her additional content to work with; a suggestion that she accepts. Jenna also plans to read music criticism from that era, including back issues of Rolling Stone magazine, and to research the work of R. Crumb in Zap Comix and other underground magazines. Jonathan, a dedicated painter and printmaker, gravitates towards imagery from stories of survival; themes he keeps coming back to in his studio classes for his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). He has outlined a series of readings from apocalyptic and dystopian literature, and the journals of polar explorers, such as Robert Peary and Ernest Shackleton. He will be working as he puts it, in a “representational monotype/drawing/watercolor-ish” approach.

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His list of interests for the semester include: •• •• •• •• •• ••

Landscape Arctic snow and ice Human exploration and vehicles/crafts used for traveling Photographs and travelogues Water and wind Maps

Weekly Schedule At the beginning of the class every Monday, students are asked to gather into groups of three or four to view what their colleagues have produced. Unless the work lives in the computer, such as forms of 3D modeling/animation, web design, or web-based works, students are asked to print their digital works. Likewise, anything done in sketchbooks is pulled out and put on the walls. It is helpful to have the entire body of work from the week viewed simultaneously, and also viewed in relation to other works produced during the semester. Important themes and motifs can be seen in this way, and observations can quickly be made in a way that is not possible if the works are seen individually on a screen. These small group conversations often take forty-five minutes or more, as students are encouraged to talk about what they worked on, what has driven their creative choices, and what kinds of visual ideas they are pulling into their practice. Students are asked to bring in everything made in their daily work sessions during the previous week, regardless of whether they consider it successful or not. This works against a student’s natural tendency to self-edit and present only their “best” works publically. A large part of the value of these lesser works lies in moving one’s work forward, so it is vital to acknowledge them as part of one’s overall process. But, more importantly, innovative ideas are seldom fully realized in their first iterations, and need to be drawn out more fully in subsequent works. These first tentative steps are often easily dismissed and discarded because the ideas are still being formulated. In the first few weeks, students are often most concerned with questions such as: “What does the instructor want?”, “Is this amount of work enough?”, “Is what I am doing good enough?”, “Which is the best one?” Reminding them that the goal of the studio sessions is a quantity of experimental works, rather than higher quality finished works is helpful, but more persuasive by far is seeing the work their fellow students produce. Typically, students are far more sympathetic to their colleagues’ work than their own; a point of conversation that is helpful in suspending judgment about their work in its earliest stages. These conversations consciously avoid the language and attitude of a formal

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critique, refraining from evaluative statements and focusing instead on intriguing potentials or personal themes that are emerging in the work from week to week. The work is also not graded. The student’s reporting of time is the sole indication of a successful or unsuccessful week. In these wide-ranging conversations there is a conscious focus on naming successes, encouraging ways of working that expand into new directions, and helping students see potential in their work that they may not have seen before. Over time the conversations become more focused on the development of the work, discussing what influences and approaches have been productive, and learning from each other. As a result, the show and tell sessions gradually create a new way of thinking about why one is making; moving away from working for individual instructors and assignments, and towards interests and values determined by the student. During one such session, Madeline, a junior graphic design major described her process in a week in which students were given a list of verbs compiled by artist Richard Serra and asked to rework images that they had collected in response to some of the verbs. It was hard to come up with some ideas. I sat in my studio and tried a lot of drawings, but wasn’t happy with anything. So I kept the verb list on my phone, and just started reminding myself a few times during the rest of the day to randomly look at one of the words and photograph something around me that related to it. It didn’t always work, but the ones that did were really helpful in thinking about it when I went into the studio. Pointing to a series of collages on the wall, she continued: After I made this one I got pretty excited about the possibilities of layering drawings with vellum. That continued the next day, then I started cutting the layered images apart and reassembling them in groups. That got really interesting, as they seemed to be telling a story. The stories started to expand, with some that were about my past, and others that were fictional. I liked going back and forth between these ideas, and am going to continue the series next week. After the small groups have looked at the work of all its members, the entire class briefly tours the full studio, giving the opportunity to see what everyone has done, and offering the instructor a chance to speak about larger themes and ideas, or discuss challenges that seem to be emerging. During this larger gathering, the new creative strategy for the week is introduced, and students are asked to engage with it at least two days during the upcoming week. These strategies are kept relatively simple and open to some interpretation so that they do not become the de facto course objectives but rather a set of prompts that push students into new directions. Some of these strategies, which are outlined at the end of this chapter, are designed for Bethel

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University’s Art and Design Department, a department with a roughly equal number of students studying fine art and graphic design. Other institutions would likely use somewhat different strategies in response to their demographics, class structure and overall goals. Wednesdays in Creative Practices are used as a seminar day, with the class focusing on resources that support the weekly strategy. Over the course of the semester, key ideas about living the life of an artist are also discussed, often prompted by short readings. These conversations are positioned toward problem-solving and moving one practice forward, and they include a variety of topics: •• •• •• •• •• •• ••

Becoming your own best patron instead of your own worst critic: turning down the volume on unreasonably critical interior voices. Reflective writing as a way of centering one’s work time, and discovering themes and interests in one’s work. Understanding the influences of web technology and its impact on how we understand originality and the sourcing of ideas. Assertiveness in one’s work: why your art shouldn’t look like anyone else’s. Defining success in a way that is authentic and focused more on process than product. How to experiment and remain open to new directions and input while also contending with professional and educational demands. Answering the question, “How do your process and work authentically reflect your personal values?”

Wednesdays are also used for individual meetings between students and instructors; field trips/visiting artists are scheduled; and video case studies of individual artists are viewed and discussed.

Weekly Strategies Each week, a new idea or strategy about making is introduced by the instructor, and students are asked to engage with the strategy for at least two of their daily work sessions. Students often enter the class believing that these creative strategies are steps that one can implement in order to make better work or solve problems. The specific strategies should not be seen as silver bullets that will transform one’s work, but are best thought of as ways of pushing people out of methods of thinking and making that have become comfortable, and into areas of challenge and productive disruption. An essential part of these strategies is learning to work through the experiences of frustration and failure, and developing the resilience and creative determination that are essential parts of a vital practice. The specific strategies should not be seen as magic formulas that will transform one’s work.

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The students are asked to draw from their research for content to work with, though they are not limited to that research. Often they begin to pull content in from other classes, or borrow imagery and ideas from each other as well. An expansive approach to gathering content and ideas is encouraged. The following prompts and rationales are discussed during class as a way of setting up the students’ independent studio work for the week. Week 1: Idea Mapping Collect and print twenty images that represent visual ideas and situations that speak to you as an artist and ten images of visual ideas you find banal, irritating, or without value. You can either photograph these yourself, or use printed and web images, with the requirement that if you use existing imagery you must edit, crop, or somehow alter it to make it your own. When completed, make a diagram/map of the themes that have emerged which defines these themes and organizes them in relation to each other. You are encouraged to not limit themselves to art and art history sources, but also look at areas such as pop culture, nature, places of employment and living situations. One of the simple, but very real problems often facing young artists trying to develop a self-sustaining artistic practice is a dearth of imagery and ideas that results from a sustained personal history of making. The first few strategies of the semester are designed to jump-start the class by assembling and organizing the personal history of ideas, images, and interests that students have already encountered and worked with, in a way that can be used and referenced as they move forward in their practice. The reality is that most new ideas and directions in one’s practice emerge while one is working on something else. A student walking into a studio void of previous works, ideas, and sustained threads of thought has little to respond to. The goal of this strategy is to fill that void with images that are meaningful to him or her, and begin to immediately work with them. With the creation of the research proposals and the gathering of this initial body of images, the student begins the semester with a collection of visual ideas and potentials already in play. Week 2: Creative Destruction With prompting from the Richard Serra Verb List1, transform the images you have collected into new visual ideas, expanding, complicating, or contradicting their original meaning. You may use any of the images collected in the first week of class; artworks from other classes; or copies of existing artworks. You may use physical or digital methods to rework the images. We often resist reworking successful ideas and projects, believing that in reinventing or reinterpreting them we will lose what is most important. But moving forward as an artist means giving up inflexible attachments to these past successes. The reality for the artist is that an inordinate fixation on preserving past achievements keeps one in a state of arrested development

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as one avoids exploring new possibilities. Visual ideas are far more resilient and expansive than we often believe, remerging in new and unexpected ways as ideas are revisited. The challenging or reworking of successful ideas and projects not only leads to greater awareness, but better work. Week 3: The Medium is the Message Translate some of your existing works, either from this class or another class, into a different visual system, visual language, or media. See how many times you can do this for a specific idea, and experiment with combining them within the same project. We often become fixed in methods and media that have been successful in the past, and become reluctant to expand out of these areas. The act of translating previous works into another medium offers an opportunity to consider the different ideas and expressive content that new media can bring to our work. The same still life rendered by an artist rendered in oil paint, charcoal, wood carving, or video will offer distinctly different experiences for the viewer and maker, emphasizing unique aspects in every medium. Week 4: Authenticity and Ownership Borrow/steal an image or idea from classmates and develop it yourself. Interpret it into your own work and ways of making. Try to make things that are more yours than the other person’s, and vice versa. Access to almost unlimited information with the rise of the digital age has complicated the way in which artists relate to outside content. We are now charting new territory in terms of how we use and relate to images, ideas, and solutions that come to us from other sources, particularly over the Internet. As you work this week, formulate a response to these questions: “What makes something ‘mine’?”, “Why should I bother developing ideas when I can quickly find solutions online?”, “Is the idea of ownership obsolete?”, “Is there really anything new?” Considering these questions is a first step in creating a coherent way of thinking about how one uses these outside sources. The goal of this strategy is to examine notions of authenticity and ownership in our contemporary context, and to begin to develop a coherent way of thinking about them. This exercise also enhances the opportunity for spontaneous collaboration between students, and challenges the way in which students think about the potentials of their own directions and ideas as they see them developed in new ways by others. Weeks 5 and 6: Collaboration and Conflict Spend time this week working with someone else in a collaborative way. Your relationship can either be cooperative or antagonistic. Students are encouraged to work with someone they don’t know well, and they can define collaboration in any way they choose.

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These collaborations can take many forms: ••



The British duo Gilbert and George are two artists who work together to create large-scale photo murals and performances. The works are the product of their interaction, and they are jointly credited with their production. This is a traditional way of thinking about collaboration, in which both participants bring unique abilities to the work that influence the final piece, and both are equally credited with the work. Many artists with traditional solo practices choose to work collaboratively with other artists for periods of time. Since 2002, artist Oliver Herring has facilitated a series of TASK parties: exuberant performances filled with music and a surplus of easy-tomanipulate tools and materials such as paper, tape, markers, and plastic sheets. In these events, participants create “tasks” that other participants are encouraged to complete in any way they choose. These collaborations most often occur between individuals previously unknown to each other, with groups spontaneously forming to complete them. The act of working together in these quick and playful projects creates personal connections between participants; a relational quality that is an integral aspect of Herring’s entire practice. The artist Fred Wilson works with museums to curate and reinstall art and artifacts in their collections, revealing underlying social patterns and historical structures that speak to issues of race, power, and class. Changing the context of the individual works, such as placing a pair of leg irons, used to chain slaves, next to an ornate silver tea service from the same location and era, dramatically redefines the meaning of each object. His projects can be seen as a form of multilayered interaction/collaboration, not only with the museum, but also with the artists and craftsmen from previous eras whose work is re-contextualized.

The work of these artists represents three points along a continuum of collaborative interactions, of which there are many others. The following week students are asked to collaborate with someone else in a way that contradicts some of the agreed-upon rules from the previous collaboration. Weeks 7 and 8: Obstructions In the documentary The Five Obstructions, filmmaker Lars Von Trier proposes a collaborative relationship with fellow filmmaker Jorgen Leth in which Von Trier assigns “obstructions” for Leth to wrestle with as he repeatedly reinterprets and reshoots one his own short films. After watching The Five Obstructions as a class, the group assigns obstructions to their classmates that must be followed the following week. The obstructions are crafted in a way

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that allows the individual to work with some of their same goals, interests and media, but removes ways of working that have been successful in the past. Much like the experience of Leth in the film, the exercise forces the students into new directions, often resulting in genuinely new and engaging ideas, and some surprisingly fresh and complete artworks. In keeping with the spirit of The Five Obstructions, the students are often given different obstructions two weeks in a row. Week 9: Identifying Good Work Built into the school year at Bethel University is an end-of-the-year juried student exhibit; a common event for many colleges. As part of this week’s strategy, students are asked to identify individual works of their own and their colleagues that could be submitted for the exhibit. This frequently involves a process of sorting and evaluating, and making minor alterations so that the work is ready for submission. Students in the class often see the product of their weekly work as provisional and unfinished; useful for learning about the weekly strategies, but with little expressive integrity, or sense of completeness. The reality is, however, that these faster works are often finished pieces in their own right. Learning to recognize them as such is frequently difficult for the maker, as it confronts deeply held notions about their work and its value. Often, students believe that those works in which they invest more time and intentionality are better simply because of that investment. They do not realize that quicker and more spontaneous works have integrity and value, and can be every bit as powerful as those in which they have more investment. Learning to see the full value in their own projects often depends on listening to what colleagues are saying, and expanding the range of what one considers to be a complete artwork. There are an endless number of weekly strategies that can be outlined for the student, of which the list above is hardly comprehensive. Certainly it is possible to easily fill a fifteen-week semester, but often, around the eighth or ninth week, the intense pattern of experimentation becomes less helpful as students feel a natural pull to develop some of these directions more fully. Individual consultation with the instructor is key to determining at which point it becomes beneficial to move from a focus on experimental and developmental strategies toward allowing students to pursue specific directions. But as this takes place, students are still asked to work within defined time parameters, and to maintain a high level of experimentation and research.

After the Class At the end of the semester, students organize their work into a book that is presented to the class. Everything made during the semester must be included, along with a synopsis of the reading research. The majority of students use

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online publishing sources to print the books, though some students make the books themselves. This process is integrated into the class during the last few weeks as students work on layout strategies before deciding on a final direction. As part of the process, students develop thematic ideas and organizational methods. They are encouraged to consider how the layout of the book reflects the content it contains. After some experimentation, Jenna, the graphic design major researching the visual culture of rock music from the 1960s to the 1970s, chose to use the visual style of underground magazines from that era. Her book had reproductions of her work framed by hand-drawn graphics and illustrations on newsprint similar to the cheap magazines from that era. The visual and written aspects nicely captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s in both style and physical qualities. Jonathan, the student interested in dystopian literature and the histories of polar explorers, chose a large landscape format book from an online source, laying out his imagery and writings in a dossier format that suggested the relics from a team in the Arctic, struggling to survive. The pages were a combination of imagery and artifacts that evoked a sense of struggle and hope that nicely framed his expansive drawings and epic sense of scale. Creating the final book is not simply an act of arranging imagery, but organizing it according to the themes and ideas that have emerged. Compiling and sorting the semester’s projects helps to further pull meaning out of their work; defining key ideas about who the students are as makers. It also archives these ideas so they can be revisited in the future. At the presentation of the books at the final class, students reflect on how they developed as artists over the semester and what they learned through their research. They often express surprise not only at the amount of work created, but at the unexpected themes that have emerged in their practice and that have made it more authentic and distinctive. Rochelle, a woman studying to become an illustrator, summed up her experience as she presented her book to the class: I am pretty obsessed with animals, and keep coming back to them as a subject in my art again and again. I was always a little embarrassed in other classes when given assignments because I wanted to work with animal images but felt that I should do something that was more original or different. Now I realize that the problem wasn’t that I was always focusing on animals, it was that I was always working with them in the same way. Facing the same subject day after day with the different weekly strategies helped me expand the way I approach my process, and learn how to bring fresh ideas to it every time. I am able to work with the subject that I love in a way that is constantly new. The freedom afforded developing artists in Creative Practices is effective not only in helping developing artists internalize healthy research and working

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methods, but the directions that they explore consistently emerge in other studio classes, and often become the foundations from which they develop a long-term body of work. Jonathan Engelien, the student who wrote the research plan above, with readings from dystopian literature and the journals of polar explorers, reflected on his work in the class a few years after his graduation: The obstacle that every artist has to overcome is fear. We fear how the artwork will be perceived. We fear that we aren’t good enough. We fear the finances of a piece. We fear countless other things that are part of the work we do. But this hurdle of fear is brought down when we stop making for others, when we work, not to complete an assignment, but genuinely to satisfy the itch that causes us to create in the first place. Creative Practices dispelled this for me. It taught me that my entire artistic practice up until that point was centered around getting an “A” from a class. The trick to making art wasn’t magic or some spiritual calling, instead it was simply work. It was refreshing showing up to class every Monday with five items of work that weren’t necessarily finished, and discussing with my peers the ideas and new iterations I elaborated on from the weeks prior. The principles I learned have fundamentally changed my studio routine and even how I approach creating artworks in general. I approached the class to pursue themes of survival, endeavor, and camaraderie. But quickly those themes turned into metaphors, and I was pushing past all those initial fears to engage in the work that, to me, was most satisfying and adventurous. (Jonathan Engelien, interviewed July 19, 2017)

Other Sample Research Proposals Phoebe is interested in the study of cathedral architecture. She decides to read Pillars of the Earth,2 a fictionalized account of the building of a medieval cathedral, and begin a visual study of Chartres Cathedral in France. She will be working in a variety of two-dimensional media, including computer platforms, drawing and reinterpreting images of the cathedrals, and “just seeing what happens.” Kalley is an avid reader of fiction and a movie watcher, with a history of using them as source materials for her paintings. Realizing that it is a very large and abstract idea, she decides to narrow the focus of her research to movies and novels that deal with fear, finding that to be a key point of interest. In conversation about this she says: “I believe that exploring the human psyche and its relationship with fear will be a very intriguing one—allowing myself to better understand what drives human beings.” She will be watching horror films and taking screenshots to use in her work, as well as searching for themes in novels. She names a number of films to watch:

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•• •• •• •• ••

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Shining The Blair Witch Project Paranormal Activity Sinister

Beth proposes working with imagery and text from her recent trip to Guatemala, trying to capture the layered and textured experiences of her time there, including the stories of people she met, the landscape, architecture, and artwork she encountered. She is very interested in finding compelling areas of crossover between art and graphic design, and proposes working with digital media, watercolor/pencil, and video in response to the direction of each piece. Her research source material includes her writing and drawings from a journal she kept on the trip, as well as images and video taken in her travels. She will also be reading the book I, Rogoberta Munchu, an Indian Woman in Guatemala,3 the autobiography of a peasant woman who lived through the social and political transitions of Guatemala over the last sixty years.

Notes 1 2 Follet, Ken (1990). The Pillars of the Earth. New York: New American Library. 3 Munchu, Rogoberta (1984). I, Rogoberta Munchu, an Indian Woman in Guatemala. London and New York: Verso.

Chapter 8

Participating Artist Biographies

Wayne Adams lives in Brooklyn, New York. His painting practice incorporates a wide range of media and approaches, including sculpture, photography, and video. Recurring themes include Christian theology, material presence, humor, philosophy, and his daughter’s drawings. Recent exhibits include a two-person exhibition with Brent Everett Dickinson at the Barrington Center for the Arts at Gordon College. He is Chairman of the Board of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts). Margery Amdur is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is a painter whose large constructions of repurposed, exuberantly colored cosmetic sponges have been influenced by the dynamic other-worldly landscapes of Iceland and Australia. Her work engages questions about passages of time, labor, urban renewal, and geometry within natural landscapes. Amdur’s work is included in the permanent collections of the US Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname, and the Convention Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Deborah Aschheim is from Pasadena, California and makes installations, sculptures and drawings based on invisible worlds of memory. Her works range in media, style and approach from immersive room-sized installations incorporating video, light and/or sound, to “collective memory” drawing projects combining historical research, observation and oral history. Aschheim helped to start an artist residency program in the neurology department at the University of California at San Francisco. David W. Bailin is from Little Rock, Arkansas. His current work is a series of large-scale drawings on memory and memory loss using a process of drawing and erasing to create ghostlike pentimenti. He is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), Mid-America/NEA, The Arkansas Arts Council, and The Abreaction Theater in NYC. Christie Blizard is from San Antonio, Texas. She says about her process, “I infiltrate mainstream media mainly through chameleon like strategies and

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insert myself within various contexts and use humor or poetics to break its clarity. I am interested particularly when people do not know how to react to a given situation.” Recent projects include a 2017 residency with Artpace international artist-in-residence program. Matthew Bourbon is an artist and writer. Recently he was awarded the Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Travel Grant by the Dallas Museum of Art to conduct research in Japan, and he was named an Institute for the Advancement of Art Fellow at the University of North Texas. He is also an art critic and contributor to Art Forum Online, Flash Art, ArtNews, New York Arts Magazine, and Glasstire. He also served for several years as the regional editor for the journal Art Lies. Nick Brown is a painter from Los Angeles, California. His paintings memorialize the landscape and ruins of a high-mountain community just outside Los Angeles. His work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Drawing Center in New York. Jaclyn Conley is a painter from New Haven, Connecticut. A recent series, All the President’s Children, focuses on images of first ladies, presidents and their children, using staged photographs from the Presidential Library Archives to explore the political ideology of family values and national identity. She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and has been featured in publications including New American Painters. Cesar Cornejo’s work explores the relationship between art, architecture and society, through sculpture, installation and mixed-media projects. “I have been influenced by living and working in four different countries: Peru, Japan, England and the USA. Each of these places has taught me a particular way to think about art and to make it, thus my work often refers to events that took place in Peru, while being open to broader interpretations.” He is the founder of the Puno Museum of Contemporary Art. Blane De St. Croix’s (Brooklyn, New York) work explores the geopolitical landscape through sculpture, installation, and work on paper. His research-based method incorporates site visits, aerial flyovers, photographic documentation, interviews, Internet mining, and satellite imagery. Together, his artworks and research seek to facilitate an increased understanding of the shared social, political, environmental, and cultural climate challenges we face, both within our local communities, and in the international arena. He is the recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors.

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Alexis DeStoop is an artist and filmmaker whose work explores the experience of time and the natural landscape. A native of Belgium, his 2010 work Karios, looked at Australian landscape and mining sites. Jill Downen’s art envisions a place of interdependent relation between the human body and architecture, where the exchanging forces and tensions of construction, deterioration, and restoration emerge as thematic possibilities. Downen is the recipient of numerous awards including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the MacDowell Colony National Endowment for the Arts residency, Cité International des Arts Residency in Paris, the Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artists Award, and a Santo Grant. One of Japan’s leading contemporary artists since the 1970s and a participant in the 1990 Venice Biennale, Toshikatsu Endo creates monumental sculptures and installations, using elements of nature: water, wood, soil, and fire. Influenced both by Shinto attitudes toward nature and Zen aesthetics, as well as by Western minimalism, Endo frequently creates forms from scorched wood—giant cylindrical structures, a replica canoe, or a massive staircase with some steps hollowed out and filled with water—and often completes his works by burning them, suggesting ancient rituals. Claudia Esslinger lives in Gambier, Ohio and uses media as a tool to interpret the natural world. Often collaborating with composers, writers, scientists, and performers, she has been the recipient of seven Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards and a New Forms Regional Grant (National Endowment for the Arts). Artist’s residencies include the Omora Ethnobotanical Preserve near Cape Horn, Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California, Singing Pictures workshop in Seoul, South Korea and the Grafikwerkstaadt in Dresden, Germany. Suzanna Fields is a painter living in Richmond, Virginia. Her organic abstract process-centered paintings layer forms from the natural world until they become humid amalgamations, suspended in states of disintegration and growth. Field’s exhibition history includes shows at the Eleanor Wilson Museum at Hollins University, Irvine Contemporary Art in Washington D.C, and Reynolds and Quirk Galleries in Richmond, Virginia. Lorrie Fredette is an installation artist from New York’s Hudson Valley. She says of her work: “My sculptural installations are informed by the way human health and nature intersects at the micro level. I coax these images into dimensional shapes, gathering them into unsystematic clusters that form new organisms whose consequences for human health, like so much in nature,

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remains to be discovered.” Fredette had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida in 2017. Sally Gall is a photographer based in New York City. Her photographs of the beauty and mystery of the natural world have been the subject of twenty-five solo gallery shows and many group exhibitions at galleries and museums. She says of her work: “I photograph with an ever deepening appreciation for how this place shapes us, even as we shape it with our passage.” Her photographs are the subject of two books: The Water’s Edge, and Subterranea. Ximena Garrido-Lecca lives and works between Mexico City and Lima. She studied Fine Art at Universidad Católica del Perú and completed an MA at Byam Shaw School of Art, London. Her multivalent practice includes sculpture, installation, video, drawing, and painting. She says: “I am interested in cultural changes that emerge through modernization and the marks left by human activity within the landscape. I like tracing cycles by which things transform and the idea of working as a sort of chronicler, registering these changes.” Garrido-Lecca exhibits widely internationally. Charles A. Gick is an interdisciplinary artist from West Lafayette, Indiana whose work is affected by the phenomenal and ephemeral qualities in landscape. Through a series of videos, photographs, paintings, earth, and objects of labor, Gick creates installations, paintings, and sculptures that explore the intersections between memory, the body, our emotions, and the sensory experiences we share with the natural environment. Gick was included in the 2017 KOSMA International Exhibition Art Museum of Kyungpook National University, South Korea. Graham Gilmore is painter and sculptor who lives in Ontario. His work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY. David Goldes lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His current photographs and drawings investigate electricity, water, air movement, and heat. His book Electricities was recently published by Damiani. Goldes is the recipient of fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and Guggenheim Fellowship/Visual Arts. He is represented by Yossi Milo Gallery, New York. Andrea Graham lives in San Diego, California where she creates contemporary sculpture using both modern and ancient felt-making techniques with wool fiber. She has exhibited and instructed internationally. About her work she says: “Whether expressing ideas inspired by plant life, the human body or architecture, there is a common organic element. It is my connection and dialogue with the material that captivates me and allows me to translate my ideas to my audience.”

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Susan Graham is a New York City artist who uses sugar and porcelain to create work that originates with memories, dreams, and personal stories to address social and political topics. She is the recipient of grants from The Sustainable Arts Foundation, Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and The New York Foundation for the Arts. Marte Johnslien lives in Oslo, Norway. She is currently doing a practicebased PhD in Artistic Research in Oslo, where she is working with watercolor and fresco painting on ceramics and ceramic sculpture, investigating the materials’ history and significance today. Her work is in the collection of The National Museum of Art, Design and Architecture, Norway, and she received the Einar Granum Art Award in 2012. Saskia Jordá is a Phoenix, Arizona-based object maker whose site-specific installations, soft sculptures, and drawings map the tension between retaining one’s identity and assimilating a foreign persona. Using iconic images that often repeat as multiples, she explores the relationship between body and space, cultural identity, and mapping a sense of place. She is the recipient of the 2015 Arlene and Morton Scult Contemporary Forum Artist Award. Caroline Kent lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. Working within expanded strategies of painting, her practice explores how language is constituted, comprehended or functions in a third space. Using a personal system of lexicons that include painted forms, patterns, and mark-making strategies, she constructs large-scale paintings on unstretched canvas that hang directly on the wall: a direct reference to the film screen. She has received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and a McKnight Fellowship for Visual Arts. Patrick Killoran (New York City) works in a variety of contexts and media. Much of his work explores the inevitable contradictions that arise with the terms “public space” and “public art,” in the realm of the products and the behaviors of consumer culture. He has presented solo projects at the Wadsworth Antheneum in Hartford, USA; IKON in Birmingham, UK; Sculpture Center in New York City, USA; Samuel Freeman Gallery in Los Angeles, USA; and Studio10 in Brooklyn, USA. He has been a Visiting Critic at Yale School of Art since 2012. Diane Landry is a Quebec City, Canada artist who creates performances alongside her work in sculpture. Landry calls these projects “Mouvelles,” which she defines as material works that require a certain period of observation to be apprehended in their entirety. She is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation award. Based in a small town near Bern, Switzerland, Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann have worked as a collaborative team since 1990. They undertake

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10–12 large installations each year using a variety of materials and approaches, transforming museums, streets, parks, and buildings. Jason Lanka lives and works in Sheridan Wyoming. About his work Lanka says: “The space at which our culture comes in contact with the environment inspires my creative work. Much can be understood about the nature of how our society defines its role and place within the natural world by the observation of this boundary. I seek to address the demarcation of our species’ relationship with the land. Am I of the land or in the land?” Solo exhibits include South Dakota Art Museum, Brookings, South Dakota. Chen Lin graduated from Anhui Normal University in 1990 with a BA and 1993 with an MFA, and received his PhD from China Art Academy in Beijing in 2006. He is now a Professor and Dean of Art School, Anhui University, P.R. China, and Vice Chairman of Anhui Provincial Artists Association. His works have been shown and collected around the world. For more than three decades Beauvais Lyons’s studio work has explored various forms of academic parody. His subjects have included archaeology, folk art, medicine, zoology, a circus, and various forms of biography. He says: “The genre of academic parody is potentially unlimited, and can take almost any form, style or medium to reflect almost any system of knowledge or belief.” Lyons lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and has prints in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Terry Maker explores the process of art-making while addressing themes relating to human desire and decay, death and resurrection, using a diverse range of commonplace, discarded domestic objects as well as traditional art-making materials. Her exhibitions include a solo retrospective exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center and Museum. Maker currently lives and works in Louisville, Colorado. Jeremy Mangan lives in Tacoma, Washington. About his work he says: “My current work explores phenomena: the unusual, exceptional moments just on the edge of plausibility, and occasionally beyond. I am particularly interested in landscapes where there is some evidence of human intervention, but nature still dominates. I often sense a mysterious and compelling power in these places, a haunting beauty.” He was a 1998–1999 Fulbright Fellow in Munich, Germany. Carrie Marill is an artist from Phoenix, Arizona who says: “Technology and the handmade are two worlds constantly vying for attention in my studio practice. Can I make the machine-made appear hand-hewn? Can I make the handmade more polished?” She considers having time and a space to do what she loves to be a key professional achievement.

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Christopher McNulty is a visual artist from Opelika, Alabama who creates sculptural objects, video, and works on paper. His current work explores how environmental space penetrates the body, creating relationships among individuals, species, and objects. McNulty has received many grants and awards, including an Alabama State Council on the Arts Grant and an artist residency at the MacDowell Colony. Andy Messerschmidt is from Ely, Minnesota. A multimedia artist, he is interested in points where “visual culture and image hoarding weigh so heavily upon culture that culture starts to implode or fall back in on itself.” Messerschmidt has exhibited at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Judy Millar lives on the West Coast of Auckland, New Zealand, and in Berlin, Germany. Moving between paintings, printing and sculptural forms, she “seeks to present the edge of vision. My work appears to describe a point where things are either being seen as a ‘thing’ that can be named, or are dissolving into nothingness. In doing so I present all substantive form as a play of forces, a movement of possibility.” Millar represented New Zealand in La Biennale di Venezia in 2009. Dean Monogenis lives in Brooklyn, New York and says about his work: “A lot of what intrigues me is juxtaposition, natural beauty and the influence of humankind. Painting is an opportunity for me to make connections, and to merge disparate imagery. It’s a very image-based interest but there is often a steady wave of emotion that underpins the thing I paint.” He has exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint Etienne Saint, in Etienne, France. Jenene Nagy lives in Riverside, California. Her work investigates the transformative potential of repetition, and how simple materials, actions, and forms can produce something greater than the component parts. She has had solo exhibits at the Portland Art Museum, grants from Foundation of Contemporary Art, the Oregon Arts Commission, Colorado Creative Industries, and the Ford Family Foundation. Ray Ogar is from Little Rock, Arkansas. He uses systematized image aggregations from paper, drawings, and photos, to create handmade collages that are digitally edited using computer software, glitchy code, and mobile apps. The final works range from books, images transferred to wood, digital prints on fabric, as well as multimedia installation with sculpture. Henrique Oliveira is a São Paulo-based artist whose large sculptural installations transform architectural spaces with the illusion of prolific organic growth. He has exhibited widely, with solo exhibits throughout the United States, Brazil, and Europe.

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Alison Pebworth is a San Francisco-based artist whose work is focused on a single vision: to have her own roadside attraction. She thrives on long-range projects that merge painting, installation, and social interaction, and build upon a continuous narrative that she believes will one day define the attraction she will inhabit. She is the 2017 Bemis Center for Contemporary Art Artist in Residence. Tim Prentice is a kinetic sculptor living in Cornwall, Connecticut. He is the recipient of the 2014 Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence and Lifetime Achievement and the author of the book, Drawing on the Air. His current work concentrates on the organic, whimsical, and unpredictable movements of the air. Steve A. Prince’s (Detroit, Michigan) work focuses primarily on printmaking and drawing. Prince is a New Orleans native and many rhythms of New Orleans cross-fertilized culture reflect themselves throughout his work. His artwork has been shown both nationally and internationally, allowing him the opportunity to speak to various cultural groups about the nature of his art. In 2017, he created and designed a work commemorating the first African American resident students at the College of William and Mary in 1967. Carol Prusa’s work merges silverpoint drawing with contemporary strategies to create liminal skins between known and unknown worlds. Prusa is a Professor of Painting and Drawing at Florida Atlantic University, and was selected for the 2015 American Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational, and her work was purchased for the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. Justin Randolph Thompson lives in Florence, Italy. His work seeks to deepen the discussions around cultural and racial stratification and hierarchical organization by outlining a complex, hybrid and non-linear connection to history and sociopolitical discourse. He is a recipient of a Louise Comfort Tiffany Award and a Visual Artist Grant from the Fundacion Marcelino Botin, and he is a cofounder and Director of Black History Month Florence. Wendy Red Star works across disciplines to explore the intersections of Native American ideologies and colonialist structures, both historically and in contemporary society. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, Red Star’s work is informed both by her cultural heritage and her engagement with many forms of creative expression. She has exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Portland Art Museum, and others. Red Star lives and works in Portland, Oregon. New York City-based interdisciplinary artist Troy Richards works collaboratively in projects that address both personal and political themes. His work, The Criminal Us is an ongoing project with Eastern State Penitentiary that

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pairs anonymous confessions to crimes by prison inmates with confessions from individuals outside of the prison system. He is Dean of the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY. Rocío Rodríguez is a painter from Atlanta, Georgia who says: “my images do not tell a story, rather, they discuss the nature of painting itself.” Rodríguez has been in over twenty-five solo exhibitions in various institutions such as private art galleries, contemporary art centers, and museums, and has participated in over ninety nationally curated exhibitions. Madison, Wisconsin artist, Sylvie Rosenthal negotiates between woodworking, a trade, and more ostensibly conceptual methodologies. Sylvie has been routinely invited as a visiting artist, teacher, and researcher to many schools, including San Diego State University; the University of Wisconsin at both Whitewater and Madison; Penland School of Crafts; Anderson Ranch Arts Center; Australia National University; Tainan National University of the Arts (Taiwan); and others. She has shown nationally at galleries and museums. Carlos Runcie Tanaka works from local clays fired in Lima, Peru. His art has fed upon early interests such as biological science, archaeology and geology. Runcie Tanaka has artwork in the collection of the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA), Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), Houston, Texas. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania painter, Rebecca Rutstein uses her interests in geology, biology, maps and the undercurrents that continually shape and reshape our world as a starting point for her paintings and installations that explore life experiences and the ebbs and flows of relationships. She has received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and has done radio interviews on NPR (National Public Radio). Her work is included in public collections including Johns Hopkins Hospital, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Temple University. Jean Shin is nationally recognized for her monumental installations that transform everyday objects into elegant expressions of identity and community. Her work has been widely exhibited in major national and international museums, including in solo exhibitions at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Arizona, Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, and Projects at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Shin lives and works in New York City. Susanne Slavick is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based artist whose work as an artist, professor, writer, and curator concerns violence and its consequences here and abroad. Recent solo shows include the Chicago Cultural Center, Accola Griefen Gallery in NYC, Bernstein Gallery at Princeton University, and the Fed Galleries at Kendall College of Art and Design.

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Jill Slosburg-Ackerman is from Cambridge and Westport Massachuessets and trained as a jeweler and a sculptor. She has been equally influenced by Ferdinand Braudel’s material culture study The Structure of Every Day Life; the ambitions of the Bauhaus; and the work of the artist Constantin Brancusi. She is Professor of Art at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. Reid Strelow is from Duluth, Minnesota. His works in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture are heavily reliant on process, materials, gesture, and form, and explore the importance of creating physical objects as a way to investigate the human condition, with hopes of contributing to a physical, spiritual, and/or theoretical understanding of our time and place. His work was included in the New New York exhibition at the Essle museum in Vienna Austria. W. Tucker is from Austin, Texas and works primarily with found materials to create works that explore aspects of our human condition, glimpses of stories, moments, and dilemmas that represent how we approach or walk through life. He was the recipient of The Austin Critics’ Table Award in 2012–2013 for “Best Installation” and “Artist of the Year” for an installation at Texas State University. Jen Urso is a Phoenix, Arizona-based artist who creates multi-disciplinary works utilizing interventions, performance, writing and drawing to explore persistence, compliance, language and authority. Her work typically takes place in the public space via occupation, immersion and observation of spaces. She is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and the author of the crowdfunded book The Things in Between. Kate Vjirmoet is a Seattle-based artist working in both paint and social sculpture. One of sixteen Americans selected for the 2012 Beijing International Biennial, Vjirmoet won a top prize in the 2010 Ecuador Biennial. Andre Woodward is from California. His work combines his passion for biology and fine art. He says: “My work tends to focus on nature and its many states, which include our human environments, since as organisms we are part of nature, although we like to delineate our world from what we perceive as true nature. The one constant throughout these states is change. It is the only real truth over time; all things evolve.” Tetsuya Yamada is a 2001 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Competition Award winner, and a Grand Prize winner at the 2011 International Creamix Biennale in Icheon, South Korea. He lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Koichi Yamamoto is an artist who merges traditional and contemporary approaches to printmaking. His internationally exhibited prints, which range

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from meticulous copper engravings to large-scale monotypes, explore issues of the sublime, memory, and atmosphere. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee and received the 2016 Honorable Mention Award at the ŁODŻ PRINTS International Print Biennale in Łodż, Poland. Michael Yoder is a contemporary artist living/working in New York City whose work uses digital media and information to inform a very tactile studio-based process, creating paintings and works on paper that bridge the gap between abstraction and representation. He has been the artist in residence and had a solo exhibition at The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas and had a solo exhibition at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Nate Young is a Chicago-based artist who works in multiple media. He says: “I am invested in an exploration of the way in which systems and objects that are part of particular systems affect belief. I seek out unexpected relationships between seemingly unrelated objects or signs suggesting some kind of conceptual cohesion and at the same time dissonance.” He is cofounder of The Bindery Projects in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a recipient of grants from the Bush and McKnight Foundations. Héctor Zamora’s work transcends the conventional exhibition space, redefining it, reinventing it, generating friction between the common roles of public and private, exterior and interior, organic and geometric, savage and methodical, real and imaginary. Zamora calls for the participation of the spectator and urges us to question the everyday uses of materials and the functions of space. Zemora is from Lisbon, and was the recipient of the 2014 ARCO/Community of Madrid Prize for Young Artists. He has shown his work in Mexico City, São Paulo, San Diego and Genk, Belgium. Deborah Zlotsky is represented by Markel Fine Arts in New York, and Robischon Gallery in Denver. Recent exhibits include solo shows at Robischon Gallery; Kathryn Markel Fine Arts; the SACI Gallery at Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy; as well as installation drawings at Providence College. She has received residency fellowships at Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the Saltonstall Foundation, VCCA, Ragdale Foundation, and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. Zlotsky teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.


Adams, Wayne 95 ambiguity 4–5 Amdur, Margery 60, 95 Ascheim, Deborah 67–8, 95 assessment 5, 11, 14, 52, 56–7; culture of 4, 6

failure 4, 14, 21–2, 35, 51, 56–7, 87 fear and anxiety 52, 83 Fields, Suzanna 97 Fredette, Lorrie 25, 97–8 frustration: artistic 32, 69, 72, 87; career 31

Bailin, David 68–70, 95 Baumann, Daniel 17, 72–3, 100 Blizard, Christie 56, 95 boredom 31–2, 73 Bourbon, Matthew 70–2, 96 Brown, Nick 30, 96

Gall, Sally 98 Garrido-Lecca, Ximena 58–9, 98 Gick, Charles A. 98 Gilmore, Graham 98 Goldes, David 98 Graham, Andrea 55, 98 Graham, Susan 99

collaboration 72, 89–90 collecting 41, 79 concurrent projects 52–3 Conley, Jaclyn 96 Cornejo, Cesar 34, 96 cost of education 2, 7, 15 Creative Practices (course) 6, 81–94 creativity 7, 11–13, 18–23; modes 16–18 criticism 25, 55; self 35–6 De St. Croix, Blane 96 DeStoop, Alexis 27, 97 destruction 22, 88 digital platforms 2–3, 7, 27, 43–5 distance 25–6, 39 Downen, Jill 45, 97 embodied: cognition 39; knowledge 39–41, 43, 47–8, 65, 84; learning 46; research 8, 39, 41–2, 44–5, 48, 51; understanding 82 Esslinger, Claudia 97 external: interaction 57; restrictions 57–8; stimuli 57

habit 14–15, 21, 26, 74; drawing 42, reading 67 higher-level learning 5 idea mapping 88 imagination 40, 50, 58 inflexibility 29 inner monologues 36 intelligences 19–20, 64 interactive process 51 interleaving 52–4 interruptions 26 Johnslien, Marte 41, 99 Jorda, Saskia 99 Kent, Caroline 62, 99 Killoran, Patrick 28, 99 Landry, Diane 99 landscape 16, 20, 27, 37, 42, 46, 48, 59, 69, 83, 85, 94; Japanese 20, 40

Index 107 Lang, Sabina 17, 72–3, 100 Lanka, Jason 99 Lin, Chen 100 Lyon, Beavais 100 McNulty, Christopher 101 Maker, Terry 100 Mangan, Jeremy 100 Marill, Carrie 100 Messerschmidt, Andy 47–8, 101 mid-career artist 7, 22, 61 Millar, Judy 73–4, 101 Monogenis, Dean 42, 101 multitasking 54 Nagy, Jenene 53–4, 101 No Child Left Behind Act 4, 5, 7, 13 obstacles 5, 29, 73 obstructions 90–1 Ogar, Ray 31, 102 Oliveira, Henrique 57–8, 101 ownership 78, 89 Pebworth, Alison 101 Prentice, Tim 102 Prince, Steve 42, 102 problem-solving 4, 7, 11–16, 87 productive: conflict 52–55, 58; disruptions 51, 56, 87; interactions 17, 52–55,58; problems 13, 54; resistance 51, 65; restrictions 73 Prusa, Carol 51, 102 reading 15, 29–30, 32, 34, 46–9, 67–8, 77–8, 82, 84, 87, 91, 93–4 Red Star, Wendy 74–5, 102–3 research 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, 15, 21, 27, 29–32, 35–7, 41, 45, 47–8, 55, 58–9, 62, 65, 67–8, 72, 76, 79, 81–4, 88, 91–4; proposal 82–4, 88, 93 resiliency 40 restarting an arts practice 37, 61–2 Rodriguez, Rocio 103 Rosenthal, Sylvie 103

Runcie Tanaka, Carlos 76–7, 103 Rutstein, Rebecca 26, 103 self-sustaining 7, 15, 88 separation 18, 25, 27 Shin, Jean 103 silence 24–7, 37; interior 32–3, 35–7 sketchbooks 1, 19, 42, 44, 85 Slavic, Susanne 103 Slosburg-Ackerman, Jill 104 social media 3, 26, 54 solutions 7, 11–14, 22, 33, 44, 89; searching the web for 1–4; through physical labor 5 space 9, 24–38, 45, 57–8, 60–2, 65, 71–4, 76–7, 79, 81; interior 32, 34–7; linear 1, 5; nature of 4, 9 strategies 18, 27, 34, 51, 59–60, 79, 81–2, 86, 91–2; problem-solving 16; visual 4; weekly 87–8, 91–2 Strelow, Reid 104 stuck 34–5, 48, 59, 72, 78 studio: space 27; time 6, 25, 30–2, 41, 48, 82 talent 15, 19, 21, 32, 49, 64, 66 technical mastery 39–41, 64–6 Thompson, Justin Randolph 55, 102 Tucker, W. 29, 104 unwanted interaction and conflict 59–61 Urso, Jen 104 Vjirmoet, Kate 104 web technology 87 Woodward, Andre 104 Yamada, Tetsuya 104 Yamamoro Koichi 46–7, 105 Yoder, Michael 105 Young, Nate 50, 105 Zamora, Hector 37, 78–80, 105 Zlotsky, Deborah 35–6, 105