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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Creating a Working Language in The Arts

Artists Live Within Their Own Universes

I often find myself in a place where the working language of the art world is not quite enough for me. As an experimental artist I run up against a wall quite often where what I am creating is far enough out on the fringe that I am forced to create my own working language and terminology for what I am doing.

This is most often due to my own ignorance I suspect. Never having had the benefits of a degree in arts, I've largely had to piece together my own knowledge of how the art world works. I think a lot of other artists run into this often.
Even those who have the benefit of formal education in the arts can still have problems. That is because art is constantly changing. What it was yesterday is not what it will be tomorrow, mostly because of idiots like myself who are not content to paint pastoral scenes of forests and fields of poppy's.

But this is part of the joy the field of art brings to me. It is constantly in a state of change. But even with this change, the great masters of the past still have modern implications for what we do.

I often tell my students to stop worrying that they don't know who Jackson Pollock or John Singer Sargent are and focus on what they created instead. If you can find the flow of art from past to present you can find the flow within yourselves.

Once you find that flow you can jump in and ride the surf. I watch for that flow in my students. I often don't see it. The desire is there and a love of the arts and the potential is always there that they will someday become great artists, but they haven't made that intuitive leap yet into the artistic sea. When I made that leap so many years ago, I immediately started rearranging the waves.

I wasn't happy to call a thing what others called it. I wanted to name it something new. And even when I changed the name I was most often not happy with the change and called it something different. With each change of the language there was a change of my skills and techniques also. So while others may scoff and ask why I couldn't just be happy with calling a painting a painting, its done nothing but strengthen me as an artist.

So with that said I've been struggling with the language a lot in the past few months. It started with my redefining what I was currently doing with the Revenant Series and forcing myself to create a new set of terms that defined the art style. "Assimilation Art" may well be known by other names within the art world. But for me it was necessary to pull together years of work in the area and set it to a name. Once I did so I sought to understand it better by examining it from every angle possible. And of course I immediately began lecturing my students on what it was also and forcing them to look at it from every angle with me.

The hardest part of the battle has been in making others understand that assimilation art and mixed media art are NOT the same thing. They share certain commonalities but they are also very different. Because of this its taken what was a basic definition of an artistic concept and created a whole series of sub-terms that help define the main concept better.

Many of these terms are misunderstood. Terms like "morphing art"and "infinite-morphing" sounds more like a computer program than an artistic idea. And while I will not try to define them for you now, the point is that sometimes we are forced to create our own languages for things we do. I have trouble with labels because labels can limit, but I also understand their necessity especially when dealing with something new.

But this working language issue also applies on a smaller scale. For example, in the recent "Time Sculpture" project I've enlisted the aid of 24 other artists in its creation. With that I've had to develop a special set of terms to describe certain aspects of the project. "Tiers" are the working name for each level of the sculpture being built. There are five tiers each with five small "Time Cubes" that are in themselves miniature sealed time capsules. Within these cubes is a "Bio-Packet" which contains the basic information about each artist. It is a sealed packet where the bio has been laminated to protect it over time.

The result is that I am talking in an alien language that must be defined for the artists participating. "Bio-Packet?? What the hell is that?" But I am forced to create a working language to support the sculpture or else I am left grasping at straws to describe a concept coming solely out of my head.

There are many other examples of this and I am sure there will be to come. I suppose my point of this post is to point out that as artists we should not become enamored of the present terminology for something. We should instead be constantly redefining what we do because that is what artists are best at. Face it, re redefine the universe around us constantly. Artists are at the very heart "creators" and that means we not only have a desire but an obligation to create new things. This includes not only the painting before us, but how we describe that painting. So don't feel the fool if the present language does not suit you. Go out and create a new one.


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