Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two 12-hour train rides, four days in New York City and a whole lot of perspective.

This blog is about my Artistic Practice. Since this year turned out to be about change, struggle, learning, and most importantly honesty, I find personal discovery and problematic just as important to talk about as a step by step description of how to print a linocut. The art I make is fuelled by my experience, I have come to the conclusion that my art practice is a constant recording of my life experience. I am going to talk a bit about the clarity that has boiled up to the surface of the murky waters I call my ‘self’.

Many years ago I learned the word hypocrisy, and decided back then that it is wrong to say one thing and thereafter do the opposite. I decided that people should strive to be true to themselves and their personal beliefs. Of course that is wonderfully idealistic but in itself does not consider reality and that life’s path is not as straight forward and simple as I hoped it to be in high school years. Over the years I often got myself stuck because I believed so strongly that once I manifest something for myself, there is no way I may change my mind later on. I barricaded myself in this believe system and which was the cause of many headaches. I did not accept healthy change without fighting against it first, I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever reach that level of openness. My set ways made me inflexible even though I realized in certain situations to be able to effectively improvise. On the other hand I have always admired the people that make life-changing decisions on a whim, without worrying to regret it later.
When I entered Hartford Art School in 2003 I met Fiona Clark, whose middle name might as well have been “spontaneity”. If it is possible for two characters to complete each other, she is that fitting puzzle piece to bring me into complete balance. I never felt so naturally ‘myself’ until I met her. In August 2007 I moved to Montreal to attend Concordia University and Fiona stayed in New Jersey to pursue her career as Graphic Designer, which has led her since to live in New York City.

Since I came to North America in the year 2000, I have searched for many possible ways of escaping and living away from the United States. I took any opportunity to travel, study abroad, visit relatives in Europe, escapes to Montreal on weekends believing that I would be happier in any place that was not in the U.S, essentially searching for a place to identify with and feel at home in. Now I came to Montreal, Canada to stay for at least three years and after the first year and a half I finally admitted to myself that I have been caught up again in my personal fight against hypocrisy. I decided the first time I visited Montreal that I would be happy here because I really liked the atmosphere and flair of this place. I finally admit to myself that I have been in denial for months. The truth is that there are many things about this place and the people it attracts that I really dislike, but I also understand now this will be the case wherever I go.

In that last year I learned things about myself, identity, and ‘place’ that I could have never learned in Fiona’s or my family’s presence. For the first time in my life I was away from my entire personally established support system: Family, Friends, Mentors, Advisors, and Guides. I never expected this “physical absence” could become a problem for me. In fact I did not even truly recognize that support system until I stood alone. I understand now that this support system is an enormous part of my definition of home and identity. In other words I gained “perspective” during my life in Montreal. Perspective that I could only acquire the hard way. A detour through the mountains; no short-cuts possible. That is the answer to that pressing and accusing question that I have been asked many times in the past year: “Why did you have to go all the way to Montreal?”

When I decided to attend Concordia University, I was attracted to this institution for its conceptual atmosphere, which I learned I was not exposed to at Hartford Art School. I want to take the best from both teaching structures. And walk away not just with technical skill improvements but with the skill to think and work through ideas and concepts. Never had I expected this to be extremely difficult or even a problem for me. During my Undergraduate years in Hartford Art School I wasn’t even aware that there are different approaches to teaching art. At HAS, I was surrounded by rather traditional views, in combination with the complicated technicality of printmaking, the importance of “idea” itself was quickly overlooked. Each way of teaching art has conflicting and sometimes even opposing arguments and the realization that no one is going to show me or teach me a compromise was a bit of a jump into ice cold water. At the same time part of the process is to come to grips with the past and the present. To understand that despite the claims that traditionalism and conceptualism can’t be in one place at the same time I am working on finding a middle ground that makes sense to me in my art practice, process and life in general.

These are difficult views to understand and incorporate and have brought up major existential questions and issues for me. I am a fighter but often think I have to take on the whole world by myself. In all this thinking I finally came to the conclusion that it is ok to need people by your side and that it is absolutely acceptable to say: “There is such a thing as a healthy dependence. I recognize that there are people in my life who I need close to me to keep my balance, they are important and they partly define home for me.” I know now that it is ok to take this into consideration when I make decisions in the future.

That said, I am also aware that it is important to be okay with being alone. As I am trying to figure out my art practice I am trying to see if I can find a certain kind of balance within myself, which will be accessible to me at all times from then on. My whole life I thought we can only balance ourselves with external forces. I realized that this view is flawed and that first and foremost I need to be happy with myself, because most problems root within us and project and affect everything around us.

One recent direction I have taken in my art is trying to visualize the personal landscape of my emotional internal world. To my surprise I stumbled across a whole lot of mystery and even more confusion. In the past uncertainties were usually discussed during critiques and resolved them. This has not been the case in the past months. When I discovered the Art on Paper publication Letters to a Young artist I found a reasoning that makes sense to me. In the letter by Yoko Ono she comments: “Your work no matter what, affects the world, and in return, it brings back 10 times what you’ve given out. If you give out junk, you get back junk. If you give out confusion, you will give yourself confusion. If you give out something beautiful, you will get back 10 times more beauty in your life. That’s how it works.” This clarified to me why in my personal confusion the critiques of my work have been just as confusing.

At HAS the constant dialogues between Fiona and me during the creation of my work have always clarified and lifted most confusion I felt about my projects and helped me focus. This outside-my-own-mind perspective that is impossible for me to possess myself, yet crucial to my process has been absent for the past year. The difference between her and any other critic is that she knows my thought process and visual language better than anyone. And she skilfully puts things into a critical language that I understand. Now more than ever I have come to understand that I am very lucky to have this connection and am naturally going to continue to embrace it.

The major question is, now that I have come to all these realizations, where do I go from here? How do I turn this into something productive. How can I have this help me get unblocked and rid of depression?


Fiona said...

“Creativity is essentially a lonely art. An even lonelier struggle. To some a blessing. To others a curse. It is in reality the ability to reach inside yourself and drag forth from your very soul an idea.”

—Lou Dorfsman, 1918-2008

Anonymous said...

In Germany we have a saying: Erkenntnis ist der erste Schritt zur Besserung.
(I try to translate: Awareness is the first step towards improvement.)
And you can only realize something when u deep down on the bottom. But from then on, it gets better step by step, even if it is a hard way.

Anonymous said...

If your line of priority was different, ex: If you didn't have food to feed your children you wouldn't have time to depress or think about emotional distress or anything like it. You would not have time to think, you can only allow yourself to do that in these societies. Depression, despite yourself, is also a very comfortable place to be in... it is all a matter of perspectives, priorities and illusions.
The only way you are going to learn how to walk is walking.

An unknown friend.

Maria Doering said...

Hello "Unknown Friend",
I agree. Surely it all has a lot to do with our society, but also the world we live in. People that stay and live in one place their whole life tend to have a very strong sense of place and identity. When you grow up surrounded by the same people most of your life there is less of a confusion of who you are and where you are from.
When you didn't grow up in one place... and moved a lot and different cultures and languages... etc. For most people the search for where they belong, where they should go and who they are becomes very important. And this really what this is about.

And I agree with "the only way you learn to walk is walking".

Also can only write out of my own experience. That's all. Also. Taking time to think and reflect has nothing to do with depression. Taking time to think and reflect allowed me to recognize fully that I was unhappy and thereafter take action to improve things. Awareness. That's all.

Thanks for your comment.