Jun 22, 2009

Slice of Time

"...photos have always been the Model T of the arts. The man who wants to be buried with his five hundred-dollar Ford because it has pulled him out of every hole so far also wants a five-dollar photo of his wife so that when she passes, he can pull her out of her hole and place her firmly on the dresser."
(Richard Powers, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance)


At the end of grad school we all had to write a lengthy thesis paper. I was quite happy with mine, I thought it came out quite well. I talked about the functions of photography, memory, history, narrative and fictional landscapes, quoted Baudrillar, John Berger, Richard Powers, Wim Wenders, Salman Rushdie, Susan Sontag.

When I showed my first draft to my professor, he had hard time believing I wrote it. It's understandable, I was never very forthcoming or articulate at our regular critiques. Truth to be told, I never liked talking about my work. It made me feel like a giant phony. I'm also just not intellectual enough to get a handle on all the (post-)post-modernist art talk.

In grad school there were a few students who could talk the talk, and make the art. The majority though was just talking. However, it carried more weight with the faculty than their actual work.

I still don't know if going to grad school was a good thing or a big mistake. On one hand, not going would have been three years less of eating ramen soup and baked beens, and selling plasma to buy art supplies. On the other hand, I got to try my hand in print making, actually learned a number of things, and became more articulate, even if only in writing.

On the definitely positive side, it cured me from all my naive ideals of being an artist.

24 comments:

simoncolumb said...

I recently completed an undrgraduate degree in Fine Art and it was the best decision I made - then again, I'm now an Art teacher! Interesting about you 'naive ideals about artists'. What exactly does that mean? I do think that your own art, that speaks only to you (doodles, when thinking about someone through to oil paintings depicted relatives) are still are - now the reality is only a few make it financially as an artist, but then, if the viewer/audience engages with your work then thats being an artist (moreso in my opinion but..) because a connection to the viewer and understanding the viewer can be a real challenge. Then again, alot of 'high-art' is made for and made by the 'high-society' and we all know that if you are from big money, it is quite easy to make money.

pasadenaadjacent said...

I take great pleasure in your post and the direction you've taken as of late

I was inundated with French semiotics...some of the boys... Jean-Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. They were followed by the American theorists trying to explain the French theorists. I take shots at the French whenever possible. You might have noticed.

I once had to give a presentation on Baudrillard's Simulcra and Simulation. I wouldn't let anyone get a word in edgewise. I knew that if one person questioned me, my thin grasp on the subject would have been exposed and I would have found myself circling the drain.
Despite this I did learn a thing or two that has come in handy. For one, know every angle you may be attacked from. If you make a circle blue, you better know why. When I'm in front of committees (cultural inquisitions) I refer to this game as "Stump the Artist"

Suicide Barbie said...

Great post - most insightful.
I love the photographs - I always find pictures like that so fascinating...

Vanda said...

Oh, I loved undergrad. Those were some of the best years of my life. Graduate school on the other hand is a whole different beast. Its primary goal is to prepare you to become a professional artist who regularly exhibits, or a college art professor who also regularly exhibits. They achieve this goal by pounding into your head the hottest, most contemporary critical theory. Yes, we had all the Focault and Derrida and Baudrillard - especially Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death was our bible. I always had a suspicion that despite all his cleverness his theories were hollow, but lacked the intellect to prove it. Though that didn't stop me from sniping at him in my thesis. Instead of other theorists I pitted artists like Berger, Wenders, Powers against him. Of course it's one thing to do that in writing, with no discourse, another to do it in front of a live and argumentative audience. "Stump the Artist" indeed.

The naive ideas that I shed were about role and importance of art, and my own talents, and possibly a touch of snobbery. I also realized that I was inherently ill fitted for the roles of teacher or exhibiting artist. I also had to admit to myself that I'm not truly and intellectual, and never would be. So getting through grad school was a struggle, but once I was out of there all those realizations made my life much easier.

altadenahiker said...

Let's not even get into the critical analysis of literature and poetry. It's like killing a work for the sake of your autopsy.

jess_marie10 said...

Your post is really fascinating.

Jennifer said...

aw, the simpler times. I wish I could have lived back then.

Well, sorta. They had their own set of problems I am not too sure I would have wanted to deal with.

Allan said...

well put, if I may say so

Jean Spitzer said...

My next door neighbor (several years and a couple of residences ago) went back to grad school and got an MFA as an older adult at one of the Claremont schools. She described it as producing a huge quantity of work in a limited time for a degree, nothing about philosophy of art, or indeed any instruction at all. Must have been a different program.

Margaret said...

Great post. The juxtaposition of the photos and your text is great. I ask myself the same questions about grad school: waste of time or not? I do think it was a waste of money and probably time too, especially since I only teach part time. It's shameful. I feel so overeducated and underemployed most of the time. Then again, I really like teaching part time because I have time to do things I like and I really do not like administrative things so the tenured life would probably not have been for me.

Steve Ballmer said...

Good blog, nicely done!

Vanda said...

I would have been happy with a huge quantity of work.

You know Margaret, I have not done anything since that would require a masters degree.

mllegramophone said...

I wish I could fit into the world of school but never could. I'm full of admiration for anyone that can manage it. After all, it is considered proof of worth in our limited culture.

These photos remind me of being elevated by my mother.

Beautiful post.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Those are really old cars they had when you were growing up! You really look good for your age.

Petrea said...

I didn't go to graduate school, and sometimes feel defensive when these grand discussions come up. But I realize the big words are just semantics (ho ho). It's either education or practical experience, and the value of one or the other depends on what you want to do. Do you want to teach the art or practice it? Knowing how to talk about what other artists have done can be useful either way, but it strikes me as the same as learning a sport. Sooner or later you have to drop the talk and go out and do it.

GreenTease said...

Simply great photos. Thanks for sharing!!!

Reny Sitanggang said...

Dear Sir,
what a wonderful old days, those pictures are.
reny sitanggang

No 0 said...

I enjoy watching the old photos... and they look more beautiful in this colour of the blog template background.

AMS said...

I've always found old photographs to be very interesting and beautiful. I love the photos in this post.

Tifarie said...

nice story and great pictures! :)

Kulguy said...

its always the quiet ones is what they say. but i agree with your idea of pictures. the ones in your blog are particularly telling. its as if each one exuded a story in and of itself. truly mesmerizing to look at photos like these and wonder of the past and where the people in them wound up many years later...

Vanda said...

You touch upon something very interesting; a photo, especially a snapshot is a fragment of a narrative. It's a mystery. We feel the urge to (re)create their story.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Good point, Vanda. Very wise observations tonite. A lone voice in the wilderness!

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