When I travelled to other places to finally see the art I’d only ever known through picture books or slides, I travelled as a student, as a practicing artist, as an art teacher and as an artist who exhibits other people’s works. To me, these four aspects of my relationship to the art object are distinct. Each aspect has its own motivations, its own interests, its own intents and they aren’t always easily compatible, but they are always interdependent.
My life would be far simpler if it were an either/or question. I could be a student or teacher of art history but have no interest in making art myself (I could want to write or lecture about it or work in a museum, for instance). Or, I could be an artist who uses a specific medium for which I have developed a specific technique (for instance, an oil painter who renders landscapes or a portrait painter in acrylics) from which I would derive a definition of what art is. Or, I can be the curator of a gallery that represents a variety of artists creating in a variety of media but that all have a similar style or approach (such as high realism, abstract expressionism or conceptualism). Many teachers of art make none of it themselves as ‘practicing artists’, especially those teaching outside universities and maybe colleges, I could be making a lot more money with more benefits and stability as one of those. Life would be a lot simpler.
Alas not for me simplicity. I grew up in a household that was not only artistic but also ridiculously multi-cultural, and in a tropical country given to pitting white, European decorum and refinement against native exuberance and joy. Contradictory cultural and aesthetic influences surrounded me at a chaotic but exciting rate. As a ‘citizen’, I belonged nowhere and everywhere at once. From this I’ve learned that the human brain is capable of embracing difference without losing itself, that the intellect can accommodate a mixed bag of truths, that the heart is capable of innumerable types of passions. We can survive and thrive in a multi-dimensional world. I came to love ‘expression’, dance, music, costume, storytelling, painting, sculpture, especially when it combined heart-moving craftsmanship and deeply evocative thought.
As a consequence of this history, I am a student and a maker of art who is also a teacher to students and makers of art; I have a practice that includes various media and different techniques, though one might call me a ‘conceptual realist’; I run a not-for-profit municipal gallery as a practicing artist from an educational perspective to represent art made out of physical media and from a conceptual or a thematic rather than from a commercial or recreational intent. I’m interested in those I call the ‘front line’ artists, those who engage in their practice but are willing to also engage in the community of artists and in the direct rather than only the mediated exchange with audience.
It gets complicated. But art is complicated, with its myriad of levels, media, techniques, costs, spaces, intents, styles, cultures, engagements, uses, Values… For me, it’s a joyous complication, because, over the course of my professional life, I have come in personal contact with serious artists in all kinds of disciplines. My conversations, interactions and collaborations with actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, writers, animators, photographers, printmakers, painters, sculptors, musicians and other life-long creators have made me understand another undeniable fact:
Most people hope and wait for Heaven, for that after-death immersion in Truth, Illumination and Joy. For themselves and for those who choose to join them, artists create Heaven, even braving Hell to do it.