Sunday 23 February 2014

Checking that the Suitcases Are Well Packed

First Love
Photo collage

In my art technique classes, I developed the habit of devoting part of the first class to conducting an oral questionnaire. I asked students the same short series of questions about their previous experience as art students. I did this because their answers helped me determine the sequence, depth and speed of the instruction. It also served to help me compare their assessment of their own ability and knowledge to their actual skill levels (for instance, as ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’).
I found as a result of this process that people inevitably base their concept of their skill, and therefore their expectation of achievement, on the number of classes they have taken rather than on the level of understanding or facility they have achieved. I discovered that many adults are unaware of the real extent of their knowledge about art, and that they too often form opinions and pass judgements about their own and other people’s based only on assumptions and impressions gleamed form an incomplete artistic education.
Given these findings, I have developed a more in-depth questionnaire to be used to help people relating to art examine their exposure to it, and hopefully lead them to an understanding of their relationship to it as adults. It aims to lead people to remember, relive and discover aspects of their art exposure as children, or more usually lack thereof, about which they might not have been aware.
There is no time limit to this questionnaire. Respondents might even wish to return to it at different times. New questions may be added at will. As they consider the answers to each question, or as they consider the experience of answering the questionnaire as a whole, respondents might especially note the implications of ‘no’ answers.

The Art Experience Questionnaire
As you remember and revisit your childhood:
1.     What would you say was your first aesthetic experience?
2.     What did you think of as ‘art’ when you were a child?
3.     At what age did your opinion about ‘art’ change? What experience or experiences changed it?
4.     Do you know if your parents purchased original, one-of-a-kind works of art for your home? If so, please describe.
5.     Do you know if your parents purchased limited-edition works of art for your home? If so, please describe.
6.     Do you know if your parents purchased mass-produced, decorative, non-functional objects for your home? If so, please describe.
7.     Do you know if your parents purchased and collected objects they valued purely for their design or appearance and which they displayed in your home? If so, please describe.
8.     Do you know if your parents made original art objects that you saw displayed in your home? If so, please describe.
9.     Do you know if your parents created craft objects that you saw displayed in your home? Did they attend classes or belonf to a studio to do so? If so, please describe.
10.  Do you know if your parents made art or craft objects at home? Did you watch them? Did you work with them?
11.  Would you say the art or decorative objects in your home were mostly representative of a particular culture or of various cultures? If so, please describe.
12.  Did your parents purchase posters or books about art or artists? Did you look at them? What types of posters or books were they?
13.  Did your parents purchase books, magazines or other publications they valued for their photographs, pictures or illustrations? If so, please describe. Did you look at them with your parents? Did you look alone?
14.  Did your parents collect or watch what you would call ‘art’ films’? If so, did you watch with them? Did you discuss them? Which did you like/dislike?
15.  What kinds of movies did your parents watch? Did you watch with them? Did they discuss these with or in front of you?
16.  What kinds of TV shows did your parents watch? Did you watch with them? Did they talk about these with or in front of you?
17.  What programs did your siblings watch on TV? Did you watch with them> What did you like/dislike about them?
18.  Did your parents regularly listen to music? If so, what kind? Did you enjoy it? Did they collect albums or tapes?
19.  Did you learn a musical instrument? If so, which?
20.  Did you take singing or dance lessons? What kind?
21.  Did you ever perform in a play? Where? For whom?
22.  Did your parents dance or watch dance events in theatres or  on television? If so, what kind? Did they listen to opera? Did they do to the theatre? Did they take you to any of these?
23.  Did your parents purchase art or decorative objects while on vacation in other places? If so, please describe.
24.  Which art or decorative objects in your home impressed you the most?
25.  Were any art or decorative objects your parents purchased kept in your room? If so, please describe.
26.  Did you have objects you purchased or collected for yourself purely because you found them visually pleasing? If so, please describe.
27.  What objects did you collect because they had particular associations or memories? What happened to them?
28.  Were there books in your room? Were you read to? Do you remember if there was a moment when you read the books rather than just looked at the illustrations?
29.  When and what did you read alone for the pleasure of it?
30.  How much time did your spend watching television per week? What kind of programs did you enjoy? Were you allowed to watch them?
31.  Did you visit museums or galleries with your family? When? How often?
32.  Were art-making materials easily accessible to you in the home? What were they?
33.  Was there an area of the house you were allowed to ‘mess up’ with paint, glue or other art materials?
34.  Did you spend time alone at home drawing, painting or doing other artwork? If so, please describe. How often? Did you preserve these? Were any framed and/ or displayed in the house? Where?
35.  Is there a time when you stopped drawing or painting for its own sake? Was there a particular reason?
36.  Did your parents enrol you in any after school or weekend art classes? If so what kind, where and how regularly?
37.  What skills did you pick up most easily in after school or weekend art classes?
38.  Did your after school or weekend art teachers identify themselves as artists? Did they ever show you their work? If so, what did you thing of seeing it?
39.  Did you have art classes in elementary school?  What was their format? What kind of work did you do?
40.  What would you say was your favourite ‘work of art? Where did you come across it? Is it still a favourite?
41.  Did you enjoy your in-school art classes? If not, why not? If you did, what do you remember most fondly about them?
42.  What media did you use?
43.  Did your teachers discuss art history? What do you remember most, if anything?
44.  Did you enjoy one medium or approach you learned more than the others?
45.  Did your in-school art teachers identify themselves as artists? Did they show you their work? If so, what did you thing of it?
46.  Is there an artist whose body of work was familiar to you? If so, who was it? What was the work and what did you think about it?
47.  Did you visit museums or galleries with your elementary school classes? Did you discuss what you saw? Were you asked for your impressions?
48.  Did you ever meet a professional artist in or out of school? If so, describe the experience.
49.  Did you feel satisfied by your art experiences in elementary school? If so, what did you like most about it? If not, what did you miss or wish for?
50.  What did you think of your artistic ability by the time you entered high school? What confirmed this opinion?

 Which of the experiences touched upon in the previous questions are 
1.     In the way you decorate your home now?
2.     In your attitude towards art now?
3.     In the way you educate your children about art (if you have any) now?
4.     In the way you look at or think about art now?
5.     In the things you want to learn about art now?
6.     In the way you make art now?
7.     In your attitudes towards art history, aesthetics, art criticism or the art market?
8.     In your opinions about art’s place and potential relative to society?

Sunday 16 February 2014


Identity Crisis
photo collage

            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.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Setting Off

Setting Off
Photo Collage

I introduce myself: I am a visual artist first and foremost. I am a sculptor, primarily in clay. I also draw in graphite and coloured pencil, and recently, I have returned to acrylic painting. Part of my work refers to the theatre and modern dance work I did in the past, some of it is anchored in variations of ‘the portrait’ as derived from working with models, part of it is ironic and reflective of my experiences as an emigrant/immigrant multiple times over.
I sometimes include performances in my exhibitions to complement the visual work I exhibit.  ( I also tell and write children’s stories, and hope one day to illustrate some of them.
All this work is based on the person: in art terms ‘the figure’, in literary terms, ‘character’, in theatre terms ‘interaction’, in psychology terms ‘personality’, in phenomenological terms, ‘experience’. I am interested in the push and pull between alien and member, unconscious and aware, fated and proactive. I love the body, how it is structured, how it relates to the space in which it moves, how it expresses literally billions of individuals as they experience life while having very definitive human limitations and very individual reactions. I’m interested in who we are and in how we cope with these limitations in real time/space.
This interest also informs my work as an art educator, gallery curator and arts administrator. I serve these three functions concurrently to ‘being an artist’ in the not-for-profit sector, at what I call the front-lines level, (presently at I do this because I want to nurture a healthy relationship between artist and process, artist and artist, artist and audience and audience and work of art. I also want to encourage the so-called ‘average person’ (I’ve yet to meet one) to become an informed viewer of art and a collector of art by other people (including, hopefully mine).
In this public work, I make a distinction between art making as an essential, creative practice and art as commerce because too many people forget they are not necessarily one and the same. Making art to sell is not the same as making art that sells. And, while most artists hope for sales and all dealers expect them, making art is not automatically a compatible activity with selling it: they are two totally different intents and each needs its specific technique, process and engagement.
A major concern in the context of the gallery I curate is the idea that Sports exist outside of Culture. The sports we chose to play, the way we play them, our relationship to team or challenger, our behaviour as winners or losers all reflect our Values as a people as much as the images we create, the stories we tell and the way we behave day-to-day. Sports and Art are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be made into competitors at opposite sides of educational, social or economic debates.
I am also troubled by the attitude that engagements in Art are ‘simply’ leisure, recreational or  therapeutic activities, or by the equally confining idea that artists should all work to ‘fix’ the world. I worry about educational policies that pretend to teach Art when they actually teach through art, undermining the free choice essential to the practice by dictating style, attitude and especially message.
My journey through life is as a person who believes that human beings are reduced when Art is absent from their lives,when it is something to which they are indifferent  or even hostile. When people who cannot quantify its value question its purpose, I say that Art gives humans something else to do and share than consuming, grovelling, competing and surviving.