In an attempt to cure myself of cabin fever, this morning I dragged myself out of the house, camera in hand. Something curious happens during the Minnesota winter, the light becomes exactly the right temperature to make every image look like a Stephen Shore photograph from the late 1970s.
There is a Japanese zen tradition where visitors are invited to view the first snow fall. This winter, I was eagerly waiting to bring this tradition into my life in Minnesota. Unfortunately, it only snows when I leave the city. So far, I’ve watched the snow fall inside airports all over the Midwest. 8 hours watching thru the Milwaukee International Airport’s floor to ceiling plate glass windows was probably not the same feeling one would get when peering out of a shoji screen. Alas, it has to do.
When I first began graduate school, exposure to what most of us call Conceptual Art (with a capital C) was a refreshing, lime-in-the-fish-for-freshness type of experience. I needed that exposure. I was stagnating and focused on the relationships between aesthetics and anti-aesthetics in the drawings I was making at the time. Let me come right out and say it, I was educated as a formalist.
Put simply, throughout grad school, I strived to supplant formalist production with conceptual cleverness. At the time, my thinking was rewarded over doing. Two years after finishing my MFA at the U of M and I’m reconsidering my position and wishing I could have made myself stick it out, formalist tendencies and all.
You see, there is a slight problem with rewarding thought over action, concept over production: if all you do is think, you never make anything. I have thought up amazing new projects in the last two years, only to have them whittled away by a new self-criticism, a new line of questioning: “is what I’m doing conceptually bankrupt?” Never mind if it is a visually compelling form of visual art, if there’s no research paper worthy topic behind it, I’ve learned it is a dead-end, not worth doing.
As valuable as introspection is, this is a sure-fire way to misery. Endless focus on being a clever, contemporary, conceptual artist leads to what my mother would call “Shit or get off the pot syndrome.”
So, I’m here, creatively constipated (for lack of a better term), wondering if I’ll ever make anything again. God knows I’ve already thought it.
A group of passengers with lifejackets aboard ‘Kungsholm’, undergoing life boat drill
I feel exactly like this. Hands tied, close to what I want, but unable to actually get there.
National Maritime Museum’s Flickr
I’ll be honest. The adjustment from my trip back into everyday life has been an absolute bitch. Perhaps it is the weather or the consistent and undying jet-lag, but I am less than thrilled to be in Minneapolis.