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.
From the Library of Congress Flickr
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