Saturday, December 1, 2012

purposes for doing and making

One thing that I have been thinking about for the last couple months is the idea of my work, studio practice, and motivation for doing things being in line with folk music.  I don't mean the folk music of the 60's and 70's, rather music that is produced by a culture for its aesthetic and entertainment purposes (but an entertainment that is without an economic value).  In some ways this might be hard to make completely clear, and it is certainly something that I am still working through as an underpinning to my studio practices.  The best example I can think of are the types of music that Alan Lomax, a musician, ethnomusicologist, and anthropologist collected.  My understanding of Lomax's aim was to collect, preserve, and record music as cultural expressions.  Music, today, is a different sort of beast, at least to the majority of the United States and other 1st world countries, though I imagine it is different for everyone around the world--music is dominated by commodification.  

Another way of approaching what it is that I am trying to get at is by thinking about the end goals of production.   A recording I remember learning about in college--postal workers in Ghana canceling stamps--sticks out as a good example.  The recording is a multi-part song composed of a number of workers whistling to the rhythm of the percussion of their canceling stamps, which is a loud, dull, thud at amazing tempos.  This music was created, I imagine, for the purpose of doing something creative during work, not for commercial purposes.  The track comes from an ethnomusicology textbook called Worlds of Music, so I'm fairly certain the postal workers didn't get paid for the recording, nor did they want or need to: it would have happened regardless. 

Another way this comes up in my daily existence is with food, believe it or not.  There have been a number of times when I have made something for someone and they have said "you should sell this!".  I am confident in my cooking and baking skills, for sure, and it is always a nice comment to hear, in that it means that my food is commercially viable--i.e. it is at least as good as what you can buy in the store.  I think this is thought about more now with the recent boom in local eating and shopping--the market is much more receptive to locally produced goods that it was five years ago.  The importance of this, however, is that I have no interest in selling food products that I make.  I have a passion for learning cooking and baking techniques and wish to reproduce foods that I've had in restaurants or abroad and my motivation is not for the sake of the consumer, it is for the sake of me understanding how something works, knowing how to make it again, and making it for friends and family to enjoy as a part of an aesthetically-inclined food lifestyle.  Any sort of production for commercial gain is against my reasons and purposes for making the food.  It would change the purpose and production, and it is not something that is motivating to me at all.  

How this fits into studio production and making artwork is tricky; the art market and how we as artists fit into it is never a clean relationship.  As I work more and further my career I expect that I'll have more information and honest interpretations of this relationship.  I do not make my work for commercial purposes, as I suspect anyone reading this blog also does not, but I am interested in having a gallery that represents my work and me as an artist.  Printmaking pals always give me a bit of hell for wanting this, saying that it is a painter's dilemma, and I would tend to agree with them.  I do know, for sure, that I will need to have a healthy personal relationship with any gallery that I work with.  I also know that I am not reliant on selling art work to pay my bills, which also puts me in a good place--I could leave any negative relationships with galleries as I need to.  I won't go any further in this line of thinking, as it is all completely hypothetical at the moment--I have had incredible opportunities with galleries that are right-minded, independent, and progressive in the art world (meaning they exist with razor thin budgets and support from an art community and its creative capital), and all of these galleries (Heavy Brow Gallery in Bloomington, Illinois; FLUXX Gallery in Des Moines, Iowa; and others) have been incredibly supportive to me and other artists associated with them.  I imagine, though, as we all make more work, get older and wiser, and get more established in our respective art communities that we will all have tougher decisions to make in regards to how we fit into the art market. 

These thoughts will undoubtedly continue...stay tuned. 

I've got new work up on the website, including new drawings in the Letters of the Weather series, including the piece below: 

the last of things, 2012
acrylic, ink, ammonia, graphite on paper
20" x 30"