time storage

this is the time of year that i am grading papers. yes. i assign papers in all my studio classes. fundamentally i see the act of writing as an act of thinking [in a nice moment of serendipity we can refer back to my bemoaning my lack of participation in this space]. over the years i have become resigned to the fact that the students i teach are grossly unprepared to write a simple 2 page response to a piece of artwork that they must view in person. as i explain to them putting your thoughts down on paper [even if it's virtual paper like an email] is not only important, but if you want to succeed "professionally" as an artist it is unavoidable. curators, collectors, gallerists, press people - someone at sometime is going to ask you to explain yourself in full - not only technically as in i want to build this and will use this and this, but conceptually as in this means this and is contributing to this dialogue in this way. if you can't... well you are going to lose out on opportunities. it's a simple fact [and not an alternative one].

i've been thinking that in some ways we are too comfortable compartmentalizing our arts and that many people feel that they only need to respond in kind - aka we think visual is visual so we critique with our eyes, music is auditory and so we only need to listen, but in reality it is language that we utilize to universally critique and discuss. we can't express emotions or insights solely through facial expressions [although i've been told i never hide mine on my face]. i wish there was an easy way to connect all our senses and engage them - god why can't we MIND MELD. and sometimes i wish i had synesthesia so that i wouldn't just see and feel colors but hear them too. 

i have experienced and witnessed the formulation of a new idea through a search for words. i try to explain to my students that in the simple act of attempting to accurately describe, you might stumble upon a thought that leads you down an interesting path. maybe the piece isn't actually about what you thought it was at first glance. maybe there is more there. or less. who knows. what happens when you filter a work through your own personal experience. can you delve deeper to really determine what motivates your like, dislike, awe, captivation with a work? 

every semester i harp on my students about words like  "unique" and "colorful" and how inadequate they are as descriptors. we are all "unique" and delicate flowers right? "colorful" - please don't get me started. maybe i find this most offensive because i feel like my life is a daily study in color and i can't stand to trivialize it. in my head the questions mount: well what do you mean by that? rainbow? cool colors? colors that match? colors that clash? complementary colors [and which ones at that]? are the colors layered? are they local? are they all at the same saturation? 

when we are young we literally don't have the vocabulary to express complex thoughts. in fact we work really hard to figure out shortcuts to make ourselves understood. for example my daughter called toast "pop" for a couple weeks before she learned the word toast... "pop" was the sound that the toaster made right? i got it, she got what she wanted, everything good. 

along those same lines something interesting can happen when we don't have immediate or easy access - even to something like language [here we are again - the magic happens in a space where we feel least comfortable]. i had one paper in my stack written by a non-native [chinese] english speaker. they actually speak english really well - enough to joke - i sort of think that's when you are really have a grasp on a language - when you can crack a joke. it's hard. there's subtlety and tone involved. but none the less - they obviously haven't spent a lot of time writing formal papers in english. or even thinking about how to respond to visual things in english.

{{if you are my friend on facebook i apologize for the repeat as i posted this paragraph there as well, but i can't stop thinking about it so here it is again.}} in response to a chinese golden belt buckle treasure from eons ago they wrote:

At the very beginning - "unique", "beautiful", these kinds of words were the representation of artworks in my mind. But now I realize that artwork is not only an object, it is also a piece of time storage. In art you can see the expression which comes from different times and spaces, you can appreciate different tastes from several histories and cultures, you can also learn some lessons. Now in my mind, artworks are not pieces of works anymore, they have their own meaning and value. They are all treasures!

this is when i get giddy as a teacher. i mean COME ON. if a native english speaker had written this i wouldn't have been impressed in the least - context is everything, but in an earnest search for a way to describe their epiphany the nail was hit on the head. and the idea of TIME STORAGE - what is not to like about that?!? it's sort of the simplest and most direct way to talk about something we have such a hard time really talking about.

what the f*c& is art's role in our society? i don't think any "cultural producer" sits down to tackle the long term ramifications of what it is they're creating. did that belt buckle maker have an inkling of a clue that their object would be seen thousands of years later and used as a moniker of discussing gift giving traditions and mythology of ancient chinese culture? NOPE.

for all our wanting of time machines and/or the ability to read people's minds, perhaps we should simply start by looking around us. every piece of plastic, what we wear, the photos we take continually on your phone [i keep thinking in many ways i have spent 10 years now taking the same photo over and over] - each of these offers a clue to who we are, and collectively what we find important. i've thought this forever [even did a project about it right? ], but often think the real question is how do these things that having meaning - how do they store time? and how will they be interpreted in the future? i don't actually think we should worry about it too much while we are making, but it's a pretty damn interesting ripple to follow as far out as i can. 

if you made it this far you've realized that these visuals really have nothing to do with the text. i thought you might want to just look at some things to break up my rambling. but this last image... i got to see kelly inouye's show at state space sf last week... and it's GOOD. really really good. all about fantasy island, and homemade sparkly watercolor paints... it's kind of like a double time storage if you ask me.... you go see it and let's talk about that. 


Anonymous said…
I, too, spent much of my working life trying to hone my ability to write in a manner that others could use, learn from, and hopefully benefit by. It is a never ending and, for me, enjoyable process.

Your Keepsake project was a marvelous and poignant testament to 'time storage.'

As someone who is further along life's path than you I sometimes think about how my time on this planet will be 'interpreted in the future.' What legacy will I leave for my loved ones and others whom I have known? What of me and my life will be someone else's 'time storage?'

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