I’m the King of Jubilee Jumbles

artist Nayland Blake natters on about art and other things

Posts Tagged ‘practicing art

Crankcase and Creation…

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On the way to work today, the thought struck me that it’s hard to talk about not making art without it sounding like an alarm. I (and I think most of us) are used to thinking about the process of working as one of dramatic highs and lows, where every stumble is something to be dreaded and avoided.

I haven’t made much formal work lately. Yet I do not feel “blocked” per se. The camera is still always with me, pictures get taken, posts get made here, and the occasional drawing happens. Still, none of this seems to be adding up to much. Is it the notion of “adding up” itself that causes the problem? Or is it the temptation to make all of these posts little moments of problem posed, problem solved?

In all of my written journals, my default voice is one of complaint. And complaint is always safer than expressions of pleasure, because what do you say to Pollyanna? Friends are having a hard time, and I don’t want to go around plopping rainbows on them. I’m reading Reborn a selection of Susan Sontag’s notebooks, and at 16 years old she is intellectually intimidating and insufferable in the absolute nature of her ecstasies. I certainly don’t want these notes to end up in that pile.

So: I’m not working, much. It’s not a big deal, but there it is.

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Written by naylandblake

April 9, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Eye opener.

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Current Book: Louis Menand – American Studies

Last night I read “The Long Shadow of James B. Conant” an essay from the above mentioned book. I case you don’t know who Conant was (I didn’t), He served as Harvard university’s president from 1933 to ’59 and was intimately involved with the creation of two items that certainly had a great deal to do with shaping my consciousness: the atom bomb and the SAT. As fascinating as that info is what really caught my eye in the essay was Menand’s capsule history of US university ideology in the twentieth century. It’s notable for its weaving together of demographic and political explanations for the rise and fall of notions like meritocracy. All of this may seem pretty opaque but it touches on a private theory of mine regarding the rise of MFA programs and departments of arts practice within liberal arts institutions during the Seventies.

At mid century College education was being touted as a “unifying force” in american society; a way codify and pass on democratic values in a society without a central religion, and with atomizing family and class structures. This was the prevailing view for the postwar generation and colleges based their curriculum around inculcating the values that were felt to be necessary for future captains of industry and government. All of this made sense while the economy was expanding but by the early seventies the US was faced for the first time since the turn of the century with a generation of people who could not expect to have a higher standard of living than their parents had. How to stop them from tearing down the society in their frustration? Train them to be artists. Why? Because in the arts, people luxuriate in a split consciousness not found any where else in society.

By being involved in the arts in American today one is able to assert something for perhaps the the first time in western history: that what one does for a living is distinct from what one is. In other words, I’m working as a waiter, but I’m an Actor. The nature of this assertion made it possible for large numbers of people to make peace with their downward mobility because they had been offered something in exchange: a notion of self as separate and untouched by occupation. And so there rose an “artist lifestyle” that valorized living in discarded commercial spaces, wearing thrift shop clothes, working in food service jobs, etc, etc. Things that twenty years earlier would have been regarded as the mark of a hobo, not of a boho.

Today most colleges have some sort of arts major and can we say that we are better off? Do we have better art, music, theater? a better society? I’m the product of such a system and I can’t say that I don’t feel subtly duped in some way, like I’ve been handed a box of milk duds and pushed to the sidelines.

Take a look at the Menand’s essay, which offers other delights, such as a prose style I can only sigh after. It actually doesn’t assert any of the things that I have just put out here, but it does provide a very different way of thinking about the supposed “culture wars on American campuses”

Written by naylandblake

December 18, 2003 at 10:02 am

Five more questions – courtesy of Thor

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What, if anything, have you learned from your students, and/or the process of teaching?

Teaching continually confronts me with the dilemmas in my own process. When I talk to my students about their difficulties, their stopping places and moments of fear, I am able to see the similarities in my own situation. So from listening to the ways my students talk about what they do I have become a better reader of work. I’ve also learned not to spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not they like me. When I first started teaching I wanted to be every student’s best pal. That’s as bad as your parents trying to hang around with you all the time. Now I have better boundries around it all and it makes it easier for ervery one to relax.

What don’t you like about the art world? Are there frauds? Name names.

1. I don’t like the generalization “art world” as it lumps together many people who don’t neccisarily belong together : artists, certain writers, dealers, collectors, museum people, some notion of a public. We don’t talk about the “baseball world”. That being said, for purposes of answering the question I’ll talk about the group of people around the New York art market.
2. I don’t like assumed concensus, people who come to opinions without thinking about them. One of the galling things about being in the market is the unspoken assumption that everyone is on the same side.
3. I don’t like openings, which are really about people demonstrating to you that they showed up rather than anyone looking at the work in any real way. I go to very few, and when I have them I try to find some way to subvert them by doing a performance or something similar.
4. I don’t like the proliferation of prizes, art fairs and Biennials, for the same reason I dislike circuit parties.
5. I dislike the cult of youth that pervades the art world these days. It messes up my students, and it’s fair to say that art making is one of the things that you get better at the longer you do it. Do we want every field to have the emotional pitch of women’s gymnastics?

As for frauds; first let me say that I think it’s heartening that folks still worry about this. It means that on a deep level people want something important from art, given the way we have come to accept fraud in so many other fields as a matter of course. But in this case I think it’s hard to define fraud. On the part of artists I would say that there are failures, failures of nerve, imagination, growth, feeling. When someone tries to present these as not being faliures then I suppose you have a situation of fraud. For example, I think that for many years now David Salle has been treading water. His most recent show at Gagosian in New York was accompanied by an article in the New York Times that was full of praise for the development of the work. This I suppose was fradulent, in that it was intellectually dishonest. But when you try to talk about this as legal fraud you run up against a problem: who has been injured? The people who bought the pictures? The people who came to look at them? Also let me say that even if we could talk about fraud here the biggest art fraud in history could have gotten away with less in a life time than a VP at Enron could make off with in a week.
Here’s a clearer case: Thomas Kinkaide – the self proclaimed painter of light. Here is someone who has set up a huge business that traffics in asserted, simplified emotionality. It seems to me to be at its heart cynical and manipulitive of its audience on a level that Jeff Koons could only pretend to.

“me and my work”
“the types of work I enjoy”
“in terms of work”
“making work and seeing others make work”
Why not:
“me and my art”
“the types of art I enjoy”
“in terms of art”
“making art and seeing others make art”
Why this choice of words? Is this simply the vernacular from the “art world” that you’ve absorbed? What would Freud have to say about this? Discuss.

Two reasons: when I use “art” people tend to think only of my visual stuff, whereas I think of everything I do; sculpting, writing, teaching, lecturing, DJing, publishing, etc. as all being part of the same thing :”making work”. Secondly, “my art” just sounds too naff. I make things that make sense to me and then hopefully they will be useful for other folks as well. To the extent that they are then they become art.

Name some things that you personally “find really useful in a cultural sense.”
The plays of Richard Foreman – the books of Kathy Acker, Djuna Barnes, Samuel Delaney and Charles Dickens – the films of John Waters, Jack Smith and Terry Gilliam – the Music of Sun Ra, Patty Smith and the Velvet Underground – notebooks of Hokousai – the tattoos of Don Ed Hardy – the sock money – as a sculptor I wish I had invented it, and I still aspire to come up with something like it: a sculpture that just about anyone can make, that is ubiquitous and anonymous.

Who put the ram in the ramalamadingdong?

You know you did, dude.

Written by naylandblake

November 30, 2003 at 10:18 am

What I did, did I?

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Ok, so here it is: I now have three shows up: new work in London, retrospective at the Tang in Saratoga Springs, and collaboarative video installations in San Francisco. So i think i can say that the harvest season is over. Next official deadline: new two channel video piece for group show in Jan. This harks back to what things were like for me twelve years ago, except then I didn’t have the added workload of running a graduate program. I wish I knew some other way to work, to be honest. This week I was frantically getting the videos for SF made into DVDs and fedexed so that they would arrive on time, Meanwhile there was a huge opening in Saratoga, attended by my Mother and Sister as well as a number of friends. After the dinner, I djed a dance party for the Skidmore students, an interesting effort since the record collection I was using started in the early sixties and ended around ’91. Luckily they all came ready to dance, so the only real problem was that their hopping up and down made the turntables skip on occasion.
I think this post should be firmly filed under count your blessings. Although each of these projects brought up wildly varied emotions, moment to moment , each was an oppurtunity I am grateful for:a chance most people in my field don’t have. I wish that I could proceed through them with grace, rather than by causing drama for the other people who work with me. Drama through shutting down and being uncommunicative. Drama through waiting til the last minute. Yes, everything got to where it needed to be at the right time but it still is at the expense of frayed nerves, for people that I know and care about. SO here’s a public apology to everyone who deserves one.

(side note to the shrink: just noticing that I can’t talk about good news without talking about how badly I’ve behaved – that must get a bit tedious for you, eh?)

Written by naylandblake

October 19, 2003 at 11:38 am

Mid aft slump

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Past the burnout of the past couple of days. Overslept this morning, but that left me in a much better mood than previously. Obviously I needed it. There are still many things to take care of on the rapidly-approaching horizon, but at least my conciousness doesn’t seem as sporadic as yesterday. One thing I forgot to mention about the trip to the Tang was the presence of one quite beautiful man who was a friend of one of the Tang education coordinators and who stuck around after the whole thing. We were introduced and I made some fumbling joke. He was around my height and seemed to be a pacific islander, with long salt and pepper hair and a pointed goatee. He teaches at the university in Schenectady. I’m remembering an open smile and the dry warmth of his handshake, but off course his name flew out of my head the moment it was told me. My particular curse – I can remember the jingles from every commecial I heard at age 4 but never anyone’s name.
All of this is to say I was a bit smitten. Rare indeed.
This is another of those “I’m at work and I don’t wanna be” LJ posts. There’s lots of other things I need to finish, pieces that need making, rooms that need cleaning, people that need contacting. But the fact is I almost get more of that stuff done here. And now once again I’m frightened by the messages on my phone, so much so that I won’t pick them up. An absurtity, which has gotten me into bad situations with those around me and hurt people I haven’t wanted to hurt. Time after time I’ve tried to talk through these scenarios with my therapist, yet I lapse into the same behavior. Last week for the first time he suggested medication, which left me both shocked (usually not his route at all) and a little thrilled (is my dowdy, garden variety neurosis blooming into a glamourous anxiety disorder?).
I am reading W.G.Seybold’s book “The Rings of Saturn”. It is stunning: the overall structure is a solitary walking tour through the east of England, but each chapter mimicks the sensation of walking; spare insiscive descriptions of the landscape give way to chains of association that become historical and autobigraphical essays. The erudition is never forced, and exists in conjuction with sensitive observations of people and places. This is the kind of book I wish I could write, and indeed it’s given me some ideas for my endlessly projected, endlessly delayed Jack Smith/Ray Johnson/Cockettes/et al book. When I type those words I feel that everything I’m doing right now is wrong, and that there’s a much more important task calling me

Written by naylandblake

October 2, 2003 at 3:20 pm

The big Blur…

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Sitting in the office, bushed and…and…inarticulate. Got up yesterday by accident 4:30 am (ws shooting for 5:15) and took an early train to Saratoga Springs, where my show “Some kind of Love” is now open at the Tang museum. Got in to town around noon and then went from gallery talk to lunch to student radio station to teacher talk to giving slide lecture. The only break was a bout of compulsive shopping at Target when I decided that the headphones I had brought for my cd player were wrong, wrong! and I needed to spend money on new ones. Ridiculous behavior, that was tolerated by Ian Berry, the curator who has put the show together. It’s a small retrospective of video work and walking through it was disorienting, moving , distressing , all at once. Some of the pieces have my voice in them so I was hearing myself from 14 years back or so. I also was not at the Tang to work with the installation crew, so I walked in and the show was pretty much a fait accompli. At this point there are things out there in the world that I haven’t laid hands on for almost two decades. Now when I come upon them I think, what did I have to do with this?
Couple that with the slide talk and Q and A session that followed it: Lots of people and me talking always talking about the work. Trotting out some of the jokes that I’ve been using in my slide talks for ages now. It feels very separate from what goes on when work is made. Once I start answering questions, things pick up, for me at least. I welcome these kinds of forums, and the chance to get to hear from people what they see going on with the work. After an hour and a half or so, the event is over and then it’s off to dinner with Ian, his wife and Mason, the faculty member who was interviewing me. He teaches gender studies and African-american lit and talks about how Saratoga had one gay bar, but it closed in ’97. We talk a bit about the ways that online life is killing off bars and as the meal goes on I find myself popping in and out of presentness. At times the conversation seems to be taking place in another room and I can barely understand what folks are talking about or why. I order cheese instead of dessert and a delicate, lush goat cream cheese arrives, with a warm biscuit and a fig and apricot chutney. Its like the best cream cheese and jelly sandwich ever. Dinners done, Ian drives me to the guest house and I collapse and sleep for about six hours. It’s not enough and I wake feeling hung over. Onto the train where my tiredness and grumpiness makes me ignore the stately Hudson scenery all the way down to the city. Standing in Penn Station a woman comes up to me and says “Hi! How was Bard?” I tell her I was at Saratoga and we say good bye. I’m utterly unable to say who she is, so much so that I suspect that she didn’t really know me either but only thought she did.

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October 1, 2003 at 2:25 pm

Arianna = Zsa Zsa?

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I am so glad I am not living in California right now.

Actually this entry is an excuse to list my current mood as “moody”. If only there was an option for moodily moody. Late yesterday I ran over to the gallery to meet with Sarah, the designer who is fabricating “the big one” the latest piece for the upcoming London show. “the Big One ” is a 16 foot long white nylon bunny suit proportioned like a child’s snow suit. We had to adjust the ears: too small, a little too pointy. Last Friday I spent a couple of hours rolling around on the floor stuffing it and it’s one of the best ways to experience the piece: as a cross between furniture, wrestling opponent and pal. So far most people who has seen it wistfully say ” I wish I could lie down on it.” To me yesterday it looked both inviting and corpse like. There is a kind of glee that comes over me when I’m showing folks a piece and I feel that it’s working, that they are thinking about what they’re looking at, that it pleases them. Very distinct from the ways in which I please myself in the making of the things. On reflection I’d say that my mental state while working is more one of suspension, an attempt to attune myself to the varieties of experience that are emerging from the work situation itself. I can find my way back to that kind of attention most easily when I draw consistently. All of which is now leading me to think that I’m probably not letting my self draw much theses days because I sense some sort of obstacle waiting for me in the drawing, a technical hurdle or emotional situation that I need to confront and work through but that I’m hanging back from. All of this goes back to the studio issue. I need to make a time and a place to make the work. Or that is the story I’m telling myself and I wonder about it being a species of avoidance. I have a history of making myself think that I can’t deal with something until I have the “right tool”. I can’t start in on that book project until I have the right laptop and the perfect cafe to sit typing in. Setting is nice, but the opportunities for working are always at hand around me every day. It’s like needing the right yoga mat, the right gym shorts, the perfect pen. I’m willing to compromise on the equipment I use for my vices, so why do my virtues have to be so perfectly accessorized?

Written by naylandblake

September 4, 2003 at 12:24 am