Sunday, February 06, 2011

Looking Past Process

I'm one of those people who just can't stand next to their own work at a show. And if it's a solo show, I'll kind of slink around trying to look like I'm paying attention to what people are saying without really paying attention to what people are saying. I think this is fairly common; it's not that I don't like to talk about my work or that I can't talk about my work, I just don't like listening to what other people are saying about it. I've heard some weird comments about my work (one woman once said "It's too bad they're not airbrush.") and some vaguely dumb comments about my work (one guy once said "I just kind of don't like things that are out of focus."), but no one's ever said anything really bad about it. I just become nervous about what people respond to, and how they respond; it feels as if I'm evesdropping on something personal. And actually, that's not a bad thing.

I recently put some more images of encaustic work up on Facebook, and that apparently got a lot of people to look at the whole album. And people started leaving comments and noting their favorites. No one said anything bad, because my friends wouldn't do that, but I was a little bit surprised at which pieces particular people seemed to like.

The first issue is that my favorites, which I consider the most in the style I think I'd like to follow, got very little commentary. A couple of others, which I do consider successful, got some very positive responses. I have one artist friend in particular whose work I just love and I admit that I have her paintings in my head when I'm making encaustic work--for some reason I have this idea that I might be able to approach in wax the magic that she makes in acrylic. Interestingly, the work that she responded to most positively was the piece that to my mind was the furtherest away from her own style of working.

But that got me thinking about what  people were really commenting on, and really seeing. The specific comments were about content and meaning--what the image was about, and what it said to them--not about the colors or forms or approach. At the end of the day, that's really what I want. When people don't see the process but instead see a message, specifically a message that seems tailored to them, that's when the artist has truly done his or her job.

And it's also illuminated what's so frustrating to me about the work I'm doing now; I'm mired in process. Because I don't have very much experience with encaustic, I don't know the impact of different approaches and techniques and I don't really know how things will look. So I have to go very slowly, and instead of being able to let the medium speak, I'm still working at how to understand it at all.

Sometimes I can enjoy the idea of pure experimentation, but it's so frustrating when I start to see a direction and then I flub it up with inexperience or some technique doesn't turn out the way I thought it would. And there are so many more processes and practices I've yet to try. But I'm so anxious to find my voice in this medium and make things, wonderful things that speak to people, and get them out into the world. I don't think I was like this with photo or video or even installation. Maybe I need a mentor. Or maybe I just need to keep going, until eventually I can as the artist look past the process and see the meaning inherent in my practice of it.

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