Thursday, July 10, 2008

Go Ahead, Ask.

I think it's funny that people get the idea that I don't want to talk about my artwork.
Not funny in a humorous sort of way, funny that odd way.

Upon seeing my work people often ask, "what is it?" or "what were you thinking of when you made that?". Excellent questions. But when I explain that part of what I'm trying to do is communicate ideas visually in a manner that rarely lends itself easily to ordinary words or labels, I can see their eyes glaze over and if I look closely...I can actually see them lose all interest in our conversation.
This is something I see in my students all too often. Many, not all, but many come in to an art class looking for the formula. They want the equation or the easy template they can memorize and simply apply to all future artistic endeavors. They may or may not realize that what they are asking is if there is a way to keep from ever having to think for themselves or make difficult decisions. Much to their frustration, I espouse a philosophy of teaching that centers around exploration of media and ideas and learning as you go. Even if there are some easy answers and easy solutions, I encourage my students to distance themselves from such drivel and to keep digging below that surface level in order to discover something new and meaningful.
My dad always says, "if it were easy, everyone would do it." My dad's really smart, by the way.
A recent article about a public exhibit of my sculpture began with the words, "Don't ask....artist Doug McAbee about the concept behind Herman and Elmer, the large yellow and blue sculptures....". It was a thankfully positive article, but I can't help but wonder if this lead sentence might give a reader the impression that I don't want to talk about it at all. I certainly do not want to give my viewers the idea that I just crank out strange objects and images that do not mean anything and that should not be given considerable thought. There are, after all, hours and days spent working on refining, economizing, and abstracting specific realistic images in the hopes that I will be able to visually communicate my ideas to viewers by carefully tapping into both personal and universal memories and experiences. These memories and experiences are shared by artist and viewer and they create a common ground on which this new visual conversation takes place. This visual information is so carefully chosen and always has the viewer in mind.
Think of it this way: Do you know why they don't sell connect-the-dot puzzles with the dots already connected and the puzzles already solved? Exactly. What would be the point? Where's the fun in someone solving your puzzle for you? The fun is figuring it out for yourself.

So please, go ahead and ask about the artwork. Just don't be offended or put off if my answers come back in the form of questions. I want you to think about the art. I want you to think about what it means to you. What do you see in that jumbled mess of bright yellow steel?

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