Friday, May 21, 2010

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The cute kid images I sometimes burden you with are part of my processing system. Sure, there's a part of it that's simply saying "Hey, look at how cute this kid is", but a much bigger part of it is about me trying to figure out how to be a parent and how to take in and process the impact these little creatures are currently making on me. With sketchbook and with photos I document as a first step in this process so the information and experiences are recorded. Then I can begin to revisit the images and ideas after time has passed and try to figure out what drew me to each one. Why was that smile so important? Why was that very instant deemed photo-worthy? What do those answers mean in a larger context? How do we contextualize the joy, pride, fear, and constant worry brought on by these tiny humans (who look just like their father)?

The kids are just one of these areas of exploration as I watch the years add up. While I'm watching my children grow stronger I'm simultaneously watching my parents and elders grow older. Which brings us back to the joy, pride, fear, and constant worry. I guess the main difference is that my parents and elders are not constantly in arms reach of my camera.

Your own experiences with your kids or your friends’ kids make it difficult for you to understand what I’m getting at. I remember the days of being tricked into viewing photos of someone else's kids and a part of me would die on the inside. My experiences up to that point would not allow me to see what the proud parents saw. When I saw that pathetic look in the parent's eyes I assumed the camera captured the look of defeat and misery and refused to lie about it. But now I recognize that same look in my eyes and I see that I assumed incorrectly. I wasn't even close. What I was not equipped to recognize was the look of unconditional, absolute devotion. Apparently kids will do that to you. Terrifying, but I'm cool with it now.

The same goes for your experiences with your parents and elders. Your experiences are not exactly the same as mine for an infinite number of reasons, so when I mention even the word "parent" your mental associations are not the same as mine. This is the aspect of personal experience that I love and one that I consistently try to incorporate into my creative work. Josef Albers gave a great illustration about personal association with colors (which is probably more important to me than to you, but humor me for a moment). He spoke of specific personal experiences controlling how an individual would respond to a specific color and how the artist had very little control over this aspect of color. He said that if you walk into a room filled with a certain number of people and you ask them to think of the color "red" you can be sure that everyone is thinking of a different specific red and for each different person you can count on a different personal reaction to that specific red. To oversimplify, you could say that when confronted with the color "red" some people think about cherry candy while some people can only think about blood. It all depends on your past experience.

My parents and elders though, they're cherry candy. And watching them age (the three specific ones I'm thinking about are well into their "three score and ten") is at once wonderful and difficult. I look at them and it seems as if they've known exactly what they were doing the whole time. Each step looks like it was written by Mozart and they smile and laugh and roll with the punches....and it's beautiful. Even in hardship their grace is beautiful.

I wonder how they do it. I wonder how they did it. Even when I was a wee lad they oozed confidence at every turn. They knew the rules and even seemed to know exactly how the rules would build my character and make me a decent person. My wife and I get cracked up sometimes by our own complete lack of parental knowledge. We both know we have no idea what we are doing and we wonder if we're leading with the same skill we saw in our parents. When I mentioned this to my mom a while back she laughed and said they were just making it up as they went along too.

Often I have no idea what I'm doing while working on a drawing or a sculpture. One line or shape causes a response, then a decision. Each choice sets off a chain reaction of new choices and decisions. I try my best to keep my wits about me hoping to balance formal and conceptual issues while keeping one side of my brain in an art historical context. Many times during the creative process I have no idea exactly what an image or shape means or what I am hoping it brings to the visual conversation. It is a feeling of trying to control the uncontrollable. Weeks, sometimes months later, I can look back on the creative result and consider the events and thoughts I encountered during that time and the view becomes much more clear. It all makes sense. And to the outside observer it must look like I knew exactly what I was doing all along.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards" - Søren Kierkegaard

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