Camera Paintings, Peru State College, September 1-30, 2003
Monoprints, Photographs, Defacings, & Accidents, Borders, Springfield, MO
September 1-30, 2004
Do you look at the work on display and think, "I could do that." I agree and I think you should. If you have any formal training in studio art, then you have more than I do. You know more about composition, materials, design, color theory and all the rest of it. And if you don't have any formal training, you still have your perception, which is all you need. My training was in Aesthetics, and through that training I came to two ways of thinking about art that I have found to be very fruitful. First, I came to regard an art work as a set of relationships to be experienced. (Many of those relationships, of course, are the very things you study in studio art classes.) Second, I came to regard the artist/maker of a work as the first experiencer of the work.
These two ways of thinking about art worked pretty well for me. First off, they allowed me to talk to artists about their work. Not once did I ask an artist what her work meant (Artists hate that, have you noticed? Dali said it is enough to do the work, much less try to understand it.) Rather I could talk about how the pieces of a work, I call them "counters," fit together, I say "sum," to constitute the set of relationships that is the work.
Viewing a work as a set of relationships and the artist as the first experiencer of that set of relationships allowed me to talk to students about art in a different way than usual. Rather than asking them what the work meant, or what the red scarf symbolized, as is usually done to them in high school, I could ask them what they saw, and how the things they saw related to each other to create the feeling they got from the piece. Students seemed to appreciate this approach as much as artists did.
I also learned to trust my own eye. Since what I said about art works seemed to make sense to both artists and students in general education classes, I came to think that maybe there was no huge secret about making art. Maybe I already had the basic necessities and the making of art was just a question of doing it. And if I had the basic necessities, maybe everyone else did too. One way I put it was that the only thing truly essential to the making of art was the ability to recognize it (this, because the artist is the first experiencer anyway) and everyone I had ever talked to had the ability to recognize it. In this way I hope I removed one of the psychological constraints to the creation of art, for myself and others: the attitude that "Only special people can do that." Right-o, but have you ever known anyone who was not special?
In all of these endeavors, as a critic, teacher, and artist, it is my goal to "increase value," that is, the making and experience of art. There are financial constraints, however, in addition to the psychological ones. Art supplies cost big money, and a color darkroom can run into the 10's of thousands of dollars. There is also a tremendous learning curve to master all of those expensive supplies. And a time lag between an experiment and the results of that experiment, causing the learning curve to stretch over years.
But I believe the computer removes these financial, material, and temporal constraints. The computer you already have can, very cheaply and easily, give you the capabilities of that color darkroom you could never afford. Further, because you see the results of your experiments on-screen instantaneously, without having to wait, and pay, for film to develop and prints to dry, the learning curve is shortened dramatically. Start with what you have; perhaps a digital camera, a color ink jet printer, and the image editing software that came with the camera or printer. Adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation. Print small until you get what you want, then use good paper for the final print. Photo printers are available for $100 and so are scanners for prints, slides, or negatives. Make or get some frames and have the frame store cut your mattes. Trust your eye.
I call these techniques "Small Art." They are nothing special at all, but they are, by far, the most powerful techniques for eye-training I have found in 25 years of teaching and thinking about the arts. With these techniques, I hope more people will make art, more people will be able to afford to buy art, and more of us will have the tools to make art a greater part of our everyday lives.
By the way, all of the photos on this page are small art created by students in introductory Humanities classes at Ozarks Technical Community College and Chadron State College. Thank you.