Rachel Rushing

Artists were not considered as individuals who had to invent or create something. They were participating in the whole, in the universe. So, for me, the sky is much more important than trying to make a painting that is a symbol for the sky. For me, it’s the pollen itself—that is the miracle in which I participate in my daily life when I collect the pollen. It’s not mine. – Wolfgang Laib

Many of the common and most straightforward questions that come out of an encounter with a work of art are the result of an educated and dissatisfied audience. Why is that art? What makes that worth so much (this can be inferred as a value statement about the work being good or bad)? Who decided this is art? All of these questions stem from a sense of dissatisfaction, and yet this desire to be fulfilled is where the spark of curiosity resides. I would like to assert that this curiosity is a gift, and though these questions are often asked with an air of incredulity, their being asked at all is a sign of possibility.

And yet, who does decide these things? And who decided who decides? Morris Weitz’s open concept of art as an idea that “resists definitions based on any set of necessary and sufficient conditions present or forthcoming” is possibly the simplest philosophy that I most readily identify with. No one exclusively decides what makes X, Y, or Z art, or even a work of art. As Marcia Eaton has said, criticism “invites people to pay attention to special things,” and though the designation of ‘special’ is just as elusive as ‘art’ (and likely, just as subjective), it is the invitation to attention that I find interesting. And what is an artist, if not someone who can point to this rock or that color and exclaim, “Look! Look! Do you see?” This sort of open-ended distinction extends an invitation to chaos and further complicates the discussion of good art vs. bad art, yet that discussion is the most exciting thing about looking in the direction I’ve been pointed towards.

Delineating ‘good’ and ‘bad’ requires boundaries that I have no intention of laying. I cannot say if this art is good and that art is bad, I can only choose the direction of my gaze. I can prefer the work of an artist that is intellectual and stimulating as they reference history, sociology, beauty and form. But this preference does not carry a statement of value. Art that is made void of these characteristics is equally valuable, in my mind, and I would readily discuss it as well. This is the beauty of an art world, in the communal sense. Everyone is equally good and bad, interesting and uninteresting, glorious and mundane.

I’d wager that most everyone has listened to or been a part of the Digital vs. Analog conversation. Today’s photographers are a part of a massive paradigm shift and that can be very disconcerting. The die-hard Analog fan cringes on the inside to think of how many people don’t know the meaning of the burn/dodge tools in Photoshop. I’d say most Digital fans just don’t understand the point of analog processes. Which brings me to my point: what is the point?

Photographic artists are having to ask themselves this question every day. I’m not referring to questions about shooting with a film camera or a digital camera, rather, my question is, what is the point of my work? What goal am I trying to achieve with my work; what kinds of conversations do I want to inspire?  I think these types of content-based questions are becoming more and more necessary for anyone who is bothered by this process/output debate.

Wandering Bears is a collaborative community of creatives (say that three times fast) who recently began a debate series with Brighton Photo Fringe Open’11 on their facebook, twitter, and blog. They’ve been posing questions to the online community like, “Are we experiencing, in photography, an aesthetic homogeneity?” There are some interesting ideas floating around these questions and the responses seem to vary from dismissive to sincere. The most recent question was, “Can you imagine that a photographic artwork is for sale as a digital file and not as a print?” I think this is a intriguing concept.

Why can’t a photograph be a digital file only? Perhaps its context is only coherent in a digital format, like the work of Ignacio Torres. New artists are creating new forms of art with the digital format that expands far beyond silver on paper.

That being said, I submit that photographers who haven’t been utilizing the digital format to its fullest potential are going to begin exploring other options.  When photographers begin asking themselves if digital is better than analog (or even physical) as an output, they’ve begun down the path so many others have discovered. Is the final form important? Can content also be found in the presentation and process?

For the podcast Book Artists and Poets, the gentlemen behind the art/print blog Printeresting, shared their thoughts on the Print Revival happening right now.

Maybe it’s like a change in mindset or focus but I think that it’s not so much about becoming a master of one particular technique or, you know, process; that it’s more an idea generates a need, and then the artist follows through with the most logical material for that need.

All this worry about digital vs. analog and now the question of a print vs. a digital file feels like photographers are being forced to ask themselves if the medium/process is important. I think this is why we’ve seen a huge revival of 19th century processes and of printmaking, and why so many people are starting to hybridize mediums for their work. Yes, I’d say the content is still the most important part of making an image, but I think more and more people are realizing that the physicality of their work and the object produced is, or can be, a part of that content, a part that can augment ideas or detract from them.

Sebastiaan Bremer is a Dutch artist, born in Amsterdam in 1970, living and working in New York. During his high school years he worked in a comic book store, “dabbling in illustration and comics” (Nathan). When he was 19, Bremer attended the Vrije Academie in The Hague. He has expressed being specifically influenced by Dutch painters including Melle, Albert Eckhout and Frans Post. Little personal history on Bremer is available online, which is intriguing and elusive when most of his work utilized either personal family photographs, or at the minimum he has “a strong connection to what is captured in the photograph―it takes too long and too much energy not to be completely smitten and engaged with the subject matter” (Dentz).

©Sebastiaan Bremer

When beginning a new piece, Bremer begins with a photograph. Sometimes the images are snapshots from his childhood, sometimes they are academic glass slides of a specific place, some are found photographs of a mysterious family on vacation, and some photographs are simply exposed, black photographic paper. Once the image is decided upon, it is enlarged to the desired size and, typically, printed as a chromogenic print. Sizes range from seven feet, to nine inches, to two inches. It is at this stage that Bremer then applies, with various inks and dyes, hundreds to thousands of dots throughout the piece. These dots begin to transform into webs of information- they may sit on the surface of the image, or they may begin to interact with the subject matter within each photograph.

©Sebastiaan Bremer

©Sebastiaan Bremer

When Emily Nathan, in an interview for ARTslant, asked about the decorative nature of his work, Bremer responded,

“I think “decoration” is a word that sometimes gets misused, as it accrues the connotation of being shallow and superficial, which I think sells it short. I think there is a lot to see in the “decorative,” in wallpaper, clouds or the swirling patterns of marble. Losing yourself in the “surface” allows the mind to travel, and sometimes I use that in my work as well. I draw on my pictures so you can see them through my eyes.”

He went on to describe the markings of his work as meditative, recording his time spent with each piece, a record and map of his thoughts within a visual language. In several interviews, Bremer referred to the photograph as having a “talismanic” and mysterious power. “I don’t think anyone would argue that there is anything objective or documentary about a photograph anymore, if there ever really was. That said, when we see a photograph, it somehow convinces and seduces us to feel that it does indeed have the potential to express Truth” (Nathan).

Whatever that potential for Truth alludes to, it is at the very least indicative of the passage of time. While photographs, or even the representation of a photograph communicates a specific instance, the labor-intensive methods Bremer employs over each piece to alter, record, and imbue the imagery with new associations thus alters the representation of time.

“By drawing on the photographic image I change everything and add the real component of time. My associations, ideas, and changes of direction―it all finds its way to the picture. If I have more than one photographic image I want to include, I might end up layering them on top of each other, which makes things a bit more obscure and harder to read. But at the same time that confusion can be a more realistic record than just a tenth of a second captured in time, as in a “pure” photograph. This is my way to get out of the one-person perspective; it’s almost as if you were listening to different takes on a place or a moment in time” (Dentz).

Interviewer Shoshanna Dentz commented that “It seems… you are talking about the past and the present being fused; not simply coexisting, but actually sharing the same dimensional plane. Your work seems to attempt a “constant present” where everything keeps going and living, nothing slides into the past.” to which Bremer replied “Yeah, that’s nice.”

©Sebastiaan Bremer

©Sebastiaan Bremer

©Sebastiaan Bremer

©Sebastiaan Bremer

©Sebastiaan Bremer

Sebastiaan Bremer
Sebastiaan Bremer Biography and Links on Artnet
“Sebastiaan Bremer.” Interview by Shoshana Dentz in BOMB, Issue 112 Summer 2010
“The Slant on Sebastiaan Bremer.” Interview by Emily Nathan for ARTslant: New York
“Sebastiaan Bremer.” The Brooklyn Rail
Otis Bolsky Gallery: When It’s a Photograph. Soo Kim, Interim Director of Photography, Otis College of Art and Design.
“Sebastiaan Bremer.” Escape Into Life.
Sebastiaan Bremer for Lindamagazine.nl.

Christine Elfman is an MFA graduate from the California College of the Arts in San Fransisco. With an undergraduate background in painting, she also works in fibers and photography. Though she is just beginning her career, Elfman as already received several fellowships and solo exhibitions throughout the country. Through her work with the George Eastman House and work with other artists, she has taken a steeped interest in 19th century photographic processes.

©Christine Elfman

When approaching her work, I find Elfman to be deeply interested in the history of an object or a process. Desiring to remain faithful to an origin and heritage, her “inspiration to learn old crafts comes from an attraction towards intricacy visible in careful making rather than patina” (Lucas). When approaching Anthotype Dress- Pokeweed, Elfman was inspired by the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorn and was considering the ideas of the Fading Comittee, 1855, and the desire for permanence within photography. With her experience in historical processes, Elfman found “the Anthotype process is particularly striking; it yields a photograph that cannot be fixed. Not only does it contradict the goal of permanence, it is made out of impermanence” (Lucas). Several times Elfman has referenced the Focal Encyclopedia’s definition of the Anthotype:

“A process suggested by Sir John Herschel in 1842 that used the colored extracts and tinctures of flowers and vegetables to sensitize paper. Objects such as leaves, lace, and other thin materials were placed in contact with the sensitized paper and exposed to sunlight. Anthotypes were not fixed or stabilized, making them impossible to display except in night albums, for evening viewing.”

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

©Christine Elfman

Elfman’s work is full of beautiful dualities: permanence and impermanence, the destructive process of representation, the sacrifice of subject for the sake of the viewer.

Christine Elfman
“Christine Elfman.” Interview by Kija Lucas, Black Boots Ink.
“Christine Elfman.” L E N S C R A T C H

I’ve been thinking a lot about value lately- in the artistic and intrinsic senses.

On the drive to work (and as much as possible while at work) I really like listening to NPR. I finally found a news outlet that’s enjoyable to listen to! Anyhow, I really enjoyed this interview on the Diane Rehm Show with Eduardo Porter about his book “The Price of Everything” (listen here). He talks about different types of value and a little about the psychology of our relationship to what we buy.

I have really fallen for Public School based in Austin, TX. They’re a top 5 in my Google Reader and I love this video they shared of Massimo Vignelli. Beauty doesn’t necessarily equate to value, especially not in relation to people (beauty is subjective anyway). However I would go so far as to say that beauty in design and art does correlate somehow. Finding where the two come together is the real challenge.

Amazon’s Universal Wish List has become a new favorite tool of mine. Right now I have about 40 books in the queue, including The Elements of Photography: Understanding and Creating Sophisticated Images. I love what the review says about ‘visual literacy’.

The idea of visual literacy–photographers needing both technical and conceptual skills, being informed about their subject matter through interdisciplinary research, and using all of the tools available to make work–that is a distinctive driving concern for all of us engaged in this education.
–Dennie Eagleson Associate Professor of Photography, Antioch College.

An artist’s ability to utilize beauty greatly influences, at the very least, the patron’s perceived value of any work. This gets into sticky territory deliberating between decorative art and intellectual/conceptual art, but either way, beauty is a tool every artist should be aware of.

Sunday morning I watched Art & Copy, a documentary on the advertising industry. I took two main points from the film, and I think they’re worth sharing. Firstly, I love what Liz Dolan, former head of marketing at NIKE, had to say about quality:  “I understand why people trash advertising, because a lot of advertising is trashy. People aren’t really aspiring to do something creative or illuminating or inspiring. They’re aiming low.” If I apply this thought process to art, I understand why fine art is intimidating and why almost any creative endeavor is usually met with at least doubt, if not contempt or ,even worse, apathy.  There is a lot of bad art out there. Of course ‘bad’ is a subjective term, but speaking generically, art that is insulting or intimidating to the average member of society is so because it is presented poorly.  Artists MUST police themselves; they must be able to take criticism and be able to criticize themselves to keep bad ideas off the streets.

Advertising (and I would argue art, as well) is an industry built on negativity and censorship. Hopefully, in any firm, it’s censorship of bad ideas. As a creative person, you have to edit yourself- no one can guarantee to have only good ideas. Being a creative professional is risky because of the lack of formulaic manufacturing of good ideas- we come up with bad ideas just as often.  We have to work through them and figure out which ones we need to trash and which ones we need to nurture. And creative people need a nurturing environment to instill the courage it takes to come up with bad ideas before they can get to the good ones.

That sort of nurturing comes in different forms, but I love the giant wall piece in Wieden/Kennedy.

Fail Harder is a beautiful statement about what kind of attitude it takes to have big ideas. As David Kennedy put it “It’s like Babe Ruth swinging for a home-run. If you miss, you miss, but at least you swung the bat as hard as you could.” Art & Copy connects this to the 1999 Air Jordan campaign that ends in Michael saying, “I have failed over and over again in my career. And that is why I succeed.”

For a while now photography has been a mystifying entity for me. Images of things that don’t belong, a woodland creature with a log cabin or little girls on adventures in unexpected places, keep me intrigued. I relish the stories that blend and whip together such unexpected ingredients. Part of that blending comes from craft. Images that blend ideas only conceptually don’t pull me in enough as a viewer to stay engaged (at least not right now). I mean, this is visual art, and the visual needs to be as thought out and interesting as the concept. Blending printing techniques and combining different crafts is a part of that visual stimulus that keeps a viewer engaged.

Alternative printing processes have been intriguing to me for a few years now. The way I see it, there are, basically, two types of photography. Either your image is meant to be a record or a print. ‘Recorded’ images stand alone and don’t rely on physical characteristics or printing techniques. Printed images, or ‘applied’ images are meant to be objects that utilize the physical photograph and apply new contexts to it. Relics, treasures, artifacts of human intellect and craftsmanship.

I guess for the next however-many years I get to start finding my own way of creating artifacts to communicate stories that engage people. I get to figure out my own way of combining photographic techniques with printmaking techniques, and who knows where I’ll stop!

Included in this post: Sebastiaan BremerShaun Kardinal, Joli Livaudais, Luis Dourado, Eduardo Recife, and Caitlin Parker

*yes, I have religious beliefs. letting you know now, so no one feels tricked.

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
Their ears are open for knowledge. (Prov. 18:15)

Wise men know, if you want to be wise, you must keep learning. If you want to keep learning, you must surround yourself with people who are wiser and smarter than you.  This takes an incredible amount of humility and is why I love art, faith, and education.

Art is always about something. Even if it’s about nothing, it’s about something. Artists are this amazing group of people who question and communicate in any language available to them.  Personally, the most interesting art questions & asks viewers to do the same. The Impressionists wanted to question the very nature of paint, of light and all it’s facets. Dada questioned the nature of everything- could anything be art? I suppose their conclusion was that if anything could be studied or questioned, then yes, it could be art. I am an artist because I like being questioned and I like questioning others. I like the possibility in problems, and have difficulty understanding when others are more intimidated by the challenges. I think this is what God asks of us too.

A few days ago I read the vision statement for International Arts Movement. I am extremely interested in the relationship between my art and my faith, and how the two can interact. I love this quote from their statement, “Our programming and resources equip the creative community to generate good, true, and beautiful cultural artifacts: sign-posts pointing toward the “world that ought to be.” Through understanding the culture that is and looking toward what could be, we hope to rehumanize our world.” Their mission statement is music to my ears, “IAM gathers artists and creative catalysts to wrestle with the deep questions of art, faith, and humanity in order to inspire the creative community to engage…”

There are critics of any faith, always with the question of “How can you REALLY know?”. A lot of people say critics always assume anyone with any faith is just ignorant and uneducated (no one’s ever said that to me, personally, so this is here-say), but I tend to disagree. One of my favorite things about God is that he lets us question- he gives us that much freedom!  We can question everything in the universe- he gave us the brains, ingenuity, and curiosity to do so.

One of my hubs’ favorite discoveries about the universe (and part of his logic behind Intelligent Design) is the Golden Ratio.

This amazing pattern/formula is found in every single part of nature. It’s the shape of a human ear, the pattern of a shell, the arrangement of branches in a tree. My personal favorite offshoot of the Golden Ratio is the fractal.

Fractals are natural patterns in which the small parts are copies of the whole (self-similar, which, interestingly enough, is how I think Believers are supposed to reflect Christ who reflects the Father).

Basically that means that if you measured the width of a tree branch, then measured the size of each limb on that branch, then measured the size of each stick on each limb, they would all be proportional to each other. Not only that, but a group of researchers actually went out and measured a forest in South America like this, then they measured the placement of each tree in the forest and tree PLACEMENT was proportional too! A video on fractals, including the study done, can be found here.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to fore go their use.” -Galileo

“Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish…We need each other to be what we must be, what we are called to be.” – Pope John Paul II

All this to say that I find art and faith exciting for the same reasons. This love of learning leads to my enjoyment in education.  Sadly our current model of education is rote memorization, not real learning.  If we can teach students to question, rather than memorize, perhaps future generations will actually have a creative and unpredictable future. I watched the following video this morning and just love the challenge in this woman’s message.

I also love Geoffrey Canada in this video:

A few inspiring places to look: Donald Miller, International Arts Movement, GOOD, Bob Goff, BOOOOOOOOM, the world