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.

art school

I love all things self-reflective. I love people taking time to appreciate where they’ve been and how it’s brought them to where they are.

Over the past few so-longs, however, more and more articles have been popping up with the same theme: What I Didn’t Learn From Art School. I don’t necessarily have a problem with what these dynamos have written, but the general attitude of “Here’s everything I didn’t learn there.” comes across to me more as “Here’s everything those people failed at.” and seems to short-change an education. I get defensive, in part, because I not only ‘wasted’ 5 years of cash and hard work, I’ve gone back for another 3 (so when I say ‘short-change an education’ I mean my education). Education is something I take personally and though these authors have great insights into the non-ed or post-ed life of getting-to-know-how, I’d like to take a few minutes to share my own thoughts on what art school has contributed to me.

First, a caveat:

Taking up someone else’s time, knowledge, hard work, and resources costs usually costs a lot of green-backs.

This is a double-edged meat-grinder, of course. Education costs are preposterous in America, with students accumulating more debt than they’ll likely be able to work off in their foreseeably jobless future. I’m not happy about it and I don’t know anyone who likes to bathe in a tub of their own student loan bills. However, I think something in our consumerist, ON SALE THIS WEEK ONLY, “gas is 2 cents cheaper 4 miles west of here”, “daily dollar deals” culture has convinced us that we should be able to get a good deal on everything, and a good deal usually means close to free. This seems to be especially true of things that are slightly more intangible, or at least true of things more complex than our experience has given us understanding for (i.e. handmade goods, quality craftsmanship, or expertise beyond wikipedia). If you want to go to an art school, or any school, where you get to pick the brains of multiple experts with years of personal experience making, thinking, tooling, and persevering through everything the world will throw at you, they’d like to get paid for it.

So what exactly did I learn?

To be good at something takes hours and hours and hours and hours of work, and if I spend all those hours by myself, I’ll go insane.

I wanted to go to graduate school for two and a half reasons. Firstly (in no particular order), I’d like to teach. Teaching (the little experience I have) has been an inspiration to me. I get excited about sharing what I love with other people and I get even more excited when they get excited too. Second, I wanted to challenge myself and surround myself with other people who will challenge me, too. I wanted to be challenged to be better. I wanted to be around a group of people who have the same foundational passion as I do, who are willing to tell me that I can do better or I’m not doing it right or I don’t make sense or they don’t like what I’m doing. If I live my life hearing only praise and admiration (or more likely, disinterest) then it wouldn’t take long before I’d get complacent in my work, a big head, and a chip on my shoulder. I love it when people disagree about art and get mad and defensive because that means, in the words of David Rodwin, “… they actually give a shit. It means art matters.” No one can disagree with me if I stay shut away in my apartment. I’ll have more money, but crappy work and a bad attitude.

Personal responsibility isn’t something you can learn in a text-book or from an expert.

Personal responsibility is something you have to be awful at as you miss paying bills or taxes or traffic tickets until you get sick of your own immaturity. You’ll underestimate how much work it takes to do what you do and when you get that concept, you’ll either quit before you’ve gotten started or you’ll get your act together and do what needs to be done. You’ll pay your bills, you’ll figure out how to balance taking on meaningful work that pays crap (or nothing) and taking on work that will pay for your phone. You’ll stumble your way through putting together a professional contract with your clients so that when they decide to back out of a project half-way through, you’ve at least gotten a 50% deposit. You’ll remember to rent the equipment and space you need on time, once you’ve gotten turned down for showing up the day-of and everything has been rented and then you had to be that guy who has to reschedule his clients for his own mistakes.

Networking is a stupid word.

Networking is a word people use when they want something from people, be that information, contacts, gallery shows, resources, whatever. I can’t prove this because I’m still pretty fresh (and plenty of people would probably call me naive), but I have a theory that if you are genuine, excited about what you do, and responsible, people will want to know you, talk to you, and maybe even work with you. Everyone has to promote themselves (no one can be interested in something they’ve never been introduced to), but acting like other people have bumped into your life so you can use them for who they know seems a bit foolish to me.

Critiques have taught me how to listen and look.

Assuming I took 26 undergraduate studio courses (which is how many were listed on my undergrad curriculum) with an average of 5 critiques per class and an average of 3 hours devoted to each critique, that’s almost 400 hours of looking and listening to what people have to say about art, mine and theirs. In that time I learned (and I’m still learning) how to look at a thing I have no connection with and totally commit my brainpower into understanding someone else’s motivations, decisions, desires, ambitions, successes and failures. You can be an ass and a good artist, but you can’t be an ass and really appreciate someone else’s work. That takes empathy earned by shutting up and listening/looking at someone else’s view of the world.

Defending your decisions can make you very articulate.

I would say a lot of people go through their lives saying whatever they want. This tends to cause derision and strife, thanks in large part to miscommunication and a lack of accountability. If, in a critique, I don’t communicate what I mean, I’m held accountable. There is a group of people surrounding me, waiting to understand, but saying whatever I want instead of whatever I mean usually makes them more confused. I’m not communicating what I intend, I’m communicating what they think I intend. This is also expanded to the visual pieces I’m presenting. Everything communicates something. The decisions I made along the way to producing this photograph or print or painting culminate into something meaningful. If I made decisions flippantly then my work communicates that I don’t care about what it communicates, that my work doesn’t matter to me, and that it shouldn’t matter to whoever sees it. Being an artist is, by nature, an act of accountability.

I am not original, but I can be sincere.

Art history does two things very well- 1, it shows me who already had that idea and did it better than I ever could, and 2, it reassures me that there are other crazy people who love this same thing and I’m part of a long line of doers and makers and thinkers. Originality, in my mind, is another word for novelty, and I hope my work is never novel. Novelty is very exciting but interest and meaning fade quickly with the novel. Sincerity is my highest aspiration. If I can spend my efforts making something sincere, then it will always be meaningful to me, and that is something that can transcend culture, language, and time.

I will never ‘arrive’.

I learned early on how much I have yet to learn. A work is never ‘finished’, I will never fully ‘master’ a process (though I might be better at it than the guy next to me, but given time he will get to where I am), there will always be someone else better at what I do than me or with a better idea than mine. The beauty of an art school is that it’s structured to remind you how little you have accomplished, it just comes with a built in timer. You and your professors are given a predetermined number of years (usually 4 or 5) to figure out what exactly you want to do and what you want to say; the rest of your time is spent figuring out what not to do and what not to say. I don’t do this to be perfect- to figure out the formula for art and then stop or to get the biggest award there is and then be the best artist of all time. I love art school and I love being an artist because I love making and thinking and saying and doing. That’s not something you can quantify.

Being an artist is a privilege.

You might have to work at Starbucks or in some kind of cubicle-hell or waiting tables. You might not get the job you want, the residency you want, or the studio space you want, but every second that you spend figuring out how to make it all work is a gift. No one owes you anything (as we’ve discussed, you probably owe the government), so when you feel like complaining about how your old classmate already has 3 international shows on his CV and you’re stuck working at some local dive, remember, Van Gogh wasn’t famous like we know him to be today, until 50 years after his death (which occured after he shot himself… in the chest… and took over a day to die). If you’re in this gig to get shows, you’re doing it wrong.

If you didn’t want to be a fine-artist (whatever that means), then you shouldn’t have gone to art school.

The value of an art school education is not one that can be quantified, monetarily or through a full CV. Art schools exist to teach you about art, not to teach you how to be an entrepreneur or how to get your name out there or how to deal with recession or any other ‘real world’ problems.

There are other ways (maybe more efficient or cost effective) to learn these same things, besides going to art school. I’ve had friends share their thoughts about the supposed value of institutional higher education- that it is a fruitless system, providing no real insight, but exists solely to take your money. I appreciate that discovery and exploration is a life-long journey. Anyone who thinks X-number of years at an institution of learning will teach you everything you need to know has a few surprises waiting for them in Post-education World. However, I get a little uppity the more I hear this ‘Art schools are useless’ attitude. I have learned a lot from art school; it came at a great cost, but I will always value my education.

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 recently started using ZooTool to keep track of artists I’m interested in. I’ve been envious of friends who are meticulously organized. I had a professor for undergrad who always amazed me. He was a veritable living library of artists- any project I had in mind, he could pull up 3 artists in his Bridge library who worked in that area. At any rate, I hope this will be a great way to keep myself current while cataloguing other artists who influence me. You can see my full zoo here.

John Chervinsky was one of the first photographers whose work really resonated with me. His simple still-lifes are quiet and beautiful, and yet, not so simple.

Angle of Repose, ©John Chervinsky

I first learned of Chervinsky’s work when I was in a Concepts of Photography class.  The entire quarter was basically getting to play with fun cameras we’d never used or seen before. We tried out Holgas, Rolliflexes, a Hasselblad, and a few Calumet view cameras. My professor tried to teach us about shifting & swinging & tilting and all the effects these can have on an image. Jay showed us John Chervinsky to illustrate what is possible with perspective distortion.

Perspective distortion has a lot to do with focus and foreshortening. The closer the camera is to a subject, the more enhanced the focal point becomes, and the larger objects closest to the camera appear. Distortion is usually most obvious in images with straight lines. Some distortion occurs because a camera’s lens is convex (curved out) and the glass ‘bends’ the lines of the image. Foreshortening, especially in architectural images, mostly occurs because the plane of focus is not parallel to the object being photographed. Tilting the lens of a view camera can change the focal plane from being parallel to the film back, to being at an angle, which can bring objects both near and far into focus at the same time.

Understanding a process or dissecting  can often take away some of the charm behind beautiful things in life (I don’t really want to know exactly how my hamburger was made), but learning how a view camera works made Chervinsky’s work all the more enticing to me.

Time Machine, ©John Chervinsky

You see, an image like Time Machine is all the more magical when I understand that the chalk lines and the top half of the cube drawing are on a wall behind the table the clock is sitting on. The entire image looks in focus and on one plane, but there are actually several depths.

Work, ©John Chervinsky

Once the ‘trick’ is revealed, then these quiet images become playful and even more intriguing. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a man who runs a particle accelerator at Harvard.

Design, ©John Chervinsky

The Pitfalls of Measurement, ©John Chervinsky

Hope, ©John Chervinsky

All Watched Over, ©John Chervinsky

As I keep learning about photography, I’ve come to understand the importance and the difference between making a photograph and taking a photograph. I wrote briefly on a similar concept here. It seems to me that the largest difference between being a Maker or a Taker (cue the Steve Miller Band) is premeditation and motive. Each perspective has it’s own appeal.

I’ve found that a large majority of  photographers today (at least most of the ones I discover online) tend to be Takers, desiring to interpret their world by capturing moments, and they have a rich history.  Makers tend to have a much slower working process, meticulously crafting their images and staging their scenes.  Both of these genres are relevant to the future of photography, and have some beautiful work.

I remember first hearing about the concept of making vs. taking from a former professor and being blown away. The idea that I could be actively contributing to what I was photographing empowered me and brought out the beginning of my voice as an artist. More than even making a photograph, I get excited about constructing my images. It can be tricky to play semantics and say that every photographer constructs their image to a certain degree- playing with exposure, composition, even what subject they choose to photograph. And that is true, to a degree. That’s the trick, isn’t it, though. To what degree?

Maybe that’s the beauty I find in photography. When I look at an image like Rugen’s and see a moment of life that seems too perfect to be real, that’s where I get drawn in. When I can feel the artist’s hand in the image- their thoughts almost reaching through out and out of the picture towards me, communicating some sense of themselves that they’ve found or shared with whatever I’m looking at. That’s magical. And maybe my appreciation of seeing the maker’s hand in the creation stems out of the need to discern what’s truly valuable around me. Being bombarded by imagery from almost every direction gets tiring. I need to seek out images that can rise above that din. This is different for everyone, which images resonate, but work that sticks with me is work that I can see has been crafted and affected by the photographer.

A Few Makers

©Dan Busta

©Vee Speers

©Kahn and Selesnick

A Few Takers

©Nathanael Turner

©William Eggelston

©William Rugen

©Byron, Library of Congress

Prior to modern art it was the norm for artists to be commissioned for their talents and duly paid for services rendered. The artist had a regular, albeit small, function in the economy as a service provider and a producer of quality goods. Once modern art struck, the Idea was considered the product rather than what was physically produced or experienced, and that made it a bit difficult to gauge the value of art. Since that time, the Art World has redefined what the success and accomplishment means for this generation of artists, but I think they’ve done a poor job of it, so far.

I’m speaking specifically to the prolific Suffering Artist.  Victimization of the Artist, by fellow artists, has lasting consequences that affect ourselves, artists coming into the scene after us and the world’s ability to approach our work from a place of equality, rather than guilt. We’ve become bitter fear-mongers, and we’ve blamed the rest of the world for our problems. I’m sure this stigma has been around far longer than I can comprehend, but it has become a crutch for the industry; it’s a poor excuse to keep wages down (and labor up) while giving artists a false sense of accomplishment because they have ‘suffered for their art’.

Patting ourselves on the back for suffering through our work encourages the paradigms that put us down in the first place. Not only that, but the idea that an artist is noteworthy only after struggle and hardship devalues any artist that did not have to struggle through poverty or racism, sexism or any other kind of “ism”.

We cannot rightfully expect anyone outside the art world to take us seriously or pay us any sort of fair compensation when we don’t take each other seriously or pay each other what we deserve. An attitude change is overdue. The need for competition is short-sighted and short-lived, and leads to bitterness and paranoia. If we can change our perspective as artists from one of competition and isolation to one of community and betterment of our respective crafts, it would yield a refreshing sense of humility and overall quality in everyone’s work.

Away on, and she started seeing hazy beaches shaped like cactuses.

Ten from the start and ten cents later I wondered if I'd said too much.

Sleep down, and don't worry about the weather.

Play black and hear the minor keys swing with dissonance.

Round by the river the little girls look for Easter eggs, and the mothers walk along the brick street.

Here, two people sat and listened to each other.

Ride, but don't get too cocky, because you aren't making the decisions.

Just, yes... That's all you have to say.

'If' was... The second word I thought of.

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

As the challenge to be self-motivated always follows me around like Marley’s Ghost, I found this little article the other day from The 99% in my twitter feed. Over the past 3 years or so most of the work I’ve produced has driven to motivate people to something- a change of thinking or action or approach.  I like this article for what it says about my own life, but also for how I can better understand motivation in my own work in the future.

If we can imagine an achievement, see ourselves progressing toward that goal, and understand that we are gaining new skills and knowledge, we will be driven to do great work…once the barest amount of brainpower is required, higher financial rewards fail to produce better work. In fact, they actually inspire worse performance.

This is an illustrated video of Daniel Pink’s talk at RSA on the subject:

These are interesting concepts that I’ve lived out but not been able to articulate.

I actually enjoyed this article so much that I asked a few friends to read it and respond!

First is Ashleigh Newberry-Mills, a single mother seeking a degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in History and Fine Arts. She is one of my oldest friends and I always love listening to what she has to say. Ashleigh is a dreamer- always has been- and I think that’s part of why we’ve stayed friends for so long. The woman just doesn’t give up. As the mother to a 3-year-old seeking her degree mostly online, I’d say she’s a pretty motivated individual.

The article mentions autonomy, mastery, & purpose as key motivators. Would you say these played a part in how much you accomplished/ how well you learned anything in your undergrad studies?

I think what helps me personally create and grow is a compilation of all three of the mentioned drives. I always want to better whatever I am working on. It’s the primary drive of everyone that is creating. I, unlike most creative people I know, fail miserably without an assigned task. Most of my creative friends have to develop that skill. They have to learn to reign in their creativity and assign it to something while having the urge to manufacture something completely separate and unrelated. I wish someone would tell me what they wanted to see more of. I wish some person in the world would say “create me ____.”  That being said I have to be autonomous to what I’ve been charged with creating. I have to be able to see it develop on my own time and in my own head. Self-governing is the only way I can effectively create something out of nothing.  I always see myself as a “crafter” and not really an artist, so I am constantly striving for something that is wonderfully magnificent to throw me over the cliff into the land of no return: the land of the talented ARTIST! Mastery is a huge part of why I work so hard when developing an idea. For as long as I can remember my family has always told me that there is a practicality to life, and then there is a side of everyone that is creative. They have also made perfectly clear that practicality is always far more important. In my rebel days I told them to shove it, but now, more than ever I have a huge understanding of why practicality is important. I also feel as if I reach a level of mastery, a place where people look at my creations and “awe”, my family will finally be okay with me being exactly who I want to be…

Which of these 3 are you most aware of as a personal motivator.

The main drive behind all of my studies and work is, by far, purpose. I used to say growing up, that my main goal in life was to change one person’s world. I gave up on that goal until recently. I know now that I have a responsibility to practicality (as much as the rebel in me hates to admit it.)  I also have a responsibility to follow my dreams. I have 38 inches, 33 pounds, a head full of blondish hair with a funky little cowlick, and bluish green eyes to inspire and change the life of. I don’t want my son to grow up thinking that making money and being normal is the life he should strive for.  I want him to see my world as color filled, paint stained, gritty, messy, beautiful, awe inspiring, and dingily delightful. My purpose, while to provide a wonderful and comfortable life for him, is to inspire him and show him that dreams, when  chased & pursued, can and will come true.  His future happiness is my singular most important drive and purpose, and I want him to be okay with following his dreams because he grew up watching me chase mine.

Are you currently using any part of your degree?

Nope…bummer. I will one day though, just have to wait for that day.

If you aren’t in a ‘creative’ field right now, do you think you’ll go back to doing something art-oriented in the future?

I know that one day my job will be creative. I think that teaching will be creative in how I apply information to develop student’s knowledge. The perks of being a teacher to a single mother like me are undeniable and alluring, but as soon as Treyson is grown I know that I will fully throw myself into creativity. I know that eventually, when the time is right, it will become my 100% focus.

What’s your biggest road block to doing what you want to do, now that you are out of school?

My biggest roadblock is also the biggest blessing. It’s awful to say that, but it’s true. If I didn’t have Treyson, I would totally be bumming it, living in some loft with splatter on the walls and strangers coming in and out buying art as they saw fit. Never earning a substantial income, always squeaking by, but rich in happiness and satisfaction. That being said, I look forward to the day when that will be my life. I’m (sometimes) the definition of dramatic dark artist, and one day I’ll get to live that life. I’m just lucky that I have the next fifteen years or so to perfect that in small doses until I can completely submerge myself into it. I think it’s probably best this way though. It will be good for Treyson to see me work diligently towards a goal that I can’t ever really achieve until he’s an adult. Paying your dues and development is always a big part of any life goal.

If you could change something about the current structure of education at any level, what would you change?

I think education should be more of an experience. Not a social experience as most people see it, but a developmental experience. I think that each teacher should give their students a chance to take an idea and baby, nurse, and stumble with it until it’s ready to take its first flight on its own. Dr. Seuss said “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I think that teachers should allow students to be more individualistic and allow them to express themselves without a judgmental eye, with just pure appreciation of whatever that photograph, speech, paper, painting, sketch, or design that they created did for the world. What it did for the one person whose life it could change. I wish more educators would change and take a little extra time to appreciate the world their students create and live in.

I remember one of my professors telling a story about a street photographer from a few decades ago who was walking down the street, working, when something dramatic happened, like someone was having a heart attack or fell and hurt themselves. And the photographer kept shooting. It made for some great images, but I’ve always had a feeling inside me that curls when I hear that story. Part of me wonders if I’d keep photographing or if I’d stop and help the man up. Sometimes I’m not really sure. In the images there were a lot of other people around, so the victim had help available, but still… what would I have done?

At what point do you stop doing what you do? When does a worship leader at a church just need to be silent? When does the busy Mom stop and listen to her kids instead of worrying about being late?  When do you help someone pick up a mess they spilled everywhere?

There’s another story about a guy making a bit of a road trip. He was in a fairly dangerous area where the road got very narrow and was mugged and beaten and left for dead. Two different people passed the guy, and at least one of them was clergy! It wasn’t until a 3rd man passed before the victim was helped.

Now not many people encounter someone in such helpless and desperate need, but how much does it take to shake us out of our safe spaces?

Every time I pick up a camera my heart starts pounding and my palms get sweaty. I get insanely anxious. I’m shooting bridals for my sister-in-law this weekend, and I will probably be just as nervous and panicked as ever. I think I get nervous because I know that to be a good photographer takes a lot of guts and stepping out taking risks. It’s down right terrifying sometimes, and I know there are images I didn’t pursue because I was scared. But that’s also what I like about photographing. I get challenged by it, all the time, to make images that are interesting or challenging or beautiful in unexpected ways. I crave that challenge and that’s why I think I’ll always photograph.

But I am also aware that one day I could end up hiding behind my camera because I’ll be playing it safe. I don’t know when that point will happen. That challenge to step out will probably come several times throughout my life, as will the challenge to hold back. Sometimes we need to be brave and speak up and step up. Then sometimes we need to keep our mouths shut and just listen to what’s going on around us- sometimes I’ll need to put the camera down.

I think being able to tell the difference will take some discernment, but I just want to encourage anyone else having to take the same risks, that it’s worth it. Sometimes we have to do the opposite of what our instincts (or our pride) are telling us. Sometimes you have to give up in order to win.

*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

It’s Wednesday and what better time to share links and info about fellow craftisans that will make your heart go all a flutter?

The Sweet Hubs and I have been here for about a month now and the longer we’re here the more awesome things I find to love about our new home. (I’ll say now that our former place of residence was a smaller town with a fairly minimal creative community, so I get very excited about finding so many like-minded individuals living close by.)

The first major discovery came last week when, through a fun string of events, I walked through the doors of Oil and Cotton.  All you need to do is take a look at their project board to get your heart skipping a beat.

They’ve only been open about a week, but already have a full fall schedule of classes including Polish Paper Chandeliers (this Thursday), Felting and Fiber Arts, Bookbinding, and weekly classes for all ages. Oil and Cotton is a self-defined “creative commons for meeting, learning and sharing ideas” and if you have any inkling of love for craft or just creativity, then you NEED to stop by and say hello!

The magic of the internet is that you can discover a beautiful forum for creativity and never know how you got there, which is how I found this sweet & precious blog, . I’m sure I randomly clicked on a twitter link somewhere to find them, and much to my delight, they are yet ANOTHER Dallas-based design blog! With a by-line of ‘live what you love’, I’m sure this is just one more group of lovelies that will be encouraging and inspiring while we’re living in the big D.

Upon perusal of By & By I found a most intriguing poster

Of course with such classy design I had to read it, and what do I see, but Dallas, TX listed in the address! The goal of Red’s Pop Shop is to “provide an accessible platform for individuals to view an array of homegrown talent while supporting the Lower Greenville area.”  Better believe I know what I’m doing this weekend!

Two of the vendors included in this fantastic affair are Bee Things and Lilco Letterpress.

I know Bee Things is a shop I’ll love when their About page quotes Jim Henson.

Thus far, my favorite bit of work from them has to be Puffin.

This little guy needs a home in my apartment! aside from simply great prints, I love their series of sack lunch bags. Way to teach an old dog new tricks!

Ok, ok, this is the last one. I promise!

Lilco Letterpress: a little letterpress co.

Maybe it’s just part of my dream or a longing somewhere on the inside combined with my deeply rooted love for old, hand-processed techniques, but I would LOVE  to work in a letterpress shop. Everytime I find a new printshop online, I just start dreaming.

Lilco has the same effect! They’re online gallery shows a fine bit of print work while their etsy shop has all their lovely work right at your fingertips!

One day I’ll have to sit down and figure out how to describe all these styles of work/printing. Until then, walk tall, make beautiful work, and dress like a pirate.


After graduating back in May I had a bit of ‘artist’s block’ through the summer. First I couldn’t think of anything to make, then I had ideas, but none of them were any good. Eventually I just decided it was time to shut up and start getting to work. Books were my go-to craft because I could busy my hands and be productive.

Then we moved to Dallas and the whole cycle has started again. In my small college town, I could at least feel ok about being unproductive because I didn’t see lots of other people making art either. I could wallow in my self-pity while my friends tried to be encouraging, but being an artist without someone telling me what to do- that is something I have to spur myself on to.

Now that I’m in Dallas, in the presence of a rather large art community, I know play time is over and it’s time to get to business. With that in mind I went to my first art opening that didn’t have someone I knew in it.  My first big-kid opening with just me and my hubs going in like Russian spies. It was at Guerilla Arts and Gabriel Dawe was the artist.  I saw Dallas Contemporary tweet about the opening and searched Dawe’s site for more information on who he is and what his work is about.

The first thing I see on his site (aside from the brightly colored thread work) is the term ‘installation’ and my insides got all warm and fuzzy (I have a special place in my heart for installation work). His installation, fiber art, and object work all have some kind of tension.  At the opening for Plexus No. 3 his piece was no different. I walked into the main gallery space to a giant, floor-to-ceiling sculpture of thread. Dawe took 5x1x1″ strips of wood and attached them parallell to each other on the floor and the ceiling. Along the wood, at about 1″ increments he placed nails.  Thread was then woven along each nail from each floor-to-ceiling set, with about 10 separate sets and each one a different color.  The entire sculpture gradated from deep indigo through the color spectrum. The precision of his weaving created beautiful moiré effects along each set.

The entire piece was an impressive scale and an impressive amount of work put in.  With such a simple structure the back end/ prep work added just the right amount of complexity to keep viewers engaged/ in awe.

My only disappointment with the show was the lack of an artist statment.  No where in the gallery or on Dawe’s website could I find a statement with any sort of explanation of why he made this work, why it was interesting to him, if he had a point to any of it. Personally, it’s always the statement that takes an abstract piece from being decorative to conceptual artwork.

Overall, it was a beautiful piece of work and I hope there is more meat to it than I was able to find. After seeing Dawe’s work I am definitely ready to get a move on in my own endeavors!


Here you can see the actual installation on Glasstire.

I love rain in the summertime.  I like to leave the curtains open and let in the little sunlight left.  It always relaxes me.

Here I am, sitting in my new-to-me apartment with my new husband after I’ve just graduated with my Photography degree.  I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do now.  The first few days were pretty intimidating.  I haven’t had a free summer in about 5 years because I’ve either traveled with church groups to foreign lands or been in school.  Freedom can be a scary thing.

I told a friend of mine the other day that I was having an identity crisis because I couldn’t figure out what kind of camera bag I needed.  In the past I’ve traveled a lot and always wanted a backpack style bag.  I don’t think I’ll be traveling nearly as much so do I now need more of a side bag? I suppose I can’t get caught up in labeling myself (especially with something as trivial as a camera bag)- I hate that kind of legalism anyways.

If you were to look at my gear to find out what kind of photographer I am, you’d find my 5D, a good number of memory cards (most of which are old and starting to die), and a card reader and battery charger covered in glitter (I taught 5th Grade art for a while this year).

All I know is I want to be relevant and creative with whatever I’m working on.   I’ll keep posting as I figure this whole thing out.

The new website is officially up and running!

If you are in Ruston, LA anytime during the next month, go check out my senior BFA Photography show.  Every spring the graduating photography students at Louisiana Tech have a group show.  The opening was April 30th, but the show is open to the public and up until May 21st.  Stop in during normal business hours to the Louisiana Tech Enterprise Center at 509 W. Alabama Ave.

Go to the website for more information and directions!