Dogs + Art

aadogwhat The exhibition work has reached a tiny mandatory resting place; my part of the taxes are late, and need to happen now. I’ve been back at the web site work (still unpublished), making plans for Chance’s surgery aftercare and a quick trip next weekend to deliver work, see friends, have a break (hooray!)

Dogs share some similarities with art. For one thing, everybody’s got an opinion about them: how to train, what food / collar / equipment to use, when (or if) to neuter, and, if they are shelter dogs, what breed they might be, and on and on. I don’t even want to begin cataloguing opinions about art; just use your own. We are increasingly perplexed about ‘what’ Chance might be: he changes every few days. The latest  development is random patterning in his coat, which is still short but getting a bit longer and weirdly wavy and whorl-y. Could we be headed back towards one of his original suspected breeds, a Flat-Coated Retriever? Last week, when he was looking quite collie-like to me, someone at the training club asked, “Is that a Catahoula?” and this past Tuesday, by which time I was sure I had imagined any resemblance, “Is he a Collie?” (He did, incidentally, rather rock his puppy class that evening; I was proud). The club folks are dog-fanciers, people well versed in breed knowledge. On the street I get, “Ooh, what kind of dog is that?” and now I just reply: “Rescue mutt.” Someday, I might be tempted to get his DNA tested out of sheer curiosity, but really, as I’ve said, it’s who he becomes that’s important. Somehow, it all makes me think of my (too many) years in art schools, when students were relentlessly pressured to identify with this or that movement, ‘-ism’, or especially the latest trend garnering rarified buzz in some obscure academic journal. As both student (when we were force-fed Fluxus) and instructor (when I focused on the creator’s intention versus audience reception) and even just as an observer, what I cared about was an individual work’s impact: what was evoked by encountering this work? Authenticity never, ever needed to be justified by alignment with a theoretical basis for me. A good dog is a good dog, no matter her/ his bloodlines; art that is effective for me is a visual, visceral experience, regardless (and sometimes, in spite) of the sociopolitical views of its maker. aadogwhatart

Here, the artist cleverly employs a traditional rainy season palette of earth-based pigment, and a background patterning which, though muted, clearly pays homage to pointillism.

When making my own artwork, the pieces that tend to hold the most fascination for me are those that begin with an impulse, the mysterious, even mystical process that has a long and still-current history of being denigrated in academic discourse, labelled ‘intuitive.’ The spark may be something that I see (in the world or in my mind), a phrase, a small piece of a technical procedure or history; anything, really. But it begins a process of experimentation and discovery that I trust implicitly: these are the works that ask to be made, that teach me, shape me as they unfurl. They happen for reasons that are not always clear at the beginning and may change radically, require a lot of physical, mental or spiritual grappling, and evolve into something else along the way, and they require faith.


In a later departure, the artist turns to environmental work.  A found object is profoundly manipulated by unskilled brute force, in a stunning tribute to the principles of canine liberation, particularly addressing the issue of crushing boredom imposed by a blatantly speciesist human refusal to engage with inclement weather.

So it has been with dogs who come into and share my life. With Lupe, it was a simple flare in her glance at the Chicago pound. Face, the Supreme Dog of my life, I adopted sight unseen: she was a feral dog who found my dear departed Bro in rural Michigan. When he called to ask if I wanted her, something said: it’s time. With Chance, there was again that feeling that it was time, and an image that leapt out to me. He has something essential to teach me, as much as I’m teaching him, and we are only beginning the process. I don’t know yet what it will be, but I’m still taking it as I took him: on faith…even when I’m (literally) wrestling with him.


Spring-ish Sunday


It was a good week: the contents of one more exhibition got nailed down. Work for another is heading out the door, being picked up today after one more late addition and the cleaning of and slight adaptations to some early altered book works: dates and notices for that exhibition coming soon.  It’s kind of nice to have older works requested; keeps me from feeling strange for keeping what I view as these ancient, unsold things.  Borrowed-back work was picked up for still another exhibition, and more is being shipped for a different one (along with a lovely check for a piece I wanted also, but was just recently sold; something new will be made in its place for a June show). The last of what was needed for the next publication is done, and a fun-for-me quick delivery road trip is set for the first weekend in April: hooray!  All that’s left now are the contents of two more shows, crate-building for a third, shipping for three, then hopefully, finally, some studio and garden bliss before it’s time yet again to gather materials and hit the teaching road (a single trip this year, with two stops only: but still). In there are possible, under-discussion short air trips to some of the exhibition openings.


Also in with the entire busy mix is extensive daily pup training, more extensive than I’ve ever, ever, ever had to do before, and we still need to closely monitor him as well. Chance isn’t stupid by any means, but he is simply, purely willful, and is beginning the most difficult period of his life (or rather ours, in relation to him): adolescence. With us, with Lupe, he is utterly loving, but as is often said about Catahoulas, he does seem to be somewhat ‘psychologically more primitive’ than other dogs I have known. His surgery date is set: he’ll soon lose his testicles (and a single, hind-leg dew claw, a useless partially-developed appendage attached only by a flap of skin that he is sure to get caught in something and tear off, otherwise). I’m hoping that neutering him slightly early (at 22 weeks as opposed to 24) will help him, particularly with his aggressiveness towards his own species.


At times I’ve admittedly had some despair about him, particularly because my work is calling to me, getting more insistent all the time: things are asking – pleading, on the verge of demanding – to be made.  But I am working on compromises / strategies that will get me that time, and soon. There was a nice recent external ‘prod’ towards that in terms of a lovely brief mention of my work: a reminder that it’s not speaking only to me. And here’s something else I’m looking forward to: an author and her subject, both of whom I’m truly fond of and always impressed by.



…I am quite scattered as the schedule, and finally (!) the season continues to warm up.  And again, grateful for this time ‘off’, which isn’t, really: I never suspected that simply dealing with eight different exhibitions and a few publications (particularly with zero applications in the mix) would be so convoluted and time consuming.  There are so many balls in the air right now!  But another exhibition is nailed down; only three more to go…


I know how we got from this…

There are other things I’ve been doing all along this winter that I haven’t mentioned, too; I’ve written 17 letters of recommendation since the first of the year.  That number is way, way down from the past, as I do not write for academic jobs / appointments anymore, telling each person who asks this simple truth: I no longer have letterhead, and academics are only impressed by other academics; therefore, if I write for you, it could harm your chances, no matter how high my praise.  It’s an unpaid, and rather ridiculous business all round, this reference-requirement glut; and sadder still, it’s something tedious we’ve all just come to accept.  I periodically still need to request them myself, and have written them for esteemed colleagues whose reputations should negate any need for reassurance.  (Back in the academic days, more than once I ended an already tremendous semester workload by writing references for every. single. grad in my department – all for the same, in-house grant). Yet I rarely see this situation addressed, and certainly never as eloquently as Ann Beattie did this weekend. Amen, amen, amen. (And if you’re someone I’ve written for, do not despair: I am not criticizing you, but simply railing against the system here: WHY are we not exclusively judged on the quality of our work? Or even the CV?)


…to this, and it seemed to take FOREVER.

Another recent revelation came from an unlikely source: puppy class. We were asked to track one 24-hour period in our pups’ lives in a written document, to bring to class tonight.  Now that training has begun in earnest, along with regular puppy care, pack walks and maintenance, mine was three pages long.  Good Goddess, it’s a wonder I’ve gotten anything else at all done, and no wonder at all that I’m feeling scattered.


I am still utterly astounded at how we went from this…

But we’re moving slowly forward on all counts, and the exhibitions are sort-of comparable to schooling an adolescent pup: Chance will learn something, perform well for three days and forget everything on the fourth. I’ve learned, too: particularly to be careful what I praise him for.  One night as I worked intently on some exhibtion-writing while he and Lupe played, I didn’t notice that their water had run dry. He picked up the big stainless steel bowl, carried it to me, dropped it at my feet, then sat back with tilted head, looking hopeful. Pretty smart! Of course I laughed, praised him, got up and half-filled it, and put it back in its place. He drank a wee bit, then decided to show me what a ‘good boy!’ he could be, and tried to bring it to me again.  Mop-up time…


 …to this, which seemed to happen overnight, and isn’t done yet.

Chimera chuckles


‘Sprinter’ is what some local wit called this season after last night’s latest dump of snow. Heavy, wet gigantic clumps were coming down thickly when Chance needed to go out at 4:30 am; I could feel them splat as they landed on me. In the (late) morning when I woke again, it was all quite pretty, and we had a sunny pack walk. But still: I did think, during the past week’s melt, that spring was really here, yet it’s getting appreciably colder this evening.


In the work realm, I got a rather large shipment off to the next exhibition yesterday, and details for another publication squared away, but then there’s been more changes for other upcoming shows, and some of the other work I did may not have been necessary, now. I’m waiting for decisions to be made in order not to waste any more effort. Eventually, they’ll all be resolved, whether or not they are the exhibitions I had originally expected.


Like the weather and the art world, with shelter dogs, it’s also a crapshoot.  When we adopted Lupe, she had been rejected and returned to the Chicago pound twice. She was nine months old, so we could see what she was going to look like as an adult. Her Belgian Tervuren blood was very evident, giving us clues about who she eventually became: a smart, gentle, calm, velcro-dog.


When we adopted Chance, I agreed with the shelter’s best guess at his ancestry: Australian Shepherd / Retriever mix. His baby appearance strongly suggested that, but it’s not what he’s growing into.  During the past two weeks, he’s dropped his fuzzy Aussie-ish puppy coat; he will be a shorthair, with some longer feathering around the ears.  He has huge, very webbed feet, which originally supported the retriever notion. But at this point, judging from his evolving build and personality, I suspect what we have is a Catahoula Leopard Dog mix, and that’s where his blue eyes come from, not Aussie genes.


 Catahoula Dog

Does that matter?  Not in terms of his future: he’s our pup. But I confess, I probably would not have deliberately chosen a Catahoula. They are highly intelligent, and beautiful, but they’re a whole lot of dog, particularly for a small city yard.  Chance is telling us that a strong pack leader is exactly what he needs and responds to. I can be that, but I’ve always preferred beasties I can relax that role with a bit.


Smooth Collie

However, there’s something else in the mix; the shape of his head and the set of his ears might even be a hint of (smooth) Collie, though I’m not seeing their legendary gentleness. He’s got some aggression issues with other dogs in puppy class and on the street. We’re working towards cooling that as quickly as possible with training, and thinking of neutering him a bit early.


Fortunately, as Paul keeps pointing out, Chance has definitely decided he’s my dog. He follows me everywhere, waits outside the door when I’m in a closed room, and his idea of bliss is to be invited onto my lap. ‘What’ he turns out to be isn’t as important as ‘who’. He’s listening; I can only keep patiently, firmly, gently teaching him about the dog I want him to become, and to temper my expectations to his capabilities and instincts as he reveals them.


And some things about Chance are his alone…he holds his ears this way, often.

Heating up, in some ways


We had another three inches of snow last night (sigh), adding to the three and four foot drifts that have been intact for months but will – I say, will – melt someday soon. But though the weather doesn’t acknowledge the calendar, spring things are heating up here: via the gravity principle, I did take on an eighth exhibition, a relatively local, fast-upcoming one that asked for a group of older works, so this week I need to dig those out, whip them into shape and devise hangers, while also undergoing a large packing and shipping effort for the first of the further-away shows. I’m still nailing down details about some upcoming others, but got a large early-summer one clarified, which will require borrowing back work, and designing, costing out and building more shipping containers (fortunately, with financial input). None of it is, as yet, studio.


I can’t wait for the weather to catch up and provide a backyard thaw, so I can let the dogs out to play for longer portions of the day. They do play well together, though Lupe understandably likes to stay out alone for awhile each day.


Chance began puppy school, or rather orientation and a brief session, last night. I liked my introduction to the training club; it’s been around since the 1940s and many of its members show their dogs in AKC obedience and other classes; definitely dog people. Chance seemed to be the only non-purebred there, and probably the only shelter pup (it felt a bit like we’d crashed Westminster) but no one seemed to mind. I’m glad, because it will provide a high level of training, and that’s what I want.  If he does well on through his obedience levels, I am dreaming of giving him a lifetime job: becoming my helpmate with hearing dog training. But for now, I’m pleased with him for quickly acclimating to the borrowed, tent-like travel crate, and for doing fairly well in a new, stimulating and confusing environment, surrounded by about 50 other dogs and lots more people all moving around, talking and/or barking.


I sure would like to borrow those ears.