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 I’ve been back at the web site work (still unpublished), making plans for Chance’s surgery aftercare and a quick trip next weekend to deliver work, see friends, have a break (hooray!)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.


7 thoughts on “Dogs + Art

  1. and that is exactly why i love your art so. meanwhile, it’s true about a good dog being a good dog! incredible to see him change so much, and so glad you are on this journey with him.

    • Thanks, Aimee: I’m excited to be on the journey to the Morgan next week! I think perhaps I’ve stayed put a little too long…or the winter just made it seem that way.

  2. Grounded and intentional intuition is playing a bigger and bigger role again in my life — a development I’m profoundly grateful to report — and I don’t care whether “the art world” likes it or not either. At least my environmental work isn’t dependent on canine liberation though. 😉

  3. chance’s face has changed again. i say just wait! good comparisons to the art world, you’re so right. do you know vicki hearne’s writing on the training relationship? you might like her book Adam’s Task.

      • (And yes…almost constant facechange, feet keep getting bigger and bigger, and everything else is in flux as well: at least three more months of it before we can make anything close to a permanent assumption about where it will all end up. Fascinating and a bit worrying, sometimes…)

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