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 I’ve been back at the web site work (still unpublished), making plans for Chance’s surgery aftercare and a quick trip next weekend to deliver work, see friends, have a break (hooray!)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

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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.

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Scattered…

…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…

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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?)

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…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.

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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…

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

This! and This! and That and That

I’m not even going to mention the weather over the past few days; no matter its influence over what happens here. I’ll just shut up and wait for spring.  This evening at ZIA Gallery, we will begin to summon it. I’m looking forward to the reception (perhaps because my quiet year has been a wee bit too quiet? Hmmmmm…)  Doesn’t it look festive?

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GREAT NEWS: The Morgan Conservatory summer class schedule is now online and open for registration.  There are so many stellar offerings!  I’m SO pleased to be returning, and this year, we have expanded the class: five entire packed days of 3D, time to explore deeply.  It’s the second of only two classes I’m teaching this summer, so sign up now! And check out the pages of marvelous classes!

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On Facebook a few days ago, I saw one of those memes, which called itself an old Polish proverb and read, “Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys.” (Someone else commented that their grandmother used to say, “Not My Farm. Not My Pigs.”) While those sayings are refreshingly true of my relationship with higher ed now, I still could not help being impressed by these events. (In my time, I have seen adjunct faculty go from being respected team members to actively being mocked for raising valid issues, and have witnessed them being told that the direction of the department they had been deeply involved in for years was none of their concern, because such lofty issues were now the exclusive province of the tenured).  So, this is refreshing, encouraging, and something I honestly didn’t expect to see within my lifetime. (here’s a cliffnotes synopsis).

And, an interesting follow-up about someone who has impressed me from the beginning, regarding a part of higher ed that becomes all-consuming, but is rarely addressed. Congratulations, Ms. M!

And now: off to prepare To Summon Spring.

ChanceTall And since I have almost written an entire post without mentioning him, here is our wee pre-teen: getting so tall!

Pre-road Victory Dance!

I’m leaving in two days and so (of course) am ridiculously busy, and (of course) shouldn’t be taking the time to blog. However, yesterday, I found reason to be glad for all the medical tests that added to my schedule: a personal victory!

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The Morgan in festive mode last October.

Here’s the story: when I had my own magic health insurance card after becoming a full-time employee of an academic corporation (the acquisition of said card being a motive for signing on), we workers were required to have yearly health screenings that included blood work, in order to identify potential problems.  My screening results were consistently excellent until 2008, the year that the chicanery leading to my leaving shot into high gear. At that point, my risk factors also suddenly shot up into alarming ranges; by January 2009, they were termed dangerous, and there were little red flag icons all over the report.  At the end of 2010, when I regained health coverage through Paul, the problems had not abated much, and (scary-to-me) drugs were prescribed.  Given my history with extreme reactions to seemingly innocuous meds, I just did not want to take them, so I swore I would alleviate the problems on my own. When I was hospitalized overnight in October 2011 (the last time I had blood work done), even though I’d brought the risk levels down by 30 points, they were still too high and the meds were still prescribed (and I still refused to take them). Though I’d left the toxic workplace at the end of the 2009 academic year, I was still enmeshed in an odd way with the corporation. In spring 2012, I ended that involvement voluntarily, simply to cut that malevolent presence out of my life once and for all, and then I decided to slow down and spend these past six months at home.  Yesterday, the current blood work results arrived, and all of my risk factors were in the ‘optimal’ or ‘near optimal’ range once again. I’m back! And I did it without Big Pharm.

It’s sad – and in itself sick – that one of the ‘rewards’ of 15 years of dedicated work was five years of high health risk. I never made the connection at the time, and (typically for targets) didn’t even recognize  the situation for what it was. As I later learned, it’s a common phenomenon.  Even though I didn’t come by the information on sites like this until it was too late to use in the harmful situation, I’ve still been able to use it to understand and heal. I hope that awareness grows, and that people involved in similar situations will be able to identify them early, and protect themselves against the condoned effects of corporate culture. I am one of the very lucky ones: I’ve not only survived, I’ve been able to eradicate the damage and regain my health.  That is something to celebrate! I’ll begin doing just that in two days, with visits to healthy, thriving, exemplary work environments: making stops at the Morgan Conservatory and Women’s Studio Workshop on my way to Haystack, and then Seastone Papers, Penland, and the Morgan again.

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My backyard in festive mode right now.

In another better world, I’m very happy to be participating in Emily Martin’s wonderful Pantone Postcard Project. I love the idea, and volunteered the second I saw the call for participants, but was already too late; they were all gone.  But, someone’s had to drop out, so I am now the post-deadline pinch-hitter.  My default card arrived yesterday and it is the perfect color for me, a deep luscious forest green! It’ll be my very first project in Maine.  Stay tuned for News From The Road!

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And something else to celebrate.

Good Questions

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Battling with the last of the text and then (alas) taxes, but: Return To Studio is imminent! So is spring, and already the improving weather is bringing Chicago people (including me) out more: I have had and am having an upswing in visiting friends, catching up: another reason to be happy to be home. My computer had been seriously rebelling, making me a captive of the Mac spinning color wheel over and over again, so I also had to spend two days upgrading and clearing out old files. I found this from 2008:

“Interesting conversation last night here at Ragdale with authors from across the spectrum: novelists, poets, essayists.  It began with the writers’ incredulous reactions to artists’ statements, and was the most fertile conversation I’ve ever had about them.

Their observations: artists’ statements are written in interminable language, which seems deliberately obtuse and nonsensical. Artists’ statements all sound the same. Artists’ statements rarely offer even a shred of human insight into the work.  The most intriguing observation to me was: writing IS an art, a difficult and demanding art that takes years to hone.  Poets and writers are never expected to clarify their work for their audiences in visual form; they’re not required to become photographers, painters or sculptors in order to BE writers. Why is it that all visual artists are required to write?  Why isn’t a visual experience enough in and of itself, particularly when so much of the dismal writing actually detracts from the work?”

Good questions, to which I’ve never found answers beyond the homogenization of MFA programs, particularly as colleges and universities have become more and more corporate in outlook and structure (which was my answer then). These questions are still particularly poignant to me, especially after this recent period of struggle with words while longing to use my hands, heart, mind and body doing what I do best, and love.

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O, February

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Oh, February: temperatures fluctuating up, down, as much as 40 degrees, Chicago either altogether devoid of snow or receiving light dustings that quickly melt or morph into slushy rain, and days of anemic grey light, barely enough to partially illuminate translucent abaca in the middle of the afternoon. I feel like celebrating every time there is, like today, a few wee moments of sunlight.  Indoors, there is a closet now, a proper little room complete with new flooring and baseboards, custom shelving already in use. The physical work did indeed release some words: I’ve been moving between construction and writing and a few days off here and there, for real-time with friends, a gift day at my local salon from Himself, and a guest talk in a friend’s writing class.

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I’d thought it was a grad class and quick-prepped accordingly; it turned out to be a required freshman undergrad course. Those carefully blank, but easily readable deer-in-the-headlights faces were utterly familiar to me from similar undergrad courses I taught way back when. I admire my friend and all her colleagues immensely for their relentless efforts, each and every semester, to draw new groups of new students out into the beginnings of adult discourse.

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Having spewed out the other side, I see academe now as a raucous, rushing stream flowing through a bed of rocks, eventually pushing boulders aside, but creating new blockages in the process. Students, the unchanging water supply: a bit more or less, a bit varied in temperature from year to year, season to season, but elemental, constant, in motion. Faculty, staff, administrators: fish, waterbugs or clinging plants tossed by currents, the food chain utterly dependent on the water. I can go back, dip in my toe, and it’s the same as it always was. It never benefits from its plethora of manmade dams and never learns that it doesn’t;  it needs a huge sweeping flood to clear it out and alter its path, but actual changes occur as slowly as in all the rivers I’ve known: an imperceptible inching, this way and that.

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I’ve moved on into a sea, maybe a great lake, one that occasionally, randomly churns up forgotten bits from within its depths. A small action like building a closet can bring unexpected results. This old steamer trunk has been with me since I was in my twenties; loosely lined with fabric, it’s been a renter’s portable closet. Emptied, it re-revealed stone lithographs, added when I decided not to edition the book I’d made them for. They made me smile: we all carry baggage. It’s pleasing and amusing that some of mine contains buried goddesses.

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This weekend and Monday:  the final editing and sendoff of all the current text-based projects, and then, and then, and then: back to the studios!

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A (pleasant) academic interlude.

Paul and I jumped into a family van, complete with family, for a whirlwind overnight round trip (thirteen hours of it in said van). We were the super-proud aunt-and-uncle team at our niece J’s graduation from a large midwestern university (a Big Ten school, whatever that means. Something to do with sports, I think). It was surrounded by vast farmland, the kind of place where the school is much, much larger than the town it’s in.   J received her Bachelor’s degree, was part of the Honors College, and is heading straight to a prestigious PhD program, with funding and job attached.  I’m not going to talk about her or the family here, to guard their privacy, except: did I say we’re proud?

Waiting for it to begin, while the orchestra played. That big while object behind the orchestra is a huge mound of rolled replica diplomas, each about 1″ in diameter.

I can say that I’ve never before been a graduation guest, nor have I been to anything other than arts school versions of the ceremonies; I’ve only either been receiving a degree myself or, much more often, required to be a gowned faculty body* so I found it all interesting. First, we all attended the BioChem Breakfast, which title I (alone) found amusing, and I really liked some of the hallway notices.  The university is so huge that they held back-to-back graduation ceremonies for different areas and degrees for three solid days; we attended the undergrad Natural Sciences segment, which filled a huge indoor sports arena. It was much more formal, straightforward and well-behaved than what I was used to, and everyone knew things like the alma mater songs and fight songs and chants and belted them out in unison.  When they asked the families to stand at the end, the thousand or so students – now alumni – did a ‘wave’. On campus, there were lots of places like research greenhouses I was really curious to see inside but couldn’t, and I was told of lovely botanic gardens, but it was raining off and on. But it was a warm, happy, fun and interesting time, besides the fact that we were so proud (did I mention that?).

*I don’t own my own regalia, and neither do a lot of the faculty in the places I’ve taught, so forms were filled out so that the correct outfits could be rented for the majority of us, and just before the ceremony we were dressed in wrinkled straight-out-of-the-plastic-package gear. Often, my hood-and-gown order went astray, so I was given whatever was left over. I have attended ceremonies impersonating Doctors of  Philosophy, Engineering and Music.  PhD’s have the best hats by far, as well as nice little velvet stripes on their gowns. Apparently, they also tend to skip out on ceremonies. But was I also once a Master of Journalism, which, if you read the blog, you know is truly stretching the truth.

I finished making all the remaining text sheets I needed the night before we left; when I got home, they were dried and shrunken beautifully. Now I am back to a whole lot of studio work and (yes) more admin, and I am down to waiting for just two more e-mails before I can finally publish the upcoming show schedule, hooray!