Monday, August 2, 2010

Working with Stuart

My writing and research from the past semester would not have been much without the impetus and inspiration from my Group 1 advisor, Stuart Steck. Here are his final remarks regarding my Semester Summary:

I really enjoyed reading your reflections on the past five months. I'm not going to respond with lengthy comments ... but I do have some quick thoughts:

I have rarely worked with someone who was able to internalize (and employ) critical discourse so quickly and seamlessly. It is apparent that you have grasped the complex history and development of modern/postmodern art. More to the point, it appears that you clearly understand the problems and challenges that face artists today. As you rightly note, the expanded field of contemporary art makes it difficult to gauge how one's work can convey a clear sense of meaning and purpose. How is it possible to demarcate one's position in the vast landscape of visual culture if this landscape has no apparent boundaries? Should artists simply strike out blindly in one direction or another? And has the increasingly expansive field of artistic practice effectively rendered a traditional medium (like painting) obsolete?

Your answer to these questions are both thoughtful and practical. I like your assumption that painting is a material practice that can effectively mediate how we engage and understand the world (that is to say, it can mediate our perception of the world in a manner that is fundamentally different from video, performance, and installation). Of course, I'm not always certain that your so-called "exclusive" audience gravitates towards painting with this in mind. I still believe that collectors now buy paintings because they constitute high-end commodities, and thus engender a certain degree of social status and cultural capital. But, as you suggest, this is fine as long as the artist can "see the walls". In fact, these "walls" can provide a useful source of critical commentary, aesthetic content, artistic transgression, and cultural parody.

In any case, I like your idea of creating work that reaches out to a broad audience -- even as it continues to address aesthetic discourses that are specific to painters. Yet ... I still wonder whether painting can transcend our need for immediate gratification and our current reliance on digital technologies. And I also wonder whether painting can survive in an age when people no longer possess the "literacy" needed to read paintings. This is THE $64,000 Question right now (at least in my mind).

But despite the great challenges that face artists today, I believe that you possess the determination and intelligence (not to mention the skill) to re-assert painting's historic relevance. And while your artistic path may be full of obstacles, I think you have charted a course that will lead you to success. As you conclude: "I must strive to delimit my artistic province with a definitive nod to the character of painting's strengths while acknowledging the history of its limitations." This sounds like a reasonable game-plan to me!

As you can read here, his feedback is as insightful and engaging (which was true when it came to all of my essays) as one could hope for. He really challenged me to think and engage all my texts with focused critical rigor. I hope to work with him again before my MFA is done.

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