Saturday, November 16, 2013

Are great artists - just jet lagged performing artists?

I started this blog posting nearly a month ago, but need the time to let my thoughts settle:

Are great artists -  just jet lagged performing artists?

I'm afraid to count how many air flights I have made to teach, speak and exhibit.

So I'll count.

On my website I counted over 30 trips to speak at interstate and overseas conferences, symposia and workshops.  Fortunately most of the 16 interstate and overseas exhibition openings I attended also were also at the same time.

The start of all this thinking and counting, was coming down with a flu after my last trip.

My illness was the side product of an intense month of pre-trip making, family events, nerves,  jet lag at both ends, and the usual stress of constantly performing at a high level, in a strange environment in front of strangers.

Anyway, I begun to question why I keep putting myself through this experience.

To be honest with myself, there is ego reasons for accepting invitations to demonstrate or speak in front of a lot of people, and my peers.

That others value me and my ideas, keeps me motivated through the long hours alone in my studio.

Yes, that others see value, is important when I (and every other artist I talk to) have moments of self doubt.

This self realisation motivates me to deliberately support and encourage those artists around me.

Aside form the financial rewards, which are necessary, there are more significant, artistic reasons for my travels.

These trips do provide an important foil to my solitary studio practice:  More than six months between trips endures "cabin fever".

"A change is as good as a rest".

A time to reflect on my art, out of the studio.

To see how other artists live their lives, or run their studios.

The happy studio accident in a strange studio and with strange tools and materials.  I often bring back these to invigorate or extend my studio work here in Western Australia.

One strange aspect bubbled up into my thoughts:  Demonstrating how I make my sculptures in front of others, contains aspects of "performing arts".

This may be an unexplored aspect of the visual arts practice - for those of us who do it.

Does this public act of art making affect how and what I make in the studio before and after it?

Hard to say - although I'm a little different to most in the ceramics community, in that I may spend a day or more before my workshops or demonstration preparing and drying clay (paper clay).  Is this also a warm up?  Not really in that I don't always demonstrate the techniques I use, but, the physical work certainly helps getting over jet lag and mentally prepares me.

There is aspects of deep meditating on how and why I make art, by "lifting the studio wall" vail.  Anticipating questions or reactions to what I do, makes me think more about the whole process.

Other questions come to mind: is "performing artists", just an extension of what travelling artists/teachers like myself do?  These are stylised private rituals, made public in the teaching studio, theatre or conference hall.  Some are common to all clay workers, others are uniquely mine.

I sometimes ask myself, should I reveal a particularly personal technique: questioning if I should have separate public and private studio lives.  Yet, our work gives away so much anyway.  We both reveal and conceal ourselves in our art.  So I think, "bugger it, I'll share it". (1)

Doubt creeps in when thinking about why people invite me to speak and demonstrate.  Do they invite me because of my art, or because they have hear about my demonstrations/teaching? Often audience members seem to equate demonstrators as being "good" or "great" artists.  So is there a similar confusion in their mind, to mine, between art and performance?

But in the end, it doesn't really matter.

As long as I have the opportunity for paid travel, the gift of a change of space, reflective time,  happy studio accidents, and of course to meet with new and old friends.

The latter is happily an increasing occurrence, as I finally meet good people I have only know via the web and email.

These are other artists, sometimes also performing visual artists.

All with one universal common trait (apart from being artistic :)), which is an open and generous nature.

Obviously disorganised groups with problems,  and stuck in their ways  aren't looking or new ideas, techniques and ways of thinking. Whereas I will be invited by groups and people who are organised, looking outwards, and eager to learn.

Water finds its own level, and I find kindred spirits.

However, like sports teams, art groups (and artists) have a cycle between good times, bad times, and back to good times.  So, it's not surprising I have had conversations over many years with different artists and their groups, before all the planets line up and we finally get to meet.

Finally getting on a plane to fly to meet and spend time with these people is just such a buzz!

Just a pity about the flu.

(1) Australian colloquial term to express anger

Modified image source:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Will 3D printing become a Dodo?

Computer Art went the way of the Dodo. Will 3D printed Art follow? 

The best view in Perth and iced coffee (with ice cream of course), used by the author to untangle the 3D puzzle.

According to Grant D. Taylor in The Machine that Made Science Art: The troubled History of Computer Art 1963-1989 (2004 UWA PhD Philosophy Thesis), computer art quickly became marginalised.  Digital art, its younger nephew, was able to upstage it and has go on to become hip and trending with the art crowd. And still is, sort of.

What's this got to do with 3D ceramic printing?

I'm not exactly sure, but bear with me while I untangle my thinking...

In ceramics, over the last few 40,000 years we've seen it all before.

Take the wheel. Despite small pockets of resistant fighters, studio neo-throwers (neo-romantic throwers?), most ceramic factories completely mechanised the manufacturing of table wear, decades ago.  Human throwers in ceramic factories went the way of the Dodo.  Extinct. Gone to meet their maker. Passed on.  

I remember in the early 1990's visiting the old Australian Fine China factory in Subiaco, and watching a machine cut, compress and spin a lump of clay into a dinner plate, automatically pop it off and quickly begun again.

But even this machine was not fast enough to escape the inevitabile economic rationalisation of the Australian Ceramics industry, once tariff barriers protecting it had been removed.  Cheaper imports, often just as good, were bought by predominately indifferent Australian consumers.  Consequently, in 2006, Australian Fine China relocated its Perth factory to South East Asia in order to remain price competitive.

A small pocket of studio potters in Australia still predominately use the wheel.  But, despite their long hours hunched over their wheels,  few survive completely, depending upon this machine for their sole source of income.  Dig far enough and you'll find another job, sideline, supportive spouse, arts adminstration or teaching job subsiding their studio practice.  Not much different really, to 99 percent of any paintbrush waving fine artist.

Yet the wheel is addictive, is a great party trick, and still pulls the crowds at the local craft fair.

Could the hand on the wheel just be a prolonged physical stroke, or a machine induced meditation.  Perhaps its like driving a farm tractor in ever diminishing squares (a mechanical mandala?)  for 12 hours a day?  For both one must be mentally and physically balanced and able to comfortable hold a position for a prolonged period, with subtle adjustments and corrections?  'Bit like watching a 3D printer create another useless piece of plastic? Round and round, back and forward goes the printer head extruding plastic, or clay. Strangely hypnotic!

But, I digress.

I have just spent a day a week, over the last year at Perth TAFE as an Artist in Resident, hacking a 3D printer so that it would print paper clay.  Read a little about my incremental progress here.

Then a further 6 weeks course learning software to design the objects to be printed.

Since then I've been researching attitudes to computers and art.


Because I was getting a bit of flack from studio potters online and locally.  There seems to be a bit of resistance - it's not really art, is it?

So when else in the past has the arts been critical of new technology, like, recently?

But it's pretty boring research, reading Grant D. Taylor's art theory thesis on computer art.  So I have been tempting myself with iced coffee (with ice cream, of course) and the best 8am view in Perth, a couple of times each week, if I'll just spend two hours in one place reading and writing notes on Computer Art.

And it looks like there might just be something useful in Taylor's writings:  Computer arts have faced the same criticisms I am hearing about 3D printing, which may explain the art crowd's mixed reception:

Taylor sees hostility towards computer art also coming from a

romantic fear that a computerised surrogate had replaced the artist … undermined some of the keystones of modern Western art, such as notions of artistic “genius” and “creativity.” (pIV)

By using technology as the underlying logic, these histories fail to acknowledge the importance of cultural and ideological contexts in the emergence of computer art.” (P6)

Also, because computer art was an international phenomenon, it could not derive any cultural legitimacy from a national art history.  Apart from having no national heritage, there was no centralised location or organising body that could devise a coherent corpus of belief (in contrast to the myriad of other twentieth century art movements that achieved this).  Subsequently, in the early stages, there was no formal attempt by the practitioners to organise themselves socially and politicially around a key idea” (p7)

All good stuff.

(The last bit also sounds a bit like the challenge the paper clay crowd are currently wrestling with.)

And I've only got to page 7...


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