Art School & Arguing

July 15th, 2012 § 1 comment

It was pointed out to me recently that I love to argue, and that I tend to engage with every subject like it’s worth the serious critical thought I give it. My poor rebuttal to this observation was, “well at least it makes things interesting!” The incredulous look on my friends face seemed to say something along the lines of, “what’s wrong with a little silence once in a while?”

Realizing shortly after the words had left his mouth that he was right, I wondered what happened. After all, I was that silent child playing by myself in the backyard for the first ten to fifteen years of my life. My first thought was that it must be some kind of family trait. We used to tell my older brother that he should become a lawyer because of his gift for arguing his way out of chores. Then I realized something much more obvious was to blame; art school.

Four years (has it been?) out of graduate school and I wonder if my current habit of over discussing things has to do with fact that I am not in fact discussing elsewhere. (This should motivate my desire to take continuing education classes.) Those dreaded critiques that were so upsetting in undergrad and that became so political in grad school, are the bread and butter of art school, and perhaps of art itself. Lying in bed the other night, overtaken by a bout of uncharacteristic insomnia, I thought of a great new art project to start. Lying there in the dark, I became acutely reacquainted with the process of thinking about making art.

First you have an idea, and though you’re not sure why that idea popped into your head, it did. Then you spend the next few hours (days, weeks, months?) thinking about how you’d like to express this idea. Once you settle upon a medium you think about a subject, some visual metaphor to convey whatever it was that popped into your head in the first place. Then you begin making it, and at every step of the way you wonder if it’s working the way you want it to, if it should be made some other way, if it’s too colorful or too literal, and so on and on. All art making is, it sometimes seems, is a never-ending, silent, internal, and highly personal dialog with yourself.

Art school changes this process because it gives a voice to those inner thoughts. Suddenly teachers, paid to care about what you make, start asking questions about why you made it the way you did. They even go so far as to suggest that there was a crucial breakdown in your silent dialog, and they suggest that next time you should try a different idea, process, medium, manner of display, etc. etc. You learn to fight for that internal voice, hopefully while growing and leaning why and how it’s sometimes wrong, and at every step of the way you argue even louder with yourself.

I’m not sure artists are logical, rational thinkers, though I know many that are, but we might as a whole overthink just about everything. Perhaps, being unaware of this trait, out of school, and with no outlet to otherwise apply it, I have turned my critique room persona onto my life. Similar to how I make art, it’s not that I argue and probe because I know the answers or feel so sure of myself, but because just about everything warrants good critique. Perhaps, however, I need to channel my fearless sense of criticism back where it belongs: into artmaking.

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