Existing Between Higher Education and The High Desert
When I was 6 years old, my dad tried to teach me how to ride a bike. His method was “the right way”: I had to coast down hill. This did not bode well with me, as I promptly ran into a parked car. As I picked the gravel out of my scraped knees, I stubbornly, told him that I was going to learn how to ride a bike my own way and to leave me alone. I went into an empty, flat parking lot, and through my own methods, which are top secret, I learned how to ride swiftly by the end of the day. The lesson learned: trust myself; trust my process.
I’ve decided that it might not be entirely necessary for me to pursue the mastery of conveying the human form academically/technically to make my artistic point. No, I don’t need to go around torturing canvas with paint, but I’m also not a human copying machine. In my opinion there is something that is surrendered when an artist becomes completely and uncompromisingly good at rendering the figure. The mystery and possibility become lost. I’m into my own version of mastery, which, among many things, involves avoiding other people’s version of mastery.
Nonetheless, I’ve been beating myself up lately because I haven’t yet pursued a higher education in the realm of figurative work and traditional skill. But there is something that always blocks me from filling out those Classical Atelier and traditional art institution applications (aside from the cost of tuition). I have all the workings to become a master of the traditional figure. But what with all the ‘Masters’ being hammered out of art schools and academies these days, what creativity is left? How do we get back to our childish creative impulses? Leonardo da Vinci once said, “The greatest misfortune is when theory outstrips performance.” And oh, have I seen this as an art school undergrad, not just by the hands of my peers, but by my own as well: the idea strikes, profound and unique, the brush hits the canvas with expectation, the frustration begins, the end result: muddy displeasing work and the mentality of “I should just give up.” I empathize deeply with this frustration; my mom has many of my old canvases covered in “I should just give up.” But what if we let go of our desperate expectations for perfection? What if we just allow ourselves to grab on to what we know?
I’ve resolved to learn how to paint the figure my own way and to keep my “immature” creative impulses (my bright colors, symbols, monsters, and shapes). People say the greatest things that have happened in human history, happened by accident. Accidents happen when one is in new territory and doesn’t fully understand the terrain. Accidents in the context of freedom, in my view, is the birth place for and innovation and creative genius. But we resist accidents because accidents are how we describe car crashes. We put our blinders on and strive for mastery, approval, commodity, niche and predictability because that frustration is just so heartbreaking and unbearable. But these terrible times come to us when we attempt to create nonetheless and we can either accept them as teachers or we can let them become the demonic voices that tell us we are no good. Either way, I’ve learned that true life, inspiration, and creative expression comes with the discomfort of being in new terrain.
I’ve come to prefer to live and work in New Mexico. It is here that I feel like I’m off the map and can create without the art world up in my face, blinding me with expectation, deafening me to my own voice, and comparing me to everyone else. I keep close tabs on the art world but I don’t let it get tangled with my mind. I also know that as an artist in a sequestered environment, I have to push myself to develop because no one is here to do that for me.
I don’t think that I can rebel against technical mastery completely, as it has its ability to give an artist the tools to make something familiar, recognizable, and aesthetically pleasing. However, to embrace it fully would be like throwing out my own principles to adopt that of organized religion. There is something in this mysterious art world that is mine and mine alone; something that cannot be touched by any professor, workshop, critic, or education; something that walks a fine line between complete academic mastery and unsullied juvenile creativity.