So What?

So What?!

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Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

OK, so here is probably the most uncomfortable lesson, art as an academic pursuit has presented me with: the “so what?” lesson. “So what?” is uncomfortable because it immediately makes you aware of the dissonance within your world and you cannot help but find yourself outside of your comfort zone. By dissonance I mean inconsistency between the beliefs one holds (or it could also be between one’s actions and one’s beliefs). Want an example? Loving (claiming to) animals so much yet they appear on your dinner table, that’s dissonance. How does “so what” create dissonance in the artistic world? Well, it says “yes, you can paint (draw, sculpt) well, but so what?” Painting is a technical facility, it is what you do with it that makes the difference. Decorating walls with paint techniques does not make you an artist, it makes you an interior decorator, and yet you are painting and have a technical facility. I might have a really sound understanding of the body because I did biology at school but it does not make me a doctor. There is a huge amount of dedication, effort, sacrifice and training that goes into becoming a doctor, and similarly in becoming a fine artist or visual artist. “So what?” asks what are you are willing to do for your art, it asks for sacrifice. So you love animals? Well, stop eating them then. Get the idea? “So what?” asks for moving beyond the mere application of paint in an effort to represent what you see or what you wish to “pretty”. It wants you to think, to feel, to be…it wants you to question everything, to remake everything, to see everything for the first time. It wants you to get the hell out of your comfort zone!

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Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

The first time a lecturer used the “so what?” statement/question it figuratively stopped me in my tracks and changed the entire way I view and consider art forever. Not just art though, but also the world. This is what a lot of artists entering academia find extremely uncomfortable which is good because…well, you know, the whole “comfort zone” thing. Unfortunately, because of this discomfort many drop out, most in their first year of studies. I have experienced this both as student and lecturer. I usually start a new year with a group of about 40 1st year students. By the end of the year I am lucky if I have 10 progressing through to second year. By their final year the group will consist of no more than 4 students. In my final year I was the only one of my group to qualify. This is not because I am some artistic genius but simply because I embraced the “so what?” statement/question and the accompanying being out of my comfort zone.

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Above: self-portrait (a couple of hours before the performance).

Ask yourself that question, you will be amazed at the effect it has. Ask “so what?” and see if you can answer. Then see if the answer is one you can live with. And to live for art, as one of my most favourite writers, Jeanette Winterson, says, is to live a life of questioning.

Academia

Wow, so my academic year has finally wound down…and it has been one helluva year!

1) I completed my degree and registered for my masters.

2) I was appointed as mentor lecturer at my university. By the way, and this is so weird: I have also taught at both the primary and secondary schools I attended. I am pretty certain there are only a hand-full of people who can lay claim to that.

3) I held and curated my first solo exhibition and, although it only consisted of my student work of the past 4 years, it was still a pretty big deal for me. It was a form of closure too, if you will.

4) I was selected to take part in a group exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery (our local metro gallery) which was definitely a huge deal! AND the work sold!

5) In addition I took part in 2 other group exhibitions; in one of which my work was selected by a jury for second prize.

6) Finally, I was entrusted to open my students’ exam exhibition and give the opening speech.

I have to say that was really hectic because to give a speech in a room full of people is one thing, to give it to a room full of alumni, aficionados and fellow artists is quite another. And then to still also do your students justice… as I said, HECTIC!

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Above: the students and I facing the audience at the opening.

We spent the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (23rd-25th November) installing the students work at the gallery and then that Tuesday evening we had the opening. The next evening (26th November), exhausted as I was, I simply had to go and attend an exhibition on the big screen (Matisse). It really was something; as my friend Nicole said: “Education, entertainment and relaxation all at once…uber cool evening”.

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This is the blurb:

Matisse: FROM TATE MODERN AND MoMACelebrate the giant of modern art on the big screen. Hailed as the most successful exhibition in Tate Modern’s history, you can still catch this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at your local cinema, featuring exclusive new footage from MoMA New York. Audiences are invited to enjoy an intimate, behind-the-scenes documentary about this once-in-a-lifetime blockbuster exhibition with expert contributions from those that knew Matisse as well as curators, historians, Tate director Nicholas Serota and MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Plus there are breathtaking specially commissioned performances by Royal Ballet principal dancer Zenaida Yanowsky and jazz musician Courtney Pine. Acclaimed British actor Simon Russell Beale brings insight and emotion to the words of Henri Matisse himself, while actor Rupert Young (Merlin) narrates. ‘The way the film captured Matisse at work, bringing his artistry to life – including resonant readings from Simon Russell Beale – was genuinely inspiring’ – Apollo Magazine

It was an in-depth study of his cut-out works and is filmed at the Tate Modern. It included rare footage of him at work and touched on his life. There were interviews with experts as well as people who worked with him and for him. Also included were dance performances and music inspired by his work. Finally they gave you an insight into the work that goes into curating an exhibition like this as it moved from the Tate to the MOMA. I loved it but by Thursday I was a wreck and did not sleep well that night stressing about the examiners arriving the next day to mark my students’ practical work.

Friday (28th November) my 1st and 2nd years frantically and manically installed their work in the morning, with the lecturers arriving at 10 am with knives and axes sharpened (haha, just kidding they are a pretty decent and fun bunch but to us this is what it seemed like).  Picture the Twilght series and those ruling vamps, the Volturi, pitching-up on Bella’s vamps, the Cullens, territory! Same kinda thing! Lots tension and clashes because of the nature of art and art-making and assigning a grade to it. It is not an easy task!

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Above: So far and no further! Grrrrr!!! Charge!!!

Below: The Volturi!

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At 4 pm they finished the marking and the junior students could take down their work. After another sleepless night of stressing , I awoke, hungover from exhaustion, completely forgetting it was my birthday. Yes, that is how tired and drained I was!!! I did not even remember my birthday until someone wished me!  The examiners again arrived at the gallery and marked the senior students’ work, leaving to catch their plane at about one. Driving home in the rain it was all I could do to stay awake and not wrap myself around a tree or to plough into the car in front of me.

I know I sound like a huge drama queen but the truth is it is extremely emotionally and psychologically draining to be involved with students, especially art students who are that much more demanding on an emotional level than your average student. It has to do with that unquantifiable creative element which is part and parcel of an arts department. This is raised to the nth level when it comes to the exam period, and when, as a lecturer, you have invested so much time, effort and emotion in those students, to sit in attendance as others crit and grade their practical works is exhausting! I slept most of Sunday, and Monday at work this week I was a wreck. I felt like I had a huge hangover, which kind of sucks considering I did not at least get to do the drinking and partying beforehand, the fun part! Kind of like getting genital herpes without having sex! Very sad!

Footnote: Yes, I have read Meyer’s Twilight books and seen the movies…and yes, I enjoyed them! They have become part of popular culture and I am always happy if something gets people at least reading even if it is the “junkfood” fiction that Meyer writes. Think of Stephenie Meyer as a fastfood outlet like MacDonald’s and Jane Austen as your 5 star restaurant with Alice Sebold (Lovely Bones) your good, healthy daily nutrition. There is place at your table for them all just don’t over-do it on the junkfood!

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Walkabout and Invitation to Students Exhibition

I recently conducted an artist walkabout for my Souty works which were part of the G1K1 exhibition. While in the artSPACE durban Gallery I took the opportunity to meet with, and to speak to some of my students regarding their exam work which will be installed in the same space.  Whilst sitting speaking to them I had this seriously out-of-body experience where, like a wave, the realization hit me that I was:

  • one, in a gallery which was exhibiting my work
  • two, about to conduct a lecture on this same work
  • three, mentoring students, my students, in the same gallery
  • four, giving the opening speech at my students’ exhibition
  • and five, enrolled to begin my masters

You know when you’re dreaming but you’re aware that you are? That’s what it totally felt like, and I’m like, NO, please don’t wake me!

I want to keep on dreaming!

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