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Partners, Part 1: Brainstorming
What I Make Isn't What I Like
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Penguins and Top Hats: Interview with Chris Malidore
What I Make Isn't What I LikeWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
I like my art.
My art is not the kind of art I like.
Before you start wondering if Eccentric Aunt Ursula has finally crossed the line into Crazy Aunt Ursula, and will shortly be chopping up the neighborhood children to feed her roses,* let me attempt to explain this dichotomy.
I don't dislike my art. Actually I rather like it. There's a tendency in artists to say "I hate my art!" -- artistic insecurity is legendary, and moreover, there's a nasty school of thought that says that the moment you feel even remotely satisfied with a painting, anywhere, ever, you have Begun To Stagnate and should nip off and shoot yourself for the good of artkind.
It's not that. I have my occasional moments of shaky self-esteem, sure, but mostly I am as insecure as a steel bear trap, and I have always felt that if you really passionately truly hate your art, you'd probably be better off doing something you don't hate, like animal rescue or accounting, because why torment yourself? And there are paintings of mine that I like very well, and am quite proud of, and will pull out if I'm feeling low and go "No matter what else happens, goddamnit, I painted THIS."
Sure, I hate individual paintings -- often while working on them -- when they are stubbornly not doing what I want them to (or worse yet, they're doing exactly what I want them to, and what I want is apparently crap) but for the most part, I am not unhappy with my art.
The art that I like, though, the stuff I'd live with and hang on the wall and enjoy seeing when I am staring bleary-eyed around the kitchen waiting for the tea to brew -- that looks nothing even remotely like my art. My apartment back in the day was hung with abstracts and Balinese masks and black-and-white photography. My home at the moment, which I share with my boyfriend, is more of the same, except that his collection is mixed in. (There are two of mine that he insists on hanging, one of which I quite like -- I got the grin on the ground squirrel just right -- and one which I hate and gave to him when we were first dating and he came over just as the painting had failed me for the last time. "Whoa, that's awesome!" "You like it? It's yours." "What? Really? I couldn't --" "GET IT OUT OF MY SIGHT." "Woohoo!" He hung it over the back of the guest toilet so that I don't have to look at it. I still hate it, though. Stupid malformed frog.)
This doesn't mean that I don't like art that looks like mine -- far from it! I have a number of friends who do lovely fantasy realism of one sort or another, and I have many of their prints, and I keep them in boxes and drawers and look through them occasionally and enjoy them very much... but it's not the kind of art I generally want to live with. Sometimes I'll hang them in random corners and enjoy, but it's never something I'd stop in a gallery and buy.
Left to my own devices, what I hang looks nothing like my art, or most of my compatriots' art, or the vast majority of what one finds at a convention art show. (Every now and then I do locate one or two, and then I usually get into a bidding war on it…with other artists.) I am drawn to bright colors, semi-abstract renderings, often of animals. I like random materials, particularly metal and ceramic. (One of the few examples of my own art on the wall is at a remove -- a fan with some fancy metal-cutting machinery did a steel stencil of my Red Wombat logo, which I love for its sheer industrial oddity.) When I do hang realistic art, it's often by my mother, who does very surreal bits of realism with sheep descending staircases that go nowhere in particular, and whose palettes have been growing more and more vivid over time.
And I am growing more and more enamored of the third dimension, of sculptures that sit on the wall. Heck, I'd buy more sculpture that sat on the floor, but there's too many cats and children in the house at the moment, to say nothing of the incontinent beagle.
Now, what I find myself wondering is whether I like this art because it's nothing like mine, or is this actually the direction I want my art to go? Should I be trying to paint more like the giant multicolored jackrabbit in the kitchen (which I bought on a whim, couldn't fit in the car, and which ultimately involved two days, a lot of bungee cords and the boyfriend's convertible.) or if I did paint like that, would I find myself pulling down the paintings and putting up WWII Soviet recruiting posters?**
Is this some voice I should be listening to for the future, or do I simply need to live with art that looks nothing like my own?
I wonder about the former, but I suspect the latter. Both make a certain sort of sense. Surround yourself with work that looks like yours and you get into a kind of echo chamber, or you start going "I would have done that piece there differently..." but at the same time, if you're not making the kind of art you like, why the hell not? What are you doing?
Maybe the thing I like most about art is the surprise of it, the chance to look at it and see things I didn't put there.
Maybe tomorrow I'll start painting giant multicolored jackrabbits.
*Obviously this will never happen. Roses are much too fiddly a plant to be bothered with, as far as I'm concerned -- I like other people's, but I'll stick to things that don't play pest bingo.
**If you've never had a chance to peruse some these, the graphic design is amazing.
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