I am an artist: a sculptor. It’s a recently discovered and self-proclaimed title but I am going to go ahead and say I am not too bad at it. For the majority of Dartmouth students who will graduate without having experienced an art class here, the process behind such classes must seem rather bizarre and enigmatic.
A typical ‘crit’ (short for critique) includes viewer-to-artist questions mostly about the artist’s grand intention (as if there always is one) and the significance of the remotest details. Viewer-to-artist remarks usually start positive and end with a criticism and an artistic suggestion; the artist’s response, or more properly defense, begins with some type of humble-brag about the lofty (or perhaps nuanced) goals of the piece, an admission of some sort of failure and an earnest promise to go back and continue working on the piece, allowing the artistic process to run its proverbial course.
A small crowd made up of half ‘alternative’ Dartmouth students, and half “I needed a third class” Dartmouth students spend some class time painting, the rest looking at the paintings as a group: all saying something about what they like about that piece and what ticks them off aesthetically , everyone taking each others remarks absolutely seriously.
Or maybe everyone only feigns seriousness, as I often do. Sophomore summer, at the end of a particularly insufferable day of ‘critting’ I couldn’t help but let out a loud, brisk, rather demented laugh in class when someone waxed philosophic about using curves to render young, ripe women. Sometimes existential bullshit is just hard to take.
So how about, for once, an honest crit. First of all, for me, creating a sculpture is selfish and its roots usually find a home in what I’ll call the darker places of my mind. It’s a form of self-therapy, because mostly I am broke, and if I end up as a real artist I will most likely be broker. So I sculpt my problems away. It makes me feel like those darker experiences were necessary, meaningful even, if they serve as my inspiration. Kind of like Kevin Carter photographing that Sudanese dying baby girl eyed by a vulture.
Or you can also read it as a huge self-call on all the things I survived through, while you wonder about what that dark wax covered plaster penis in the bruise-holed collarbone means. It does mean things, but I’m so meta I abstract it like it makes sense; so it’s on you if you don’t get me. When I sculpt it reflects on my superficial understanding of my life and human suffering, my choice to not get help and call it art, my poor economic state, and how strong the US dollar is against the Turkish Lira.
It might seem to you that what I’ve said before implies an abundance of context–however unreal and unhealthy- behind my work. But see, really most of my work is done that morning before my 2A. My final work for my last art class was put together in one night. Sure the saying “it’s not the size it’s what you do with it”, applies to time periods as well. But no one can deny—least of all me—that when my 2 hour, stress-motivated, pulled-out-of-my-ass-so-i-don’t-fail-this-class stockings dipped in beeswax is admired more than this guys’ intricate metal beast, there is something rather not-okay about the whole situation. Work ethic has never been my forte and I don’t have healthy relationships with deadlines. However, I am able to not only survive my art classes, but survive them in good academic standing. When it comes to creating, talent and art knowledge are advantages, but a phallus or something unexpected coming out at you can take you most of the way there. Commendable characteristic traits such as being hard working and responsible fall secondary. Mental stability can be a serious drawback. I am talented, but perhaps more importantly I can talk for hours about a piece that broke off my original sculpture, which fell apart that very morning. I am also crazy and that makes me credible somehow. Jackson Pollock is my favorite…
That actually happened by the way. The one time I really worked like crazy on this one piece and went home night after night post-3 am, it got knocked over before my class. Shattered to pieces. I presented the biggest piece that broke off and survived, and talked about suspense. My professor loved it. My class critiqued it for too long. I nodded at their artistic inferences like I intended it all, and expanded on what they fed me. I deceived everyone in the class and I enjoyed it unabashedly.
I feel that such was the case because we are thought to intend everything in art, and take in art as completely intended in every way. Never doubt the artist’s intentionality. This includes an array of things from glue-gun strings to all abstract forms, and choices of materials. Here is another truth about my art. I have never ever, once in my life made what I planned or sketched to make. It just doesn’t happen. Some of it has to do with material or logistical limitations and such, but really mostly I make something, get bored and stop liking it so I bash it, add things that are randomly around me. I let myself bask in aesthetic pleasure of random things by playing with pieces, or what’s in my immediate vicinity. I build things unintentionally without any forethought, just relying on some sort of tactile impulse. Words are added on top, as icing after the whole process, so that I can somehow explain why the piece is so appealing. This does not mean the words aren’t always real; actually quite the opposite is true for me. Often I feel these finishing touches are the most intentional part of the art process, not the actual piece itself. I sometimes want to say things like “Orange acrylic was probably just lying around under Rothko’s hand, let him be!” but I would probably be slapped by an art history major.
On that note, I feel that the biggest reason why the whole creation-critique process feels rather like a sham is because really once you are done with your pieces and you are not around it, none of that matters at all. Your piece is stripped from you, your intention, character, motivation and process; it becomes the viewers. This is both a curse and a blessing. A curse because, usually for years to come after you die and your art survives you, people speculate on what you meant, how the piece relates to you, and what you intended; they write articles and have trans-atlantic scholarly debates about why your church’s façade is wavy, whether it has to do with your mental instability or not.
But a blessing too, because all of the above.