Making Art For People

Amongst all my bitching and moaning about the difficulties of securing the future of my short stint in the middle class through academia, I have still paid at least some lip service to looking for good art.  Albeit, yeah, that it’s mostly looking for images of good art on the internet.

The things I’ve found and the reality that my own studio practice is only living via the tubes and machines it’s hooked up to, so to speak, has me wondering, “how do you make art for people?” (and who the hell wants to see it anyway?)  So on and so on with the trope of “making art for yourself”. Making art that you like is fulfilling, period. If art doesn’t communicate and serve some viewer, it’s masturbatory.

Let me illustrate:
Kenji Fujita & Nancy Shaver - Untitled Collaboration
Kenji Fujita & Nancy Shaver – Untitled Collaboration

Glommed from Anaba, a collaborative installation, some hybrid of an office tower and a sailboat, on wheels, made from cardboard and bricks or something. (Way to transcend materials…) This, in a space where almost no one will see it. It raises one question: if it’s a collaboration, is it still masturbation?

I also found this:

“Graffiti” from around the world

I collected these images into one file from those that I found at Placebokatz.

OK, so as a model, these things won’t solve my other problem of securing an income.  But how different are these from the cardboard cut-outs above?  I enjoy the curiosity and very different elements of humanity in each one. I also enjoy wondering what each says about the place it’s in, in it’s own way. Places to live, cultures revealing themselves, artists sharing their visions…

Contrast with this:
Odili Doanld Odita - Equalizer
Odili Doanld Odita – Equalizer

These images via Artblog. I’ll quote, “Odili states that Equalizer represents the displacement of Africans to the United States and their life as African-Americans.”

Um, what? Unlike the first example, I’m visually attracted to these. I’d like to see them. The wall on the bottom right reminds me of large scale works by Francis Picabia. The red wall must be optically compelling in person. But, but… whatever means connects these abstractions with “the displacement of Africans” must be so esoteric or so abstruse as to not really exist. We can read a statement, or maybe be lucky enough to talk to the artist – and then learn things that allow us to bring his own thoughts to our understanding of his work. However, my suspicion is that almost all people will bring individual experiences to this work that will lead us to find something entirely different than what the artist intended. We may enjoy it – in this case though, Odita’s art is not for other people, but remains mostly within himself.

Finally, compare to this:
Roger Shimomura - Minidoka on my Mind
Roger Shimomura – Minidoka on my Mind

This from We Make Money Not Art.

So, I’ve been a fan of Shimomura’s work for some time.  I find this painting to be visually attractive, intelligent, broadly informed, a pointed commentary, and easily understandable all at the same time.  For me, that’s a recipe for good art.  All people in this country should know about WWII internment camps in the U.S.  Most art-going audiences should also be somewhat familiar with the forms and spacial constructions of Japanese painted screens.  Everyone should also be able to conjure up some reference through the title to Ray Charles, if not also Hank Williams.  All that and a fresh, biographically informed perspective on a controversial yet often forgotten chapter in American History.

Alas, just to get out and participate in these things beyond the internet.

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The End of Teaching Art?

Well, for me anyway…

I haven’t written anything here in over a month, because: In that time I’ve made 3 round trips from here (east coast) to California and spent a week in Japan. That time involved finishing a semester, beginning a (luckily enrolled) summer term, 4 interviews, and a vacation.

I currently have no prospects for my own future. While once hopeful about the “scholarship” support and engagement with art discourses academia seemed to offer, I find myself discouraged, bitter, and cynical.

Above all things, having barely strung along successive academic employments, my experience as a post-secondary art teacher has proved to be the single largest obstacle to my career as an artist. Ironically, my inattention to my art is one of the biggest obstacles to getting into a position that will support those efforts. The past few years have gone something like this:

1. Spend January-May applying and interviewing for jobs. Have no time for art.
2. Spend June re-starting my studio work. Re-starting is slow.
3. Spend July packing same studio + home and moving in August.
4. Spend August – October preparing & developing new classes and acclimating to new environment.
5. Spend Xmas break remembering the art I almost made in June and living the life of a real artist.
6. Realize this Xmas break is the last chance I have to develop new work for the upcoming application season, part of which I’ve already missed.
7. Go to step 1, repeat 3 times.

Blah. So, I went and interviewed on campuses, right? Sounds hopeful – but only from the outside:

1. On a Monday I flew to San Jose to interview at private 4-year U (3-year lecturer gig). But, 4-YrU has someone already in said position… The night I arrive, dinner with dept. chair, chair reveals that this is not a “rotating” position and could be renewed indefinitely. Hmm, bad… Morning of interview – dept. office has current guy penciled into clearly visible calendar for an interview the week before. I.e. job is not actually open. I’ve wasted my time preparing for nothing, the university is required to force guy#1 to reapply for job they want him to have and to interview people they will not hire. I gave it my best anyway.
2. The following Friday I interview at Regional Comm. College, a (long) commutable distance from my home. I believe I do well. RegCC does not hire me. I find out this week that the hiring was canceled. Eek, budget woes I assume. They ask me if I’m interested in adjunct work. I might do it, it seems good there. But, said part-time work typically pays 25-30% of the full-time work I interviewed for, and without benefits.
3. The next Tuesday came, and I interviewed near Mid-Size California City at Area Community College. Said college is beautiful and new. Hiring process is formal and does not include one moment of the college trying to make me want the job (only me selling myself to them). Hiring is a two-way street, I interpret their non-acknowledgment here as a negative. I return on a red-eye flight to teach my class. College calls the day after the interview to invite me to meet the president. I’m in no position to say no.
3. Four days later I leave for one week in Japan.
4. I return from Japan at 10:00pm. The following day I go to my office, confirm summer enrollment, borrow laptop, go home, pack, and fly back to Mid-size California City at 5:00pm. Meet Pres. & VP. at 9:30 am. Things are OK, but I leave with no sense of where the school is going or if they’re interested in what I can offer. No tour – don’t see art classrooms, don’t meet other art faculty. Receive short tour of secondary campus for only real human to human contact during the process. But, alas, this one position that actually exists does not hire me. I don’t know why, I don’t know why not. The kicker, they only reimburse a max of $250/trip. For 2 trips, I spent around $1,200 traveling. And, a vacation it wasn’t.

Well, at least the cycle I mentioned before has broken – just not the way I wanted it to. I’m left with 3 open possibilities for adjunct work in my region. I could take them, hope my little ol’ Kia can manage the travel and work twice as hard as I do now for less than half of my salary (and hope to god I don’t accidentally stumble into a doctor’s office). But, what would you do if your boss said, “Hey, great job here. But, sorry, but, well, even though we need you and like you, we’re not going to pay you any more. How would you like to come back for 1/3 of your salary?” I could make more money managing a Burger King.

My current college has faculty comprised of 78% adjuncts. Faced with that trend… I’m faced with changing professions. It’s not like the “No Child Left Behind” generation is fun to teach anyway. They’re dumb. Really, they lack basic learning skills. My job is one in which I give, because the students need a lot. My reward is my pay. Or, it was my pay. If academic employers don’t value faculty, and they don’t want to pay us, and the students don’t want to learn…