Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hitting the Wall

I'll readily admit, I've been a bit of a Mr. Cranky Pants lately. I've been pretty unhappy with the state of some things at school this semester and also with my work. I was going great guns and then hit a snag, but one has to keep the head down and lean forward into the wind to make progress.  I knew there would be certain frustrations with the whole grad school process, and my love/hate--well honestly more hate or loathing towards much of Postmodernism. I am pretty unhappy with my writing and research class this semester. There is just no "click", and I know I am by far not the only student who feels this way about this class. We are studying the art world since 1960, my least favorite period in art, especially post 1980 or so. Honestly I don't think the Master Program will change my attitude toward much of the PM world, but I try to remain open to the possibility some things are bound to change on my end as a result. I wonder though if there was a better way to go about this? Throw enough rocks and eventually "they" have to admit the "human hand" has not been taken out of the equation in art. Maybe not. That doesn't mean the process as student will make me less cranky at times or not wanting to have a handful of good stones to toss at the glass houses and a good raincoat and gas mask for the tons of bullshit spewed about that is masquerading as art.

 I also needed Spring Break to catch up on work on the strip and to recharge and sleep big time! I've been reading a lot about how chronic sleep deprivation can really end up taking its tole on you, and I am the KING of sleep deprivation! For much of my art school experience I would routinely get by on 4 hours of sleep a night for most of the week, only to try and catch up on the weekends if I could. Between earning a living as a full time cartoonist/commercial artist/teacher/ student there were many weeks where I would just not get enough rest between huge expenses of energy. I am well trained at the wind sprint, and like a cellphone on low battery I learn to shut off functions ( like laundry, paying bills, taxes and yard work) to save precious battery life---or time.

My crits have gone well with my local and my visiting critics. My visiting critic this semester is Denise Green and we had a good first crit, she gave me some things to think about. I wouldn't say I "get" her art, and so I think its hard to relate to her POV sometimes. This is one of the things about the MFA program is that you might get paired with artist you have nothing in common with as critics. This might give you a real insight and a way of working along new paths---or not. There are very few painters as critics in the program who work in any way like I do, in fact none of the visiting critics do. Green said she  was impressed and a bit confused by my variety of work, the plein air to the recent work like Bravo and the figures with the wrapped heads. She felt I should abandon the still life painting and urban paintings and just do the newer work with the figures, which I don't agree with. Neither do my other critics and so you get very counter in fact very opposite feedback. I went ahead and returned to one of the themes I have been painting the last few years, my commuter series and did this painting called The Signal. I was thinking a lot about Diebenkorn and Hopper and some of the Bay Area painters while doing this piece.

                                                          The block-in for the Signal

The best thing this semester is I have Scott Noel's painting class. I also think after a while, as much as I enjoy some aspects of it, going into a classroom to have an assignment, a set-up by another teacher--even if its a "mental thing", is different than say going into the cast hall and deciding to paint. I might also be a bit burned out on painting that same classroom on the 4th floor after 5-6 years---however I do love my times talking to Noel. We share a lot and a lot of love and respect for each other and he always pushes me, something not all teachers can do after a certain point and I certainly have grown and learned the most from him as we share a lot of things, artistic lineage --even though we will forever disagree on Rockwell. Scott has this great way of holding out the carrot, the hope and then like the master hitting you with the stick as he pulls away the victory with a funny remark. He is the most encouraging teacher and at times frustrating. I also know that painting at 8:30 am after working late means I don't really get going till the end of class and start to get into the zone.
This latest painting was done last week in class and I like it 50/50. I wish I was sharper and had more time, but Scott liked it.  I suppose every painting is a combination of successes and failures, the best ones having more successes, and this one is by far no exception. 
                                                                 The Signal 22 x 22 

The best thing was that Scott came up and gave me a crit in my studio during class. It was the first time we had really looked at and talked about my work since I graduated last year from the undergrad. He laid it one the line in a way no other critic can I think because he has the most invested with me as a teacher. We have a long dialogue, 5+ years at this point. So he gave me a kick in the pants in a way I can use to move forward along the tracks--and that makes everything worth while for me. That's what the benefit of an extended dialogue with a great teacher and painter can provide.

We also had the 6th annual 4th Wall Review Panel this week at the school, which is open to MFA, Post Bacc, and CERT/BFA students. The school invites a panel of distinguished artists and curators  to review the work of the students which is  projected digital images along with written statements submitted anonymously by the MFA thesis students.The panel this year consisted of Michelle Grabner , Fionn Meade and Adam Pendelton. The review ends with the selection of three artists that the panel determines are most competitive for grants, residencies, exhibitions, teaching positions, and other professional opportunities. The event provides the students the chance to see behind the curtain and gain a better understanding of the criteria and selection processes that often takes place behind closed doors. It was the first one I attended and I honestly have to say while I think it's a great thing that the school does it, I felt it predictable in every way in how the three judges chose the winning work. There was a lot of work to look at as there was work from 53 second year MFA students. I am happy for my fellow students that they do this, but at times it was a laughable and infuriating event and re-enforced my dislike for much of the modern art world. I knew if I liked it, the judges wouldn't, and if i thought the work was crap, they'd love it! Some of the reasons given to reject a work seemed like something you'd read on the Onion or a skit on SNL Sprockets. 

There were three rounds of eliminations, from 53 to over 30 and then down to the final three winners. I stayed for the first and most of the second before I had had enough. During the review the panelist made comments like, "Animation is charming and attractive, that's one of the problems with it."A quote from I believe by Pendelton about the animated pieces.

Another critic, "oddly enough I don't know what I'm looking at, but that doesn't bother me". Some other comments that I tweated about as I heard them were, " Arms length abstraction, Constellations of paintings" and "Looks like French Cinema" and the best, work being rejected by a painter for having an " uninteresting point of control". The panelist rejected some work for the exact reasons they liked other work and I found the review extremely inconsistent in that manner.  I'll have my chance next year to do the 4th Wall, but if I had my chance today I'd pass because I don't plan on shooting for any of the orbits these panelists work in. If anything it has convinced me even more to stay on course for the orbit in the art world I have always wanted to be in, narrative, figurative and in control. 
  The Belvedere Torrso 9 x 12 Oil

I enjoyed  the Coffee, Conversation & Drawing in the Cast Hall  hosted by the PAFA Alumni this last Thursday which was run by Nancy B Miller . Lots of former and not so former ( like me) PAFA alumni showed up to chat and draw and paint. I got to spend a good time painting this quick painting of the Belvedere Torso and talk with David Shavlino and Garth Herrick. After much of this week, painting that cast was like a healing salve.


Fred Pittsburgh said...

Mike- I know exactly where you are coming from...there is something completly artificial about much of what MFA "program" celebrate...
I don't mind different points of view- in fact enjoy them, except when they feel they have to belittle those of us who love nature and light and form and color and actually knowing how to paint!
More power to you!!!

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Hey Mr. Cranky Pants, it was greatto have yo u at the Cast Hall Alumni much fun! Like a restorative balm.
I understand some of your frustration with the Critical Reading seminars...but I truly do feel like having to confront my own prejudices and tastes in art through focus of this class has forced my mind wider open and really helped me to understand the contemporary dialogue. I don't have to love it, but now I understand it better. I actually think that's the whole point.They just want you to have a deeper understanding of this art world you are inhabiting, even if you are over in one particular area of it, there's a lot out there and they want you to know about it. Just my two cents! Hang in there Mr. C.P! ;-)

Nancy Bea Miller said...

BTW, this year's 4th Wall outcome did sound fairly predictable (meaning no offense to anyone) but did you see last year's? One of the two winners was a complete dark horse, a representational oil painter who had never been thought all that much of in the course of the program (at least IMHO) and who came from far far behind to share the crown of glory! It was amazing.

lennard grahn said...

Good luck with your class. I had many years of postmodern art school and I ended up thinking that comic books was where the "real"artists had moved since what I saw in contemporary galleries and museums seemed like careerist philosophy students trying to out-clever eachother. But that's what the art world likes.