Ten years ago, art vocabulary, theory, and history seemed so fresh and new that I saw no alternative but to act like a sponge and learn anything and everything. I still gobble new ideas, but notice that I consistently hunger to relate these concepts to a preexisting project, a series, or an overall goal.
This shift in my thinking even affects how I approach the books I read. Consider the section in Susan Stewart’s On Longing about collections and souvenirs. She explains in detail how a completed collection is a valuable display piece, an investment, a trophy, or an attestation of the collector’s identity and values.
I notice that these descriptions of collections could also be used for artwork in series. As Stewart puts it, “in writings on collecting, one constantly finds discussion of the collection as a mode of knowledge…one might say inversely that the liberal arts education characteristic of the leisure classes is in itself a mode of collection” (161). The collection has a value of its own, but its primary relevance is its effect on or expression of the collector.
Stewart explains this relationship of the collector to their collection by pointing out that “when one wants to disparage the souvenir, one says it is not authentic; when one wants to disparage the collected object, one says ‘it is not you’” (159). A parallel between this observation and studio art could be that to disparage technique or form is to say it is not correct, but to denigrate its status as art is to say it seems insincere or thoughtless in relationship to the artist.
There is a thrill of possibility and danger that the artist can enjoy while planning and creating a body of work. The concept of discipline does not only signify a work ethic. It is often easy to discern between procrastination and accomplishment. Discipline relates to thornier issues as well. What is more difficult is when intuition suggests an alteration to the plan while discipline suggests avoiding such digressions. Just how much structure is necessary to build a product of value and interest to viewers, and how much spontaneity is a natural part of viewing art-making as a learning experience (which happens to produce objects).
The polyptychs are part of my growing tendency to think of groups of images or objects on a theme rather than singular experiments. This plurality within and between the objects follows the patterns of series and collection just mentioned.
A few of this year’s projects were directly influenced by Susan Stewart’s observations about collections. Correspondence art has the potential for collectibility. Even the unsentimental among us usually have at least a few letters deemed too precious to destroy.
I tried at various times to come up with a way to put my clay coins into some sort of circulation. The concept of fiat currency is certainly relevant to bitcoins and the continuing economic unpleasantness. What my failed attempts to disseminate these coins (through trade or giveaways) proved was that my real interest lies less in the dynamics of exchanging coins than the symbolism of the coin designs, their group and individual histories, the many ways to design or create them, and the aura of a coin collection.
The wax seals were a different matter. Yes, they have their own worth as art objects, but they are simultaneously useful and completely archaic. Here are a few historical examples. The Art of Manliness blog gives some interesting background, and my experiments in sending wax seals through the USPS had a similar and surprising success rate. I manufactured all my seals with polymer clay, but I want to try this wooden dowel approach. I don’t wear rings, so that approach to sigil matrixes doesn’t appeal to me, but the way this engraved cube allows a choice between different designs is an interesting twist on the tradition.
I still strongly identify as a painter, but these little experiments have been extremely helpful. They relate to and support the historical preoccupation and literary flavor of the paintings. It is ironic to me that the paintings, the coins, and the wax seals are so plainly part of the same collection (despite their eclecticism).