I spent the weekend away in Chicago to kick off “Spring Break” to evaluate how my work is progressing and how it correlates with my research. In about 5 weeks, my 1st year peers and I will be reviewed for MFA candidacy. Are we prepared to enter year 2 and prepare for graduation/professional careers?
This mid-term review involves presenting a cohesive body of work, an artist statement, and process book to a committee. In my mind, it’s an opportunity to hone in on what really matters in my art practice and reevaluate my methodologies, solidify pertinent influences, and place myself in the contemporary art world. Additionally, we have a major research paper due at the end of the semester that can effectively prepare us for the review.
As I take this week to reflect, work, and read, here are a few things that have been occupying my thoughts:
+ In an attempt to find an artist working with sexual identity that made sense in the context of my work, I wrote my mid-term essay on the invisible nature of sexual violence and Tracey Emin. Sitting down to spend some time with Emin lit a fire that was out; I was numb. The raw nature of her imagery, interviews, and performances made me feel exposed, overwhelmed, and ashamed.
In this same time frame, I also participated in a Break the Silence event, where I volunteered and ran an art table. In hearing other survivors tell their stories, I built up the confidence to tell my story, and for the first time since I was assaulted, I allowed myself to grieve publicly. To hear the words, “I believe you”, helped dissolve some of layers of guilt and revealed patterns of self-deprecation. I was able to face Emin’s drawings.
+ Learning more about participatory art and its criticisms made visible the wall I had built between myself and my audience through instruction and interaction in order to protect my own vulnerability. I felt a disconnect in my visual language that prevented me from reaching my viewer. So, I had made the decision to focus on painting this semester, specifically to think about abstraction. The result for my first critique were 8 shaped paintings, yet the disconnect remained.
+ Abstraction, primarily through a mixed media approach (oil paint, pencil, chalk, etc), has been the most logical way for me to communicate in the last 5 years. That nature, however, was really a disguise for coping and putting pieces back together; it is not yet a language that urges people to act or possibly even react. I know a lot of people would say that my paintings are not necessarily passive, but the spectrum of emotion in them is subdued, put out, silenced. This is a reflection of the cultural climate in which I operate as a rape survivor.
+ In my first critique of this semester a couple weeks ago, my critique teacher made a point to tell me that other artists use their trauma as a way to avoid criticism of their art work. Although this was general advice and not a targeted, personal attack, I continue reading more under the surface:
“Your vulnerability and experience makes us uncomfortable, so choose your language carefully as to not seem defensive or overly upset.”
In reality, this is something I am painfully familiar with; continually feeling uncomfortable in order to make others feel comfortable. I don’t mean this in a conformity aspect of how we should act in a critique or institutional setting, I am referring to masking mental illness, to the discomfort of operating in a skin that feels owned by others, to suppressing a level of anger and sadness that does not go away with time, only through coping mechanisms.
+ So, is abstraction an effective way to communicate this discomfort and the full range of my experience? I am no longer as convinced (at least through painting) in terms of an authentic reflection of myself. Unfortunately, I see complacency and comfort in painting that is limiting my practice, at least right now.