Wednesday, January 25, 2012
On the Artist's Life and Finding a Voice
On the Artist’s Life and Finding a Voice
By Tom Wachunas
“Originality is a relative destination, and never only about a one-time arrival at utter newness. You get there by intention, through whatever means you choose to borrow, steal, or were imparted to you by someone else, and hard work. Always, hard work. Once there, you discover that it is a transient place, and not all that different from those you passed through along the way.” - June Godwit –
You can file this one as ‘inspired-by-but-having-nothing-necessarily-to-do-with-specific-works-at-hand.’ The works in question are those by middle and high school students from six Northeast Ohio counties, currently on view in the 58th Annual Northeast Central Ohio Scholastic Art Awards and Exhibit, hosted by Kent State University Stark.
As a rule I have very rarely “reviewed” art by students this young. It’s not because their work doesn’t warrant comment, or that they haven’t “arrived” yet, but simply because I prefer delving into the work of artists who have committed to the ‘artist’s life’ (not to be confused with livelihood), and are seriously developing a post-collegiate, maturing body of work.
This year’s Scholastic Art Exhibit comes at a time when I find myself at a daunting crossroads in my own work as a visual artist, grappling with the unsettling realization that, with just a few exceptions, I’ve been remaking the same piece for too many years. Call it taking an inventory of ideas, tools, techniques, and materials. As I seem to have outgrown my methodology, my message will hopefully remain vibrant and relevant, and continue to beckon and beguile, while I choose a different path in ‘voicing’ it. The artist’s life is indeed one of great constancy, ever attentive to creative possibilities and evolving perceptions, and acquiring the wherewithal to best articulate them. In that sense I’ll always be a ‘student’ and feel a sense of solidarity with all practicing students, no matter their age.
And so it is that as I encountered this particular exhibit, I was caught up in considerations of a more ephemeral nature beyond just formal analysis, apprehension of beauty, or comparing the efficacy of one technique or content with another. I was in fact aware of many influences and methods present in the works of these students, and thrilled – even inspired - to be in the presence of such youthful creative giftedness and skill, much of it astonishing. To witness the appearance of hearty seedlings and the stretching of wings, as it were. To savor the evidence of visual languages in the early stages of forming unique voices.
As in past installments of this annual event, there are more than a few examples of figurative paintings and drawings that appear to be made with the aid of digital photo projections or related tracing methods. I could be wrong, but in those works, the anatomical features, including challenging perspectives and foreshortening, are too startlingly precise and accurate to make me think they were executed free-hand. Often, such pieces exude more theatricality than real drama, eschewing true emotional affect in favor of spiffy special effect. I admit to favoring looser, more visceral approaches, still notably personal and inventive in their own right, and there are plenty of those here.
And in the end, for those students who will choose to continue their artistic pursuits (and many will not), it will always come down to wrestling with personal decisions, through a lifetime of crossroads, as to the best methods for letting their voices consistently soar. It’s a life lived somewhere between crazy and courageous, but always sublime.
Photos: Top – “Stretched” by Olivia Cody, Aurora High School. Bottom – “Ebony and Ellie” by Sabrina McLaughlin, Jackson High School. On view through February 2 in the 58th Annual Scholastic Art Exhibit at Kent State University Stark in the Fine Arts Building and also in the Campus Center. Viewing hours in both buildings are Mon. – Thurs. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m to 5 p.m.