Thursday, March 26, 2009

Field Trippin' - Bear Gallery

“I am among the few who continue to draw after childhood is ended, continuing and perfecting childhood drawing – without the traditional interruption of academic training.” - Saul Steinberg

Today the art posse rode over to the cultural epicenter of our town; the Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts located in Pioneer Park (or, if you've been a resident for long enough; "Alaskaland"). This is the home-base for the Fairbanks Arts Association:

"Incorporated in 1966, the Fairbanks Arts Association is the oldest community arts council in the state and the official arts organization for both the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the City of Fairbanks.
FAA is a provider of service, information and technical support to local artists, arts organizations and their audiences. When we can't help, we find a person or organization that can. Hundreds of dedicated volunteers serve on the committees and help to steer the course of quality programming in Performing, Literary, Visual, Cinema and Educational arts.
Fairbanks Arts Association remains steadfast in its commitment to encourage and advocate arts awareness and development in Interior Alaska; to coordinate with and assist in the promotional development of other arts organizations; to encourage and develop educational programs designed to strengthen and improve the overall climate for the arts; to stimulate and facilitate professional and amateur performances and exhibits; to inform the community of arts activities; to enhance quality and promote balance in the arts."
I use this particular field-trip to introduce the F.A.A. and stress the importance of supporting and volunteering for this and other non-profits that are involved in the arts no matter what community you live in. I also discuss the selection process for getting a show of your own, or submitting pieces to the handful of juried exhibits that are hosted by this gallery each year.And as it happens, the same exhibit I co-curated last month is still on display; "Up With Art."
Then we have an in-class exercise where each student is to do a one-page vignette using a handout list of "Six Word Stories" as a starting point + incorporating imagery inspired by the works in the current show.This is not to say "copying" them per say, more of a jumping-off-point/point of departure. Remixing to the extent the originating piece is no longer possible to recognize is the preferred route, but there is room for incorporating specific pieces as long as due credit is given - included here are a couple examples of pages I've done that recast artworks by some particular favorite local artists into a narrative, this is arguably a completely different medium and form of expression that everyone I've assimilated has been either pleasantly surprised if not delighted and flattered to find their pieces incorporated into one of my vignettes. These and other fine points on the topic of appropriation are presented and discussed (much along the same vein as our previous talk on copyrights). The list of captions is wonderfully cryptic, and ambiguous enough to encompass virtually any possible accompanying illustration. Here's a short example:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn” - Ernest Hemminway
Well, my work here is done.
I wish I hadn’t been caught.
The world ended, but I survived.
Where have I seen this before?
Like this never happened to you.
Hold my beer and watch this.
The beginning, the middle, the end.
Here’s my story, now it’s done.
It will never be the same.
This story’s just six words long.
There’s so much left to say.

There isn't a better show all year to see a veritable wealth of inspiration on display; wide-ranging subject matters and completely random imagery is all ripe for the picking. I challenge everyone to see just how far they can push their own interpretations, and see to what effect juxtaposing them against the text can have. This is actually when a few students start to clench their death-grip on logic by insisting these pieces "make sense." It's a hard leap of artistic faith to make for many folks, and it takes some coaxing and encouragement to just do it anyways, even if it doesn't make any sense personally, at least at first.
To this end I placate them by doing a quick demo using some arbitrarily sampled poem from the gallery bookstore, or in today's case, several of the "6 Word Stories" woven together (I'll scan in & polish the demo off and post it over the weekend). I show how to go about editing the selected verbage; pacing the piece out using beats, different sized panels, dialogue box placement etc. plus penciling and inking. So this is essentially a warm-up; these one-page vignettes can even be ultimate used as a bridge into each respective student's 3-page critique piece, incorporated, expanded upon or otherwise reworked. The familiar routine of rough sketches evolving into more definitive lines with pencil on a sheet of Bristol is walked through - and I leave it at that point, strongly suggesting that they use this page over the weekend as a jump-start on inking in a third of their critique piece. At the very least it will serve as a nice experiment before tackling the larger work due for their critique. Also this is "white trash style" - non-archival materials (Sharpies + ballpoint pens) which will go a long way towards getting into the process of creating these particular works.

This was a pretty sizable amount of material to dump on the class on Tuesday: actually an overwhelming avalanche at this point of the semester. But I take great pains to explain there will be methodical steps taken over several weeks of developing these pieces, with multiple checkpoints along the way. In fact, the next assignment (which was also unloaded on them during Tuesday's class), which is the focus of next week's two field trips, are designed to be precursors that can also be incorporated into the 3-page piece, along with much, if not most of the material already harvested over the course of this semester. In essence, they already possess the raw imagery to complete this task - it's just a matter of putting all the pieces into place, along with using pen & ink. The weekend's homework is to finish today's practice page, plus rough out in their sketchbooks the three pages of the critique vignette - panel boxes + text only, not worrying about the images quite yet. The completed pencils aren't due for a couple weeks, but it is prudent to start priming their creative engines as soon as possible, especially with a project of this scope and complexity.

And finally, it's also part of my over-arcing master plan to bail out as much as possible on the drawing room and art department and campus in general. Taking what we've learned in class and hitting the creative road is what it's all about now; going places and seeing things to draw inspiration from (as opposed to doing the same while in trance on the couch or at the cafe), and incorporating these experiences and observations into our works.

“I think I feel a little differently than other people do. For some reason I've never felt grown up. “ - William Steig

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