01.17.17 Studio 2, Journal 1 – Introduction

We introduced ourselves to Josh and let him introduce himself to us.


Susan discussed her role. Her primary focus is offering support and guidance to aspiring artists. She is doing her dissertation on something called “Radical Pedagogy.” It is a student-focused method of teaching where students and teachers work together to find the answers. I understand that. I relate to it. I think that in the Art world, it is likely the best method of teaching. That is exactly what we need in this program. I wish I could say that it was the best method of teaching all the time but it depends on access to our innate desire to learn and grow. The problem comes in when society begins to create obstacles that block that desire. It’s easy to assume that if we simply remove those obstacles, people will respond, but sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes the damage is done. Sometimes the damage is so deep that people don’t ever fully recover. We need a system-wide change. We need “radical pedagogy” from the very beginning, as an expectation so that we grow up knowing that we are responsible for our own learning.


Susan told us that she keeps a Moleskin Sketchbook each semester. She gives it a name. This one is “Sally Forth.” The name came from a TV show she was watching. She writes a quote in the beginning. This one has a quote from Theaster Gates.

Theaster Gates Quote: “Some kind of work simply needs to happen. There are things, whether…” I didn’t write down the whole quote because I thought I could just look it up later, but I can’t find it. The quote goes on to talk about the need to create art. If I am honest, the quote did not motivate me all that much, but I did understand why it would motivate. I did find research about Theaster Gates. I like him. He is an optimist which I approve of.

I am often frustrated by “socially conscious” art. Too often I find myself thinking that the work is whiney, or focused on something insignificant or simply ineffective. I didn’t feel that way about what I saw of Theaster Gates. I like what he is doing.

Bomb, Artists in Conversation: Theaster Gates by Tom McDonough

PBS News Hour: Artist Theaster Gates turns Chicago’s Empty Spaces into Incubators for Culture

Ted Talk: How to Revive a Neighborhood with Imagination, Beauty and Art (Theaster Gates)

In the Ted Talk, he mentions inheriting his fathers “tar kettle.” I wonder if he is romanticizing? Not that it matters, I am just curious. I know that truth is not always a literal thing. The spirit of the truth is what is powerful. Elevating work to art is important. It speaks to things I have said in my own moral and social constructions of the world. Work should be art. It should not be punitive. It should be a way of contributing something to the world. The value of it is in the act of contributing not its monetary worth. I feel myself getting ready to make a characteristic rant about “worth.” I hate the way we define it… but I am going to move on.

Gates also talks about his neighborhood and building his studio and house. I love the way he laughed when telling the story. It’s a happy story. I also love that he cares about the aesthetics of a thing. He talks about the importance of making something beautiful. I agree. I like things to be beautiful. I think that if we have the option to make everyday objects beautiful, we should. I will always choose the shiny yellow thing over the dull brown, because the shiny yellow thing is happy and dull and brown isn’t (my bias is that yellow is my favorite color by a significant margin). I think that he is right again about creativity, beauty, imagination inspiring community and social consciousness. That is why I don’t find him annoying. I think his work really speaks to the root of our social problems. We lack inspiration. He says that beauty is a public service, and I think this is true.

He mentioned zoning laws. This is another subject near and dear to my heart. I hate the idea that we are required to work in the working spots and live in the living spots. I know it is convenient, but I am not sure that it is healthy. I think our societal need to separate “life” and “work” is one of the many things that promotes the idea that “work” must be our first priority in everything. I don’t think it should. There is no need for it to be. We don’t live a subsistence lifestyle. We don’t need to. We have enough resources to focus on more. Don’t people realize, we are what we are because society was successful and success was defined by the ability to move beyond subsistence living so that people were free to think about more things. Our goal is no longer subsistence and so instead of embracing learning and growth, we have embraced an artificial reproduction of subsistence. That is absurd! It is just a way of concentrating power when it does not need to be. I don’t care if it is man’s nature. We are smarter than that. We have elevated ourselves beyond our “natures” in other areas, we can do it in this too.

He moves on to talk about preserving history for the sake of preserving identity. I am not so sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I think identity is important. I know how that works. One of the first things people in Alabama might ask you is “who are your people.” I get it. I even approve of it. I like to see how I fit into the history that made me. But… I also worry about this kind of thinking. It has a way of preserving the bad with the good. It can inhibit social mobility. It also keeps people focused on negative aspects of history so that they don’t move on. Which is still a complex idea, because there is a need to recognize the bad things that have happened. No one should forget the Civil Rights movement. Its triumphs and its defeats are important. But… sometimes I think we hold on so hard to the past that we do not move forward with the future. I am not sure how we fix that. I don’t know if I am even competent to have an opinion on it.

He talks about the need to work in neighborhoods that are traditionally difficult and dangerous. This is true. When I was young, I lived in some pretty rough neighborhoods. It was a culture shock to me. I didn’t come from that kind of life and I had no experience with it. I found that the fear and the hype simply were not true. Sure, bad things happened. I once found a prostitute fucking in my bushes. Another time a drunk guy was passed out in my yard, wearing just his boxers. I woke him up with a shotgun in the belly and he was pleased to sober up and move on. After that, I became a bit of a legend in the neighborhood for a while. It was really kind of funny. I had been an outsider. Then suddenly I wasn’t anymore. I didn’t fit in, but I was “in.” These kinds of places do have a “pulse.” They have energy and continuity that run underneath the violence and the crime. It can be accessed if we have the empathy to try.


We also talked about finding connections between our projects so that we can develop a vocabulary that describes the unity in our works.

We did an activity with keys. We each described our keys and the class looked for words and ideas that were conveyed by our descriptions.

Susan said that we would periodically evaluate projects from artists outside the class. I like this idea (as long as it isn’t excessive) because I think it’s good to be able to criticize intelligently without fear of hurting anyone’s feelings.

As a side note: I do think we should be honest with each other but I don’t think honest is the same as mean. It is possible to be critical without being an ass.


She showed us Paul Ramirez Jonas’ “Key to the City Project.” We didn’t have a lot of information to evaluate it. I said that I felt like it used a lot of resources to make a point that didn’t feel very important to me. This brings up a question from last semester.

Do the results need to reflect the resources? I am still divided on this idea. Yes, to some extent I think that is how we evaluate “good” art. I know I am not a great painter. I simply don’t have the technical skills to be great. I spend a long long time to accomplish what is probably, at best, “average” work. I know this. It was rather difficult to show my paintings last semester because I didn’t like presenting them as if I thought they were truly good. I initially intended to focus only on the data of the project. If I had planned to display them in the beginning, I likely would not have done the project.

Even if I had not shown the paintings, I would still have done them. The worth of the painting is not diminished for me. I don’t care how long it takes me. I don’t mind if the paintings are not great. I simply enjoy the process. I enjoy making them and I enjoy the challenge of trying to do better each time. I don’t need them to be “great.” That is not their purpose. So are they worth the resources? They are to me. The issue is, that I don’t think they are worth it to other people.

I don’t know where that leaves my thinking. It makes the question about the nature and purpose of art. So…. I dunno.


We talked about the syllabus. I am somewhat less than thrilled with it. I want Studio class to focus on my work and my colleagues work. I don’t want to digress. I don’t want to listen to Nate talk about Intermedial practices. I don’t even want to hear Genes talk about whatever it is he is talking about. I am even iffy about critiquing other artists work. It isn’t because I don’t think these things are valuable. I absolutely do. I want to learn that but not as much as I want to learn to hone my own skills. I thought Studio class was the class devoted to our work.

Last semester I spent the first 1/3 of the semester trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. We wasted a ton of class time talking about studio plans in a way that was profoundly unhelpful. Then I spent the next 1/3 doing stuff. Then I got sick. Then I spent the last bit of class catching up and prepping to present. Overall, I think I wasted about half the class for one reason or another. I don’t want to do that again.

I tend to produce work slowly. I am very careful and precise when I work. I knew coming into the program that this could be a problem. Last semester I thought maybe I should try and overcome it, but I think that is not really the way to go. My precision is what makes most of what I do good. Even when I don’t have the skill to do something, I can learn and I can take the time to make it work if I am patient enough. The answer is not to try and override that trait. The answer is to make sure I plan and organize even more effectively so I don’t run out of time. That means that every free minute is important to me. I don’t want to waste time.

Yes, I can just do things even when I disagree. I look at that kind of thing like going to church. I don’t want to but once I am there, I may as well smile and be nice and get as much as I can out of it. I can do that. I just hate the idea of applying it to class. Unfortunately, it looks like that is exactly what I am going to be doing for about half the classes. When I look at the syllabus, I only see 4 days devoted to Criticism with my class. The rest have some planned activity, most of which are not things I think we need to do.

I do not want to present my work from last semester. I have no interest at all in hearing anyone present about anything during my Studio Class. We have the visiting artists for that. They are great, and they are enough.

I do not want to spend my time presenting my work from last semester or going over “studio plans” for this semester. That is work I would rather do as written work that is turned in to the professor for review. We spent three class days on it last semester and I don’t think anyone felt they had accomplished anything. I wish we were given some kind of text-based guidelines. We could be told to list the projects we are working on, list check points and give explanatory statements and then we could just turn it in for approval.

I am also disinterested in presenting to “the whole group.” We have a split class for very very good reasons. Adding in one more teacher and two more students is both undesirable and unnecessary. It will simply take away time from everyone.

I do not want to spend time visiting museums or exhibition spaces. I would rather do that on my own time. I know it is important, but it isn’t as important as my work.

So… that’s what I don’t like in the syllabus.


What do I like?

I like that Susan is teaching the first years alone. She is good. She has useful things to say. She is constructive and supportive. She also has a focus on exhibition. These are all things we need.

I like the separation of the classes. Fewer people means more time per student and that is very very good.

I like that Susan has a day scheduled for Artists Statements. I really need help learning to do that. I wish we had more focus on that. I may not want to visit museums, but I do want to focus on how to present my own work. I just want a personalized approach. I want to talk about it in regards to what I am doing. I don’t want to go see a space. If I need to do that, I can do it on my own time.

I like that we have individual studio visits scheduled during class time. It would be nice if we could schedule those early in the semester so we have time to prepare. TO be honest, I wish we were doing that first instead of spending 5 class days with presentations! Studio visits would be way more helpful.

Also, if 60% of our grade is our individual work, what is the other 40%?


I know I am being impatient. I worked very hard during the break. I was excited about the start of the new semester. I am ready to jump right in and work. I have many questions and many ideas and I need a forum to talk about those things more than I need all this extra stuff.