Thursday, March 20, 2014

ARTIST

ARTIST

What defines a person?  Is it your job?  Your role in society?  Your strengths and weaknesses?  How do you define yourself?  When I was in my teens and early twenties I used to define myself by what was wrong with me.  Then, I went through a period of being completely unsure of who I was or what I liked or what my place in the world should be.  As I grew into my late twenties I found that I defined myself by what I thought was best about me.  In my early thirties I felt confident that I had figured everything out in my late twenties, and my best qualities were what defined me as a person.  It took a while, but I eventually realized that maybe I was not as awesome as I thought I was, and I started to dig deeper.  I started to understand tragic flaws, and complexities in personalities, and I saw that everything was not black or white, but mostly shades of grey. 

At 41, after a failed marriage, and 3 children, I found myself in the strange position of once again not being exactly sure who I was.  Finally, a thought arose in my head that I was the sum of my strengths, weaknesses, and experiences, but I still was unsure of how to channel that into my persona.  I had not felt a lack of confidence or insecurity since my teens, and feeling that at my current age felt worse than it did when I was young.  In my twenties and early thirties I let my looks pick up any slack that my intellectual or social insecurities left around.  When I was married and in the “me as mom” mode, I fell comfortably into the mom/wife role, and loved it – for a while, and let that cover up any type of uncertainty about who I was.  But it soon became clear to me, as it does to all mothers everywhere, that your role in life is not just “mom.”   But, by this stage in life it is too late to fall back to party girl, or college student, or anything you were before…so what is it?


I am not going to give any advice, or act as if I know what anyone else may think or feel, but, for me, I uncovered what defines me as a person in a flash of enlightenment.  It was something always just out of my reach, but when it came into my grasp I held onto it with an iron grip, determined never to let it slip from my hands again.  One day I came to understand very clearly who I am in an instant.  One day I understood exactly how to define myself in one word. 

I am an artist.  I always said it, but for some reason, until recently, I never understood that that is what makes up the major part of me. 

It does not make me any less of a mom, or a professor, or a sister, or daughter, but that is how I can best describe myself.  That is how I can encompass all aspects of my personality.  If I have to give one word to encompass me, it is artist.  And, I am grateful for that.  It does not matter if I am an art history professor, a bar tender, or a mom because under any of those titles what I am at heart is an artist.

I wonder if anyone else can count themselves so lucky as to know exactly who they are, and to be able to get it across in one word.  The realization came to me in a Facebook private message.  I dumped a bunch of my personal burdens onto to someone who had asked me the simple question, “how are things?”  I totally unloaded, and in a nutshell, he responded with this:

“Fuck. So sorry... And, I know you prob don't want to hear sorry, but I am because most people deserve to have better…tragedies in our lives somehow, someway, make artists better. You have that one gift over every other mother fucker out there to fall back on. Give yourself therapy with. Keep kicking ass like you always do.”

Sometimes people do not know the effect they have on you.  Sometimes those effects are little, and sometimes one sentence from an unexpected Facebook pm can make or break your day, or your year, or your life.  I count myself lucky for many things – not only for my awesome friends and family, or for being reminded that I, “have that one gift over every other mother fucker out there,” which is art.  But, I am thankful to have that gift of art at all.  And, I wonder if others are so lucky as to understand themselves with one powerful, wondrous, and definitive word – ARTIST. 



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thought Experiments


Recently and as usual, I was watching the Discovery/History/Science Channel and there was a documentary on Einstein showing in which they mentioned his “thought experiments.”  For some reason that really jumped out at me – thought experiments.  I suddenly looked up from my sketching to listen.  Einstein used to lapse into states of thought where he imagined himself in all types of strange scenarios that somehow related to whatever scientific theory he was working on.  Like so often happens with me, I was carried away to the land of obsession and I NEEDED to learn EVERYTHING about Einstein’s thought experiments.  What were they?  Could I apply them to art?  Could I apply them to making my husband buy me the snowflake pendent necklace from Tiffany’s?  I had to find out.

So, I started researching.  After much reading I saw that thought experiments were a tiny bit like meditation and a lot like daydreaming and I realized that I had, many times, come up with images in my head while daydreaming that eventually turned into paintings or collages.  This started me wondering how important daydreaming was to people in general but especially to artists.  There is so much going on in everyday life and so many types of electronics to distract us during periods that we used to spend daydreaming such as waiting on line at the supermarket, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or doing household chores – I mean I was texting while I was vacuuming the other day when apparently I should have been using that time to daydream.  How is that affecting us mentally?  The fact that we have little quiet time for our minds to languidly stretch out and explore tiny little thoughts, ideas and fantasies that have been brushed off to the side and ignored could have a negative effect on our brains, no? 

I decided to start incorporating daydreaming into my life in the same way I would meditation.  I sat down, closed my eyes and like when I attempt meditation my brain at first went into a weird overdrive where I think about anything and everything that I do not want to think about but when I got past all that crap I did reach this place that I assume was similar to what Einstein was talking about just as he was running with a beam of light, which led him somehow to come up with his theory of special relativity - I too was able to place myself in and become part of a painting, I started imagining images as they would be in paint not in real life, they soon started pouring out, some random some symbolic.  It was purely visual thought no distinct words.  I came out of it with pictures in my head of three finished paintings.  (On a side note, I’m curious how other artists imagine their works – as finished pieces or just an idea of where to start and what you want to say?)

Now I have only tried this one time – yesterday – so I cannot say how it will carry on into the long term because I am not currently going through any type of artist’s block but I have in the past and I feel like this may help when I’m blocked.  If daydreaming is anything like meditation it can only be good for your mental health as many studies have shown (here is just one - http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/S0925-4927(10)00288-X/abstract ).  But daydreaming with a purpose – not too much of a focused purpose but a general area of focus is what I’m thinking of continuing on with.  If any neuroscientists wants to chime in on this I’d love it.  And if anyone has any suggestions on how I can get my husband to get me that Tiffany's necklace I'm all ears.



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Exhibition at Pierro Gallery

I will be exhibiting my latest work at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange next month.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Neuroaesthetics


I have recently been reading about neuroaesthetics, a relatively new scientific field that looks to understand the “perceptual, emotional, and empathic responses to works of art.” (Kandel 2012)  I am obsessed with it and have been googling it to death as well as padding my Kindle library with any book I can find on the subject.  As an artist and art historian I am curious as to what it can find as far as what areas of the brain are most involved when viewing art and whether or not different areas are more active in artists’ brains when viewing art than in non-artist brains.  And as a person just really interested in neuroscience the combination of the two is irresistible for me.  I loved watching on the Discovery channel the praying nuns and meditating Buddhist monks under MRI machines as compared to the brains of atheists trying to pray – completely different areas used.  To me it is just incredibly interesting.
 
However, there seems to be a bit of controversy over the issue with some in the art world claiming neuroscience cannot possibly explain or know what an artist or viewer of art is truly feeling or that we are not just our brains (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/art-and-the-limits-of-neuroscience/) and some in the neuroaesthetics field indignantly claiming they in fact can and we are in fact our brains (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindmelding/201212/neuroaesthetics-responding-the-critics).   There are many more articles out there doing battle on either side I just liked those two the best, although the one entitled “Neuroaesthetics is Killing your Soul” also caught my attention.  To be honest I don’t really care about all of the debating, I just want to know what can be found out through neuroscience about art and if that will interest me in any way (because as with anything else that goes on ever I only care about it as long as it in some way relates to me).  

Others seem to think that this will inevitably lead to a set criteria on how we should judge good and bad art, which would be dictated by the field of neuroaesthetics – this would be bad because we all know that good and bad art are judged arbitrarily by a select group of art critics, theorists historians as well as anyone else on earth with access to the internet.  I feel pretty confident that this will not happen.  I do not believe the field of neuroaesthetics will kick open the carefully guarded door to the art world and demand that this is how art should now be judged and that is final and all must comply or else!  Although, that would be pretty cool and I would love to see some type of cage match between a neuroscientist and an art critic.

But I digress, what I would really love to see is what exactly the brain does when confronted with art.  And does telling a person it’s art make a difference?  What if you show someone a nicely designed shower curtain and tell them it is an abstract piece of work by a famous well-respected artist?  Will that make a difference in their reaction to it?  What if Leonardo’s Mona Lisa was imprinted on a shower curtain what would the reaction be to that?  What are the different reactions to the performances of Marina Abromiovic as opposed to a Picasso?  A Futurist painting to a medieval cathedral?  Neolithic cave paintings to a Monet.  Northern Song paintings to Meret Oppenheim’s Object.  Is it possible that the same area of the brain is affected by these completely different works of art?  They would all bring up a different emotion and thought and feeling but would it all be recognized in some special “art” area of the brain?  This is the stuff I want to know.  To me more knowledge from a different perspective on a subject is never a bad thing – how can you argue with that?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Does Art Suffer Because the Artist Does Not?


Dark Night of the Soul, Tracy DiTolla
Remember the days of the starving artist?  I mean the really starving artists.  It was not that long ago but it seems to be a rapidly fading concept.  It is such a romantic notion - the artist living in poverty by choice because nothing on earth was more important than focusing on the art.  It was a higher calling, a noble path - the art must come first, even before the artist's own well-being.  The artist should toil endlessly at his canvas without nourishment or sleep because it was the art that was sustaining him.  The art was feeding his soul and driving him with a passion that could not be stopped by anything.  Any meager amount of money made was to go to paint and canvas, there was nothing else. 
Think Toulouse Lautrec, Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh, Modigliani, much of most of their lives were spent in poverty and they seemed to live only for their art.  Today that does not really happen, at least no one I know is living that way.  Most artists have “day jobs” that often have nothing to do with art.  There is no longer that high awe-inspiring respect for an artist who abandons everything and spends all of his time creating and exploring different visual theories - if you do that now most people will think you’re crazy and a loser.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; I’m pretty sure most of us do not want starving artists dressed in rags begging for food, oil paint and conte crayons on the street.  But how does the lack of time an artist gets to focus on his/her art reflect in the artwork produced today. 

I Can't do This Anymore, Tracy DiTolla

Look at the Impressionists, Dada, the Futurists, the Abstract Expressionists, this list goes on – would those movements have come about and changed the world of art if those artists came home from their day jobs, made dinner for their kids and then after cleaning, doing bills, being distracted by RHONJ and getting everyone settled into bed then start working on their art?  Artists are not getting any existential suffering in and that is leaving us with art that often lacks substance.  I’m in no way saying that artists should abandon their responsibilities to focus on their art, I’m saying it is too bad that art does not seem to be as respected and as important to people as it once was by society as a whole.  And I am looking at a lot of the artwork around today (not all of it, there is still great art out there www.tracyditolla.com ;)) 
and some of it really falls short and I think it is because of the general loss of the importance of the artist’s vision.  

The 11th Hour, Tracy DiTolla


P.S. Sorry for the shameless self-promotion.