The Making of Material Things

I grew up in a family of math and science brains, where logic was the basis for understanding. The public education system taught me that there is "right" and there is "wrong" in academia, that creative thought is a hobby. Even among self-proclaimed art appreciators or patrons, a sense of utility, aesthetic, or decoration takes precedent over the arts that are utilizing ideas to communicate, challenge or inform. Too often, I hear jokes (from the mouths of artists and non-artists alike) along the lines of, "I can't do math, why do you think I went to art school?" as though the study of art lacks the rigor of other subjects, or that artists lack the intellect of other academics. 

Society at large deems art as soft, as subjective, and therefore as something that requires minimal diligence, study, or expertise. These proclamations are coming from personal experiences and historical fact alike. Hypothetically abiding by the common belief that art's purpose is for visual attraction alone, I can almost get behind that train of thought. Making something to look appealing in a living room wouldn't require the type of study it would take to be a chemist or physicist. Sure. But art is not something that is just made in order to look appealing in a living room, and that's where this whole facade crumbles. Let's take a look at a very basic example: perhaps a flower smells good and looks pretty, but it doesn't smell good and look pretty just for the sake of doing so. It smells good and looks pretty in order to attract birds, butterflies and bees to provide nectar in exchange for pollination. Nectar can be viewed as nourishment, and pollination can be viewed as the spread of ideas or a change in the environment. Art may look pretty (or it very well may not, for that matter), but its purpose is steadfast: Art exists to nourish the mind and ignite ideas, changing the fabric of our environment and perspectives on our existence. Art's purpose is to unravel the preconceived, analyze the point of view, reconstruct what we know, inquire about what we don't know, connect all that came before to all that is yet to come, and above all, communicate. And that requires the utmost diligence, study, and expertise. 

Coming from a background of science and math, this is an easy leap for me to make. I have no intentions of condemning people who choose to appreciate art for its visual appeal alone, nor artists who are bad at math. That's all okay. My intention is to first establish art as a form of study (which is where we're at), and then to establish my own interests within the study of art (which is where we're headed). 

Early in my career at SAIC, I distinctly remember saying "I could never commit to using just one medium." I felt that the exploration of ideas transcended the limits that any single medium could provide. In some ways, I still feel this way. I have no reservations or opposition to dabbling in a different medium if that is the form that the idea demands. I'd even say I'm a bit of a sculptor. And yet, I introduce myself as a painter before I introduce myself as an artist, or anything else. While I wasn't exactly seeking to be proven wrong in my assertion and definitely wasn't looking to settle down with any one particular medium, I specifically remember the moment this all changed for me. Partway through my education, I enrolled in a class on Painting Materials and Techniques. A few weeks into this course of study, I was absolutely enthralled. The way chemistry and optics can be employed so distinctly to create such vast shifts in material meaning had me completely floored. I felt like an escapee from Plato's Allegory of the Cave, finally understanding things in their true form rather than the two-dimensional, limited illusion I had originally perceived them to be. It was then that the study of painting, fueled by the practice of painting and drawing materials and techniques, is the one that I became married to. The limitations or constraints I thought were inherent to any individual medium were lifted, and for me, painting unfolded into limitlessness. (Fortunately for those around me, the dramatization of this realization was completely internal.)

As a painter, I am interested in the materials and techniques that serve as the building blocks to art making. I experiment with paint, the materials that exist, I analyze the way these materials function, and how they can be manipulated with both play and precision in order to create meaning. How can grass be painted not just to look like grass, but to feel like grass? If you paint bricks to be transparent next to a sky that is thick and present with material, what sort of relationship does that create? How, in a material sense, can that be created, and what, in a relational sense, does that mean? There is an enormous experiential difference between looking at something, and looking at an image of something (think back to the cave). For me, the difference is physical materiality, and it is this exact connection between material and meaning that I'm after. Materials are to me as words are to a poet, as elements are to a chemist, as chords are to a musician, as equations are to a mathematician. They are the very tools I utilize in order to work, and my respect and wonder for the tools themselves have taught me to be devoted to my practice.

I have begun this blog in order to chronicle my experiments and studies of painting and drawing materials and techniques, and to share what I am learning. I hope to encourage other painters to seek material meaning, nourishing our insatiable appetite for learning, and in exchange for that nourishment, to ignite ideas that fearlessly change the fabric of our environment and the perspectives on our existence.