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Conceptualism, The Naked Guy, and Degrees

Conceptualism is among the most elusive forms of art. It leaves people with a lot of, "wtf" questions. Damien Hirst is not for everyone. For a long time, he wasn't for me, either! I don't agree with a slew of his practices. That said, because I walked the artistic path as long as I have, I inevitably arrived at conceptualism, albeit kicking and screaming, but with a new-found tolerance and comprehension for both Hirst and conceptualism.


To be honest, I felt the same way about pretty much every art form since teenagehood until I learned enough about each of them to comprehend their value, and they are valuable af! My initial instinct is to resist. Things have to prove themselves to me. Even art. And sometimes repeatedly.


Just like people, art has patterns... a wave of progression. As a kid, I was only about realism. Makes sense because that surface layer is the easiest to relate with so pretty much everyone understands that place. What you see is what you get and there's no confusion. In middle school, I was introduced to Georgia O'Keeffe's work. I fell in love! It was so different from the rest... soft, but badass. And to know that a woman artist had paved a way gave me hope in what seemed like a hopeless world for a teeny chick artist. Can't count how many times people said I could never be an artist due to my gender. Art was a man's world. Fuck off, dumbasses. (Are you beginning to see how I arrived at my language? lol)


Georgia painted such beautiful flowers! (stfu, I didn't know what they really were back then and I was in denial about it for a looong time!) I was a relatively sheltered child in a whole lot of ways until my first semester in college. Immigrant kid, strict parents, ya know? What the hell did I know about American culture? Serbia was like 30 years behind! Anyway, Georgia was a smooth path into abstraction. She still painted from reality but simplified and softened it. During that same time, I was all about Bob Ross, too. I loved his soothing voice! loved nature. I loved painting. I loved the fuck outta Bob's attitude. I loved science-fiction, fantasy, and earth sciences. Art and science travel a similar path of development, I think. Conceptualism is kinda equivalent to quantum physics in the thought process so it's no surprise it eludes most. However, they don't disrespect science in the way they shit on art so forgive me for being exasperated by their ignorance.


In high school, biology was my thing. Thought I'd be a surgeon for a second. Philosophy and psychology were also things. Then Chemistry. Really, I just wanted to be all the things! A criminal attorney, a neurosurgeon, a physicist... There just wasn't enough time and everyone kept pushing for a direction as if that decision had to be made on a specific timeline that someone else decided for me. Who the fuck gets to decide how and when a kid chooses their path in life? Control freaks. Anyway, people kept pushing and I kept resisting anything outside of art because, to me, art is all the things. Damn good thing I didn't listen to them. This is the advice I received from my guidance counselor when I told her I wanted to sign up for Latin: "Oh, honey, you're too pretty to hang out with those nerd girls. You don't belong there. How about a study hall?" She rejected my request for Latin, Calculus, and Physics. Ultimately, she signed me up for study hall where I observed children doing kid crap, throwing spitballs and such, which is fine for them. Have fun! I, however, wanted to pull my fucking hair out of my "pretty" little head! [Shoulda fought harder.] That woman wasn't fit to counsel her way through breakfast, let alone help children make life decisions. She was the last guidance counselor I ever listened to. All through college(s), I fought like wildfire to get the classes I wanted to take. I took full responsibility for my own education. And damn good thing, too! Are you beginning to see the path to Conceptualism?


In both H.S. and college, surrealism opened up a weird and fascinating world that I could relate to at that time. Although it lasted a while, it was just another wave I passed through. College was... there aren't a few simple words. It was a long, complicated story because I actually attended three of them. The first was my favorite because of my sculpture professor who opened a three-dimensional and scalable world for me. It was a summer course at MSU in between H.S. and Rutgers. I learned more in those couple of weeks from that one guy at Montclair State than I did in my whole year at Rutgers! RU taught me openness, though. No one prepared me for day one in figure-drawing class!


RU, circa 1993

Realism sticks for a good long while, btw. Day 1, Life Drawing: Hot guy enters room. Stands on platform in center. Removes shirt and shoes. I'm thinking, ok, calendar-like model session. Shirtless dudes in jeans are sexy as fuck! But it didn't stop there. I wasn't quite sure what to do with my eyes. I had a boyfriend! Did this count as cheating? (Incidentally, he was piiissed!). Wtf is going on, I wondered?! Professor says focus on a body part. Uh, ok. So I drew his nether region. Thought I'd try something new since I was already there, lol. Class requirement. Minimal consequences. He was a willing model. My previous models were all clothed. Opportunity knocked. What?


Here's what I didn't see coming... The Critique: The part of the class where the professors goes from person to person correcting their work. He looks at my 24 x 36" charcoal drawing (carbon ;D), picks it up and stares a minute. "Oh, crap! Is it terrible? He didn't do that with the other kids! What's so bad about mine?" He then turns it around to show the entire class, including hot-guy, how well I drew his penis. Mortified doesn't even begin to describe the crimson red that flooded the whole of my body as this man described the details of my drawing. My face was on fucking fire! No one told me this shit happens like this! He noted my attention to detail. He took my drawing around the room to show them specifics up close and personal. He even shared with the model. Aaaaah! Anyway, that experience changed my perspective on more things than I can count so Rutgers was good for life-lessons. It might have been good for academic education as well, but I had such a shitty attitude that miserable year, I couldn't have possibly been schooled in that way. My bad, not theirs.


Realism sticks for a long time and runs parallel to Van Gogh and the Impressionists, Matisse and Fauvism, Dali and surrealism, and O'Keeffe and soft abstraction. It fits right alongside Escher and if its pattern were a lattice, that space would be the narrow joint. Incidentally, that dude conglomerated math and art to perfection. Quite brilliant! This part of art history is still relatable so almost everyone gets it. Even if they don't understand the meaning and the deeper layers of the various works, they can still see the surface stuff and connect to it on that level, so in their minds, it's legitimate work because they comprehend it. (The key word is comprehension. All the world's problems are concealed in this realm.) Here's where things start to get a little weird for some...


...The various aspects of Modernism, Constructivism, and Minimalism are where Realism fades. Details fade. What was once considered important changes in the thinking process. Some people can still relate to a degree, although I've known so few who admire Picasso, for example. They just don't see the different perspectives. Even artists dismiss his value! At a time, I didn't see it either. I thought, that's so stoopid! It doesn't make any sense! (I should have followed through with "to me". It doesn't make any sense to me. That's why I thought it was stupid. That's why people think whatever is stupid... because they don't understand it. Truly that simple.) Everything was stupid to me at one time or another, especially Conceptualism. Art is a thought process, and a long gruesome journey at that. You don't know what you don't know, and you can't see if you're blind. That's not a judgment. It's a fact I was once guilty of, as well.


Once you learn to overcome your narrowmindedness, you can't help but see things differently, comprehend them, then conceptualize. It's just part of the process. You travel down the road as far as you choose to go. Even most artists don't understand Conceptualism. They stopped before that point so how could they? You'll never arrive at the ice cream parlor if you stop at the block before and stay there gawking at the ice cream from afar. You'll never arrive at a Ph.D. if you stop at a Bachelor's. Hmmm... that part's not entirely true. You can still obtain a comparable level of education without a piece of paper to tell you where you are. You know who your peers are. Look around. That's the level you're at. There's always an alternate path! If you don't see one, keep looking!


The only reason I went to college at all was that I was the first woman in my family to attend and I didn't wanna disappoint my parents. I don't need someone to hold my hand and I certainly don't need their stoopid guidance (see above). Stoopid, because it's an extra level of brainless. Most people need guidance. There's nothing wrong with that. Different paths. It's just that, circumstantially, the system failed me at every turn and I could count how many qualified teachers I had over two decades of schooling on a single hand with leftover fingers, including my extracurricular classes. It's sad as hell that teaching became such a disrespected field (you could tell by salaries) and it's quite a detrimental impact on society, but wtf do I know? I only have a Bachelor's paper.


I didn't learn about Conceptualism in school. My professors didn't really understand it so they sure as shit couldn't teach it. [I was not a favorite student, I don't think. I asked far too many questions and posed too many challenges. Fuck 'em if they're ill-equipped. Get a different job then! If your job is to teach, you damn-well better know your subject! How dare you put the direction of young people's lives in your hands and have nothing to offer them? Shame on you!] I learned about Conceptualism through the natural course of life and my pursuit of higher education in non-traditional ways. In my opinion, those are the best ways because whenever you have to work for something, you respect it a great deal more than when it's just handed to you. However, if you're aware of that factor, then you can simply skip the disrespect and graciously (and wisely) accept a gift. People graduate from school and stop actively learning because they experience a sense of accomplishment. I don't know what the fuck that feels like because I'm still forever away from accomplishing my goals. They're big, what can I say? At this point, I'm just worried I won't have enough time and all this education would have been for naught if I die too soon, lol. The second half of life passes all too quickly, I imagine.


On the bright side, those who stopped actively learning at some point acquired more time to experience other aspects of life that I'm sure I've missed. I don't take yearly vacations. I rarely take weekends. Also, I'm not running away from anything, just towards, so I don't feel like I've really missed anything there. Vacations usually bore me and I tend to jam-pack my schedule with local activities. When I return home, I'm exhausted from my trip, lol. Maybe that changes with age? I dunno. I'm a weirdo. I gotta go finish some sculptural work.


À la semaine prochaine! See you next week!


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