The Eve Of...

“Aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics—these matters of value, Wittgenstein agreed, lay in the realm of the unutterable. But it was natural an inevitable that men should speak of them, and much could be learned from the way in which people went about their foredoomed task of trying to say the unsayable. Moreover, it would not be clear where the boundary of sanctioned speech lay until an attempt had been made to cross it and that attempt had failed. Such efforts Wittgenstein regarded with benevolence. He treated them as reconnaissance expeditions, perilous to be sure, but well worth the effort expended on them.”

—H Stuart. Hughes, The Sea Change, as quoted by Laurence Weschler in Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees (1982).

“Better a live donkey than a dead lion.”

–Ernest Shackleton, South Pole explorer

Rewards, Even in Failure

Art & Development, Artists

“You could say that what is on display is failure, what has not been achieved,” [says] Liversidge.

Liversidge is that rare thing for an artist, a poet who proposes to “investigate coincidence” and “a composer” of other people’s actions. It is up to the recipient to determine to what extent they can embrace the project.

Karen Wright, “In The Studio: Peter Liversidge, artist,” The Independent, August 2, 2013

Peter Liversidge on failure and the role of viewers

Art & Development

Points of Reference, June 8, 2014

Insights, artworks, and other recent ignition sparks.

Self-organized Bronx AIM studio visit, at Brian Zegeer's studio at Chashama studios at Brooklyn Army Terminal. Watching Brian's 3D animation/video installation.

AIMers watching Brian Zegeer’s 3D animation/video installation at his Chashama studio at Brooklyn Army Terminal. See clips of Brian’s Book of Khalid project.

Last weekend, I shared my work with fellow Bronx AIM program participants. Among smart, interested friends, I spoke honestly about where I’m at in my studio practice, leading up to current work-in-progress and the questions that surround them.

I got great feedback. It was fantastic. A mutually supportive community can make an incredible difference. So I highly recommend:

Organizing studio visits with likeminded artists.

Though I procrastinate on organizing visits to my studio, the AIM program was a perfect foil for my hang-ups, with the added benefit of learning about great artists’ work too. So, artists: Just do it! Get a group together, set up a schedule—maybe every two weeks or once a month, and create conditions for great conversations to take place! It’s important! If it seems that it’s not a great time, be forgiving—there’s hardly ever a perfect time, so better now than never.

After my visit, I started thinking about:

Not taking myself too seriously.

The tone of my presentation was blunt and vulnerable, but also (sometimes unintentionally) funny. My colleagues really “got” me and where I’m coming from. I’d love it if my audience also had this perspective. I wonder how to incorporate this further into the reading of my work? For starters, it’d help me keep approaching:

Art-making as a way to test ideas.

In grad school, I allowed works to be resolved to varying degrees. Maybe I’ve drifted towards the dominant market-oriented inclination to make things that are more polished, impressive, “accomplished,” and intelligible to selection review committees, gallerists, etc.

So Ernesto Pujol’s writing resonated with me on many fronts:

I… practice with the belief that there is enough art, feeling no pressure to create more art, so what excites me is to create something ambiguous, something liminal, so that it has the effect of art, regardless of its final label.

—Ernesto Pujol, in Mary Jane Jacobs and Jacqueline Baas, eds., Learning Mind: Experience Into Art [Berkeley: UC Press] 2009


Time to re-set.

If I am to re-orient my approach, it’ll make the way I relate to viewers more open-ended. I’ll be able to:

Speak openly about unintended receptions of artworks.

How viewers interact, interpret, and experience the work—in a full range of successes and failures—could be embraced.

We must risk and endure misunderstanding, even by those who supposedly support us, which is the most painful of all misinterpretation, because we still create and promote all this mainly through art world channels.

—Ernesto Pujol, in Learning Mind


Which implies:

Embracing middle grounds

[Artists] should regard ourselves as writers of novels for smaller but more substantial audiences, even as we would like to make them accessible and meaningful to all.

—Ernesto Pujol, in Learning Mind

JHK Activity—Collection & Research on J H Kocman

My influential grad school advisers Ted Purves and the late Steven Lieber helped me stop worrying about making grand statements, and appreciate modest gestures such as ephemera. Just as I was thinking about becoming more process- and less results-oriented, I learned about Ted’s latest project—a blog documenting the works of Czech conceptualist J H Kochman. This work, in particular, exemplifies what I gained from Ted and Steven, and my “un-aspirational” aspirations:

J. H. Kocman, Bipolar Analysis of a Square, offset print, A4, signed/numbered. // Source:

J. H. Kocman, Bipolar Analysis of a Square, offset print, A4, signed/numbered. // Source:

Pae White: In Between the Inside Out

Pae White: In Between the Inside Out, Installation view, Mills College Art Museum, 2009 // Photo: Paul Kuroda // Source:

Pae White: In Between the Inside Out, Installation view, Mills College Art Museum, 2009 // Photo: Paul Kuroda // Source:

Five years later,* still thinking about White’s 3-D rendering video projected inside enclosures made of two-way mirrors. First seen at New Langton Arts (RIP) and Mills College Art Museum.

*Read my enthusiastic 2009 response—sorry about the link-rotted images. (FYI, I’ve improved my image linking now.)

To re-orient to the studio, I’ve enjoyed diving into books by artists. They counterbalance criticism and theory, and can be an antidote to market orientations.

The Human Argument by Agnes Denes

Excited to grow my appreciation of Agnes Denes work with a book of her writings:

The Human Argument, The Writings of Agnes Denes

The Human Argument, The Writings of Agnes Denes

See ArtBook for the description (though it’s out of stock there; I found a used copy on ABEBooks).

Don’t know why I never got around to this one, either. The oversight that shall be redressed shortly.

Allan Kaprow (Jeff Kelley, ed.), Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life

Allan Kaprow (Jeff Kelley, ed.), Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life

A reminder about the centrality of studio practice:

A life of making isn’t a series of shows, or projects, or productions, or things; it is an everyday practice.

…It isn’t necessarily the objects of art in their many forms that we are here to support, it is the possibility of art, the question of art, the place it makes in the culture for those acts which ‘just are’ and, in their being just for the sake of themselves, can open worlds in which we might listen differently.

—Ann Hamilton, in Learning Mind

Hamilton also shared this lovely quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Let me remind the reader that I am only an experimenter. Do not set the least value on what I do, or the least discredit on what I do not, as if I pretended to settle anything as true or false. I unsettle all things. No facts are to me sacred, none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker with no past.”


Jeremy Deller, My Failures, installation view, Hayward Gallery, 2012. // Source:

Jeremy Deller, My Failures, installation view, Hayward Gallery, 2012. // Source:

I highly recommend this video of a lecture by Jeremy Deller presented by Situations UK. His background and practice form a welcome alternative to the cult of young, ‘bankable’ artists (he was 31 when he staged his first art show—in his parents’ house). He mentioned instances of his indifference to the contemporary art world’s reception and its isolation/self-regard, as well as being pleased when an art object lost its aestheticized status and returned to being an object. I also appreciated his candidness about failure, and its productive possibilities, as seen above.


Jeremy Deller, My Failures, exhibition of rejected proposals


Keep walking toward the mountain: staying true to your goals

Author Neil Gaiman offered practical, heartening advice in commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia last year. The speech, and his delivery of it, is warm and generous—listening to him deliver it is highly recommended.

Short of that, I love his perspectives on persistence, quoted below. If it seems that I’m obsessed with optimism and motivational inspirations, it’s because I am. Day-to-day life is filled with the mundane: hours spent commuting, generating income, sending off applications for things that may or may not come into fruition, and so on. In the muddle of quotidian distractions, the clarity of advice from a fellow traveler is helpful.

I love Gaiman’s suggestion of how to navigate over the long haul—by envisioning a longterm goal as a distant mountain:

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

Another way of having faith in a slow process with unforeseeable results:

A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.

The problems of failure are problems of discouragement, of hopelessness, of hunger. You want everything to happen and you want it now, and things go wrong.

… nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience…. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.

I’ve also been observing more successful peers with a mix of envy and dread, wondering how I would cope with the constraints they perceive as imposed on them. How is it that one can avoid an upwardly-mobile treadmill, in which opportunities increase while autonomy and creative freedom decrease? Gaiman perceives what some would call a trade-off for the tragedy it is:

…The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck you’ll experience them. The point where you stop saying yes to everything, because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and have to learn to say no.

I watched my peers, and my friends, and the ones who were older than me and watch how miserable some of them were: I’d listen to them telling me that they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they had always wanted to do any more, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were. They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered, and that they had really wanted to do; and that seemed as a big a tragedy as any problem of failure.

And after that, the biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful. There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.

That tragic entrapment of success is not an inevitability. Keep re-assessing; be led not by fears of losing what you’ve gained, but by your commitment to your practice.