Sunday, July 4, 2010

Public Observations of Private Lives

More and more, I believe that the role of the artist has less to do with the creation of a specific object or thing and more to do with observation. The artwork may be a byproduct that lets viewers into these observations, but the artist has always been an individual with a keen sense of observation. The artwork may no longer consist of a representational image or object, still, the medium will convey unambiguous insights.

When we consider the naturalism of the Greeks and Romans, or the precise renderings of the various artists of the Renaissance, it is the skills of observation that seem to most impress us. And after the invention of the camera caused artists to reassess the nature of their work, observation was still a chief concern. The Cubist abstractions of Picasso may seem far removed from the precisely accurate depictions of a Northern Renaissance master, but the Spaniard’s attention to the objects before him was what allowed for greater understanding of the essence of physical objects.
 While I continue to employ naturalistic representations in my work, it is not the close observation and subsequent rendering of the people and objects that matters most. My observations of human nature and personal interactions is what I desire viewers to contemplate.

I find myself fascinated with the interactions of people in public settings and spaces. Our private lives have somehow made their way into the public sphere. Technology is a catalyst, but it is amoral so it can’t bear any of the blame.

Private telephone conversations, that fifteen years ago would have taken place between two people within the privacy of their respective homes, are now on public display. Facebook and Twitter have accelerated an earlier technology—email—by pushing more private conversations, that would have taken place among only a handful of individuals, onto the world stage. Yet these are only the tools by which individuals express their conversations.

There is something at work within the mind of the individual that has nothing to do with the tools of technology. It may be a type pf exhibitionism or narcissism that drives some people to share their lives so openly. For my part, I seem to get sucked into these dramas playing out before me in the same way that many of us find ourselves drawn to the equally inappropriate behaviors of “characters” on reality television programs. After all, most of us have at least one guilty pleasure television show, and we don’t watch these for the insights into the wholesome and good natured lives of the “cast members.”

Again, all these “outer” things that we observe are merely symptomatic elements. The reality television shows are edited so that our opinions of the characters are manipulated into polarized camps. The half conversations that we overhear in the checkout line of the grocery store are also edited. We can’t hear the phrases, emotions, and tone of speech offered on the other end on the line. This is why I don’t trust the single occurrence of private/public behaviors. I seek out patterns of behavior within groups over time, or multiple instances of similar behaviors in anonymous individuals.

A recurring symbol of scrutiny and observation in my work is the “lensed” object. These take the form of magnifying and eye glasses, microscopes, binoculars, film and movie cameras, and even Viewmaster viewers. These objects give us clearer vision. they bring details into focus and allow us to capture moments, both public and private.

Another device that appears (or rather will appear—most of the works including these elements are still in production) is the mirror. While most of my observations are of the public/private variety detailed above, I do not neglect the idea that we constantly need to hold the mirror up to ourselves to assess our own behaviors.

As I stated before, the behaviors tend to be symptoms of things deeper. Often, our most public behaviors—good or bad—are indicators of character. They may also suggest unresolved or unconscious psychological developments. For me, this ties into the use of words and images together. The images may suggest one meaning through a cursory examination, yet they reveal a deeper truth as we “read into them.” It is only close observation that provides a deeper assessment and understanding.

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