Art School To A New Paradigm

“…We all come and go unknown. Each so deep and superficial between the forceps and the stone..." as Joni Mitchell sang in “Hejira”; soberly reflecting upon the finite span of human life, in which we perceive circumstances primarily through our emotions, and where most of what we encounter is of pressing consequence and yet so much of human experience is destined for the realm of transient memory and feelings. I imagine that many of us born into this physical plane, resolved presumably in an ethereal predestined state or sometime afterward, sentiently, that the most energetically conservative path for this lifetime was that of an artist.

As though it were a calculated counter-clause when presented with negotiated terms of engagement upon soul entry into our bodies; as artists, we opted to encapsulate and synthesize the encoded knowledge and experience of past lives, into one very specific approach for evolutionary ascension. A hedging of bets, or a precisely decided upon pathway; from either perspective, the personal oath to be an artist, defaulting on a wide variety of viable vocational tracks, reached self-realization through sequentially released and subconsciously prioritized life-directives. The overall intent being to pioneer inner vision during one lifetime, through diligent commitment to the transcendent self-mining of articulated expression; altogether simultaneously focused on an alchemic engagement with societal consciousness. We invested all in.

Being an artist can be seen as a perfect balance, on a facet's edge, of societal nihilism and visionary faith. In quiet protest we require routine distance from present day humanity, while holding love and hope for the future of humanity. Choosing to sequester ourselves in rooms for hours and years, we energetically massage the world remotely and incrementally towards a more ideal shared space.

We all essentially dropped out of the illusionary societal construct offered to us around the age of fifteen. Already guided then by our talent, we sensed the visceral distinction between the impending monotony of contemporary living and those moments of potent higher consciousness, when drawing in our sketchbooks and working on projects in our high school art rooms became a naturally induced hallucinogenic for our young minds. In this way we began our pathway to resist the prescribed programming, while simultaneously recalibrating ourselves internally according to our deeper emerging truths.

We joined the march with all of those who incarnated before us, who indeed dared to dream. The countless creative seekers and intellectual questioners, who devoted their lives to the agenda of envisioning into society; or more aptly described, 're-envisioning into society'; purposefully imagining back into the collective establishment. With artists, this approach of course translates to redirecting even the meaning of functionality towards conceptual and spiritual purpose; redefining object-based commodities and their value scale. Even if the shadow side of this pursuit, at times, equates to a probable misalignment with society at large, and almost certain existential challenge along the way. Nonetheless, fully completing our envisioned thoughts for shared cultural interaction, through the means of creating transcendent objects and experiences amidst an industrialized mainstream marketplace of formulated commercialism, material disposability, and ephemeral digital non-reality; became our mission.

Harvested into art schools, we went from our bedroom cocoons in our parents' homes, ready to be publicly recognized and to permeate the world with our fresh and enthusiastic uniqueness. Of course, our gusto was innately naive, yet at once deeply wise. We were intuitively armed with a persistent urge of inner knowing, in 'having something to say’; as though informed by past lives from bygone ages and spaces, where our powers of metaphysical interaction and awareness of untampered cosmic truths were naturally interwoven then into daily reality. Now in present day, we were beginning to decipher approaches to channel these multi-dimensional awarenesses and bi-located existences into condensed expressive form.

Art school was the sensible next step to foster our talents and goals, while finding legitimacy in the institutionalized first gateway of the art world. Once there however, we were insulated from the outside world that awaited us; where undertaking the resistance campaign against the muffling maze of modernity, in maintaining a balanced life with an ongoing art making practice, was a far-off future negotiation not yet taken fully into equation for most us. In art school, as though it was a stable holding wild horses, with no promise of job placement or career stability; the trajectory lines of predictability were completely unaccountable. And yet this proved to serve as part of our training, because this unpredictability model would become a base line reality dynamic that we learn to would grow accustomed to once becoming practicing artists.

We also met many wonderful mentors and guides there. For myself, the gravitational pull always seemed to be toward the outliers of the institution. The ones who had informed perspective culled from experiences outside of the school's collective prescribed ethos. They held court only for those young people who sought them out, as if waiting to be discovered by the students whose biorhythmic signature-frequencies honed-in on where the master was located: concealed within the marginal spaces of the institution. Teachers like Stanley Pinckney (School of the Museum of Fine Arts), Christopher Shipley (Maryland Institute College of Art), Richard Kalter (Maryland Institute College of Art), and then later, after school, in a similar way with Hudson (Feature Inc.).

Their message, fundamentally idiosyncratic but overall congruous, was to follow one's own pathway independent of established contemporary trends; in order to make your best artwork from your truest self. The implicit subtext of this message as reasonably carried further and interpreted to a definitive conclusion, was that; ’dropping out' could possibly be the most intelligent and enlightened strategy for the preservation of inner truth. This stance was transmitted by these teachers, not overtly, but it subconsciously streamed into conversations and was embodied in the way in which they behaved and operated from their perched positions within the institutional space. These were human beings who had in fact lived through, and collaborated with, the cultural brain chemistry modifications of the late 1960s and 1970s: where the span of concepts, from the hippies’ decree of "turn on, tune in, drop out”, through to the punks’ proclamation of “do it yourself, because nobody else is going to do it for you”, had thoroughly washed over them and into contemporary art culture by this time. In the 1990s, these artists, now middle age professors, had struck their personal balance by carving an oasis nestled in the institutional corners, and made it their home. As students, already driven by our inclinations to travel the pathway of the artist; witnessing this belief-system lived out in the world, as exemplified by these teachers, was the precise validation required to sustain the embarkation of our own journeys.

Once eventually reaching the shores of the world outside of the esoteric art school walls, finding our footing in basic survival while negotiating time and space for art making was to be our next prioritized engagement. Processes, realizations, and trajectory lines, all of course occurred intrinsically; yet having experienced this, I will venture a guess that at a certain point, a specific phenomenological commonality dawned in most of our minds as true believers: the self-admission that we were artists for this lifetime. This key identification reactivated the messages of self-empowered personal truth transmitted by our mentors a few years before; yet now as adults in the world, this pledge was reinvested in with steadfast commitment. And through this core admission, we granted ourselves permission to open into our inner vistas, with deeper perception, to an invisible landscape urging us to pioneer beyond realized parameters. And this concurrently gave way to the self-acknowledgement, on some level, that each of our individual processes exist within genuinely unique timeframes and dimensional planes; spaces that we reverently claimed bond to.

One of the primary magical values of an artwork, is that it is the sum product of an exploration created within a specifically distinct time derivative and energy frequency, which is then shared with the marketplace and humanity. I believe that for societal culture to truly progress honestly and healthily, the artist’s process must be regarded as a singular incomparable quantity. Ideally this quantity and space should only open upon the discretion of the artist, and generally the process should not be interfered with by the marketplace, the academic institution, or even the colleagueship of other artists. When vision is being channeled, it needs to be cultivated in the sanctity of inner space. Therefore, perhaps leaning toward a traditional viewpoint of its functionality, I see the ‘exhibition’ as the place of context in which artwork should primarily be encountered, entering then into the consideration and discourse amongst colleagues and the public.

The interplay between the shared societal space and an individual’s inner space, is forever ebbing and flowing within every human being on Earth, however it would seem that these dynamics are acutely amplified and attended to within every artist. This is a central contributing factor that causes each of us as artists, to require a great deal of time alone; in order to process all the activated exchange that we perceive and feel daily. This transmutation process of dissolving elements down to their essence so that we are able to build them up again in revision, is at the absolute core of creation and art making.

The mechanics of this process are very personal bordering on sacred. And it is within the wisdom of each artist to determine the threshold line in each instance when the shades must be drawn upon external influence and communication for required duration periods within the work’s development. I view this self-awareness as ‘maturity’; and for some individuals, the path to ‘maturity’ is only found when one ventures to seek it prior to reaching it, i.e., ‘dropping out’.

There is freedom in obscurity, and process is everything. Settling into one’s obscurity while actively developing one’s craft, holds enormous power. An artist’s commitment to their practice is the anchoring component to the quality of their work. It is the centering fulcrum when public attention is actively receptive, and it provides the same focal consistency when potential receptivity is seemingly unaware and unresponsive. Exemplifying this perspective as common practice, likely because of the collaborative nature of music; musicians seem to understand this. Within a band, musicians have each other for a resonant response while developing their work, and therefore can hold together as a unit, independent of public reception. And of course, many musicians being self-taught, have never entered into an institutional construct before sharing their work professionally with the public. The following two examples may be read as mainstream and commonplace, but I find them to be effective illustrations in furthering this point: Only one of the four musicians of Led Zeppelin for instance was formally trained in music college, and their self-taught singer, Robert Plant has said in an interview in recent years that, “…Glory is fleeting, and obscurity is forever…” (Austin City Limits, PBS, October 2016). This statement made by someone who had achieved world fame with his band by the age of 20, and then had his subsequent solo music career, beginning at the age of 32 and onward, measured against the shadow of his collaborative work from this early 12-year period. And as another amusing but earnest example, Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister reminded us of this concept with the tattoo that he wore on his left inner forearm which simply read “Born to lose, Live to win”.

I have long carried a poetic, yet possibly metaphysically accurate idea close to me as personal motivation over the years as a sculptor, which I recorded in a journal in my mid-20s, which states that, “…If an artist discontinues making work, no one will care; however somewhere, sometime in the future, someone will be crying and not completely understand the reason why.”

As artists, if we are truly making work intentioned to be from our own internal pioneered lands, then the authenticity of reaching into the unknown and comprehensively articulating all of which we discover there is of the utmost importance. This supersedes all short-term superficially driven variables. And in my opinion, if this core competency of intention is absent, then the personal pursuit of art making is rendered as a self-therapeutic exercise, or as a calculation in visual language for capitalist objective solely; and while both of these varied functions of art making hold respective validity, and while these approaches may in fact benefit society; their potency of purpose in contributing directly to the overall wellbeing of societal culture, is likely dimmed or vacant.

If an artist is making work for a future paradigm, it is probable that at times, while manifesting creations in their present paradigm, that the artist may undervalue their efforts and feel alien to enclaves, specific or wide, within the societal collective. However, the factor, which is forgotten by the artist in these moments, is that they have already stepped outside of the societal collective years ago when they began this pathway, and therefore any attempts in returning to an elusive place of acceptance on compromised terms is immature and illusionary. If an artist has initiated a genuine pioneering of a fantastic inner landscape, then they should get lost in those woods and let the public find them, or at least transcend to their next life from this place of invested consciousness. This is true power. And time will elaborate upon the artist’s work, which may at best, gather worldly value posthumously. And the artist, building their oeuvre like ancient Egyptian royalty preparing their tomb with rare and mystical objects, may only hope to have the ripples from the future acknowledgement of their life's work nonlinearly reach the shores of their next life. Perhaps a lifetime is too short to witness real progress in the reception and influence of one's work, and that all we can hope for is to blindly throw the baton of our life's work up in the air once we pass on through this world; with faith that worthy future collaborators in the form of gallerists, collectors, curators, conservators, art historians, and successors will pick up and evolve matters forward. And still, maybe each original statement and masterwork is its own testamentary flag in the ground on this physical plane; with complete dimensional resonance, of a far off visited and pioneered land waiting to be discovered by those whose signature-frequencies hone-in on where the masterwork is located.

Josh Nusbaum, December 2020.