Friday, December 31, 2010

the eLABorations are about to begin...

starting tomorrow, i will be a starting a new blog: eLABorations.

this ‘blog will be an extension of my ongoing series in which i use slogans and phrases superimposed over various images. as a way to add another variable into the mix, i have invited some friends to play with that idea collaboratively.

what i am interested in is the juxtaposition between image and text, and how the change in image shifts how we 'read' that image - i.e. how we interpret it - in light of the text.

each month i will be posting a minimum of 10 images, which i have paired with a randomly chosen text of my choice. the resulting combinations will be posted here on the first of every month, for the duration of 2011.

i hope you will drop by and visit regularly (or at least monthly), and comment on (and perhaps even discuss) how the images and text dance and inter-play; especially as the project moves forward.

it all begins tomorrow...

Friday, December 24, 2010

merry christmas

for all of you who have dropped by, snooped around, made a comment -- thank you.

may 2011 be a year filled with joy, peace and hope.

Friday, December 17, 2010

a declaration of intent (by lawrence weiner)

personally, i love the idea of this (of course, i think art is primarily about ideas - and the communication of those ideas):
Declaration of Intent (1968)

1. The artist may construct the piece.
2. The piece may be fabricated.
3. The piece need not be built.

Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.


on that note -- i recently went through my various sketchbooks (i really need to return to the discipline of capturing everything in one place at a time -- i currently am scribbling thoughts, ideas and images in 6 different books, not to mention the multitude of paper scraps i collect) and started a list of the various projects that i would really like to do in the next few years, whether they have lain long dormant or are newly attractive. there were more than 60.

oh, how i wish i had a workshop of young and eager apprentices to help me construct my ideas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


january 2011 will see the start of a new monthly collaboration project: eLABoration.

one definition of "elaboration" is the development or expansion of an idea or theme.

regular readers of edStuff will know that a large part of my practice involves the use and juxtaposition of various slogans and phrases superimposed on images. i have asked a number of my photography friends to participate (and there is still room for more if you're interested) by submitting a single image each month, which will be paired with a randomly chosen text of my choice. the resulting combinations will be posted here (hopefully) on the first of every month. what i am interested in is the tension created between text and image, and how the change in image shifts the text, leading to new interpretations in how we 'read' that image and/or text.

so please stay tuned. i think it's going to be an interesting experiment.

* please contact me and leave a message if you would be interested in participating, or if you would like more details.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

your thoughts, like stars (a review)

another review of a recent exhibition (you can see a video of the work here). a careful and engaged reading.

your thoughts, like stars: my thoughts

Edward van Vliet likes to chew long and hard on words, like beef jerky. His words often seem as innumerable as the stars. He is the most frequent commenter on this blog and you will find his thoughts salting the faith and art blogosphere under the name of etechne. Van Vliet is a man of many words, and I wonder if he isn’t obsessed with their power. It is no wonder then that Edward van Vliet’s current exhibition, your thoughts, like stars, presents four installations orbiting the power of words and the thoughts they carry.

Anyone who has followed van Vliet’s work will find familiar images and themes. Books play a large part. recipes for kneeling (version 2), revisits the illuminated books and kneeling cushions of earlier installations at the Fringe Gallery. (between), a smaller installation, features a single book, half buried, fossil-like, in a mound of glittering sand. The imagery for the weight of things brings an explosively expanded vision to imagery created for his NAESS show, i’m not finished yet and whisper before that. Text is again laid over the nebulous wonder of outer space. Edward also returns to his love for viewer participation and feedback, this time inviting his “readers” to create a page for a yet another book by reflecting on the significance of a single block of color (red, blue or green).

While much is familiar, none of it feels repeated. The exhibit as a whole is surprisingly fresh and bold. It is the show one would hope to have evolved and grown from the sprouts of past efforts. Each piece builds upon and enlarges an earlier concept.

Taken as a whole, the show weaves a thread of contemplation, wonder and ultimately action. We are not here to simply look. We are here to think. We should wrestle and, if van Vliet would have his way, act in some way. Not counting viewer contributions, which continue to increase at this writing, van Vliet has presented us with 113 “thoughts” in total here. The cumulative effect is both overwhelming awe and the inability to focus in one particular direction. There is a paradox on display. The phrases offered read as timeless truths, and the images van Vliet evokes, from the expansive universe, the vast seas and countless sand on a shore to ancient books and inverted Albrecht Durer etchings of the Apocalypse, draw us into a transcendent timeline. But the collection of so many thoughts in one small space feels more suited to the bite sized attention span of internet information addicts. How do we make sense of all this knowledge? How do we catalogue and process the wisdom of the ages? Perhaps this is the thought behind the title for the weight of things. Are we to view all 100 thoughts, displayed like polaroids, in one go, or are we better to sit with just one?

After taking in the whole, one does well to sit with each part and reflect. I began with the weight of things., where “thoughts” are rooted to sculpted bases, white and porous as sand dollars in the sea. The pieces pinwheel out from the center into five tentacle-like arms, also evoking a sand dollar. These arms seem to be moving, reaching to pull us inside, towards some center. Knowing van Vliet’s faith, I’d guess that centre is the very heart and mind of God. I walked the length of each arm, one by one, letting each thought sink as far as I could in a short span of time. By the end I did feel the weight of things. At times encouraged, at times convicted, each phrase leaves little room for complacent comfort. Some soothe, but in surprising ways. Each phrase and image creates a world we could lose ourselves in. We could dive inside that expansive space and get to work kneading the wisdom of these words into our lives. But, as all to often happens, we must soon change the channel and move on.

I continued to recipes for kneeling (version 2), where 12 illuminated books hung low, awaiting my kneeling gaze. I approached each cushion and opened covers to reveal beautiful woodcuts, inverted to appear harsh and dark. The covers were notably more drab than those in van Vliet’s previous show. The images inside have no color or gradation. Black and white alone convey a sense of absolutes. The font used on these pieces feels as old as the woodcuts themselves, a gothic script spelling out messages that are immediately jarring. I am being watched. There is power in my tongue. I begin to feel I am part of the battle depicted in these dramatic scenes of Apocalypse. My actions here and now are tied to then and there. What I do and what I say is of eternal importance, and it also matters today. Twelve is an easier number to digest than 100, and so this piece comes together for me, clearer than whole of The Weight of Things. I feel an urgency.

I move on to the space between, where the focus narrows onto one single book, unearthed part way from a pile of sand, like a fossil from a sea shore. I cannot help but notice the sparkle of the sand, its thousands upon thousands of tiny pieces mirroring the titular stars of the whole exhibit. On the book’s cover a single skeletal torso is overlaid with flaming red and the words “made of earth/made of stars” (the latter half printed upside down and backwards). This piece feels ancient, organic and intimate. Something of our true origin and nature is to be discovered. This torso would house and protect a heart. A heart born of the earth, and yet beyond. A heart to house the countless thoughts on display. Perhaps to act before the tide comes in to wash away this moment. the space between somehow touches me most deeply of all four installations. It somehow gives me hope that I am more than dust.

And now it is time to add my own contribution, as I move to [NAME THIS], where I am invited to write my reflections on a primary color. I choose red. I think of the fear and pain and passion of loving. I think of myself undone, broken and transformed by love. It’s a good place for an art show to have brought me.

I leave awash in thoughts of beach, sea and stars. A million points of light that can illuminate as well as burn. A million points of light spanning time and space. Dying out. Being born again. Without seeing Christ, or reading His name, I have been drawn to Him.

I leave in the grip of the Thinker, whose “thoughts, like stars” keep me moving.

review by dave von bieker


“i’m not finished yet” is not finished yet (a review)

this is a review of the exhibit i had at naess gallery in the summer (images can be found here). i know -- a little late, but still...

“i’m not finished yet” is not finished yet

You still have this weekend to catch Edward van Vliet’s installation at the NAESS Gallery in Edmonton. And so you should.

Van Vliet has returned to the medium he developed for recipes for kneeling, grafting in imagery from his piece at last year’s “Whisper” art show. Van Vliet creates book-based light boxes, creating a space where light illuminates the image from within the belly of the book, creating modern day miniature stained glass vignettes. The entire work is closed up behind the cover of the book, requiring interaction on the part of the viewer who then opens the book to explore its contents.

It’s a thin metaphor, to my mind, of what a book does in reality. Sitting on a shelf it is at best useful as a prop to other books or a decorative piece. Sitting on a table it may provide height or a decent paperweight. It is only through the engagement of the reader that the book gains real value. As we open the book, we are welcomed into a new world. This theme was literally realized in the best-selling Myst video game years ago, where ancient books magically written would take travelers to new “ages”, or worlds within the game. But this is also what books actually do in real life. The best books transport us out of ourselves into another place and time. They carve out a “space in time”, as Michael Card tells us all good art should do in Scribbling In The Sand. Every lover of good books will get this metaphor instantly from Edward’s work at NAESS.

While van Vliet’s piece takes Marshall McLuhan’s adage, “the medium is the message” to its extremes, it goes beyond that meaning with its content. Within each book you will discover reflections on the enormity of the universe and our place in it, through little thoughts and tiny moments. Each image contains a celestial background overlaid with short, poignant reflections in simple black text.

One piece proclaims that “you have lost the power of astonishment at your own actions”. Like any good book or piece of art, this statement will take on new meaning with each reader. For me, it is a reminder to keep going and to keep dreaming. It is a prodding away from false humility in the guise of self-deprecation, on towards completing the tasks I was created for. The explosive pink interstellar imagery behind the words points to possibility. This is simply one of the several books included in the installation, and yet if I were to stop and soak in it, I could find many more significant connections to my own journey.

What Edward van Vliet does with i’m not finished yet is offer us “Worlds Within Words“. The fact that these pregnant phrases are packed between two covers of metaphor, then illuminated in a very literal way, helps us get the point. One gets the sense that each phrase really has as much to offer as if it were an entire book, and deserves our time and attention.

Visit Edward van Vliet’s “worlds within words” while you still can.

review by dave von bieker


Monday, November 15, 2010

your thoughts, like stars: the video

once again, my friend larry haas of the idea factory has made a wonderful video capturing my exhibition at profiles: art gallery of st. albert. enjoy.

(and comment.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

your thoughts, like stars (installation and the opening)

last week i installed your thoughts, like stars. it was somewhat stressful pulling everything together after my trip to holland (and my two previous exhibitions in september and october), but i managed to get to edmonton tuesday evening and began installing the exhibition on wednesday morning. i know i stressed out the installation team (again, my deepest apologies) but i also knew that my work would be fairly simple to both install and light. and it was. by wednesday afternoon, most of it was installed and ready to be lit.

here are some images of the work in situ:

the weight of things


recipes for kneeling (version two) - as installed and lit


the opening reception was great. it was wonderful to reconnect with so many people who i had worked with when i was the education curator with the gallery, both artists and co-workers/ volunteers. while there weren't hundreds of people, of those that did come, many stayed for twenty or thirty minutes (and some even longer!). to be honest, i would much rather have 60 people visit and stay and linger and engage with the work than have 200 come and spend 5 or 10 minutes, and that's what happened. there were many people who visited in the front, lit portion of the gallery, but there were also many who sat on the bench in the darkened back half of the gallery, meditating on the work.

there were several people who came up to me that evening to share the impact that the work was having on them. some spoke about how some of the pieces were challenging them on some quite specific [personal] issues and struggles. others shared how they were going through some tough times, and that the work was inspiring hope in them. how wonderful that my work should inspire hope. when was the last time art truly inspired hope in you?

CAAG group show (a wrap-up)

off the wall, the CAAG (canmore artists and artisans guild) + guests group show, is now over. there were a lot of very good pieces by numerous artists, including wood workers, ceramicists, glass blowers and textile artists. my piece felt like the odd one out (though i did borrow a quilt to cover the tent in which my books were placed).

the piece i had submitted was a different installation of whisper, one which required visitors to physically enter the piece's space. on sunday i sat in the space and spoke with visitors. people engaged with many of the pieces, but the comments i heard about mine included "clever", "beautiful", "unique", "fun" and "very profound". at one point, a small boy and his mother entered, and stooped down to look at the pieces. i told them they could handle the books and he went to town...he crawled inside and began rearranging the books, even moving them all out of the tent so that his mother could join him. it was neat to watch. it was a bit of an experiment, placing the books inside something, and one which i will revisit; namely, the idea of inviting people to enter into a 'warm', "safe" place in order to read the books. i know it worked for at least one person. while i was away in st. albert last week setting up for your thoughts, like stars (a solo exhibition), i received the following email:
Edward, your Whispers installation in the Canmore gallery made sheets of tears cascade down my face. You created a profound experience for me. The last time I was so moved by art was a Gustav Klimt exhibit in NYC 4 decades ago. Thank you for creating and sharing something so powerful.
that is pretty humbling. i'm still curious as to what exactly this person was experiencing and responding to, but that is pretty powerful. you want your work to impact people deeply, whether intellectually, emotionally or spiritually (or, hopefully, all three at once). personally, i want my work to change people - to shift them; to bring healing, hope, revelation, transformation. to open them up. is that asking too much?

i think not.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

your thoughts, like stars (a statement)

here is the statement for the work in the exhibition. pictures will be posted after the opening. there are three new pieces, and one re-contextualized piece. and so:

My work explores the interaction between images and text, and the [changing] interpretations that occur as one discovers and explores those connections. The connections between the objects soon begin to be about the connections between viewer and object, an ultimately between the viewer and everything they bring to that conversation. As such, the work is insistent that the viewer or reader does some of the heavy lifting of interpretation.

In your thoughts, like stars I wanted to explore the tensions between more mundane, earthly concerns and more ethereal, cosmological themes; and to use light and vision as primary ideas for that exploration. The way in which the viewer engages with the work is part of how it gains meaning, and that interactivity is an important part of the work. The theme of vision and [self] perception – what we see, and how we see it – is a primary idea for the exhibition, as is the symbolic use of light. And sand. And books/ text.

the weight of things: 100 cosmological images (nebulas, stars, galaxies) are combined with texts that are variously entreaties, accusations, questions or demands. I want the viewer to consider their role and responsibility in the context of their lives and, yes, the universe.

recipes for kneeling (version 2): The books, placed at a height that requires a specific posture for engaging with them, promise some sort of story. That posture, in turn, creates a more directed way of interpreting the images and text (not to mention the object itself).

(the space between): A book, sand and light. What more needs be said?

[NAME THIS]: This interactive piece invites the viewer to share a personal and specific memory in response to several colours. The colours – red, green and blue – are the primary printing colours and, in a very real way, shape our vision. Memory too is a type of seeing, though an internal one.

I would like you to pay attention. To make connections. To engage in a conversation.


The artist would like to invite you to contribute used books to further projects. In particular: Condensed Reader's Digests, Harlequin romances (small softcovers), Audubon's 102 Favorite Birds of North America, old bibles, books about icons/ mediaeval manuscripts. In general: Art books, encyclopedias, Dover publications, atlases and maps, anything with lovely old woodcut images - the older, the better.

Images are courtesy of NASA and ESA/Hubble (images are released as per Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence). Please note that said use does not connote an endorsement by either NASA or ESA/Hubble.

I would like to thank Darryl Wurst of Bow Valley Basics Canmore, who sponsored some of the weight of things’ printing costs.

Finally, I would like to thank my gracious and wonderful wife, Lisa, and my two always entertaining and curious boys, Aden and Samuel, for their encouragement and love.


Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version)

I don't deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, to remind men that they are not dead yet. - G. K. Chesterton

hope to see you there! and if not there, commenting here once pictures are posted...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

group exhibition: off the wall

i will be exhibiting a variation of whisper in off the wall, the annual three-dimensional art exhibition with CAAG (canmore artists and artisans guild). there will be books, lights, pillows and a tent. drop by and take a look between october 22 and november 8.

Friday, October 8, 2010

invitation: your thoughts, like stars

i received the invitation for my solo show in november at profiles: art gallery of st. albert. they did a great job considering all of my pieces are still in process. they combined several of the elements that will be in the exhibition: books (natch), cosmological images and light. i will be posting more information about the pieces in the next week. for now, here are the invite images:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

the conclusion of asher lev: the final conclusion

as i leave my discussions and thought about my name is asher lev, i would like to leave you with a blessing. it is the blessing that the Rebbe gives asher as he releases him to develop his talent and gift:
i wish you a long and healthy life. i give you my blessings for greatness in the world of art and greatness in the world of your people. (p. 271)
it is good to be blessed. i hope that you have had the experience of being blessed, whether by a father, a brother, a spiritual leader, a stranger. i hope you have been blessed as a father, mother, daughter, son. i hope you have been blessed as an artist. be blessed.

(we could all use a little more blessing)

Friday, October 1, 2010

the conclusion of asher lev, pt. 2

i will end my posts about my name is asher lev by discussing something about its beginning. the novel begins thusly:
My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev, about whom you have read in newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion.

I am an observant Jew. Yes, of course, observant Jews do not paint crucifixions. As a matter of fact, observant Jews do not paint at all--in the way that I am painting. So strong words are being written and spoken about me, myths are being generated: I am a traitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, my friends, my people; also, I am a mocker of ideas sacred to Christians, a blasphemous manipulator of modes and forms revered by Gentiles for two-thousand years.

Well, I am none of those things. And yet, in all honesty, I confess that my accusers are not altogether wrong: I am indeed, in some way, all of those things.

The fact is that gossip, rumors, mythmaking and news stories are not appropriate vehicles for the communication of nuances of truth, those subtle tonalities that are often the truly crucial elements in a casual chain.So it is time for the defense, for a long session in demythology. But I will not apologize. It is absurd to apologize for a mystery.
(p. 9)
it is a curious thing to start a novel by explaining that the story is not the story -- that this story about art is not about surfaces, but about what lies beneath, and that that story is more often a mystery. and that is really what art does. it presents you with a surface, but that surface has depth. or, at least, it should. art is an onion, or a cake (one of my favourite art metaphors). it has layers. you absorb it. it becomes part of you.

this introduction is also instructive in being careful about reading too much of the artist into the work. of course, the artist's experiences, culture, identity all play into the kind of work they make, but - while these things may inform the work's creation - they do not necessarily limit the work to those contexts and interpretations. possible readings will shift depending on where and how we encounter the work. hopefully, the work also speaks to larger ideas about art, ideas, human experience.

so let's look at the image potok created of Brooklyn Crucifixion, lev's infamous painting:

the painting could offend people on numerous levels: as a cubist work, subbing its nose at mimesis and realism; as an expressionist work, with its twisting of space and modernist language; and the crucified figure (the artist?) could offend both jew (it depicts a gentile event) and christian (it depicts someone other than jesus). on the other hand, it is a painting about those visual traditions - a rupturing of space and time, reflective of the modern human condition; it is a painting about human suffering, both individual and tribal; it is about the public's potential to attack the artist/ writer for the content and/or delivery of the work.

the question always is: can we move beyond those [initial] surface elements and create a composite of possible meanings? can we move beyond that first reaction, and tune into the wealth of responses available to us as we enter into the work's story, including both the imagery, style, scale and context (material and conceptual) as well as the artist's personal experiences and how they may inform its production and content (or not)? can we take the time to read the story rather than trying to condense (and therefore limit) the work to a sentence?


Friday, September 24, 2010

the conclusion of asher lev, pt. 1

before i leave chaim potok's my name is asher lev, i wanted to touch on a few more ideas (again). near the end of the book, after a major exhibition in which the various spheres of faith, family, inspiration and commerce collide, and after a series of discussions and meetings with representatives of those spheres, asher thinks this:
Asher Lev, Hasid. Asher Lev, painter. I looked at my right hand, the hand with which I painted. There was power in that hand. Power to create and destroy. Power to bring pleasure and pain. Power to amuse and horrify. There was in that hand the demonic and the divine at one and the same time. The demonic and the divine were two aspects of the same force. Creation was demonic and divine. Creativity was demonic and divine. Art was demonic and divine. The solitary vision that put new eyes into gouged-out sockets was demonic and divine. I was demonic and divine. Asher Lev, son of Aryeh and Rivkeh Lev, was the child of the Master of the Universe and the Other Side. Asher Lev paints good pictures and hurts people he loves. Then be a great painter, Asher Lev; that will be the only justification for all the pain you will cause. But as a great painter I will cause pain again if I must. Then become a greater painter. But I will cause pain again. Then become a still greater painter. Master of the Universe, will I live this way all the rest of my life? Yes, came the whisper from the branches of the trees. Now journey with me, my Asher. Paint the anguish of all the world. Let people see the pain. But create your own molds and your own play of forms for the pain. We must give a balance to the universe.

Yes, I said. Yes. My own play of forms for the pain. (p. 348)

asher is determined to walk out his vision of, and conviction about, the artist and the role he plays in society. he is willing to offend and hurt, though not maliciously - more as an unfortunate effect of painting the truth as he sees it. he is willing to be mocked and criticized. he is willing to bear rejection and exile. he seems to acknowledge the moral aspect of the work, its emotional and even spiritual content and effects. he knows there are choices to be made as one creates, and sometimes those choices may be hurtful, and even seen as evil. and yet, the work must be made, and truth must be its subject - regardless of consequences.

the question is: is that the kind of balance the artist brings? is that the artist's role? to bring a kind of balance to the universe? what kind of balance? the fact is that the power of the artist to move, shake, confront can be twisted and abused. the artist must make a choice as to how to use that power. it would seem that the artist's task of putting "new eyes into gouged-out sockets" is a painful one. and necessarily so. [asher recognizes that] there is a choice the artist must make. does the artist become an instrument for the demonic? or does he choose to become an instrument for the divine? or tool. or weapon. a technology. a techne. and perhaps that doesn't look like we expect it to.

so then, here's the question: is that pain necessary? is the quickest way to a heart through a wound? it reminds me of an anish kapoor quote:

there are two kinds of artists in the world: those who reveal the wound, and those who hope to heal it.

so. which are you? which am i?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

i need your eyes!

well...not literally. but I would like your help for a new piece. don't worry - it's pretty simple.

all i ask is that, as you read whatever magazines you read, you have a pair of scissors nearby and cut out any eyes you find. just the iris, pupil and 'almond'-(ish?) white of the eye. no eyelids or eye lashes...just the iconic eye shape. any colour, any race, any size. and don't feel obligated to participate.

after you have collected a significant number of them, please contact me and I will provide you with my address so you can mail them to me.

the deadline is october 31st, 2010.


thank you!

Monday, September 13, 2010

your thoughts, like stars (a preamble)

i'm looking for someone to help me with a photograph for my next exhibition invitation. the problem is i have no finished art to photograph. but i do have an idea for an image that will be true, if not actual. you will, of course, receive an image credit. naturally, it involves books. please let me know if you're interested in giving it a shot.

the exhibition title is your thoughts, like stars. there will be some wall-mounted lightbooks, and a large (100 pieces) floor piece tentatively titled the weight of things (which is almost finished - i'm just waiting on some photo clips and printing). there is some finessing to be done with the images and texts, but it's almost there. i will post images closer to the date (november).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

i'm not finished yet: some pictures

here are some pictures of the installation and opening. the series is called whisper.

feel free to share your thoughts, impressions, suggestions...

Monday, August 30, 2010

new exhibition: i'm not finished yet

i hope you will be able to come to the naess gallery this saturday to see my new exhibition:

i'm not finished yet.

there will be 12 new lightbooks. they are quite beautiful. sublime, even.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

making your way: artistic tradition(s)

in addition to being part of various cultural traditions, we are also engaged in any number of artistic traditions. or at least at some point we need to recognize which artistic tradition(s) we are engaging with as we create our work. that means deciding whether we want to work within it, or against it (or perhaps, more usefully, somewhere in between).

The following morning, I returned to the Accademia and stood for more than a hour drawing the David. I drew the head, with the eyes that reflected the decision to enter the arena of power; I drew the huge veined hands that would soon kill; I drew the shouldered sling being lifted in preparation for the delivery of death. The little man with the broken nose had created this sculpture in an act of awesome rebellion against his tradition and his teacher. Other Davids I had seen were small in size and represented David after the battle. This David was a giant and represented the decision to enter the battle. The little Italian had effected a spatial and temporal shift that had changed the course of art. (p.297)

i understand tradition as being an ongoing process - we are [hopefully] part of living traditions. traditions are constantly being transformed and reinvented for new contexts and new participants, though the essentials remain the same. tradition is about how we acknowledge, celebrate, participate. i don't subscribe to the modernist idea that the artist must always subvert or overthrow (or even re-invent) traditions in order to be an artist. the relationship between artist and tradition need not be antagonistic.

tied to this attitude is the idea (and pressure) that the artist must always create something new i.e. be "original". this is a pretty specious idea anyway, but if we applied this idea as a touchstone of what it means to be an artist, many of the great historic artists couldn't be considered terribly "original" as they worked in specific traditions, adding small shifts and introducing new elements in their work. even then, those changes were as often generated by cultural/ philosophical shifts as by any novel invention by the artists themselves. we talk about originality as if it is possible to make radical breaks with tradition, but in fact, originality is always determined by its relationship to established [cultural] traditions.

anyway, i think it is when we discuss where we are within our own artistic tradition(s) that we use that rarefied arts language. but even then we must be aware of what we are really saying when we position ourselves. we need to have spent the time truly exploring and 'unpacking'; analyzing, contextualizing and interrogating those narratives. after all, they aren't neutral. again, the following exchange (found on p. 289/90) opens up some questions around this idea:

"Why do you have to paint and display to the public things that are offensive?"
"They aren't offensive to people who understand art."
“They’re offensive to people like me, Asher. I’m asking you why you have to paint that way.”
“Because I’m an artist”
“Asher, look at me. I’m not a fool. I speak to senators and governors…I have a bachelor’s and a master’s in political science. Explain it to me so I can understand it. Why do you have to paint and display nudes?”
“Because I’m part of a tradition, Papa. Mastery of the art form of the nude is very important to that tradition. Every important artist who ever lived drew or painted the nude.”
“Art is a tradition.”
“I understand. But why is the nude so important in this tradition?”
“Because it has always been part of that tradition.”
“Who began it?” “The Greeks.” “Ah,” he said.
“The Greeks. Our old friends, the Greeks. All right, Asher. I can understand a little better now why you paint nudes. Why do you display them?”
“I don’t want to sit in a room painting for myself. I want to communicate what I do. And I want critics to know I can do it.”
“Even if it offends people?”
“Everything offends someone.”
“Even if it offends your father?”
I did not respond.
“There is such a thing as respect for your father. That’s also a tradition.”
“I respect you, Papa. But I can’t respect your aesthetic blindness.”
“Aesthetic blindness?…An interesting concept. Aesthetic blindness. And what about moral blindness, Asher?”
“I’m not hurting anybody, Papa.”
“One day you will Asher. This will lead you to the sitra achra.”
“Asher, if you had a choice between aesthetic blindness and moral blindness, which would you choose?”
I said nothing.

this passage puts its finger on several questions, but the most important point is our unquestioning acceptance of [the artist's] status quo; the mythology and machinery of what it means to be an artist -- and, perhaps, especially a contemporary/ 'cutting-edge' artist. [self] awareness of oneself as an artist is key to being able to engage with your 'project', your message, content, subject, whatever. this self-awareness is not simply limited to an inwardly focussed appraisal or declaration of our psychological, emotional and/or spiritual existence, but also one's place within the [various] artistic traditions and social contexts one moves, lives and breathes in and amongst. in essence, as an artist, what do you do, and why? and does the way in which you make your work affect its production and reception? because i dothink that matters. a lot.