Like a scientist, research is part of the work of an artist. A special part of being an artist is that research is done through making.
Part of my work as a graduate student is to hone the practices that help me make in my own style and with productivity, to expand MY practice as a work habit; to do my work, because it is research. In addition to consistently practicing my physical making capabilities, research habits may include doing things which invite curiosity or perspective shifts, rumination and play, reading on special topics, going outside of routine, managing a routine, reflection through making, reflection through not making, and cultivating questions.
I do believe that, for our general American public, research is not associated with the work of being an artist because the emphasis on making art is usually associated with the value of expressing feelings, or, expression of feelings through the act of making. However, for a visual artist who is working as an artist, making is research. The people the hardest at work as artists are also often reading, writing, tracking down information, communicating with other artists across the globe, constantly increasing their skills and information about processes, ceaselessly searching for opportunities, and it’s exhausting.
That’s not even the half of what artists do and don’t get recognized for, but the most important part of our work is research.
For the visual artist, research is synonymous with making. Making is research. When exercised, the results of making are the complexity and content of our work over time, which can affect the fields and practices of design, science, and philosophy (to name a few), shift cultural expectations and morés and change the course of our history as a species. As you can see, artists’ research is pretty important.
This week has meant more research in my materials, specifically porcelain; and research with surface manipulation, particularly how to combine image-making with surface; and, research about the concepts of light and subject through considering the properties of light in photographic capture (what light means as a subject). I am considering how to best combine these materials for communication of a concept. I am considering the essential characteristics of these materials as well as their innate language and historical connotations to allow and communicate meaning in my work.
While I obviously enjoy thought-based research, these thoughts must become a material object which communicates to other viewers. In order to communicate, I make an object which has been considered, even if I do not know the answer to the question, and in making, I find more questions to approach through making.
Here’s some writing of mine in consideration of what light means as a subject. I am currently figuring out what this means, and who to look at (as far as artists and authors) in order to figure out what this means in my research:
“In considering light, I look at shadow. The shadow is an affirmation of matter, of form. In the relationship to light, the object finds its matter; with light, we see shape and form. Without light, we must trust our other senses to inform our understanding. This trust informs my work with light and shadow, form and unform, being and nothingness: with light, nothing and everything can be expressed. There is everything in a picture where nothing is the subject and the object is darkness or light; therein is the Object of Nighttime (an object where light is a medium and a subject).”
With that consideration of what light might mean, I work in my photography practice, my sculptural practice and my practice of painting or drawing. I go to the studio see what happens when I make using artistic research as a way to explore light and shadow. With these thoughts on one hand, I make movements using materials which have historical languages, connotations, and future considerations.
As I am working with the porcelain, I am working to combine consideration of what a form is in relation to an image, because for me, I am considering the connection of light in relation to how we receive and interpret form and image.
As I am considering form in porcelain and photography, I am also looking to painting as an historical combination of an object and an image. I am interested to take from an object bearing the history of painting (as the traditional bearer of image) and combine it with the material language of object. My current work is to create a canvas out of clay (porcelain) and to combine the languages of image and object. Below is an object which I am drawing inspiration from to research these ideas of the intersection of light and form with image and object.
In preparation to make from the interest to communicate an idea, the idea leads the movement of the hand, then the eye responds if the idea is present in the object. (Say what??! ;) Don’t worry, it’s just artistic research). Here is the a step in the research of repeating the form of an object (the canvas with folded corner) to research what happens in an object I make.
Another component to this week’s research has been considering the content of my photography, as a teacher who regarded this work (below) commented: “It is a picture of nothing.”
While this may seem like harsh criticism, it is actually a comment on the result of what is present within the photograph, the state of the information which is presented by the image, and insightful consideration of what is present in a photograph of light (or, light as a subject—remembering light as a proof of presence and absence). A “picture of nothing” is the information of a composition based on light. If light is the subject in this image, it is of course an image of nothing, as light allows form and unform.
Based on this feedback, I decided to consider what makes an image a picture of something…how to complicate the subject of light.
Below are some images I have been considering. These are images of figures (my family), which could give more emotional content than an image of the effects of light in a street without figures.
I am considering that the figure may always represent emotion, as we as a species automatically search for emotional communication when a figure is present (my phrasing, but an assertion which I feel can be supported with context from psychology and anthropology of non-verbal communication). Whether a viewer is aware of the context of the figure may change their interpretation of an emotional context but will not change whether they associate emotions with the figure. Therefore, this picture of my father may not mean the same thing to another viewer, but they will still associate some meaning and emotion with this image of a figure. Although both images would be made possible by light, this is a different type of image for a viewer than an image of a street at night.
What is interesting for me in terms of research on image is that 1) they are in black and white, and, 2) they are on a contact sheet. Black and white for me remains a way to visually communicate the most extreme vision of what we experience when we visually register light (contrast). This is important as I continue making images and objects.
In the second point, the contact offers the visual language of multiples.
The multiple is important because it signals meaning in a way that a non-repeated image does not. A serial image imparts a meaning which is not present when a figure or image is represented once. The meaning is something which I can investigate in sculpture and in image.
Moving back from the sympathetic response to figure (in any medium), I look again at what light means in a low-light situation like my photographs at night. A contemporary urban scene at night can actually include a lot of light because of electricity, and effects are heightened due to lack of an atmospheric light source (the sun). This makes the capture of light at night a potential exercise in regarding the behavior of light at a particle level. For instance, shadows become enhanced, and forms become even more or less defined because of your distance to the object (as usual but to an ever greater degree). Also, through a photographic lens, the distance to an object and the visual effect of a light particle becomes a function of filters (your eyeball lens, and the lens of the camera).
Because of this double lens, photography can make the nature of light visible in ways that the naked eye cannot (without the benefit of the shutter, lens and register present in a camera). This is interesting because if I can understand the physics of a scene lit at night, I as a maker can more effectively make decisions about what I make as an image and an object. This study of light effects is also a form of research called observation.
For instance, the following photographs display my observations of the effects of light and shadow in making an object appear to have three dimensions. These effects become important in mold-making, when considering the dimensions of an object and the orientation a piece will have as the product of a mold. This is part of why I make a practice of studying the light and form in objects and environments: for realistic rendering in plastic form (drawing, painting, sculpture).
In this photograph, I am looking at the triangular shadow which exists and defines to my eye the interior of the railing (as well as its exterior). If I were to replicate this railing in object or image, by hand, I would need to replicate its contours, volume, measurements and proportions to make it appear as this “railing” to the human eye (if I want it to represent “this railing.”)
However, if I wish to emphasize the light as a subject, I might focus on emphasizing brightness and contrast in a field of vision.
If I want to work with both our sense of object and the atmospheric, I can incorporate elements which capitalize on our sense of the three dimensions of solid form as well as our understanding of visual fields (fade, gradient)…
When looking at these photographs, I am looking at how the light behaves, how the camera has captured it, and whether the contrast or field of vision communicates a sense of something or of nothing (what is the subject of the photographs). If the intention of a photograph is as a document of moment in time, is it a condition that lighting must match the perception of the human eye?
In the photographs which follow, I am still questioning what the subject becomes, when light is a formidable aspect of the composition.
Is this an image of specific information? Is it a capture of a moment in human cultural history? Is it an image of technology? Does that match what I was capturing with porcelain pressings from buildings? Is an image the same as an object if they both capture a specific quality in human cultural history?
The only way to really understand what images and objects are doing is to continue making them. I return to press-molding to make a capture of something which is an object into an object. Here is an image capture of that capture. I think this says something about the act of making and I think I am making work about the act of making as image and object.
So then, what happens to an object when it becomes fragments (if it is fragmented, does its operation become different?)? The objects above and below were made using one mold-making method: press molding from an original (above) and press-molding using a tile (bottom of photo, below).
What happens, also, when an object is created to replicate the conditions of another object? (For instance, when a sculpture is carved out of marble to imitate fabric or human flesh). When an object is allowed aspects (shape, form, color, shadow, value) that mimic characteristics of another object, how does communication to the viewer (from the object) become different? These are questions I am working in as I explore how we perceive images and objects. To make images of nothing is to communicate something and nothing at the same time.
It is my work as an artist to communicate with a viewer (whether that viewer is myself or another person) whether that communication is about a narrative, sympathy in forms, process, expression of internal questions, or how we perceive light, objects or form. With a twofold process of examination of materials and research, I commit myself to making something. What it says depends on how I use the tools available to me as a visual artist: image, object, shape, form, color, contrast, light, shadow, presence, absence, dimension, scale, repetition, reference, theme, narrative, abstraction, expression, attention, observation, replication, concept, content, context…
Only through thorough and consistent making will I have research. Only through research can I arrive to a question.
Below are some questions in process. As an artist, I perceive that they present both conditions and questions within their form and structure. I’m hoping to develop them into fully-grown questions (using image, and changing their surface), over the next few weeks.
What type of method do you use to develop questions (how are you asking)? How can a practice help you approach asking? Do you understand how practice can be a method of asking and a question?
Go Make Something,