Charles Eldred, one of my undergraduate teachers said: "One day you will make a piece that will make all the others that came before it look bad. Is that a good day or a bad day?" My surmise now is it has to be "good" for just like writing, one puts what is inside to the outside as a way of clearing the way and moving ahead. I have often joked that graduate school was a good investment because it allowed me to make all the bad paintings I needed to do so I would never do them again. Essentially this is true: artists don't just pop out of the creative womb as finished entities. We stumble around a lot, especially at the outset and the tuition is long, or certainly longer, I believe than most people realize. But then, what happens when you're stumbling around and you find someone else, far off your artistic radar has been following similar issues and has not only explored some of your ideas, they have realized them brilliantly and garnered great acclaim?
My own work has pulled together a lot in the last two years, but it was both humbling, difficult, and I also believe, ultimately important, that I stumbled upon Baumgartner's work only to realize what I'm doing is art that is only just emerging. The lecture I attended last night with the artist and Julien Robson from PAFA really drove home the idea that if I could level one BIG criticism at graduate school, it is that it fundamentally lacked the power of experiences such as observing first hand the interaction between an artist at the top of her game and a curator who is brilliantly insightful. The blame does not rest squarely on the purveyors of my advanced degree. Looking back, probably all of us, were not ready to consider such critical ideas; we were too wrapped up in our own issues--many simply still struggling with the raw materials of our craft, painting. Perhaps too, many of us were just too overwhelmed or too self-involved so that the mental conduits needed to re-shape our thinking were just not open.
Much as Baumgartner's work exquisitely melds form and concept (including notions that relate to my own work) and visually embodies many of the characteristics I want my own pieces to possess, one must believe there is always room for one's own unique voice, one's own way of working. To feel more than a momentary pang of jealousy for the success of another is to deny the uniqueness and value of one's own experience and vision, to suffer a kind of spiritual death. There is a folktale entitled Tree of Sorrows where all the town's people, hang their woes for a day like fruit so that they may pick and chose what cross they will bear. Naturally, in the end, they chose their own. The experience, the moving through time via creation-- the giving of vital force and concrete and lasting form to that which is inside myself, that which is ever-growing, dying, and bedeviling me, that is what matters; that is what will let me find repose. What I'm going through now, even as I sort out my thoughts concerning the events of the last day, will ultimately inform what I will make tomorrow . I really would have it no other way. The joy is the transcendence that I will only find through unraveling my own riddle.