Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
A Speech from the Poopdeck
I often get waaay ahead of myself when talk about stuff. I speak about things I have no business speaking about, I philosphize off the cuff, and wax randomly as the neural firings occur in my head. This happened a couple of months ago, and I might as well address it here. This is a long one, sorry.
I was being interviewed by Traffic Magazine for a small piece on my comics, and the interviewer, Steve, got me up and dazzled by getting me to talk on the subject of art school, namely, that I never went. He wasn't being confrontational: it was just the way the conversation went. And this brought me back to something that my girlfriend Molly and I often discuss.
Full disclosure: I did not, in fact, ever go to art school, I went to film school. I took a ton of lifedrawing and illustration classes, but I never took any painting, collage, sculpting, and, perhaps most importantly, not Day Damn One of art history. Everything I know about famous artists and movements I've dumbed out by books from the library and going to museums. I am, for lack of a better phrase, Self-taught In Art, with all the weighty meaning that implies (see Walker Evans). While many of my friends are Artists with a capital A, I exist on the periphery, constanttly seeking to justify my prescence in galleries and shows of my goofy drawings by meekly overexplaining everything as the wine gets to my head.
And here's really the crux of the whole issue, and for me, where a relatively clear deliniation happens. I guess I could call it my War On Art School, and get away with it because I have a just cause, but I won't. Art school is cool, and I bet really fun. I just don't think it helps people make their own art. Before you angrily email, lemme explain.
I think I can, in a grand sweeping gesture, divide the world of creation into two camps: The Narrativists and The Academics. These two camps, while they flow together, attend the same events, admire many of the same people, and in some cases occupy the same person, are two very different ways of approaching the creative process.
For the Academics, the world is a linear progression. It's illuminated manuscripts to Michaelangelo to Caravaggio to Manet to Degas, etc. etc. Its a progression of human creativity and evolution. Its the furthering of humanity's continual quest to express ourselves into infinite ways. When one creates, one stands on the shoulders of the giants before, and each creative brick that one lays down in a step forward. Everyone is tied to everyone else through the delicate threads of history. If you're lucky and talented enough and know the right people, you get to be a big chunk of the wall, like a Rothko or a Warhol. This is, at it's base, a very logical, formal, and academic POV of art, and I think, for it's part, it's important. Art schools, for all their perceived anti-establishment reputation, cannot help but a part of this: they are, by their very nature, structured to inform and impart knowledge. They need to break information into digestable chunks; they have hundreds of impressionalable, young (perhaps one-day-famous) minds to give a sound footing in the art world to. And those goals are achieved well.
For the Narrativists, while these strings may exist, it doesn't matter. The Narrativists have odd dreams and the urge the get This Thing out of them RIGHT NOW. It's less about the formal process, and much more of a personal experience of art: "I saw these two people fighting outside, and it stuck with me so much I have to write about it or it will eat me up". And don't be decieved by the name. The "Narrativists" need not be not writers or filmmakers; they may be abstract painters or jazz trumpters. However, they are actually in the end, still just telling one story, and that is their own, over and over again. It comes out in different ways, in a mud phase or a Cassavetes phase, but it is the inner dialogue in their heads that they are constantly trying to keep up with.
Let me say I don't think one is 'better' than the other, but I do think you're more one than the other, and that Narrativists get a raw deal sometimes. I can take a very small view of this in my own inconsequtial opinion and exterpertise, and that's in drawing, or more specifically, comics. For the academic comic artists, it's about pushing the envelope in terms of sequential art, doing what hasn't been done before, making a sly allusion to Will Eisner while spinning their own craft. But they can't draw worth a lick. And then there's a great Narrativist artist who may not be doing the 'different' thing, but each story he/she writes MEANS something to them first and foremost.
I land solidly in the Narrativist camp, if only because I don't really get the Academic side. But I'm tired of feeling like a lesser artist because I don't know why I'm doing it, I just know I have to. In my defense, I think my film studies gave me a much better insight to what I want to do than any art history course.
I'm gonna make a sweeping generalization here, considering I've never even been to art school, but it's my blog, dammit. And I think art school drums into the heads of the students the Academic way and dampens the Narrativist side, namely because it's so unteachable. And I think that's a real shame. It makes the kids focus too closely on What Came Before, which, while I guess is interesting enough, isn't what I at least think is the really great stuff. The great stuff is the stuff that makes you cry as you make it. That makes you sick to your stomach to get it out and on the page. The stuff makes people looking at it or listening to it catch their breath and have to sit down. Now that's art.
One example, then I'll shut up: Steely Dan is one of most respected bands out there: their arrangements are perfect and intellectually stimulating. But I'd rather listen to The Sonics pluck out the same three chords on Louie Louie any day of the week.
If you got this far, congrats. I promise I won't do that often.