When I was in school, I generally had a frustration in English class. This frustration arose when we would get around to discussing the themes behind poets poetry, a writers novels or a playwrights plays. Themes- what were the ideas, the concepts, the issues behind the creative persons work? One of my English teachers used to sit behind her desk and rattle off the “themes” of a poets work from a photocopied sheet. I remember seeing many other things in the poetry, other hidden messages that had meaning for me. Sometimes I would venture them forward; I would raise my hand and share my personal insights. Generally, I was told; ‘No, that is not a theme in this poet’s work.’ So I stopped sharing my thoughts and I learned to feel stupid for not understanding the art that was before me on the black and white sheets of paper.
I’ve never really come back to poetry; my teenage spirit became wounded from my perceived lack of comprehension. I always wanted to shout at the teacher “But how do you KNOW? Were you sitting on the bench beside him when he wrote the stupid thing?” Of course now I understand that many people would have studied the poet in-depth and their findings would have been condensed down for our secondary education text books. I can also see that maybe my own emotional response to the poem and my exploration of that may not have gotten me the marks I needed to get an A grad in my Leaving Certificate. But how sad is that? You may get thousands of students who can spout off the top ten themes of Shakespeare or Yeats but can they tell you how the work makes them feel? I still think there are things in other people’s work that may speak to us and us alone, maybe completely unintentionally, but speaks to us none the less.
'Container' project. Notebook process work.
The reason I share this story with you is because I would like to share some of the themes of my work with you. I want to discuss the reoccurring threads that are woven through my art.
But I don’t want to insinuate for one second that the themes I see in my work are the only ones. You may see other things; feel other things about the pictures you see before you. I would encourage you to trust what you think about the work and your emotional response to it. It may be you feel happy or sad, intrigued or repulsed, invigorated or subdued. You might be surmising about the reasons I make the things that I do because you know me personally or you are making a judgement as a stranger. Some of your thoughts and feelings may tally with my own accounts but fear not if they do not match exactly.
'Container' project. 'Don't Judge a Container by it's Cover'. Outside.
I am a huge believer in the un-conscious and un-conscious actions. You may be right on the money or an aspect of the work may be mirroring something back to you about yourself. I don’t think an emotional response can be “wrong”. Learning to trust and listen to my own guttural reactions to things has been one of the best tools I have learned for my art and for my life.
'Container' project. 'Don't Judge a Container by it's Cover'. Inside.
Intuition and instinct can be sorely undervalued so I entreat you to use your own here. The understanding of art and the reasons for making it does not have to be the domain of educators, students and scholars alone. Art is not a mythical language that only the few enlightened ones can grapple with. I am telling you as an artist that I make things to express my thoughts and feelings and as we all express ourselves everyday, I completely trust your intelligence and your humanity that you will understand me.
(Unless, that is, I communicate terribly and that would be my fault and not yours!)