Seeing is not believing and Believing is not seeing

Today, is the final critique of my first semester at CCAD working on my art. I have chosen to use my camera/lens and Photoshop as my primary image making tools for this semester. Next year I will focus primarily on large scale charcoal drawing. During my 3rd and 4th year I want to integrate them (somehow). This whole semester has been about discovering my process in making art because I have not been actively doing it for 25 years. What do I want to make? Why? To what end? Is it sustainable?

I have always been fascinated with surreal art and have studied it for the majority of my life. Some of my favorite past, surreal artists/photographers are of course, Brassai, Phillipe Halsman, Andre Kertesz, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Man Ray, Jerry Uelmann, and many others. I added ‘hotlinks’ so you can explore them more if you are not familiar with them. Some contemporary surreal photographers/artists using Photoshop as their tool for image making that I enjoy following are Lara Zankoul, Martin Stranka, Ronen Goldman, Tommy Ingberg, Katerina Plotnikova,  Sarah Ann Loreth, and of course Erik Johansson (among many, many other inspirational photographers from all over the world).

Ric mentioned in my second critique that my work reminded him of the “fairy photographs” which are the Cottingley Fairies. Though my work definitely creates its own set of rules and reality, I am not actively trying to deceive anyone. The Cottingley Fairies were the culmination of a couple of 10 year children playing with their dad’s camera, intentionally trying to create the hoax. To present something that was real and merely documented. My work enters the contract of fantasy. People who view it will know it is not real, but instead a visual fiction. My purpose is to make visually interesting /complex stories by combining disparate elements, creating new meanings for myself and the viewer by their interaction. Though I have an underlying theme in what drives the concept of my work, that theme is not important to convey to my audience. The artwork should stand alone without my “message” being the message that a viewer will decode. The viewer will decode it with their own visual cues biased by how they see the world.

At its core photography is more about omission than inclusion. Most lenses remove 85% of our field of view, the shutter omits all time except for the moment that is captured, f-stop choice reduces/enlarges what is in focus, three dimensions are distilled to two, and sometimes color is removed. The act of photography is creating an altered image at the moment of creation. Using Photoshop as a creative tool is just taking that altered image concept a step further. However these are not an arbitrary combination of random images, but have been chosen specifically by me. Through my filter because raw data is not meaningful until it is filtered somehow, given context. We are the best filters to put between our lens and the world. We, as photographers point the camera both outward and inward at the same time encompassing the complexities of our physical, mental and cultural environments. Photoshop allows me to take this a step further, to create my own reality and imagined worlds. What we see changes what we know and what we know biases what we see. My work highlights this process and phenomenom. Also, I have been drawing and painting on my images too. I will have a couple of those new directions to share.

Having worked on this series, I have become more humbled. Art making is a perishable skill. If you don’t use it, you lose it I have found. Focusing on the quantity of output, to help drive me towards quality, has been my primary focus to learn my ‘process’. I met with my mentor 3 weeks ago to show him 25 newly created variations of a new idea which has been reduced to just one from that series. For it, based on his recommendations, I removed all form elements and tried to be more subtractive in my approach instead of additive. The results are interesting. Also, I have been experimenting with different output and presentation methods. For output I have printed on metal, canvas, wood, photo paper, watercolor paper, etc. Then for presentation I have mounted on hardboard, luan, plywood, gaterboard, etc. Trying to figure out the sweet spot of cost, weight, logistics of production. Even in this process, I have been experimenting with various types of adhesion methods, from wood glue, 3 different kinds of spray adhesive, cold tack paper (in sheets and rolls). I have learned a lot about the mechanics of the process. My cheapest mounted print (not framed) is about $150 in cost to reproduce. That means if I want to have a 15 piece show, then I need to expend a minimum of $2,250. My most expensive piece that I am showing would cost $375 to reproduce. That 15 piece show would total $5,625. These are staggering figures when it is not my goal to become a sustaining/income earning artist. Remember, I do not have unlimited resources…these figure would support a 10-14 day family vacation and it would likely be an either/or situation of choice. Then if I were to show it, where would I store it (assuming it did not sell). So I am trying to figure out the why. Why am I driven to make these surreal images? Why are they so dark? Why can’t I make “pretty” work? What is the purpose? My ego? Personal edification?

Professionally, there are a couple of great reasons why I am pursuing this MFA and I am glad I started it. Personally, trying to find my way in making art, that I like, has been very difficult for me. This process has opened up more questions; than offered answers. Circling back to the questions of … What do I want to make? Why? For my own entertainment or someone else’s? To what end? Is it sustainable?

I am excited to show what I have been working on.


My Artist Statement is due in 6 minutes

Here is what an “artist statement generator” gave me…

Gene Strickland makes photo-composites with mixed media as surreal artworks. By studying past and present compositing efforts, signification and communication, Strickland makes work that generates diverse meanings for each viewer. Associations and meanings collide. Space becomes time and language becomes image.

His photo composites question the conditions of appearance of an image in the context of contemporary visual culture in which images, representations and ideas normally function. By rejecting an objective truth and global cultural narratives, he creates with daily, recognizable elements, an unprecedented surreal situation in which the viewer is confronted with the conditioning of his/her own perception and has to reconsider his or her biased position.

His works does reference recognisable form but in a situation that is not possible. The results are deconstructed to the extent that meaning is shifted and possible interpretation becomes multifaceted. By applying abstracted realism, he creates intense personal moments masterfully created by means of rules and omissions, acceptance and refusal, luring the viewer round and round in circles.

His work urge us to renegotiate photography composites as being part of a reactive or – at times – autistic medium, commenting on oppressing themes in our contemporary society using personal metaphor as the initiator. Gene Strickland currently lives and works in Columbus.


To bad I can’t use this Calvin & Hobbes stance on artist statements.

Artist statements we loveCartoon by Bill Watterson, July 15, 1995

Second Crit Completed

Thank you to everyone who discussed my newest work from Crit #2 with me. The critique went well overall and I heard many different viewpoints that are great to consider moving forward. Sometimes, I internally worry that Photoshop is not considered a real art making tool as I am trying to embrace it (in contrast to more traditional media like painting, printmaking, sculpture and even “true-in camera” photography). I am not sure if I am feeling sensitive to an overall society bias; like everyone has heard someone that sees something visually impossible or idealized in an image and they say “Oh, that was Photoshopped”; in a way/tone that lessens the work itself or the intent of the work; based on the tool/media used to create it. Luckily, my mentor, faculty, and classmates are very open to my choice of tools/media that I am exploring/interested in and offered many suggestions, in the context of my approach to art making, in efforts to help me improve. I am very thankful for that.

Remember it is my intention to study/work with surreal digital composites using the camera and Photoshop as an end game for this year. I am trying to figure out at what point, for me, does a surreal, Photoshop composite transition from just a clever visual idea to an actual, finished piece of art. I am not worried about definitions like low art vs. high art vs. commercial art vs. craft vs. etc. I just want to relearn how to enjoy making art and make it a big part of my life with the tools/media I am interested in exploring. Giving me confidence with my choice of Photoshop as a medium/tool, I am moving forward with the concept that art can be anything ever since Marcel Duchamp upturned a urinal 100 years ago, titled it Fountain, and  displayed it as a piece of art (based on everyday form). Now he had become heavily involved with Dada, an anti-art cultural movement which motivated the piece; which I do not personally enjoy, but that event marked the time that art can be anything the artist chooses. So is it art then if the artist says it is art? Is it art only when it is presented in an art setting?

Jerry Uelsmann is one of my many inspirations for this process/direction of composite image making based on personal image resonance and craft/process. As a point of interest for those that have not read about his beginnings, when Uelsmann started sharing his new, B/W composite images with his peers, they were not considered art or even photography; though everyone thought they were interesting. This was a time when straight photography itself was not wholly considered an art form by galleries of the era also. Somehow he bridged both perceptions, helping to make photography an art form and making his photographic composites an art form as well; recognized in art shows and galleries. But when does a composite become art for me? This brings up questions of good vs. bad art? What are those definitions? Whose definition matters? Is it about complexity/simplicity, artist’s research/backstory, artist’s intention, exploration of the media, or just personally directed image making with components that resonate with the artist, or all of these? Should it? Why? More work just raises more questions – which is in contrast to our readings that support the concept of – just make more work, don’t bog yourself down with too many questions. Asking to many questions slows the art process down-raises self-doubt. Quantity begets quality our authors write. I have really been embracing this idea of quantity which has led to some new directions for me. Luckily, moving towards my last critique, based on direct feedback from Ric which helped calibrate what is expected of me for this 1st year class, I will refine/present 5-8 finished pieces that are more than just studies or tests of idea/craft.

I am trying to make sure the pieces I create follow the rules inside the frame and process/craft is a very, important part of it to me. I believe artists should strive to be a master of their craft and that should show in the finished pieces. Now, I am trying to also figure out at what point does craft become the master instead of the slave the master wields. I am striving (a little) to be less perfectionistic with it but that is hard for me based on my training and work life. I am also questioning how much I am relying on craft to support the piece instead of concept at times. To be fair to myself, a lot of the pieces I showed during the 2nd crit were solely just craft experiments/exercises – asking myself…is this possible…can I make “this” visually believable with the tools I am using, much like a quick sketch and quick painting would for a traditional 2D artist to practice. But since I presented the experiments/exercises in the same scale/way as the finished pieces, I think they could have been viewed as finished pieces (that were empty of concept – just Photoshop tricks); when really they were just refined composite sketches testing out possibilities – not intended to be finished fine art pieces. Why do I feel it important to make that distinction? Can’t the experiments be art? If so, why? Why not?

This process has raised so many questions for me? I had maybe 6 of the 16 pieces there that I would consider to be finished pieces. Happily, the ones most everyone gravitated too were the ones that I considered more finished, fine art pieces; which were also some of the last ones I created. That was good for me to see and hear. I will keep walking down my path. Wish me luck.

Thank you to everyone. Have a good day.

2nd Crit Tomorrow – I am psyched!

verb past participle
  1. 1.
    informal 1990s slang that means mentally prepared for a testing task, stressful occasion, or artist’s critique.
    I have found a path and I am finally starting to have fun making art. I think about it first thing when I wake up and I am doing it right up until I go to bed. Still searching for quality but I have made work quantity my $*!@&. I created 40 separate, digital composite idea/pieces since the last crit with just over 100 variations of them. Due to time and money constraints, since I want to go large for presence/personal preference, I have only printed about  17 images for the crit tomorrow. I am focused on the work currently and I am exploring presentation methods for the next crit. I enjoy the idea that I can create alternate realities to articulate things/places that can’t be real but seem real; due to the power of the photographic image’s history. Typically, if it is a photograph, it is a real moment captured in time. Now in today’s world, most everyone knows when something looks ‘Photoshopped’ but I try to make realities that follow their own rules and look real within the image frame. I typically gravitate toward images/subjects that personally resonate with me. My process is very intuitive without pre-intellectualization. I trust my subconscious and follow what interests me; combining disparate elements wondering why/how could these relate? What narratives do they convey? How does scale affect meaning/perception? Asking these questions with the digital composites is enough for me – with the addition of trying to create visually interesting, dynamic, and mysterious images. I am on a search for my process.
    I believe art can speak for itself and it speaks differently to each viewer that engages with it based on their own lens of the world. I believe art, if allowed, can have many different meanings to many different viewers and I think that is okay.
    Honestly, I am just trying to rediscover my process for making art now using archetypes and theme to direct me. My theme hovers around the broad idea of dream imagery, repetition, and weirdness (surrealism). I want the images to be weird because that is where they inhabit the fringe of my own understanding and I am the one making them. I have strayed back to incorporating the female form in some of my imagery but have selected odd, non-idealized, non-glamorized poses for use in my digital collages and multiple-image composites. Inspired by the freedom that art can be anything, I want to create my own visual realities as my form of visual myth making. Photographs are read as real even if people know they are a lie. The vocabulary and visual syntax is repetitive in the images I created, hoping to create a world of dreamlike images that use elemental and human forms, water, fish, interiors, trees, dark and light iconic motifs while reversing dichotomies or attempting to corrupt the dichotomies themselves both in concept and visual cohesiveness. I think I just stepped off of the artist statement plank into total mental abstraction/artist self absorption. Our reading said not to do this. Like my art, this artist statement is a work in process. Thank you for reading this. See you tomorrow.


Week 6 – Processes

I worked about 25 hours this week (mostly this weekend) on making composites with some small success ( a couple images I am excited about their look and direction). Success being defined as I would not mind one of them hanging on my wall (for awhile anyway). Maybe 20% of my time was actually fun and enjoyable which is what I hope to get back too when making art. I don’t mind work at all – it is just, rediscovering the process of making art, is hard for me. The irony is I know it is me – that is making it hard for me. Remember, making art (as the end goal), is something new to me having focused so much time on my career and family the past twenty three years since graduating college; where I made art everyday for five years straight. During this time of non-art making, I would over-intellectualize my ideas whenever I had the urge to make art; to the point that I would talk myself out of doing it. Asking myself questions (beating myself up) like:

  • Is it going to make any money (if not, why then)
  • Where will I store it
  • What’s the point
  • Why – are you making it – for ego (look how good I can draw/paint/etc)
  • Are you doing it for validation (look how good I can draw/paint/etc)
  • Who will see it/Why does that matter
  • Is the time worth it since you will have to give up other time (family time, income earning time, relaxing time, etc.) to do it

Now I am trying to get back to the fun of it. I fill like I am digging a well at times that I covered up long ago…just straight up work. I have read all the books like “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, the “Artist’s Way”, and many others a long time ago and during this non-art time. They helped for sure but damage is damage.

My process is still very non-intellectual, not worried so much about “what does this mean”? Just trying to open up (hard for me) and let intuition, archetypes, and theme direct me. My theme hovers around the broad idea of dream imagery, repetition, and weirdness (surrealism). I want the images to be weird because that is where they inhabit the fringe of my own understanding and I am the one making them. I have strayed back to incorporating the female form in some of my imagery but have selected odd, non-idealized poses for use in my digital collages and multiple-image composites. Inspired by the freedom that art can be anything, I want to create my own visual realities as my form of visual myth making. Photographs are read as real even if people know they are a lie. The vocabulary and visual syntax is repetitive in the images I created, hoping to create a world of dreamlike images that use elemental and human forms, iconic motifs while reversing dichotomies or attempting to corrupt the dichotomies themselves.

plural noun: dichotomies
  1. a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.
    “a rigid dichotomy between science and mysticism”
    synonyms: contrast, difference, polarity, conflict; More

    gulf, chasm, division, separation, split;
    “the great dichotomy between theory and practice”
    • Botany
      repeated branching into two equal parts.

This part is influenced by French philosopher, Jacques Derrida and his philosophy of multiple meanings (he died in 2004). I am still exploring many different paths like surrealism in the context of technically, polished commercial photography while also experimenting on the other side of the craft spectrum – images that have no rich blacks or whites, images that are soft, images that are degraded looking. Some are playful and some are dark – not bound by traditional rules of “good” photography which have governed the bulk of my professional life. That part is fun for sure. Foregoing the rules foregoes the accompanying judgement.

My peer group and the MFA faculty have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging. They do a great job of making everyone feel included – as part of something special. I am learning much about the process of managing art (by answering questions with more interesting questions) from the standpoint of a college art educator too which I am also interested in. Though this process is much more personally difficult than I expected, I believe I am on the right path looking for my true North. It feels like looking for a light switch in a totally pitch black room but I saw the light two decades ago. I know the switch is there. I am still looking. And I feel like I have a group of people whispering  to me “keep at it – this is all part of the process”.


Week 5 – Process Thoughts

The past two weeks I have been reading all the Jerry Uelsmann interviews (and watching them as online videos when possible) that I can find. I am interested in discovering more about his process and philosophy since he is the primary originator of my interest in pursuing digital composites as an art form. He pulled photography into the “art” realm with his traditional film/print composites and at the time they were not even considered photography, much less fine art. But he broached the barrier and defined his own path. As an artist, since childhood (as we all are), I have forever been fascinated with surrealism in art and photography. I am exploring this path trying to figure out my narrative using the lens of a camera and Photoshop. I have also been viewing a ton of digital composite imagery, traditional paintings and charcoal drawing on Pinterest for inspiration and critical comparisons. Asking myself, why do I consider this image successful and this one not, is this just a clever idea with good technique or is it art, what makes it art, just that it has been created makes it art or because it has reached some level of “good” art? Can’t art be bad (of course it can), then can’t it still be art even if it is bad? Is art, art, because of the final product, the intention while making it, the decision to present it as art, the narrative or context behind it, or does it have to have more than one of these (plus countless others) to be called art? The hard part for me is there are a lot of preconceived ideas about art, photography, and Photoshop that span from personal expression to commercialism but I also realize there are no rules really…for art. If you are an artist, then what you make is art. But since I am the artist, I get to decide what is art. The problem with that is I am very judgmental with myself. I am searching for the path back to the fun of creation. So far it has not been easy but I am determined. I know my oasis is out there somewhere in the desert and I am looking for my true North so that I will find it.

I view art and photography as the same thing btw, or I at least acknowledge they can be the same thing. Not to go to far down a pedantic path, but painting a wall is not art (but possibly it can be with context or installation ideas) but painting a painting is art. Making a bench to sit on is not sculpture (though it could be given the right context/scale/presentation/purpose) and no one ever questions that drawing, painting or sculpture all easily fall into the art category. I believe photography does as well but it also has a utilitarian function to like birthday snapshots, vacation pics, drivers license photos, etc. I think photography is the medium with which art can be created. Today, in the digital context of photography, I believe Photoshop is a powerful creative tool. There are a lot of bad composites out there online because most anyone can access this tool, play with it and post the results. For me this does not impede the artistic value of the tool when combined with photography because there are also a lot of beautiful digital composites out there from self taught high school aged, digital artists to professional digital artists earning a living with their creations.