Making soup with Malcolm

On Thursday I had a studio visit with Malcolm Cochran. I had never met Malcolm before but we had a wonderful conversation and I appreciated his interest in getting to know me beyond my artwork. He wanted to know where I grew up, asked me about my family – how did I decide to make art my life. And then we got into the nitty gritty of it all. I’m a talker- and usually during studio visits I feel the time crunch and feel like I have to get things out as quickly as possible- often overwhelming myself and probably the visitor. ¬†Malcolm’s visit however felt relaxed, calm, and as if time was infinite. Just another element I really appreciated during our meeting.

As we spoke about my work (both past undergraduate pieces and current works) I began to feel less and less sure of my graduate work. Not in a sense that it’s poor work but rather what it is I have been trying to understand within the work. Malcolm emphasized the importance of exploring ideas and questions and finding answers within the work rather than starting with an answer and then trying to make work about it- which is the place I seem to have found myself in.

Drawn to my photographs from last semester he encouraged me to use them as sketches and re-look at them for more understanding and to try to find perhaps a commonality or what makes them interesting.

As for my most current video work he made a point to remind me that sometimes “confidence can be blinding.” ¬†A point that redirected us to his advice on exploration and question asking. There is a pressure within graduate school to make sure you know what your work is about- which myself and my classmates can attest to. Malcolm and I discussed this, and obviously it’s important to know what you’re making and why-but as he reminded me, explore IDEAS, see what kind of QUESTIONS you’re asking yourself and within that you will figure out what your work is about.

I seem to have set an agenda for myself and have worked backwards. “I am making work about Womens issues and oppression within domesticity.” But am I really? I would like to- but what if the work is exploring something else in a different way-not in the way I intended?

One of Malcolm’s final pieces of advice was to think of art making as a way of making soup. Say you make a really good tomato bisque, with fresh tomatoes, basil, chunks of mozzarella cheese, some salt and pepper. It’s delicious but the next time you make it you use that original recipe as a jumping off point to alter it and make it even better- experiment with some more flavors. The fresh tomatoes were a great addition so you decide to put more fresh ingredients in rather than artificial spices. This brands a new type of tomato bisque but nonetheless had the same initial concept behind it.

What he was saying was that each artwork made should be inspiration for the next. Should serve as a jumping off point- take the best parts of the previous work and make a new recipe with them.
I appreciated this analogy in many ways. Since the visit I have felt a bit overwhelmed and lost within my work and have no idea where I’m going. Nevertheless, I am going to go back to my photographs from last semester and really look at them, I’m going to ask myself questions about what I am thinking about or trying to explore, I am going to examine my video works and do the same hoping that after all that I may have some pretty good ingredients to make a strong and hearty soup.

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