I find myself much impressed by the number and quality of Visiting Artists that have been coming to CSU, Chico. This semester we have already welcomed Brett Anderson, Xiaoze Xie, Xavier Monsalvatje, and I think one or two others that I am not presently recalling. This week Leslie Shows was here. A few of us graduate students and faculty enjoyed sharing dinner with her before her presentation and then breakfast the following morning. Her work is fascinating and she has had a good deal of success, even working with the Jack Hanley Gallery before finishing graduate school. I appreciated her introspective personality, often pausing when she speaks as she searches for the right word(s). She seems very thoughtful about her work and about how she communicates with others. As I noted about Xiaoze Xie a couple of weeks ago, I am encouraged by seeing the success of people who are more gentle and sensitive in a world that often claims that we need to be bold and cut-throat in order to succeed.
The graduate students were privileged in having Shows give us each a one-on-one critique of our work. In talking about my Professor of Self series, Shows spoke of how it will be important for me to develop my own language as an artist and how this series is a good stepping stone for me because its what the work is about – discovering and living out one's own voice. She felt I was using symbology too literally, or in too much of a culturally accepted way. We spoke of how almost everything is loaded with symbolic meaning and how difficult it can be to infuse things with new meaning. The conversation reminded me of some poems I wrote a few years ago that were perhaps more successful in expressing my unique voice. I wonder how I might apply what I was doing with those poems into making visual art. Shows also spoke of the distinction between illustration and art. Illustration is typically meant for conveying specific information – you want your viewers to "get it." Whereas art needs to possess a more transcendent quality, pulling the viewer beyond their own understanding. The Professor of Self series is reading more as illustration than art, which is fine for what it is. I actually want people to "get it" because I think it is an important issue. However, its also important for me to move beyond it, which I very much want to do. I am grateful for this outside perspective that Shows was able to share with me.
Also on Thursday night was Joshua Olivera's MFA culminating exhibition, "We'll Build the Perfect Ship." He gave an excellent talk which gave much insight into his work. He even recited some poetry, and handled questions from the audience with great tact.