Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pollan-ation! (And ideas about "good" art)

Yesterday evening, two of my friends and I were members of a very lucky audience to hear Michael Pollan speak at Columbia University.  In between passages that he read from his books, including The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma, he relayed stories about his progression from his early days working at Harper's to his most recent writings that explore our abnormal modern industrial food chain.  Afterwords, he took some time to answer questions from the audience - everything from his writing process to his thoughts on food policy and government funded farm subsidies.  He was funny, engaging and enlightening - everything I wanted him to be in person after reading his work.  (And I was proud that I remained wide-eyed and alert since the talk was happening at right about my crash-time.  I've had the embarrassing nod-off happen at even the most profound lectures...)

I also learned last night that Judith Belzer is Pollan's wife.  Belzer is a painter whose subject matter is influenced by the natural world.  You can view her work and read her artist statement on her website

When I first started my undergraduate studies in fine art at Rutgers University, I was adamant that I was going to be a painter and had very strict ideas of what "good" painting should be.  I thought that a rigid practice of realism was the truest form of high art and that skill had been replaced by concept, which I considered lazy.  WHAT A FRESHMAN I WAS!  Especially since I myself was a relatively lazy art student.  Fortunately I grew out of that sensibility and my eyes opened up to fresh concepts in contemporary visual culture.  And then the opposite happened - I began to reject realism and, eventually, painting in general.  Bring on the political criticism and high-concept invention!  Art in the moment!  Down with traditional mediums - they're sooo bourgeois.

Fast forward to the last 5 months: to my surprise I've not only returned to painting and painting realistically rendered images, but I'm learning not to judge and worry about what it is that I "should" or "should not" be doing as an artist.  I still need to learn how to marry technique with a unique visual language (I still think I'm better at communicating ideas through conceptual performance works), but I appreciate all mediums for what they are and how they communicate different ideas and needs to different people.  

Which brings me back to Belzer: fourteen years ago, I would have aspired to be a painter like her; two or three years later, I would have rejected her based upon my idea of what was relevant.  Today, I look at her work and not only admire her visual language, but I appreciate it for being absolutely relevant rather than simply a display of skill and technique.  Like her husband, Belzer is presenting us with a human relationship to nature.  And being that we may someday soon lose the opportunity to get that up close and personal with nature, it is definitely work that should not be taken lightly.                      

1 comment:

  1. An interesting account of the development of an artist. Like me, you have traveled the extremes and it takes you a while to find a balance. Of course, I'm a musician and not a painter. But as someone who is always trying to "marry" such extremes as romantic classical and hip hop, I can relate.

    - Omar Soriano