Wednesday, September 21, 2016

es160921 Commands from the grave:  

Listen to the old and the child within  

When I first opened my eyes to art, I was looking at a print. When I first started going to art school, I was looking at people much older than I was. Since printmaking was my first passion, and all my printmaking teachers were older, I since then surrounded myself with old artists.
If I didn’t have an old artist around, the next best thing was a book or a movie. In other words, I always looked to older people to be my guides. As I said, when I first opened my eyes to art I was looking at a print, which to me is important because without print I would never have experienced art. Everything that came to me in rural central Washington State had to come by way of reproductions.

The people, however, were next in opening my eyes to the art experience. They were older – much older. When I got my first job teaching art, my boss was twice my age. He was 52 and I was 25. He was my boss, but he was also my mentor. Not in the usual sense of the word, “mentor” because by his examples he taught me more about what not to do, not what I should do.
College, of course, gave me access to more films, libraries, magazines, and contacts with more people with whom I could discuss printmaking. At a crucial point, three years into my college teaching career, another artist, much older than I, became a second important mentor. He was approaching almost three times my age.
Most of my oldest teachers are dead now. In fact, when I visited them they were only a few years short of their time to pass on. Now that I am their age, I think about two things. First the most important thing is what to do with the precious time I have left. Did I learn from them what to do when I reached their age? Did the books I read, and the famous quotes by famous dead artists, teach me anything?
The second most important thing I learned is that I’m gonna die. In a blog I read today the author said those three words are the most motivating words there can be. He, too, surrounded himself with old people when he was young.
They said, “I wish…” so this blogger suggested we take this to mean: At the end of your life don’t be saying, “I wish…” but do what you want to do while there is still time.
He emphasized that you seize the idea that’s most important to you. For me, that’s to develop the Northwest Print Center Incubators. If there is a 75 – year old leader out there who had done that kind of thing, I would sure like to meet them.
The problem is, people the same age I am (74) with whom I have described my plan rolled their eyes and changed the subject. It’s not that what they’ve achieved wasn’t worth it; it’s that they don’t understand why I would want to start a printmaking center when we already have art schools and nonprofit printmaking centers in Seattle.
Secondly, they’re not sure what I mean by incubators.
If I could hold their attention long enough I might be able to explain that printmaking, as I see it from a Seattle perspective, has closer ties to technology than is found elsewhere. Moreover, capitalized art that has been the foundation of fine art prints is less relevant to society now than it was 50 years ago.
I owe this to the fact that my contemporaries, that is, people in their 70s, never had the opportunity to get in early when technologies were becoming useful to creative artists. I was lucky because I was the youngest person hired by the University of Washington art school (that is, who was not graduate of that art school)
Also, as I said above, I had a mentor who demonstrated how not to teach, how not to base my teaching only on capitalized art. He was authoritarian which made me want to be authoritative. Meeting my second mentor proved that this was the right thing to do.
Concomitant with that, I had support from the UW engineers in video and computers. Few others in this country had the opportunities I did. If there were a postgraduate school for printmakers, my experience is what it would be like.
Now we come to the point of this essay: If I can’t go find an old mentor to tell me what to do today, then I must turn inward and consult that child within to which some of the oldest and most revered creative artists referred in interviews published in history books and online.
If I am to think like a child in order to find creative solutions to remove the barriers to the Northwest Print Center Incubators, then I have to act out being a child. I have to feel excited about childish things that I can do with printmaking.
Not only that, I have to always be using not only my traditional printmaking but also the things that children are using today simultaneously, such as mobile devices, online games, and different ways of learning things like foreign languages. So much of what is called education today has not kept up with the changing times and the demands placed on young people.
Now as I go through my days, designing the WeeWoodie Rembrandt press and inventing a game that makes it fun to use and fairly simple, I find myself looking on the Internet at children’s games. The little boy and me, the same little boy that used to take apart toys to see what made them tick, or took apart clocks (which never ticked again) find something like a photo polymer stamp making kit interesting.
Thanks to all those old men and women I met early in my career (Glen Alps, Rolf Nesch, Maria Guaita, Stanley Hayter, and my teachers at Central, Reino Randall and Sarah Spurgeon plus all those kids pictured with my many have would press, I wake up and seize that which I want to do before I die—the Northwest Print Center Incubators.

I say, wake up Billy. Rise and shine! Obey the command from their graves.