Gullkistan & Confidence

I’m goin’ to Iceland to paint for two weeks.

I am going to use my time to make a lot of artwork, specifically illustrations about my Deerfield fascination, take some photographs of the landscape, and paint. I’m really excited, though I may not deserve a break so soon after the New Year, I’ve been frustrated not maintain an art practice and unconfident. Making art has ben in the Tina Fey, where I feel confident in my abilities but simultaneously severely deficient and anything can quake and raze that confidence.


I took a photography  course at Harvard last fall…and it didn’t go so well. I studied film in college, come from a family of photographers, and shoot plenty in my time. I thought this would be the best time! That’s not how it went.

My arts experience has always been really positive and supportive. Artwork is as much about the artist’s ability to describe and defend their work. How often is the art that is loved not hit every mark for correctness and thus prove it is good art? The wonderful things loved are not disciplined to manuals. The lens is shaky causing noise in the image, this prescribes the future moment where doubt creeps in the viewing experience. Is that incorrect to show noise or is that as unique and special? Demanding artwork must be quantifiable to validate it as meaningful and useful is the polarity of “art for arts sake.” I’m in the later camp. In my experience, Harvard has a deep seated need to quantify to define importance which means the things that “can’t” are invalid.

I was frustrated with the teachers and the attitude about seeing and making. For example, if the assignment is “shoot an architectural photo,” I interpreted that instruction as “shoot architectural qualities” of a subject. That’s not how it went! I earned a failing grade alongside my teaching staff’s feedback of “an architectural photo is a picture of a building.” That was the setup for the class. Two weeks in, I had to abandon because what does one do with that logic? I believe, say, a bowl of Greek yogurt can be architectural as can a Satsuma or a shadow. In class, I struggled to communicate with the teaching assistant, professor, and even the student administration. Who am I to challenge this professional when there are many things I can learn. That’s what I was thinking. Yet, I should have insisted that this logic is extraordinarily ignorant and policed the situation.  It makes me really furious when I think about this class: What can that teaching staff teach a student about art and seeing?

Ultimately, the school chalked it up to my sour grapes and I was demanding grades I hadn’t earned. Months later, I’m so very angry to have wasted that time and to have let them define my photography. There was a lot miscommunicated on both ends. Then again, as I’ve come to understand, Harvard is never wrong, the person questioning Harvard is wrong…

That said, the professor makes lovely work- has made a career out of work that doesn’t fit the logic above- and was very agreeable and interesting in person. I’m not sure why the experience had to play out as it did. I really hate being told what to shoot and don’t believe anyone should be directed towards “good” subjects. The artist, no matter how familiar  or unfamiliar with the medium, defines that and speaks for their way of seeing. Gosh, I feel/felt so out-of-proportion defensive.


Back to Iceland and perhaps why I insisted on taking this time to attend an art residency is that while Harvard, etc. may not appreciate my perspective or delivery, I believe in my work and am resolute to go forth with my aesthetic beliefs about seeing and making.

The photos I submitted for this Harvard class are here and here.

Reads & References

Feature image is my own. Pilsen, Chicago, 2010.