Fun With A Magazine
By Emily Kopec, Editor in Chief
More than I like actually reading, I like buying books. So here I am, recommending a book I haven’t actually read yet: Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity by Gerald Raunig. In this book, Raunig draws parallels between factories and universities, asserting that the role of the university is not as a factory of knowledge, but rather a place of creative disobedience. I definitely subscribe to the idea that an undergraduate education should prepare you for a lifetime of learning rather than mark the end product of the assembly line, so this statement has turned somewhat into a personal mantra, and I attribute it to single handedly pulling me out of my quarantine creative funk.
As with most college students, I’m guilty of considering what I should be doing rather than giving myself the time to explore what I want to be doing. And I’ve found such passion for art because I find myself feeling the exact opposite: I spend all of my time considering what I want to be doing, that I rarely doubt I should be doing anything else. So while there’s not only a wise life lesson here, Raunig’s sentiment about the relationship between the university and creativity also reignited this love of creative exploration in a time of very little inspiration.
I didn’t really make anything or think about making anything for weeks after I left campus in March, and it was primarily because I felt so stuck. Before we left school I had been in the process of a large installation for which I had been collecting hundreds of bricks from the Towers demolition site for weeks already. Feeling cut short of finally getting to work on something highly anticipated while the world was simultaneously on fire, I resented any type of new project, and of course, was guilty of defaulting to considering what I should be doing rather than adapting what I want to be, and have already been, doing. Artistically, this meant, of course, I felt I had to go back to basics and learn to draw- really, really well.
So there I was, April 2020: everything is hopeless, I’ve got a limp grip on a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil, exhausting the Youtube reviews of Andrew Loomis’ Fun With A Pencil in my latest book shopping spree, knowing sure as hell I will never have fun with a damn pencil. To pull myself out of this rut and reconnect with my passion, I looked back on my art courses and evaluated what it was that I really loved, and maybe didn’t love so much, about them.
I instantly thought of my Installation class as a highlight because it was the perfect teaching of the “creative disobedience” Raunig alludes to. I love the feeling of not just being part of a 4-year factory that feeds me knowledge just for me to regurgitate it back on a test. I love training to be an explorer of environment, emotion, relationships, objects, etc. The emphasis on connection in this course was also fascinating to see in action. There was the connection between my peers and the connection between each individual and their project. We all interpreted assignments so differently, which also made us deeply passionate about our own work and about learning about other’s work. So through this, I realized that I am far more interested in concept than technical ability. I am excited by the questions art asks rather than replicating something that already exists. Conceptually, art poses questions like, what is unexpected rather than expected? What is different rather than the same? These questions echo a question I posed earlier: What do I want to do, rather than what is everyone else doing? In returning to Raunig’s connection to the university, I feel that my art classes, in training me to consider such questions, are encouraging me to be disobedient rather than partake in an assembly line that produces copies of the same.
So fast forward to June; I’ve renamed Fun With A Pencil to How to Build the Largest Pile of Eraser Shavings, and I’ve reframed my artistic interest from just large scale installations to conceptual, process-oriented work. In cognitively reorganizing my own interests I was able to expand my practice and welcome new forms and mediums. At that point I was ready to reconnect with my work and make something. I cracked open the good ole sketchbook (filled with everything but pencil sketches, obviously), hoping to recycle some creative juice and found a collection of collages I had made since March. I was actually impressed seeing them one after another although I hadn’t given them much credit when I was making them. After all, the process of cutting magazines in the middle of the night, as you’re blasting the same five songs into your ears through chunky headphones covered by the hood of a massive sweatshirt is far less glamorous than army crawling under a fence and loading your suitcase full of bricks. But defining the core of my practice as one of “creative disobedience” in theory rather than “bigger is better” in practice, my magazine collages really took on personal value.
I thought of it like this: collaging is to sculpture as drawing is to painting. (Fun With a Magazine, anyone?) No one is more or less valid, they just train different artistic muscles. In sculpture I repurpose found objects and instill meaning through object relationships. In a collage I am similarly repurposing found objects and placing them in a new context to create new meaning. So why was I so stuck on training myself to draw realism portraits or become the next Great Cartoonist, just because that’s what everyone else was after? And, honestly, what else am I so hung up on just because everyone else seems to enjoy doing it?
More than just being a form of practice, I’ve also embraced collaging as a single-sitting project that can stand alone. Appreciating the practice stages as much as a long project is so healthy for keeping consistent motivation. My process starts by flipping through magazines and ripping out pages with interesting forms and colors. These are essentially found objects like my bricks are in my larger work. As I gather pages I begin trimming shapes down to size to get a better sense for how objects may sit together. Choosing and adjusting is like the process of collecting, or the process of convincing construction workers to drive a truckload of bricks across campus for me. From there I focus more on what’s missing rather than what I want to introduce, and I hunt down layers that connect items on the page. The focus in this final stage is on object relationships. I look for patterns, comparisons, strange compositions, etc.
So as basic as it may feel to whip out a stack of magazines, the greater value here is recognizing how I was able to fine tune my perspective and reflect on what elements of sculpture are so interesting to me; further, how can I transform these elements to engage with my new environment rather than feel stuck in it? How is a brick, almost comically heavy, so similar to a paper magazine? These are the comparisons and considerations that ultimately develop my critical thinking, boost my motivation, and also just make me happy. This reflection, reevaluation, and evolution of my artistic journey encapsulates the “disobedience” that draws me into art and that frees me from the assembly line that is the university.