Guest Contributor Sarah Faux just completed her first semester in the Yale MFA program. She writes about the changes in her work and the diversity of approaches among the other students in the painting program. Image above: stacks of paintings lining the wall of her studio.
I’ve been thinking about Freud’s idea of condensation: the notion that in a dream a person or object can stand in for many people or ideas simultaneously. A student in my psychoanalysis class asked if art is also a form of condensation. He speculated that art comes from our unconscious, and art, like a dream, might be neurosis manifested. I disagreed. Artists think of their audience, art history, intellectual history, many things beyond their own unconscious. But I don’t disagree entirely. As every aspect of my work and my process has been dissected and discussed in studio visits and critiques, piece by piece, I’ve had to question what is primary in my work. While being in school hasn’t changed my process or imagery in any dramatic ways (at least not yet), it has made me more aware of my deep motivations for making work. I look for forms and colors that resonate on multiple levels in my conscious and unconscious mind, pregnant archetypal images that can express many things at once and, I hope, resonate with others. In this way, grad school has made me want more from my paintings – not necessarily to make them more complex or detailed, but just richer, vibrating on more levels – color, material, form.
My paintings usually come from moments where the psyche becomes unstable, like looking at my own shadow or the out-of-body experience of feeling present in one’s flesh and disembodied in one’s mind. At school I’m learning to translate these personal, nebulous experiences into academic language: are my paintings about the figure or the body? (To me they are both.)
A big surprise about school is just how differently a class of twenty painters can think about painting. There are practices in the painting department alone that range from narrative figuration to gestural abstraction, social/ political engagement to art-for-art’s-sake. It’s hard to pin down what the zeitgeist is here. Definitely liquidy, painterly painting in a room full of painters will usually please the crowd. But there are probably an equal number of conceptually driven painters in the program. And, of course, process work, video, installation–the whole gamut. We’ve had plenty of discussions about idea-driven, borderline-scientific art practices. And I’ve been surprised by new takes on the female body by women, embracing and tackling female sexuality head on. Engaging with work dissimilar to my own is thrilling. While pursuing my interest in specific modes of painting in New York, I didn’t realize how I’d closed myself off to others. My paintings may go through a bit of awkward phase now, but hopefully it’s one of opening back up, with condensation to come.
Good painting: Tatiana Berg and Sarah Faux (2011)
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