I left AMU with a limited budget and no car. Earlier that year I had created a show out of what marble and soapstone I could collect. The show amounted to about 40 small pieces of work inspired by Inuit art and some Japanese work I was studying. Each of the pieces had an archaic–northern indigenous art–feel and style. Limited means to keep the work meant when the show was over, what didn’t sell was mine to figure out what to do with it. I gave a few pieces away and decided the rest could go to another art project.

I have a couple of shows in some pretty out of the way places, self-funded and installed. One is almost 40 small stone pieces buried on a 40+ acre campus of what was AMU in Anchorage Alaska and the second is a set of larger pieces along an old dock in the Bellingham Bay, Washington. One created a controversy and the other has been seen at least once since installation. I am using the words “installation” and “show” with a bit of tongue in cheek. The shows do exist. They were a real joy to install and the concepts behind them have been important to more ideas and learning ever since.

The project was both practical and conceptual in nature. It paid homage to those science guys who dig stuff up as well. I enlisted a couple of other art students and we wandered the 40+ wooded acres of campus at night burying and planting these sculptures. I left soon after and never gave them another  thought.

It was close to 10 years later that I received a phone call from my mentor, Gerry Conaway, asking me to look for a photo in the mail and to call him back as soon as it arrived (this was long before the Internet). When I received the photo and called, he wanted to know if it was one of my pieces from that show so long ago. I said yes and was rewarded with a belly laugh. It turns out the school had changed hands and with all the construction on campus, they had dug up one of my sculptures. It created many  questions and involved several people all trying to figure out what and where it came from.

On to Bellingham, where a couple of years of working on much larger pieces, created the same problem when it was time to return to Alaska. This time I had a pickup truck, but the work was much larger and even heavier than all my other possessions and possibly even the truck itself. I decided to draft a friend to help load them up, a few at a time, drive out to a local pier, and toss them over the side at intervals. These were large stone pieces that I had spent a great deal of time on and some–I believe–were very successful. There is at least one person I know, a diver, who I learned has seen the show.

In the digital age, we are able to amass huge amounts of work that are portable. Prints are cheap and easy to make, as are self-published books. Sharing or display is rampant without thought to proper editing. When I was starting, art was physical and without the digital convenience to fit years of work on a hard drive.  There weren’t the networks of ways to display work that are prevalent now. Gatekeepers in the form of gallery owners, editors, and your own sense of what is worth sharing with the world, was a refined art in itself. You had to give thought to what you might keep around and if it was something that would stand the test of time.

The criteria for this consideration was based on history and if the work did what you wanted it to do as well as being an idea that was worth saving. I believe many of the works I buried or sank met these criteria, but I had no attachment to the work other than memory and lessons learned. Repurposing it into a different kind of work was easy without the attachment. The worth of any piece wasn’t tied in any way to the cost or amount of time or difficulty involved in making it.

When editing work, viewing it from an outsider’s view is still good practice. Having enough of an education in art history to understand the work’s possible place in that stream is important, as well as a clear understanding of what you hope the work will accomplish. Looking at the work as your audience will is essential to knowing if it succeeds. Pick your audience wisely.

Being objective over more than the technical of composition or color or those sorts of details allows you to add that “special sauce” of an artist vision to whether or not the project works as intended. As part of this review, it may also be appropriate to add your ideas to push the conversation of art and not expect the majority of viewers to “get it”. Knowing what you want to achieve even if it is just to make a good picture matters before you push it out the door. No snap judgements or decisions based on “I like it”. Doing that just adds to the clutter that pervades the image world today.

Being on the move so much has prevented me from collecting my own work and if I want to see the best pieces from my past, I need to go visit them. Don’t get attached to your own work. Being your own collector is like installing mirrors on your walls instead of art. It isn’t productive or, to my way of thinking, a good practice. Attachment to past work is a detriment to making that next idea work; it tends to force us into doing the same thing over for all the wrong reasons. When the work is done, let it go. Move on to that next big thing or failure but move on. Progress isn’t made with one foot in the past.

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