textual + physical influences. if i were to pick again tomorrow, the list would shift about a bit. at the moment of writing this is what i called to mind.

Five nonfiction texts (scholarly sort of) – In order of exposure

1. Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1995.
Encountered – 2005

I read this while drifting maplessly afoot through Paris’ historic district in a lame imitation of Walter Benjamin. I would stumble onto cafes, enter, and consume croissants, hot tea, and Debord. Every margin became filled with comments about my own experience in within the microcosm of my affluent neighborhood in the suburbs of Houston. At the time of consumption I had no idea the text was applying Marxist theory and philosophy to American culture. I had no idea that it was a seminal text for the Situationalists, I just recognized that he was calling a spade, a spade, and speaking into my lived experience. The book is significant for me in two ways: it inflamed my interest in the observing of patterns of agency in culture, and the form in which it was written, though critical, seemed to not take a dry academic approach to the topic. 

2. Gergen, Kenneth J. The saturated self: dilemmas of identity in contemporary
New York: Basic Books, 2000. [In process of reading Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community, 2009] Encountered – 2006

In this text, speaking from the domains of social psychology, specifically around the topic of agency/identity, Gergen grasps and plays with notions that we are not an autonomous, free-willed selves, that there are manners in which we form agreed upon structures that we work within. He addresses the fluidity of agency within the context of ongoing cultural conditions and shifts. This text actually is highly related in terms of social psychology to Debord’s text, just more focused on the individual. So what? This search for patterns in human function, agency, and the relationship to the larger structures of other and otherness just frankly fascinates the crap out of me. Here is a research academic in the social sciences presenting his data, ideas, musings, etc in a softer narrative form that is atypical of my stereotypes of the high and dry academic past (and often current). This is important to me because the idea of producing high and dry is one I don’t want to spend my life pursuing. I prefer the nitty gritty where the theorist does not separate himself from his work nor from the reader. 

Pennebaker, James. The secret life of pronouns. New York: Bloomsberg Press, 2011.
Encountered – 12/2013

Damn. When I found this, it screamed this is “my lucky day.” I had stumbled upon a methodology for my research (Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC)). The horror of reading every artists’ writings over the last 100 years to hunt for some patterns within the body of texts (subjectively) kept me at bay from pursuing questions about the nature of the writings that seem a part of so many visual artists’ practices. Hmmm, if I were a fast or even average reader, that might drop the sense of horror, leaving me with only the subjectivity of pattern hunting within the texts. Pennebaker, a psychologist and professor at the University of Texas, has been studying the patterns of function words (those words that lay between content words). He and his grad students have developed software that analyzes patterns in writing. They have developed and continue to a database identifying many of the patterns correlated to likely meanings. They have found relationships to texts and rates of physical healing, job acquisition, overcoming trauma, deceit, social hierarchy, personality type, affluence, etc. Win. The methods and software are available for scholarly use, available to me. I emailed Dr. Pennebaker (“Dear Famous Professor”) earlier this week about my ideas for study and ask if I might cyberbug him with questions over the next five years. As he is of retiring age (perhaps soon), he replied and gave me his personal email address. Even better the next day he was interviewed on NPR. Here again is another researcher in the softer sciences who wrote a book in which he does not stand outside of his own research waggling the size of his authority and knowledge with language of his priesthood. Instead, he humorously and personally parses out his academic research findings, study methods, etc. His is a style I might hope to match. 

 4. Wolf, Naomi. Vagina: A new biography. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.
Encountered – 2014

Yet another text written in a very intimate style presenting a wide variety of studies on the current female condition with relevant historic backstory right down to some language studies as to the origin of the word cunt. Her main topic, which she supports with current medical, cultural, and historical studies, is the “vagina brain connection.” Alongside these studies she is unafraid to layout her own personal experience within the context of the issues addressed. The personal and academic are blended. Wolf is a social critic and activist. This is relevant to me because my writing style probably will not match that of an art historian, nor is it my burning desire to do so. 

5. Dan Ariely. Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.
Encountered – 2014

Another social theorist, Ariely, a professor at MIT and now at Duke, working in the dominion of psychology and behavioral economics, presents experimental data on human behavior without divorcing himself from his own text. You read his text and akin to all of the aforementioned researchers writers, he makes you laugh, cry, blush, and look at some damn interesting experimental outcomes. He does not distance himself from the reader but engages as though in direct dialog. Like all the works mentioned, the reader can easily extrapolate the findings to their own observations and research interests. The priestly exclusionary language and structure is set gently aside to allow others access to the domain of behavioral economics. 

Five initial artists’ whose bodies of work clicked something in me that allowed my move from designer to maker. The first encounters with this whole batch was in 2004 while in a mandated Contemporary Painting Art History Class.

1. William De Kooning. The numbered women paintings, 1950-53.
2. Philip Guston. Bad Painting period, 1970s.

Both De Kooning and Guston’s work gave me some kind of odd permission to make bad art. The idea of this kind of cultural permission granting set me free. I had to make a lot of bad art to get to the more formative works. Without De Kooning, Guston (to an untrained designer lacking a background in the high arts) and the likes, I would not have begun. So I partially blame an art historian at the University of Houston for moving me from a consistent livable wage to an impoverished wage I associate with migrant workers. Though she gets credit for giving me permission to finally walk in my own skin. Amen. 

 3. Robert Rauchenberg. Combines, 1955+, and his black paintings, 1951.

The idea that a painting didn’t have to involve paint or that it could be embedded with the everyday was shocking. I simply didn’t know it was an option. So my first work as artist (not for school) was a series of black paintings involving tar, nails, mattress pads, and found ropes. Hmmm. I like to say that Rauschenberg heavily influenced it but then again I did just returned from three weeks in Europe with my mother-in-law (former). Even today much of my work still harkens back to black paintings, I just happened to have moved away from tar toward remnant combine tractor tire tubes. 

 4. Marcel Duchamp. Three standard stoppages, 1913-14 (and of course all of his work).

 While Duchamp was still painting but moving continually away from being “as stupid as a painter” his work that incorporated random chance I found provoking. Not quite as random as Duchamp, I am still at the mercy of materials that don’t allow me the precision or control that a designer might require. There is no cmd-Z, no infinite undos of the digital. Always my work incorporates an element of chance with an unknown outcome. 

5. Womanhouse. California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program, 1972.

This goes back to Rauchenberg and away from Greenbergian thinking on purity of medium as well as allowing the personal to enter in to the work and not holding to any specific materiality but harnessing whatever work for the ideas at hand. Specifically it introduced to me the use of materials that were metaphorically personal or descriptive of my condition. 

6. Eve Hesse. Sculpture beginning with the works done in Germany, 1964-1970.

Frankly Hesse’s work tapped my need for the tactile, the repetitive and the use of industrial materials to convey feminine forms.

Unread but expect it and author to be useful in my studies at Tech is Stiles, Kristine’s Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings. California, University of California Press, 2012.


Bonus books : who can only eat 5 potato chips?

Annie Dillard. The Writing Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.
Encountered – 2005. 

Merton, Thomas. Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing. Massachusetts, Shambhala Publications, Inc, 2007. Encountered – 2009.  

Annie Lamont. Bird by bird, some instructions on writing and life. New York: Anchor, 1995. Encountered 2013.  

Brown, Brene. The power of vulnerability: teachings on authenticity, connection, and courage. Sounds True, 2012. Encountered 2013.


You may also like

Dissertation presentation + script
Research interests
The moment
Consequential head scratching

1 Response