Some time between 1980 and 1981, when I first became aware of Nicaragua, I started leafing through this book that I saw many fellow students carrying around with them. It was the text for a course I was not taking, but maybe that was for the better. The short bursts of exposure to the explication of “the new” in art were probably all I could handle while being shocked by everything else, all new too.
By the summer of 1981 I had dropped out of college, and away from all that other too new stuff, and began apprenticing with a blacksmith. It was a reaction to the news about Nicaragua, in part. Today’s news reminded me that in the ensuing 30 years answers have not gotten any clearer, or easier.
I do not have any photographs from my time as would-be artisan, which was short-lived. I have visual and sensory recollections of it, including my first listening to Blood On The Tracks and long motorcycle rides through the blue grass hills of northern Kentucky and southern Indiana. And through my nose I can recall the smithy coal fire and grunting leather bellows, food cooked over a wood fire, and Sunday morning folks in clean clothes on church pews.
Nostalgia? Just a touch, but with a point. During the museum visit mentioned here, I had snapped a few other photos. One of them was my direct link back to Hughes, and getting my first understanding of how important expectations are in how we see things.
I was trying to find the text in that book just now to remember what I thought I understood about such oddities, but the best I could do was an explanation from the MOMA itself. That particular piece is not meant to be merely absurd, but the understanding is obviously in the eye and mind of the beholder. The same goes for this other snapshot, taken as Seth and I walked from that museum to somewhere downtown:
My 1981 self tells my 2011 self that when someone is in that age between 19-25 or so, there is a window of opportunity for shaping expectations that is unlike other windows of time in life (at least as far as I have experienced it). Through that window, as with a certain looking glass, we start seeing. And for the same reason I believe in liberal arts, I believe in pausing; deviating from the predictable path; sowing oats wild or otherwise.
From apprenticeship I moved to Greece late in 1981 to study the language of my mother. A year later I returned to college, then on to graduate school, then on to what I do now. That period away from college, my own private shock of the new, was as formative for me as any part of my formal education. I stopped thinking about the expectations others had for me and started forming my own expectations.
When Seth and Michael got this site going, and I wanted to support it somehow, it was (unknown to me then, but clear to me now) with the hope of creating space for people who are in that window, regardless of age. And I realize now that I will not be able to state in one sitting what I hope this site will become, now that it has had some time to grow.
I will point to Nicaragua, as a trope and for practical examples, along the way. Modern art, less. Smithed art, whenever I can find those photos…