Artist Masterclass: Control

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Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem.

CL: So you look like you’ve been very busy, it’s been several weeks since we last spoke.

SB: Progress is happening steadily. It’s not as fast as I would like, but it’s never as fast as what I’d like.

CL: Those photo references from the botanical gardens look great.  How was that experience, was it useful to shoot your own reference on location?

SB: That was such a good suggestion Clara, I had so much fun. I took about 240 photos.  Yes, it was absolutely essential. With my own reference, I can layer a lot more purposefully than I did before.  I just love all the shapes of the tropical plants.

CL: I think it’s all about retaining absolute creative control. The new digital collages look really terrific, they seem like they have much more depth to them.  The botanical garden reference photos are a big part of that.  I really like where this project is going, your references are ten times more sophisticated than what you were doing as a student.

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SB: Because I had actually good reference photos, I was able to cut parts out and layer in more interesting ways than before.  I have four more compositions to set up (for a total of 12) and then I guess the planning stage is done. I just feel so embarrassed because of how slow I am.  I feel like every time we chat, I feel so guilty.

CL:  You have “artist guilt”?

SB: Oh, just like, I have nothing to show.

CL: At the lecture I gave at RISD last week, one person came up to me after the lecture and asked me what I thought the most important thing you can do as an artist is. A big question, but I told him the most important thing for me is the fact that I’ve been able to consistently sustain my studio practice for basically my entire adult life. I went to art school with a lot of people who stopped making their art and just never picked it up again.

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SB:  I was thinking this week about how different it is making work without a structure.  I feel incredibly motivated by checking in with you every so often.  I wondered, is that cheating? I guess that’s more like a “being buoyed by exchanging ideas with your mentors/peers.”

CL: It’s not cheating at all, take advantage of every opportunity you get!

SB:  I tend to overthink things.

CL: We are similar in that way, I drive myself crazy with my thoughts. Like today,  I’ve been working on sending out tons of emails to art schools/colleges/universities trying to get them present my lecture based on my book. You’re walking the plank every time you put yourself out there. The day of the lecture at RISD I felt like I was going to barf all day, I was so nervous.  I had all of these negative thoughts racing in my head, like that I have nothing new or original to offer, the audience will think my artwork is shallow, etc. Self doubt is such a big part of this process.  It’s weird, because it’s this strange feeling of simultaneously being totally confident in your work, and also doubting it so much.

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SB:   It almost feels like self-doubt is a byproduct of the creative impulse.  Just as I (theoretically) can come up with lots of creative ideas, I can also come up with lots of self-criticism.

CL:  You’ve been out of school almost a year!  I was talking to some of my students the other day about how I thought two of the most transformative years of your life are freshman year in college and the year after you graduate.

SB: This year in particular has been a doozy. It’s been a huge thing that nearly bowled me over, like a year-long hangover.

CL:  A hangover from being in art school?

SB:  I’ve just realized that art school is so free of distractions, and now I have all these adult things to think about, like finances and jobs.

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