What happens when you’re done?

 There are severals levels to “being done”. There’s done as in “tired” as in “I can’t stand up, It’s nappy time” done. There’s “out of ideas” done, as in I haven’t anything to offer up. I’ll put it away until something comes along. I’m done for now,let the back brain earn it’s keep.

Then there’s the “I’m all out of ideas” done that happens when you’ve exhausted a particular vein. For me it was albumen printing, then Venice, nudes, still life, old architecture, then the dead of night, then winterscape, in sequence, all variations on a particular idea, with several permutations. Some artists can mine a single idea and make a career out of that.

I can barely do something twice. That’s reading from the “I have nothing new to sing, and the hymnal gives up no songs, it’s all gone flatsort of songbook. A palimpsest with so many layers it’s become mute.

And then there’s the big one, the big bang existential “I’m done”, as in I’ve been working in photography as my medium for fifty odd years, and I’m done. As in done with it. I’m not interested. I don’t care. I’m outta here, me, that monstrous, ominous, odious drop the hammer, squish it flat, it’s time to move on,I’m done” done.

Mi scusi, dove la porta di uscita?

It’s like losing one’s faith in the middle of your martyrdom. A bad moment as the flames lick at your feet. “I think there must be some mistake, I’m an innocent man, somebody get a hose, what’s it take to get service around here!”

So, what happened? Just when I was getting good!

I’m tired with the sense of working at a remove. And the limitations of using such an industrialized toolset. That’s a pity. Everything works great. Huge amounts of control. But it’s feeling soulless. Too cerebral. It’s turning into a porn video with a can you move your ass a bit to the right, left cheek is outa the frame, sweety” sort of creation. No sweat. Feels like faking it.

And the smells, I miss the smell of creation, which isn’t on an mp3 with all the nuance processed away. I grew up spending Saturdays at the family business, a sheet metal factory. The smell of hot metal, the star ofa cutting torchleaping forth, and the sputter and bang of a spot welder. Machines that could take off your arm, and vats full of chartreuse and pink foam dripping from newly anodized aluminum.

Not feet up on the desk tappetytap with a virtual pen. Beat it with a hammer, make some noise,make something. Have it fight back. Win.

Handmade did that for a while. Owning the waystations was important. Not just the smell of hypo or stink of rotten eggs, but the dance and attention that sizing a sheet of 30 “x 40” paper with egg whites required. The years it took to learn how to do it. Trusting my hands, leaping into uncertain ground, with no maps. 

Clueless, and joyfully at the start of an uncertain journey. Knowing that no one else could do what I was doing. Mine, all mine.

Then control trumped the wicked or sweet accident. Software to the rescue. Quantifying creative decisions. Determinism, but bent to my will. An oxymoron, wouldn’t my philosophy professors be proud.

Time to move on. Not for any good reason. I’s just bored. It got too easy. (and fuck me for that one).

And lurking underneath, was the problem of the begged question; “Fine Art Photography”. If it were that, you wouldn’t need to call it that. It’s a minor medium making excuses. Ok, so what next, whenfamiliarity breeds contempt?

I’ve lately spent some time throwing out prints. An executioner’s song, an assassin’s lullaby, as I shred all prints guilty of, well, just guilty. See yah. Such such are the joys.

It’s time to do something else, the something else being sculpture. I started in January this year, and just finished the second piece.

Monkey Skull Sculpture_2_sm_00022

I suppose I could have taken some courses, or used a foundry, but that’s way too sensible.

It’s invigorating to hit the fear. About sculpting, I knew nothing. Needed to learn everything; materials, modeling on an armature, mold making, useful alloys and how to pour molten metal, welding, brazing, finishing and patination. Cire perdue. Mouse perdue. Monkey perdue. It’s lost art. So it’s time to start looking, with fresh eyes.

 It’s been sweet. That adrenaline rush when I go into the studio with an idea, or just a desire, muttering, “I haven’t a fucking clue how to do this!” And then, greatly amused (I’m easily amused)with that idea,and with my ignorance for company, go to work.


About rjsteinberg

From 4' x 5' albumen prints on cloth to The Palladio Company, to large format digital work in color. A long strange trip. Sidestep to NAPC, Inc. Bettern being bored.
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5 Responses to What happens when you’re done?

  1. redclimbinglily says:

    Powerfully written, particularly the losing faith during martyrdom part. But I hope the continued evolution of your art makes you feel you are nowhere near done…

  2. Jan says:

    To me, it is the physical aspect of craftsmanship, that evolves into a more honest relationship to creating art.

  3. jessica says:

    Nice job, its an incredible post. The details is good to learn!

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