Josefa Vaughan

“You can, as an artist, try to say something big about life; or be content to make the stuff in your hands come to life. And this humbler task is the greater, for all else merely follows.” – Leo Steinberg (ArtSeed Founding Advisor) from Other Criteria

It has never seemed quite fair to me that artists are expected to write about their work while writers are never expected to draw. This more primary form of self-expression is precisely what I, as an artist, instigate others to do, writers among them. Portraiture, which was my earliest interest in art, attracted me as a way to make something tangible out of my daily human interactions.

Since then, I have made an about face to portraiture and the artist’s conventional role by asking everyone I meet to be my iconographer. My earlier figurative fantasies have been transformed, conversely, by the fantastic figurings I have already collected from close to two thousand randomly chosen individuals. These I referenced much as I do my sketch books. I became more interested in how people see than in how they look. I’ve always wanted to make likenesses of our time rather than of individual faces, even though facial expressions can be quite remarkable when I make my unusual request.

In 1989 I started collecting storyboards (a drawing format used in TV production planning) from seniors and children in contrasting socio-economic regions of the Bay Area. It became clear to me early on that we were not collaborating just to produce one body of work together. Rather, we were feeding off each other’s ideas in order to produce things on our own that benefitted from our meeting of minds.

Artists are generally thought of as celebrants of culture who access “sublime transformation of self” with masterful and hermetic originality. By contrast, solicited marks and remarks help me to look deep without myself in an attempt to step back in my quest for greater self-awareness and understanding of the world. Developing this archive of storyboards stimulated new friendships which turned into collaborative art-making and teaching. And this is how the non-profit ArtSeed was planted. As it grows, so do our choices and questions. How can we explore the questionable spaces between establish polarities? Why do advocates of abstract art often criticize political art for its inability to bring about any real change? When will social media and the internet stimulate intersections of radically different perspectives instead of creating polarized and parallel worlds of information forming insular communities unsympathetic to outsiders?

Female piety of the thirteenth century was founded on “vicarious communion;” that is, the notion that one person could receive communion for another. Today, the viewer who encounters my work becomes a vicarious, if not an actual, participant in the communion I shared with the diverse people who originally gave me storyboards and that now share their stories though ArtSeed projects. I believe that the urge to connect with others and to reconcile false opposition is, ultimately, what brings the stuff in our hands to life.

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