I am currently in a great show called Art // Service in the Artist at Work Gallery at Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. All of the work was created by veterans who are attending or graduated from Maine College of Art. Its a really amazing show and so great to be able to see how serving has effected the work we make. For some it is very obvious and for some of us it is more subtle.
For me, its subtle.
Prior to being asked to be apart of this show I never would have thought that my time in the military had any effect on my work. If anything I would say that it hurt my ability to think creatively. I really struggled transitioning from the military mindset, where I worked on computers on an aircraft carrier, to the more free thinking self guided mindset of art school. While in the Navy I was given a very straight forward task, success came when I completed it how I was told to complete it. Art school I was given loose guidelines for assignments, encouraged along the way to interpret them how I wanted, and to be open to exploring new approaches to that assignment. I had to think for myself, create my own guidelines. I found myself spending more time trying to make the work I thought my professor was looking for instead of finding my voice as an artist. It was not easy for me to let the military mindset go.
Taking a Surrealist Drawing class really helped me break free of that thinking. Working intuitively with materials, without a plan or goal, I was finally able to stop thinking and just create. I think it wasn’t until my senior year that I finally started to figure out how to express my own voice instead of trying to be the voice I thought was expected of me. I began to look for direction in how to express what I wanted to express instead of looking for direction in what I should be expressing.
Subconsciously the time I spent stationed on board the aircraft carrier had a big effect on the type of work I want to make. Spending a majority of my time for three years in a floating steel box was depressing. Everything was haze gray, deck gray, off white, black, or blue. It was cold and ugly. The carrier was so old that no matter how hard you scrubbed and polished or how recently you painted everything looked dingy. Even the air felt dingy and old. Ironically the only time I felt like I could get fresh air was by walking out to the crowded smoke deck where I could feel the sun and see the water. Although it happened without realizing it I do not doubt that living in such a cold environment is what fuels my passion for creating work that is inspired by the lines of nature.
Talking to the other veterans about their work, individuals that understand and can articulate better than I can about why they make what they make, really inspired me to reflect on whether or not my time spent in the military has left its trace in my own work.
It may be subtle, but I can see it.
As always, thanks for reading.