Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fieldwork in Houston

I'll be facilitating the spring Houston Fieldwork workshops Monday nights, starting on January 27  through March 24, with a showcase at The Barn on Saturday, March 29. Get more info by clicking here

What I want to do in this space tonight is to note why I think Fieldwork is important and maybe the best kept secret in the Houston arts community. 

I'll be honest, my first experience with Fieldwork (in Chicago, while I was still in grad school) didn't thrill me. I didn't immediately take to the process. 

When I moved to Houston, I found that there was a Fieldwork community here. Despite my less than fulfilling experience with it, I gritted my teeth, knowing I needed to meet Houston artists and find my way into a network. 

And that's exactly what Fieldwork did for me. Besides giving me opportunity to make and show work, I made friends a few collaborators. The workshop allows you to become intimately acquainted with other artists work and process and by the end of the first showcase, I had a few people I was anxious to work with. Even after I got to know more folks in the Houston arts community, I still returned to Fieldwork to find new people. The connections I make through Fieldwork are priceless. 

On the way to finding my Houston community, I became a convert to (and eventually a facilitator for) the Fieldwork process. It's a process that is best experienced, but here's the gist of what I love most about it. 

This is not a workshop where you learn how to make art---you come in accepted as an artist and no one is going to teach you or give you advice about your art-making. We don't give advice or direction. 

What we do is we tell the artists what they're communicating via their art. We tell them how the work made us feel, what it reminded us of. I've come to appreciate this much more than the type of feedback that starts with "why don't you . . . " I've come to appreciate knowing what I said to you more than getting suggestions. 

I often say "we don't like things at Fieldwork." What that means is that we don't give feedback about whether we liked something or not. After two weeks, you'll learn quickly that there is a spectrum of aesthetic perspectives in the room, and it's really fairly irrelevant if someone with diametrically opposed tastes likes your work or not. Telling me you liked something doesn't tell me what I told you. It's difficult at first, because we're so accustomed to saying we liked or didn't like something, but as facilitator, I'll gently steer you toward telling the artist how it made you feel, what you heard, saw, understood of the piece. 

As the artist, then, you are able to hear what people are receiving and adjust your message accordingly. Personally, I've had a range of experiences with this. In one case, I was making a piece about my relationship with God. I got feedback about seeing and feeling what it's like to be a child with ADD. That wasn't my intention and I decided I was okay with that interpretation. (And maybe that tells you something about my relationship with God, but I digress.) 

In another situation, I kept getting feedback that told me that I was communicating nothing of my intention and as frustrating as it was, it made me work harder to find the right "vocabulary" for my intention. I was able to move toward my intention rather than blindly believing I was doing what the piece needed. 

So the "learning" aspect of Fieldwork is learning how to give feedback that isn't making judgments or giving directions and learning how to listen to that kind of feedback to clarify the work. 

One more reason to do a Fieldwork workshop: It's a great place to try something new. At it's core, it's a group of mutually supportive artists, we're all there to make art, we all understand and accept that each other is an artist. Within that acceptance and support, you're free to try something new. Are you a dancer who has never spoken on stage, but have this monolog bubbling up? Try it out here. Have you been a painter who wants to try out some performative aspect of your work? This is the place. Have you been thinking about a wild idea that isn't exactly theater, not precisely poetry, maybe it's dance-ish but not entirely . . . mash it up here and see what happens. 

To review: come make friends, come make art, come try something new. 

Contact me on Facebook, via email (neilellisorts <at> yahoo), or in the comments space below if you have questions.