Shortly after the NCECA 2017 conference, “Future Flux” became “Past Flux”, I returned home and began editing conference sessions to post online. As I did this, I contemplated the 2017 “class” of emerging artists and all of their presentations. In the years past, NCECA has invited aspiring writers to select one of the emerging artists to write about. This serves as a great opportunity for young writers to practice their craft while also giving additional exposure to the young artists. (young used in both of these cases to mean within the study of the field, not in chronological age).
Although I don’t consider myself an author at all, young or otherwise, I was so moved by the events surrounding Judd Schiffman’s Emerging Artist presentation, that I really wanted to write this one myself. Knowing that I would be backed up by the excellent writing and editing skills of our Executive Director, Josh Green, (who did not edit me on THIS couple of paragraphs, by the way. I figured since it was just a couple of paragraphs I could swim solo. No commentary on the successfulness of that assessment, please) I was ready to sharpen my pencil and get cracking. But where to begin? I watched and edited his Saturday morning artist talk, but I felt like I really wanted to know more. So I sent him a list of questions to help guide my hand….
- How would you describe yourself?
- How would your wife describe you?
- When were you first introduced to ceramics and by whom?
Who are your ceramic influences?
Who are your personal mentors?
How does your background in the performing arts translate to your work as a visual artist?
What does “being creative” mean to you?
Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
What kind of creative patterns, routine or rituals do you have?
Which other creative medium would you like to pursue?
How do you know when you have found the appropriate way to express, investigate or explore a specific narrative?
What informs your work?
What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be creative?
What do you hope to impart to other emerging or “pre-emerging” artists?
Rather than write an article, Judd and I agreed that it would be more personal and interesting to simply share his response:
I was trying to answer some interview questions to put on the NCECA blog, and took a break to chat with my wife, Athena Witscher over Gmail. Here is the transcript of our conversation.
Athena Witscher What are you doing?
Judd Schiffman working on this interview for NCECA
AW what kinds of questions are they asking you?
JS how would you describe yourself? how would your wife describe you?
AW i would never describe you
JS hahahaha. that’s what I said.
AW but i know that you would love to describe yourself 🙂
AW i don’t think i’m the only one
JS oh shit
AW why don’t you just describe yourself using only character references from brothers karamazov…wait she’s waking up
JS I don’t know any artist who isn’t vain…
I would like to think I am like Alyosha, but I am trying to accept the fact that I am more like Mitya.
AW don’t forget the little bit of Grigory’s servile demeanor mixed in
JS That’s you, not me
AW oh, right.
AW shit she’s up, maybe i can get her in the baby gym
JS my stomach doesn’t hurt so much, but still bothering me a little bit
AW that’s what you get for ordering take out. did you take a tums?
JS if you have to go let me know. no, I can’t take tums anymore, they are too played out
AW yeah i guess now it’s kind of a “thing”
AW rolaids maybe…next level
JS It’s about my studio routines and practices
AW that’ll be about 10 pages long
AW move crystal here, move paintbrushes there, everyone quiet, get to work
JS Yes, everyone be quiet so I can think
AW exactly, and now you gotta add “change a diaper” in there
JS but seriously, what ARE my routines?
AW I guess, clean, organize, read, converse, make bad work, talk more, clean more, have a new idea, have new idea shot down by me, actually have a good idea, make it, done
JS yeah, that sounds about right
AW also eat salmon wraps for lunch everyday
JS Yes! and sometimes I lay on the floor and sometimes I throw erasers against the wall.
AW and other unmentionable things
JS many unmentionables
AW What is the interview for?
JS It is going to go on the blog with the video of my talk. I think they just want to know more about me
AW well if they watch the talk then they already know everything about your childhood i suppose
JS How I remember it, anyhow
AW I think it is kind of boring to hear all of the “facts” about people in interviews
JS I agree
AW I like that Robert Gober interview because, first of all he doesn’t even answer half of the questions and secondly he talks more about these weird intricacies of his work and spirituality in a totally interesting way
JS How do you write something that is interesting enough to catch people’s attention?
…I love that interview!
AW Right. It’s like when someone wants to tell you their dream and you are so uninterested because it really only applies to them and you didn’t get to experience it fully
I guess it would be better to tell a story that is more engaging
JS well, the weirdest thing about my work is that I actually go to the trouble of making it. Why the hell would anyone make a giant gefilte fish and then pair it with this really embarrassing story about their mother forcing them to eat the gefilte fish? Why would anyone make that, and then tell the story to over a thousand people?
AW because you like attention, aaaaand probably secretly love gefilte fish
JS So, like somebody else’s dream, why would that be interesting to anyone else? I know I like attention. I LOVE attention. I LOVE talking about all my psychological issues with anyone who will listen.
But I HONESTly think gefilte fish is disgusting and I can’t understand why anybody likes it
AW So, in a way, you think you are saving a lot of money by making art because then you don’t have to go to therapy…BUT, you are actually spending way more because making art is fucking expensive and I feel like you have been going on Home Depot shopping sprees every day lately
Maybe don’t do either then we will be rich
JS no, that’s not it at all. it’s not therapy
AW really? i find that a little hard to believe
JS it’s just taking something that I am familiar with and making art out of it
it’s an autobiography not a therapy session
AW it’s true and people are writing their autobiographies earlier and earlier in life these days
So in your interview, talk about something more interesting than yourself
do people find you interesting?
JS I think people are confused by me
AW me too
JS hahahaha, perfect match
AW hey, Your dad is calling
JS just checking in?
AW i don’t know what kinds of things people actually want to read
probably smut, celebrity memoirs, tinder conversations, and that’s about it
Every artist says they read theoretical shit but it’s only true 10% of the time. The other 90% they are watching netflix like everybody else. Speaking of which, I need to get back to watching OJ soon
if you would write your interview as a murder mystery, i would read it
JS no no no. it’s not a murder mystery. But there is a psychological darkness to it.
AW well it kind of is a mystery because of the letter you got
[After my talk in Portland, a neo-nazi sent an email to everyone on the board at NCECA chastising them for selecting me as an emerging artist, denying the Holocaust ever happened, and using anti-Semitic slogans like “Holohoax” and “power money jews”]
knock on wood. What does Belle say?
JS Kenahorah! Keep that evil eye away!
well i did think for a minute after I got that letter, that I was entering into some very intense territory, and that my work would end up with a large audience, but that it would all end tragically. hopefully nothing tragic happens.
I am not trying to convert neo Nazis. That’s not my goal.
AW it’s the beginning of a mystery, albeit not murder, but it’s a good start for a story
JS It’s very good source material for new work. And it confirms what I was saying in the talk about cruelty.
AW right, I think it’s a good thing that happened
JS Jerry Saltz said he does not think art can change the world
I agree. My work did not change the opinion of somebody who denies the Holocaust. Yet, I still think it is important for me to make it.
AW I can understand why he would say that but I think it’s really naive to assume that art hasn’t already changed the world significantly throughout history. It must be very incremental.
JS Hmmmm. Well, it changes me as i make it, and when I have a conversation with someone who is connecting to the things I make, I feel like a change is taking place.
AW You only think about yourself
JS lunch break is almost over,
i gotta stop thinking about myself and go mop the floor, I need to finish this interview
you could submit the recorded interview you did with her when you were a little kid
JS that would be perfect. can you transcribe it?
AW remember she says those really beautiful lines about her village
JS sounds like she’s reading from a book but i think she wrote it, then read it aloud
maybe i could just send them the audio
AW they could overlay it on your talk
JS that would be ideal
AW but i actually don’t think she would like your work, she doesn’t really like jokes
JS it’s true. Jokes invite the evil eye. belle doesn’t like sarcasm or talking behind people’s backs
I guess this new sarcasm is actually just cynicism?
AW maybe you should be more light-hearted
in your work or softer…nah
JS no I think more seriously dark would be better
more like kiefer…more like Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker?
I think these new pieces….the big paws, are more like that
AW i liked seeing belle with frances the other day, she was so happy
JS me too, I have never seen her so alive, she loves babies
JS me too…
but i think if we are going to look at the world in a rational, sober way, we have to be a bit cynical…….but everyone is also a bit insulated.
AW frances is sober. Maybe she’ll be stoic like everyone else in my family
JS she knows what love is
AW does she?
JS Yes, she gives it constantly
AW i guess now she does
she knows it in the pure way though, not too convoluted yet
i really want to know what she is dreaming about
when are they going to finally invent some kind of dream projector
JS maybe she is dreaming about what the world will look like in 40 years and how she will change it
AW Come on, no way i think its more just like psychedelic imagery
JS she could have a huge impact on the world
AW duh she is the next yoyoma
JS more mythological? like something out of depford trilogy? being in the cave
AW yes minus the saints
JS just being in the cave
AW in a cave, exactly
JS and being herself
AW what happens in that part of the book? he has to fight a bear or something?
JS There is some story about a bear in the cave
AW He’s freaking out
JS and he is crawling through and he hears the wind growling
and he thinks it is a bear and he shits himself
AW the manticore
JS there is some kind of ancient ceremonial site after he crawls through the narrow passage into an open room
AW That’s right. Thinks he is dying or dead but really just having the epiphany that allows him to live.
JS some kind of ancient bear rite of passage used to take place there
AW Such a good book
JS I listened to an alan watts talk this morning
JS because I wanted to remember what it feels like to have a clear mind…hahhahaha
AW i find it hard to relate to anyone who uses the dance metaphor
JS but he talks about the complete idiocy of the idea of an “I”
what dance metaphor?
AW like, life is a dance, join in. doesn’t he say something like that?
JS does he say that? Sounds good to me, what is the problem with that?
AW i’m just repelled by dance metaphors in general
AW it’s really not that simple
JS yes it is.
AW saying life is a dance implies that you have some kind of control and that it is rooted in joy
JS no no no that is not what he is saying at all
he says we don’t have any control
he says you can’t improve yourself, so why bother?
AW then it doesn’t really make sense, dance is voluntary and controlled
JS nothing new – agey makes sense. have you ever watched me dance to techno? i don’t have any control!
AW hhaha you dance the same way to every kind of music
JS not true
AW neck thrusts
JS i dance the craziest to techno
AW marching arms thing…knees up in rhythm
JS i was just going to say i always hurt my neck when i dance
AW i know. remember when you tweaked it doing karaoke to green day
JS well anyway, I like watts’ idea that there is no “I”
It’s just a societal construct and we all play along, get in the way or our selves
and think “I” is very important but it’s just some bullshit idea
because the universe is much more complex than that
AW try to explain that there is no I to everyone on instagram
AW but it’s a new era
JS no it’s not a new era. alan watts talks about identity, he talks about meditation and this idea that human beings are very caught up in their sense of self. Like, if you are a doctor, you identify with the idea of being a doctor and the same goes for being an artist.
AW but it is a new era in the sense that all those identifications are projected on social media for the world to see.
JS right and it’s just progressed to an insane degree of narcissism
AW and that has to be ok
JS why does it have to be ok?
AW It’s evolution
we are probably evolving into pod people because soon, that will be the only way we can exist
you evolve because you have to
JS Ok and we are leading the charge by having this conversation over gchat
Haha yeah and artists are the original pod people. Trying to be isolated, get away from everyone but communicating visually and in a way that requires no interaction on the human level
AW hey, yeah, everyone is an artist now
JS ok maybe not everyone on instagram is narcissistic, maybe the dalai lama is not
AW nope, you cant do that
JS do what?
AW if you say instagram makes everyone narcisistic
then it means everyone can’t make exceptions
do you think the dalai lama has never taken a selfie?
when he is alone in his room
he definitely has, then deleted it
JS hahahahahha, its so true. with his rolex
AW so you are gchatting with me aren’t you supposed to be working on your interview?
JS i think this gchat is going to make a better interview
AW you are going to have to edit the shit out of it
JS Scenes from a Marriage in the Age of Technology, Alright, I’ll be home in a few hours. seeya