On Love and Fear / by Paola Cabal

Why did I obsess over people like this? Was it normal to fixate on strangers in this particular, fevered way? I didn’t think so. It was quite impossible to imagine a random passer-by on the street forming quite such an interest in me. And yet […] : I was fascinated by strangers, wanted to know what food they ate and what dishes they ate it from, what movies they watched and what music they listened to, wanted to look under their beds and in their secret drawers and night tables and inside the pockets of their coats. Often I saw interesting-looking people on the street and thought about them restlessly for days, imagining their lives, making up stories about them on the subway or the crosstown bus.
-Donna Tartt, in the voice of her narrator Theo Decker from The Goldfinch


When I first encountered such work, I was amazed, not so much by the work itself, but by the ferocity of the artists’ intention. Because this work is not something I myself would ever attempt, I was initially simply in awe of the ingenuity, passion, will, tenacity, and discipline required to stay with these projects until completion. Why would someone struggle so hard to create such an effect? What is such a gesture really about?
-Carol Becker, in an essay about her practice as an educator of artists:
Intimate, Immediate, Spontaneous, Obvious: Educating the Unknowing Mind, published in “Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art”


For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to look more than I have wanted to be seen, to know more than to be known. Why are you as you are? I want to know, and who were you before? What drives you to do what you do, make what you do, write what you do, love what you love? Within the inventory of all of these things, which bring you closer to who you are and which are means of avoidance?

It's not that I've wanted to hide or withhold anything about myself. Rather, within my magpie logic, I have reasoned my own inner workings are familiar to me– my daily conversations with myself an intimately known space (understood, though, only sometimes; mostly just registered. Logged. The way you might log an entry in a checkbook). I have sought instead to unearth the less- familiar spaces of the people close to me: drawn by the distinct cadence of their movements through their days, I find myself sorting through the glint and the gold of the stories my friends, my colleagues, my fellow artists, my family, and my students unspool, taking it all in. Collecting. Nothing could be more valuable to me than these gathered resources, this collective amalgam of irreplaceable insights.

I was thinking about a student of mine at The School of the Art Institute when I arrived at the name for this space. Wanting everything, as I habitually do: wanting him not to leave out any part of the self-narrative he’d been weaving, I asked this painting student if he would share the music he wrote with us- another life he’d alluded to several times over the course of the semester. “Please?”

“I will.”  He’d answered, after some hesitation.

“If it becomes relevant,” he added.

Defensive? Dismissive? I thought about this student afterward, and about compartmentalizing oneself as a protective gesture. What is creative production in response to ones’ own imperatives, but a love letter? I thought to myself. Or a simultaneous love letter and reification of the self? Always an articulation of an evolving set of beliefs. And, what greater disincentive to send your missive than the fear your advances will be met with rejection? To offer your entire self is to be entirely vulnerable, I reflected. To withhold a part of yourself is to retain an escape hatch. Maybe your painting crit didn't go so well– how much can you let it matter? You've still got your music, right?

Love and Fear explores individual “whys”. As forces, Love and Fear are powerful, but it wasn’t my intention to be reductive, to signal love and fear to the exclusion of other forces. In this space, I’ll look at what the people in my life choose to share and what they keep to themselves, extending beyond that into the speculative consideration of what I can learn from either choice. Because I am a working artist, I will often write about the work that I see, always trying to follow the thread from made to maker. I'll write about my own making and thinking processes, externalizing a heretofore largely internal dialogue in a spirit of reciprocity and gratitude towards those who've shared, and continue to share, their most authentic selves with me. And, because I am an educator, I will also think about teaching, parsing what happens in class as it speaks to my larger collection of intentions and purposes, drives and fragments.