Thursday, December 30, 2010

The San Diego Fine Art Society and Rebecca Goodman's Artist Talk: A Learning Experience

It's good to get out of one's little comfort zone and see other avenues of local visual arts. With 10 years in the San Diego area, working as an artist and arts educator, dabbling in curating and arts writing, I imagined I was fairly inaugurated into most aspects of the art scene. I realize, now, that was wrong.

For one thing, I had never attended a San Diego Fine Art Society (SDFAS) event until last Tuesday-- for a talk and presentation of work by artist Rebecca Goodman. I had heard of SDFAS, but somehow I imagined it must be related to Modern Art, museum acquisitions, or maybe even blue-haired old ladies collecting Renaissance-period paintings... I didn't know. I filed it in one of those "not related to me" categories and kind of blocked it from my consciousness.

I have to now apologize for this misinterpretation.

SDFAS, run by the young, smart, opinionated, and powerfully present April Game (recently nominated for San Diego Business Journal's "Women Who Mean Business Awards"), is not at all what I thought. The mission statement, "Strengthening the art pulse of the community through education and collaboration" is a solid, honest, message backed up by programs and resources that help artists engage with San Diego. It was good, for me, to meet April, see the SDFAS gallery filled exclusively with work by contemporary local artists, and have my misguided assumptions of SDFAS realigned.

The main event of evening was the presentation by spectacular public speaker and artist, Rebecca Goodman. She opened with a video of a performance piece where a dancer engaged with both an installation backdrop and the audience, and she then spoke about how the piece came to fruition. Her presentation included her influences, her early work, and her background-- all of which helped situate her work in a very clear, contextually-relevant, and articulate way. Her presentation was delivered from a place of sincere and open positivity.

But something bothered me.

I began to realize that this artists' work is almost diametrically opposed to my own. Her influences were straight forward, upbeat, and new-age-themed (dance, transformation, crystals, chakras, and Burning Man all came up in the talk). My influences are... lets say the opposite of those. Her performance-based work was related to a theater-informed, theatrical kind of spectacle. That particular type of performances generally makes me feel antsy and uncomfortable, but I have to admit that is largely because it is so unfamiliar. Rebecca looked very "California" as she explained herself. She had blond hair and perfect posture. I suddenly felt very "New York" slouched in my seat, with my dark hair, wondering why I was such a horrible public speaker. I don't necessarily think I go around comparing myself to every artist out there, but one could describe both Rebecca and me as artists who make objects, use performance, and use video. How could we have such different outlooks on art's purpose, procedure, and explanation?

Rebecca Goodman graduated with her MFA from SDSU in 2008. I, Katherine Sweetman, graduated with my MFA from UCSD in 2008. Was I the cynical UCSD counterpart to this optimistic SDSU artist? Did I think all performance art had to be in dialogue with Allan Kaprow? ... maybe I did.

I like artists who can stand-up for themselves. Those who have reasons for doing what they do, and are able to speak about their work, get my respect and praise, and for that Rebecca Goodman absolutely deserves respect. She was able to back-up every item used in the installation (from the red clay birds to the live sprouts growing from the mound of soil), and her presentation left me no doubt that she believed in everything she said and everything she created. I found myself quite jealous actually. I guess I always leave my own work with questions and unanswerable, unexplainable reasoning.

Like I said, we should all get out of our little comfort zone from time to time and see the world. I think a little piece of my cynicism died in me that Tuesday evening. I left the NTC neighborhood feeling optimistic about San Diego's diverse interpretations of visual arts. Actually, I left feeling optimistic in general.


  1. I was there also on Tuesday night - I think you've nailed the whole experience perfectly. Couldn't agree with you more - and I too left energized optimistic and even hopeful!

  2. I too was there that Tuesday and also the Thursday night of the performance. I am a fellow artist of Rebecca, friend, fan and photographer (the photograph used in this blog is one of mine). I'm proud of her artistic development and the work done by the SDFAS of "Strengthening the art pulse of the community through education and collaboration". It is also great to see a well written article supporting art and being honest with ones view and approach to it. Thank you Katherine for being open and optimistic.