art babby tryna become art teenagger
November 4, 2016 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How do I go from “people like my one-off weird art pieces On-Line” to “I have a legible artistic Practice with several long-term projects going with collaborators”? Complication: I want art to be a side hustle, since I’m a PhD student in computer science who’s aiming to become a professor.

Currently I toss content into the gaping maw of the Internet and lots of people seem to like what I do. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years and am looking to turn it into something more fulfilling.

Right now, all of my artistic life is based around Twitter, which has several downsides:
  • It’s mostly me putting out stuff I’ve made myself. Twitter’s a great venue for becoming mutuals with people whose work one likes and silently faving each other’s good posts, but I’d like to collaborate more on long-term projects.
  • I don’t like entering the Skinner box of making the little numbers get really big (the RTs and favs). Binary interaction doesn’t encourage dialogue, deep engagement, or constructive criticism, which is what I’m looking for now.
  • I love working in the short form, but I don’t like only working in the short form.
  • I don’t want my practice to go up in flames when Twitter inevitably shuts down. So, I’m looking for something more lasting, physical, and tangible.
By lasting/tangible, I’d include the fancy art things that actual artists seem to have or attend: shows, publications, residencies, collectives, commissions, fellowships, workshops, talks, and so on. Obviously not all at once—I’m mostly wondering how people get their first “break” (e.g. first group show, first solo show).

One first step might be to build up a legible portfolio (how?), get accepted to some school or workshop, and start with group shows there. However, I mentioned that I’m a grad student in computer science—this is my main hustle, my research career comes first, and I’m aiming to become a professor. So it would be hard for me to take off ten weeks to go to, say, the School of Poetic Computation, much as I love their work. (My CS work is art-adjacent, however, since it involves computer graphics and programming languages.) Also, I can’t release super raw or personal art because, well, one must always think of the hiring committee. So, what would be other manageable first steps?

One advantage of my situation is that I live in Pittsburgh, which has a vibrant academic art/tech scene, and I know some people in it. Another advantage is that I don’t care about supporting myself off my art, since I already have a job.


Some specifics about what I do, if that helps:

I generally write speculative fiction (short and long), make visual art, and make generative/algorithmic art. My writing has appeared in tiny but reputable venues. (I also took creative writing classes in undergrad with well-known writers, and won some awards, but obv. that’s not the same as being a practicing writer.) You can find my Instagram in my profile (I intentionally keep the rest of my social media separate from MeFi, though). I’ve also made Twitter bots, poetry algorithms, and so on. Right now I’m working on a zine about process with some artist friends, and it’s making me realize how much I like long-term collaboration.

My work explores themes of cosmopunk (cities, worlds, gods, universes), procedural generation, notations, interfaces, mind-image interaction, and infrastructure. I’m heavily influenced by Borges, John Conway, Patricia Lockwood, and Ted Chiang, and I admire lots of people working today in zines, comix, infrastructure, interfaces, botmaking, interactive fiction, and general Good Weird Tweets (not going to say Weird Twitter ;-)). In one artist-statement-y sentence: "my work complicates our understanding of simulation and medium."

I’m also a fan of work coming out of places like the School for Poetic Computation, Rhizome, ITP, Eyebeam, the Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU, and Triple Canopy. However, I’m not a fan of work in new media art / AI art / net art that uses technology as a black box.

It’s possible that to achieve legibility, I might have to pick one medium (e.g. speculative fiction) and just try really hard to break into there (e.g. by focusing on writing sci-fi and submitting to sci-fi mags). I would be okay with that. Also, some of the people I admire broke through by just putting out more and more good stuff on Twitter until they gained a large following. I could continue doing that, but as I mentioned above, I have a complicated relationship with Twitter.

I would also find it helpful to have academic/professor role models who’ve done this kind of thing, excluding professors for whom their work is their art. I can think of three: Vandana Singh (physics professor and sci-fi writer), Alan Lightman (ditto), Ken Goldberg (robotics professor and sculptor).
posted by glass origami robot to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting question! I don't know if you would consider George Hart to be a "professor for whom his work is his art" (CS prof who designs and builds geometric sculpture, some of which is commissioned and displayed in public spaces), but he sounds like the kind of guy you might want to talk to.
posted by btfreek at 2:09 PM on November 4, 2016

Madhur Anand is an ecology professor who writes interesting poetry.

Have you looked at the art and writing classes at your institution? I took or audited poetry, Latin, and letterpress classes as a grad student/ postdoc in an unrelated area.

Have you looked for CS interest groups with a focus on art? Is there a workshop or conference you could attend?
posted by yarntheory at 3:45 PM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So I didn't aim to get here, but as an academic working in digital humanities and collaborating across the art/science/humanities divide, I've ended up in a place where I am starting to think seriously about whether I should be putting "digital artist" on my CV as well as my academic discipline.

I strayed off as a hardcore linguist, became squishier by veering into sociolinguistics, and also started using more stats, simulation and digital mapping.

This meant when I went on the job market I actually found it easier to find a job in digital humanities, which is where I am now.

The digital mapping background and an interest in programming got me onto doing virtual reality stuff, and I found a group of media studies/art/performance art people at my university who were keen for collaborators who had more tech skills than them.

Because VR is hot right now, galleries and museums are desperate to include it in their exhibitions, and the profile I get from being at a university and collaborating with the more established artists there had opened up networks in the gallery and museum world.

The upshot is that I have an interactive museum exhibit together with collaborators that ran in June, an solo exhibit opening at a different museum next weekend, and have been invited to show things at another two museums and together with my collaborators at a (very well known) art gallery.

I don't know if there are lessons in that directly for you, but it's one example of a trajectory where the academic job and art have become closely intertwined, even though my job as not in art at all. In fact, my collaborators include a guy in computer science (AI) who could tell the same story.
posted by lollusc at 4:03 PM on November 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

By being at the intersection of computer science and art, you're poised to make some really interesting art pieces happen that those without your coding background can't. Start thinking about ways in which your day job and your art can play into each other. My friend Benjamin Grosser has gotten a lot of attention for his melding of art and code. He started out as a programmer, went through an MFA program, and has now completely transitioned to a professional artist and professor.
posted by MsMolly at 5:25 PM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Tufte has straddled the line between art and applied math.
posted by Candleman at 8:32 PM on November 4, 2016

I am going to MeMail you in the next day or two. I'm a sculpture MFA student about an hour east of Pittsburgh, who also works doing data-y for a market research company. I've been focusing on digital fabrication as a medium lately (CNC milling and some 3D printing) and it dovetails really nicely with computation and procedural generation. It'd be great to meet up and chat sometime.
posted by taltalim at 11:49 PM on November 5, 2016

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