All photos by Dietmar Busse, reproduced with the kind permission of Fierman Gallery, New York
I still feel a little uncomfortable writing about visual art. I never studied art history or art theory formally. (I should say that, regarding the theory, I did study a whole lot pertaining to literature and film, and much of it is the same stuff, so I’m not, like, flying blind here.)
I grew up in Washington DC and we went to the museums all the time (free, and children always under constraints, so much nicer than water parks for the parents) and I liked them, and felt lucky to be able to go. I made up stories about the images. In this respect, ignorance may be as much of an asset as knowledge in the enjoyment of art. (An art-history professor once told me that when her class was scrutinizing a Madonna in the National Gallery, once of the students piped up, “Nice. Who’s the baby?” Maybe not quite that much ignorance.)
My first professional trip to New York City, I was running a table at a small press fair, and I met a lot of people, and was happy they treated me like a real . . . person. So this one guy says, “You should move to New York as soon as possible,” which in his mind, I think, meant: “I have assessed you and I believe you deserve to join us here in New York City, at the vital heart of poetry and culture.” Then he says, “I can get you some gigs writing for the art magazines.” Me: “I’ve never really studied art.” Guy: “Oh, you’re a poet. That’s more than enough. What you’re thinking and feeling when you regard the work, and how you articulate that, that’s what matters. I think you’d be really good at it.” This guy had known me for maybe four hours, and read three poems I had in a magazine. (It was a “good” magazine, though, so that may have slanted things in my favor. It’s possible he was just trying to get into my pants, but: 1. I’ve seen pictures of me at that age—21—and I don’t think so. I mean, no one else was. 2. Too bad he had no idea how easy that would have been.)
So then I got the world’s best job, teaching in an art school, and I saw more and more art, and talked about it more and more—and listened, yes—and found that, despite the fact that I was teaching interdisciplinary humanities and not appointed to studio faculty, I had a gift, in all honesty, for critique, and was able to pose questions that focused developing artists’ sense of purpose, and helped them see their own strengths—which, like everyone, they sometimes construed as their weaknesses. I wrote more for art magazines, on performance, photography, video; I curated a little; I spoke at galleries; and I made more studio visits to established artists, and I can truthfully say that every single one of them has gone well. And no one ever said, “What exactly is your training? Where are your credentials? Show me your papers, you impostor!”
I learn a lot from these visits, and sometimes the artist I visit is good enough to say that they learn something, too. And I make friends, and broaden the mutual support network.
Recently, I visited with Dietmar Busse in New York. I feel close to his work and to him. Dietmar was well established as a fashion photographer and photojournalist when he found himself increasingly drawn to manipulation of images—experimenting with double exposure, then messing around with darkroom processes, then hand-coloring prints, lavishly, eccentrically, and fabulously. In other words, he felt more and more that he was not making pictures to record an external objective reality, but to create a world that reflected his own subjective fantasies and myths. I happen to think that artists all remake the world somehow, and that part of the value of art is that it forces us to confront the fact that all our worlds, however we share fundamental elements within them, are in large part projected from inside our own heads.
I wouldn’t share these here if I didn’t think they had special relevance to the Holler community, though. Not too long ago, Dietmar, who now lives in New York and has been by any measure an urban sophisticate for some time, went back to the rural area in northwestern Germany where he grew up, and photographed the farmers, neighbors, animals, and landscape he left behind decades ago—and then transformed the images through the processes he is now known for. Because I believe that imagination always in some way recreates the world of childhood, I was taken with the idea. And because his work suggests directions for artists working with rural landscapes and scenes, I think they are worth sharing with you.
“A northern land where young men go to sing with the trees,” an exhibition of Dietmar Busse’s recent work, is on view at Fierman Gallery, 127 Henry St, New York, until March 4.