When Research Becomes Dangerous / by Naima Lowe

For the last few years I've had that iconic image of a man sitting in his basement apartment illuminated by 1369 light bulbs from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I have been thinking about ways to interpret that image or use it as a jumping off point for some new work. Still pre-occupied, as I am, with using (or else losing?) my hard earned skills as a photographer and cinematographer, my first thought was to stage the image in some way, and then take a photograph or make some sort of short film. Alas, someone smarter and more famous than I has already done so.

Moments like these inevitably make me curse my ignorance when it comes to contemporary art (apparently Jeff Wall is famous), and cause me to massively doubt my ability to avoid being derivative. Which is funny, given that the project inherently asks for such scrutiny as a remake/re-rendering of one of the most famous works of African-American literature.

Today while doing my research, I didn't give up entirely, though my pluck seems to have diminished. I'm not surprised or overly annoyed that I'm so sensitive to such things. I'm a young, struggling artist and while wide fame and fortune aren't my largest goals, I do have to consider my work in relationship to those working in similar fields. I'm more bothered by the fact that I've started to think about potential project in the context of how they might seem to people who might hire me to teach. Again, I'm not naive; I know that this matters. But academics are a small corner of my already miniscule audience, and if I'm going to focus outward in any way, it seems more pragmatic to think about my creative, political, social, personal and academic circles as a whole.

But even as I read this, I'm struck by this whole concept of "audience." What do I need from an audience? Validation? Press? Feedback? Funding? Love?

Not to worry my five whole readers. I haven't given up hope. I'm just trying to gently nudge myself out of this creative slump that I seem to have entered since leaving the not-so-gentle embrace of graduate school. I think that the only way to do this is to get over myself and just keep making things.

Easier said than done.

Yours Truly