Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Back in the Blogger's Chair

Whew!  It's been a very long time since my last post to this blog -- way, way back in September 2014, in fact.  I confess to having an ambivalent relationship to blogging; while I enjoy writing and sharing ideas and fieldwork, I'd much rather actually be doing fieldwork than writing.  At this point in my work, it seems that that's my priority.  But beneath that simple preference, I sometimes wonder about the continuing relevance of blogs -- especially the lengthier posts that try to dig a little deeper -- in an era of targeted text messaging and tweeting, not to mention social media such as FaceBook and the posts of that sort, which tend to be highly personal.  It seems as though the more personal vehicles -- I'm thinking of StoryCorps, Moth Radio Hour, and First Person Arts among others -- tend to emphasize personal experience over communal experience.  Or as a colleague has expressed it, the various social media and related phenomena emphasize "me stories" rather than "we stories".  Based on my own experience, I'd say that fieldwork is pointedly about the latter, not the former.

Let me try to say what I mean in a different way that may be more appropriate in this context, in any case.  I recently wrote a short blurb about folk art for a local arts organization who are planning a workshop series on the traditional arts.  Here's part of what I wrote:

The stakes can be especially high for folk artists.  While their work may develop from a private motivation, it also implicates the artist’s community, whose collective understanding of history and tradition are absorbed into folk art, and find expression there. It follows that rather than indulge a personal aesthetic, folk artists mindfully incorporate recognizable materials, processes, and practices, which in turn situate their work within the public sphere they occupy with other community members.  This twinning of artist and community is an especially important feature of folk art, which suggests an abiding intimacy between making, using, and sharing.  

Having been involved with the traditional arts for a number of years, though working almost exclusively as a field folklorist, my understanding is that folklorists are wary, and perhaps also a bit weary, of efforts to "define" what folk art, or folklore in general, actually is, though of course, many still make the attempt, as I was asked to do in this case.      

Moving on, in my last post I shared some thoughts about upcoming projects in FY 15 and beyond, and wrote the following:

Looking ahead, though too soon to discuss FY15 projects in detail, I can say that in addition to our continuing work with NJ350, we'll be back in the schools with another artist residency program, yet to be identified.  We've also begun planning for a larger initiative, with a possible focus on river-related culture and history, to be explored and presented through the rich array of artifacts and narratives associated with the Delaware River and tributary creeks.  Beyond that, and in keeping with past practice, I'll continue to do general fieldwork in the region, to identify traditional artists, explore local and community history, and document aspects of South Jersey history and culture. 

Since writing those words, I have indeed been conducting general fieldwork in the region, but all the while gradually narrowing the scope of that work to focus on what I now think of as the "waterways project", but which Perkins Center is tentatively calling "The Tides that Bind".  I began fieldwork on that project in FY15, and am devoting myself almost exclusively to that work during the current fiscal year, FY16, leading to an exhibit and related programming that's scheduled to open in June 2016.  In posts to follow soon on the heels of this one, I'll provide details, though meanwhile, I'll note that I've already covered some of this work in previous posts, especially "River Rats", "Flood Gates", and "Ray Miller's Root-head Decoy".  

Keep reading...

Plein Air Workshop near Rancocas Creek

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