Alissa Sorenson [alissasorenson]
What do you do? How do you define yourself as an artist?
I'm a conceptual artist working in fiber and found objects. I struggle with the word "conceptual" because visually that tends to imply something lofty or cerebral, but my work is intimate and somewhat folksy.
What is your message?
The subject matter is usually about psychological processes and how we perceive and understand the world and ourselves. It's often subtle and requires you to read between the lines, and really think about the process. Sometimes the message is in the medium itself.
Your biography in four lines.
I graduated in 1994 with a degree in Visual Arts from University of California, San Diego.
As a girl, my Grandmother taught me sewing, quilting, and embroidery, which inspires and informs me as a fiber artist. My father was a hobby photographer, and I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up.
My experiences as an adult, and as a parent, have helped me grow and mature into the kind of artist I have always hoped to be. I am so much more open than I was as a young person in college.
I love to walk the line between classifications and categories: art or craft? concept or aesthetic? art or life? It can be all of these things, and more.
Do you upload your work to the web? If so, where could we see it?
How is an idea born? For you, what is inspiration?
People, narratives, emotions, nature, spirituality... My ideas almost never arrive fully born. They flit around in my head, sometimes flying out my ears never to return. Others take up residence on the back burner where they are slowly and alchemically transformed into something more tangible. Occasionally one will present itself: ta da! I'll sketch it and make it and there it is. But that's rare.
What role does technology play in your creative process?
Other than being influenced by the media I consume daily? Pretty much nil.
What is art?
Art is a perspective, an expression, a commentary, an idea... a manifestation of any or all of these things. But it isn't much without an audience. So, it's also a dialogue, and a relationship -- perhaps most importantly.
When do you get your best ideas?
When I'm really in the flow and the thick of doing all the different things I do. When I don't cut myself off from ideas or desires, which I have a tendency to do when I'm feeling overwhelmed. And when I can trust that if it's a good idea, but I can't get to it right at this moment, it will return -- maybe in a new and improved form.
How do you evaluate whether an idea is good or not?
If I can detach myself from it a bit, and give it a little room to move around and grow, and then it does change or grow and maybe even surprise me -- then I know it's a good idea worth pursuing.
Three creative ideas that you would have liked to have created?
In the past, you mean? Something already created? I marvel that early humans played with plant and animal fibers and created rope, thread, and later clothing out of it. That is amazing to me, and I want to look at the world in the same open way they did -- even though that is probably not possible.
I love the early film of Jean-Luc Godard, and the idea of the actor looking at the camera and interacting with the viewer in the middle of a narrative -- which was revolutionary at the time. It is funny, and every time I photograph myself, I imagine I am gazing at some person, interacting with them, sharing a little bit of my soul with them (because usually that photo will end up on the internet somewhere.) But, yeah, I wish I'd invented that.
Also, Duchamp's taking the ordinary, functional object and placing it in the museum or gallery. Another example of a tiny, lateral move -- but brilliant! So provocative.
When and how did you begin to see yourself as an artist?
While I was in college I began to see myself as an artist. Then, after I graduated, I couldn't bear to go to graduate school, and I worked -- first as a photographer and then in art galleries. Later I married, had children, and did all that. It's been so important to my development, not only as an artist, but as a person. But it also made me feel very small.
When I began taking the steps back to making art, I didn't feel like an artist for a long time. I think some successes I've enjoyed this past year has helped me feel that I can really do it, and I have it in me to share my perspective and create meaningful work, and help other people by doing it.
Why do so many artists and creators have such volatile personalities?
I think we tend to be perfectionists, and ruthless about what we're creating. Sometimes that not only extends to our art, but our lives and relationships. We want what we want. Sorry, man.
Do you consider yourself postmodern?
I am heavily influenced by postmodernism. My college education was grounded in it. And, yeah, I think what I do is pretty conceptual, and postmodern. But I think if something does not engage the senses as well as the intellect, you're not going to get very far with it. People need eye candy, or they need to be repulsed, or feel some other emotion to engage with art. So part of the challenge is to make your work not only communicate, but also provoke emotions from the viewer so they will engage. It's tricky.
How should a work of art be evaluated?
In what kind of context? By whom? A collector, a viewer, or a judge in a competition are all going to have different purposes in mind.
I guess I'll just say that if a person loves a piece of art, they should buy it. Nothing else matters.
Collectors have other requirements to meet, including the reputation of the artist and how well the artist's work has maintained its value. I could never be a collector for this reason. For me, art is about the emotion and the message.
I think a judge of artwork should have an understanding of the process and medium to fully appreciate the work. Also, how well the artist communicates through the work and engages the viewer, keeping in mind the social, cultural, and political contexts in which the work is taking place. These are all important things to consider. And finally, the mastery of the medium, the simple skill, this is important, as well.
Must an artist reinvent him/herself everyday?
I think an artist must truly look at and engage with the world as a child -- completely open to new ideas.
Which artists do you admire and how do they influence your work?
I love the works of Eva Hesse and Cindy Sherman, for different reasons, obviously. Eva Hesse's visceral fiber and sculptural installations fascinate me. And Cindy Sherman's cultural and psychological explorations into identity titillate me and engage my higher brain functioning at the same time. I love the paradox.
I saw Wolfgang Laib's exhibit at the Smithsonian several years ago, and the serene beauty of his pollen, beeswax, and milk sculptures, and the science behind them, opened me up to a new kind of understanding of conceptual art -- that it can be beautiful and still have meaning, and reflect and be based in nature, all at the same time. It was extremely significant to me, to see that art can be all of these things.
When I was younger, I was introduced to the work of San Diego artist Christopher Reilly. I still have his early work on my walls, and I am still in love with it and being inspired by it. Also, Santjes Oomen was an artist whose work -- while I never acquired any -- lingers in my mind, and I recognize how it has influenced me.
And, finally, I have to say the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman has inspired me tremendously. He is more than an actor; he is an artist, and if you pay attention to the subtleties of his work, his delving into the psychology of the characters he plays -- it's really amazing. There is something about his work that moved me to get up off of the couch and start making stuff again.
What do you think about public funding for the arts?
The arts must be funded. We have this weird perception in our society that the arts are "extra." That they are luxuries. But the arts are our living, breathing, cultural soul, and we must support them.
Is art necessary?
Absolutely. How else will we understand and comment on ourselves as a culture, as a society? How else will we express and investigate our virtues, glories, evils, and debacles? We must celebrate and also critique ourselves as people, individually and collectively. Otherwise, how will we grow and challenge ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and dig beneath the preconceived notions of things we think we know, but really we take for granted?
Does it pain you to let go of a piece you have sold?
No, I'm thrilled when that happens. I'm usually ready to let go of something once I've been working on it a while.
Is a work of art purchased, or is it better said, that it is the artist who is bought?
It's the work. It's always the work. The work represents the artist in that moment, at that time, but the artist grows and changes as the work stays fairly static. It might be interpreted differently as time changes our perceptions, so maybe the work might be said to have a life of its own, as well.
In art, there is no guide. How do you know what the next step is?
I never know until I put one foot in front of the other. The art guides me.
How do you feel about the fact that the pieces exhibited in contemporary art museums are often of artists already deceased?
Well, I don't know. I think it's still important work, and I want all artists to have their due, posthumously or otherwise. I'm fortunate to live in a very supportive community for the living artists, so I can't complain.
What role have the figures of art dealer, gallery owners, representatives, and intermediaries in general played in your career?
I used to work in this capacity, and I know the importance these people can have for an artist -- they take care of representation and promotion so the artist can make work. These are incredibly important roles, and if I didn't have organizations devoted to making sure artists have opportunities to show, I probably would not have had any work seen at all, except on the internet.
Which of your jobs or tasks do you most enjoy?
I most enjoy the idea frying. I like sketching ideas out and playing with potential.
Do you personally collect any items?
I sometimes collect the work of friends whose art I admire.
Which websites do you frequently visit?
This is a great site for opportunities: http://fiberartcalls.blogspot.com/
I visit regularly:
What advice would you give to those just beginning?
Just keep doing it. Don't stop. Even if you think your work is terrible, or someone tells you it's terrible, keep doing it anyway. You'll grow, you'll learn, you'll get better. And trust your instincts. Listen to your gut. No one knows you like you do.
Also, I read in the book "The Accidental Masterpiece," by Michael Kimmelman, the artist John Currin recommended every artist have a cheerleader. I think this is crucial. Have someone, or a group of people, in your life who act as your cheerleader/s. Be clear about your needs, so they know they are there to tell you how great you are and how much you rock! It's so important, especially for people who didn't get that kind of support at an early age.
I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the support of my friends in Mother Artists at Work: http://motherartistsatwork.net. I co-founded the group with other local mother artists in 2005, and it's been my lifeline. If you don't have friends or family to cheer you on, join a group -- or start one!
Powell, OH, USA