Dayton Artists United Interviewed Artist Ben Baugham at Ghostlight Coffeehouse, where he currently has work on display.
DAU—I haven’t seen you since the Artist United event last July, catch me up. What have you been doing?
BB—A little of everything, drawing, teaching.
DAU—Where are you teaching?
BB—I’m teaching at Clark State University, a class that combines learning to draw with art history. We immerse ourselves in the work of an artist, like Michelangelo, for example. We look at his work, we read his journals about his work, and we work like that. It’s a very renaissance way of learning.
We also talk about art as a vehicle for communication, where there is a sender and a receiver. The artist is an active part of the communication, even when he is not present with the work. We talk about the communication in Michelangelo’s work. How he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel while there were services being conducted in Latin below him. The people in the church may not have understood the service, but they looked up and saw Michelangelo’s work, it communicated with them as an interpretation of the service.
DAU—I want to take that class. That is a unique way of teaching drawing.
BB—I have strong opinions about art and art making in the workplace. About art in general. I think there are two kinds of art. Service art and product art. I think most artists make both, do both at different times in their careers. Service art is focused on the viewer. How does the viewer respond to the work? It ties the artists to the viewers response in a personal way. The artist finds identity in the response of the viewer. That can be a very dangerous thing, it causes us, artists, to take critiques of our art as a personal critique. I tell my students all the time, “You are so much more valuable than what you create.” There is a romantic idea that an artist is fed by a viewer’s response—if the viewer likes it, the artist is in some way validated. No, an artist is fed when a work sells. Which brings me to product art. Product art is the art which exists without the artist—the product speaks for itself. There is an old-fashioned phrase people use, they say, “The piece spoke to me.” The distinction between the voice of the artist and the voice of the product is useful to me. It allows me to get better. It’s a catalyst that forces me to improve and takes me out of the equation at the same time. I think of Michelangelo, on his back, painting for something greater than himself.
DAU—You have been interviewed before. In 2017 you were interviewed for your chalk drawings in the Oregon District. In those days you were an ink and chalk artists.
BB—Still am. It’s a great medium, both immediate and ephemeral. You chalk something, you create something, and it is beautiful, or expressive, and then it rains. It’s a good metaphor for art, for life. I chalked all over the Oregon District after the shootings last summer. I handed out chalk to everyone I met, and we all drew. It was very healing, to be together, just creating. Chalk is underappreciated.
DAU—You are doing your bit for chalk. I know you competed at the Yale Chalk Festival.
BB—Yeah, that was fun. I won first place in people’s choice and in general in 2019.
DAU—Congratulations! An award-winning artist! And you’re a musician too, from a family of musicians.
BB—I am from a family of musicians. I can make music, but in a low-key way. When you’re surrounded by music, by instruments, you just kind of do it. My family is very innovative, very good at making what we need. I think growing up in a family that improvises and creates is a very practical art education. You make what you need, and the making of it gives you joy. Soon the question becomes not “how do I get what I need?” but “how do I find joy?”
DAU—And do you find joy in your work?
BB—In the creation of it. The showing of it can be a different thing. When you put your work up and people criticize it, and they critique it on all kinds of grounds. Sometimes, when people are looking at my work they will say “where did you study art.” That is not a response to the art, it’s a response to the artist. But the art should speak for itself. I tell my students all the time, “The art is not you.”
Artists create art for themselves, for all kinds of reasons. After the shootings, I came straight to the Oregon District to create. Something bad happened. But people came, then more people came. They were overcoming their fear, they were making art everywhere. There was a near spiritual aspect to the creation, like a church service. We were determined to reclaim our space, to protect those businesses and lift up the fallen. You could feel the determination in the quiet industry of the artists.
DAU—That event has inspired a lot of artists responses. Some people have said they would rather not see art created from such an event—they want to move on and have no reminders.
BB—But that is an artist’s job. Our basic function is to realign society. We talk about work having impact. What is “impact?” It’s a collision, a disruption—its something that hits you hard. Strong artists want to hit hard enough to change the direction. Artists create art for themselves because it gives them joy, but that act of creation can show the world as it could be, as it should be, and that is how artists create for the world. The two are not mutually exclusive. Art changes the world.
DAU—I want to back up and touch on something you said before. You said people ask where you’ve gone to school. I think that is because you are young and seem so knowledgeable.
BB—Thank for that. I went to a small private school. A very intensive education. I have taken classes at Sinclair. They have a great design program there. I want to give a shout out to Professor Jeanine Kincheloe, who teaches design drawing, she’s amazing. And I am taking some business classes there. I want to design art seminars with other artists. I am working on a business plan and building a portfolio of artists that want to participate. We’ll build a stable of artists who can teach or do certain kinds of work and match them with clients, sort of a matchmaker service. And I want to engage more verbally in the art world. I want to give talks and engage more in the philosophy of art.
DAU—If your talks are based on the History of Art curriculum, I’ll sign up.
BB—I look forward to it.
For more info on Ben Baugham/Boy Blue:
Facebook: Boy Blue