Artist’s Statement: Caroline Nicole Haag, June 2018
My earlier works are a visible transition into fluency in the art language: from becoming comfortable with a variety of mediums to becoming comfortable making bold and vulnerable statements that I believe have the capacity to cause change. I have not been making art long, so the transitions in my work have been rapid. I began thinking of my art as a skill that I could monetize- a service to offer. I have evolved in taking ownership of my work over the last several years of full time art making and life living to the point that I now have a serious desire to make a lasting contribution to the world of studio art. I don’t see art now as a party trick or a simple service to provide, but a means of engaging in a global dialogue that I believe has never been more crucial than it is today.
The 21st century’s societal landscape has shifted from the so-called golden age of many of our visual art heroes: Michelangelo, Dürer, Picasso, Monet, Degas, Matisse, Van Gogh, Pollock, Dali, De Kooning and so many more. So many of these heroes that rocked the world with their works we’re dealing with a culture that watched the painting world with interest and had a longer attention span for things that were not on a digital touch screen. So what was the commonality between these and how are we supposed to effectively create the same seismic shocks in this digital world? I think that- as it relates to my work- the most significant commonality in my personal artistic pantheon is vision, integrity and controversy. These artists each shook the status quo of their time and suffered the pushback that usually comes with that. Human beings are individually brilliant, and collectively much less so. Human societies are historically highly resistant to change- no matter how beautiful the change. Artists that made history pushed those boundaries- many times at great personal cost. Van Gogh- now widely acknowledged as one of the most forward thinking, expressive artists of all time- died a broken man and an “unsuccessful” artist. In an age when so many things have already been done, how do we do something revolutionary?
Ironically, I believe that the answer is exactly the same and completely different than it has always been. Though we live in the most ‘tolerant’ and ‘progressive’ age, society is no less resistant to progress and no less terrified of authenticity. In an age of numbing societal norms and blanket social policies, being distinctive is every inch as threatening and seductive as it has always been. Artists have a responsibility to lead the way by being willing to be loudly and bravely distinctive, and thereby inviting anyone and everyone to do the same. We must start that dialogue in innovative ways our culture can hear. What does that look like? Not a clue. I hope to keep a hand on the pulse of culture and a hand on my own pulse to come up with a cocktail that is entirely new and entirely myself.
Many disciplines can offer beauty- I was once told that this defined good art. I beg to differ. Beauty doesn’t define good art- any more than beauty defines good love. I once read that a soul mate isn’t the one that makes you feel only good things, but the one that makes you feel the most. The most ‘beautiful’ works I’ve ever encountered aren’t necessarily the ones that I left a different and wiser woman than I came to them. Artists have more to discuss than prettiness. Beauty can be transcendental, but it is wildly more than skin deep. Art is communication; art is what we choose and leave behind. From a text message to the clothing we put on- we are sending handcrafted messages. We are all artists and should give those handcrafted choices the weight that they deserve. I know so many people that choose not to identify as artists; I think that that, respectfully, is bullshit. We all have preferences, idiosyncrasies and distinctive qualities. In most of us, I think they are under-cultivated. My hope is through my work to invite people to become more themselves than they’ve ever been willing to be, and in doing so change those around them. I wholeheartedly believe that we all have unique inner beauty that, when cultivated and set free, has the capacity to make change.
The body of work that I’ve made in the last year has been about the she-wolf: a coming into her own. This is not only about women. We all in different and alarmingly similar ways find ourselves marginalized and told who and how much to be. We are also all women- society operates on the philosophy that men are defined by anger, respect, and bravery while women are defined by their wellspring of love and nurturing. This is problematically limited. We are all yin and yang. Men are so much more than the definition of men. Women are more than the definition of women. We are warriors, fighters, lovers, poets... The figures I see as empowered in similar ways to the goddesses that guard Hindi temples. They are sexually full, offensive and defensive, fierce, complex, and untamed. They are both maternal refuge and alarmingly wild. This truth is a glaring missing piece in the western view of woman over the last few hundred years. I think that we are aware but missing the point in our feminist response. The answer to our being viewed correctly is, first, in the eyes of no one but ourselves. We, women, have bought into a societal lie we have been fed and then consequently act accordingly. If, on the other hand, we reject this and choose to come into our own skin as we see fit, then- while it may be met with resistance- respect will follow. We are in control to a large degree of how we are seen. As opposed to demanding others see us differently so we can change, why do we not just change and then be seen differently? We are only victims so far as we permit. As women or any oppressed, we can be whatever we choose whether that receives recognition or not. Our identity is in no way hinged to recognition. The figures that have evolved in my work did not even do so with my permission- they came and took over, I believe in order to teach me something. They are the outward manifestation of my spirit, which at times is so much more than what I appear to be. My spirit is an ocean; she’s an ebbing and flowing tide that I am still trying to get to know; she’s a quiet willow tree I go to to sit under and recount the wisdom of my elders; she’s a warrior that cycles between weariness and frightening pulses of strength; she’s a dewy moonlit garden that I go to when I am hurt to hide; she’s a mama bear to all the hurt ones she sees; she’s a patron saint to the marginalized; she’s the public enemy of public enemies, which are not the ones that everyone suspects; she’s the one that hopes when I fail; she’s the one punches me back just to make me mad enough to keep fighting when I’m on the ropes; she’s all the witches we’ve ever burned. She’s the one that the last year of my work has been about. She’s the one I need to become. She’s the one my loved ones need.
The last year has taught me about the figure, yes. About art, yes. But more how to tap into the deepest recesses of self that we are meant to swim in, but some of us never find. How to come awake. How to help others come awake. That is what art is for. That is where art must be made from. If we can, then our work is either beautifully, powerfully destructive or quietly healing, but what it cannot be is inconsequential.