Interview of Ben Howell Davis by Evelyn Schlusselberg, Researcher on Cognitive Development, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

Date: November 3, 1994



ES: Why did you become an artist?

BHD: I was forced to.

ES: Yes?

BHD: I am not sure you decide to. I think you are by temperament.

ES: What then drew you to it?

BHD: I was interested in being a writer and then I found that imagery was a more extended kind of expression.

ES: In what way more extended?

BHD: I got interested in photography because I had ideas about an image telling a story or evoking a mood or an emotion more efficiently than text. But I think I had no idea that the scope of the image was so ambiguous compared with text.

ES: What do you mean by ambiguous?

BHD: An image can be interpreted in different ways. Although text can be interpreted in different ways it seemed that you could control it easier than you could control imagery. But with exploring imagery you got into a whole set of even more interesting problems than text.

ES: What type of problems?

BHD: Simple things like the orientation of an image could present information. A horizontal image could be a story telling system in our culture or that a vertical image could be an icon -the difference in orientation between portraits and landscapes.

ES: So when you say horizontal and vertical are those conventions that get used?

BHD: They are formats but you don't understand the significance of the form until you make one. Or someone looks at something you have made, that you have made purely as an expression or a mood and they read a story into it because it is horizontal. You never intended this, but suddenly there are different ways of looking at the work.

ES: So when you are creating or when you're doing photography are you thinking of what you want to say or are you thinking more about what people are going to read into it?

BHD: I found myself making photographs and paintings and drawings, art objects more as markers for a particular period of experience. The experience could be a mental experience or physical experience or some combination. So I've always made things to remind myself of different states that I have been in. They encapsulated something for me. It's a very personal use of media. I discovered that if you presented these things to other people, they might get what you were after, or they might get something else that was sometimes even more interesting than what you were thinking.

ES: Did it bother you when they didn't get what you had intended?

BHD: No it doesn't matter. You're trying to share something, but really it is fundamentally the activity of making art as a kind of hopeful activity. That it is an expression of hope. Just the activity and trying to share that activity was enough.

ES: When you say an expression of hope, what do you mean?

BHD: It is life affirming. It means things are going on. Things aren't bad. Things are happening. It is a positive activity. Someone once gave me a dollar

bill with the words "art saves lives" rubber-stamped on it.

ES: How would you think about what is that you wanted? I mean, where you doing art or photography or painting?

BHD: I started out with photography because I had a kind of romantic idea about photography as a way to capture something quickly. It was a memory bank kind of idea. Then I found it to constricting. It was an indirect method. You used a machine to make the image. I began exploring drawing and painting after photography as a more direct way of getting information out of my body or my mind without the use of a machine.

ES: When you where thinking of expressing something through photography versus expressing it through painting, what where the differences in how you were perceiving what you wanted to say? Or thinking about what you wanted to say?

BHD: Photography for me is an editing process where you take out a piece of whatever you are looking at. You are refining your interests with the camera. You're narrowing and then taking a chunk out. That piece represents the whole experience. With painting and drawing it is almost the opposite, instead of taking something out you are adding something. You are taking something out; from the inside of yourself and in a sense you're adding to the world rather than taking something out. You work from the center of the image out. In photography you work from the edges of the frame in. Painting is an expansion of expression rather than a contraction. Photography seems like a contraction or compression to me.

ES: Let's say when you would take a photograph would that photograph represent the feelings you were thinking or that state that you wanted to kind of capture? How would you go about even selecting what you wanted to pick to actually represent this specific state?

BHD: That's kind of a hard thing to articulate. It is what artists say when they say something "works". I guess one way to express it is to say it is a synchronicity. It is when the image, the feelings, the moment, their composition, the subject matter, the tonal qualities, the framing -- they "lock up". They work. In a very literal way the object itself is actually doing something when all its gears are in sync. This sort of synchronicity occurs and something works. It evokes something. There is also a little extra. There is also a little from the medium itself. You always get a little more than you were looking for, literally.

ES: Like what?

BHD: The medium itself has its own language and it adds to what you are mentally doing.

ES: Would you have an example?

BHD: What do you see here? (Holds up an unfinished drawing.)

ES: I see a white canoe. Or a white, like a white line on a dark background with texture. But for some reason it reminds me of a canoe because there is a kind of curvature underneath...

BHD: So it makes it seem like it's floating on water? It's a boat; it's a boat in the water. But what the drawing is about is buoyancy. So when you say you saw it floating that's the abstract side. That's the emotional side. The representational side is the boat. I had an interesting experience with this drawing. Roberto Aparici (Professor of Media Literacy at Universidad Nacional Educacion Distancia, Madrid, Spain) saw the drawing. I started to explain to him that it was from a series of drawings about boats in the water. He said he didn't see the boat, but he saw the floating, "Now you tell me its a boat, I can see the boat." It was very liberating for me because what he had done very simply was say "you just make the things and I will tell you what they are." So I don't have to tell anyone it's a boat unless it's of interest to do that. It was a good example of the viewer, the audience, completing the work. He read it. And once he read it, in a sense, for me it really existed. Otherwise, if someone doesn't see it then it doesn't really exist. It is just something you do, like breathing. Until someone sees you breathing you don't exist - in a sense. He did a very interesting thing by just saying I see the floating, I don't see the boat, now I see the boat. You saw the boat, and then decided well maybe that's too literal, what else do I see. I made these drawings around the time my mother had died. Partially because she had saved a drawing I had made as a kid. It is the only drawing I have from when I was five or something. It is a picture of a houseboat and on the bottom of it in text it says, "the boat goes in the water". I wonder if I had started drawing something as child in 1952 and I had never completed it. I have an interest in simple phenomenon that we take for granted. Like we see boats in the water, but we don't sometimes think it is amazing that boats float. What is that? You know, I don't think of it in scientific terms, but I just think of it as a kind of a joyful thing that happens. The world is more interesting when you see something like this. Maybe when you go back and see a boat in the water you feel life is more interesting than what you thought it was. That 's an example of taking something out of myself. I photographed boats in the water too. But the buoyancy is really in me. It is not in the boat in a sense. I am trying to draw what floating is like. I don't know why.

ES: It seems that you used the topic of the boat because of memories you had as a child in conjunction with your mother passing away. What's the connection to the feeling of buoyancy?

BHD: As you make the object you think "this really isn't a drawing about a boat, what is it?" I mean I am not interested in the boat. I am interested in where the boat meets the water. Its "the boat goes in the water" that I am interested in and not the boat or the water. So you keep trying to get at that, you know. I think that sometimes photographing, using a camera, you get caught up in the objects and the representation. What you're really after is something else. That it really is the phenomenon that the conjunction of the boat and the water represent. Then you think, "why am I interested in that?" That's when it's interesting to share the work with someone and have them tell me something else because I think at that point you don't know. You'd like someone else to tell you why you are doing it. Or that the experience of seeing the thing helped them or gave them some insight. So that the thing is working. You put it to work, basically. When something works it is in a position to do work, actually.

ES: What type of work?

BHD: It's a kind of labor of love, labor of hope. It's functioning somehow rather than just existing.

ES: When you say it's functioning, does that mean that it is conveying the meaning you wanted it to?

BHD: It conveys some of the meaning, but the other person, the other mind that sees it is working, is using it. You know it's like being given a tool and someone says what do I do with it? Well, you discover you can pound nails with it. So that's a hammer for you. But you really intended the tool to be like heavy pliers or something. Someone takes the thing and they can use it for something else which is personally interesting for them.

ES: How did you figure out that buoyancy is what you wanted

BHD: I think that because once I started drawing it, it didn't look like a boat. I mean, it looked like something, it looked like a volume between two other volumes. So as you begin drawing it you sometimes can't get the representational thing right. I mean it doesn't look like a boat. Then as you work it you kind of say oh, this isn't a boat; this is more interesting than a boat. I tried different of ways of looking at boats in the water. I also realized too that I had this conflict between representational imagery and abstract imagery -that I was constantly trying to do one or the other. What I was coming up with was with something in between. When Roberto said he didn't see the boat he relieved me of all responsibility of having to worry about representational work or abstract work. I could make the thing in the middle now. Which was what I was really interested in. It sounds kind of stupid, but it was a very liberating view. He also said something else that was nice - I should share the work rather than keeping it to myself. I never thought of showing artwork as sharing really. I always thought of it as a pain.

ES: Why?

BHD: Because you have to deal with getting some place to show it or sell it - all those things. So I never thought of it as sharing. It was always some sort of burden of getting this stuff, known or seen. So it was a nice comment.

ES: Would you have people that you knew well see it though?

BHD: Yes. It's also, you know, you're always afraid someone will look at it and not see anything at all. That's kind of discouraging so you don't want to do that too much.


ES: Why would that be discouraging?

BHD: You're looking for someone saying yes that's good keep making other ones. If they say its bad, you sometimes don't want to make another one.

ES: Well does it mean because they don't see anything that it is bad?

BHD: Well, it depends on how much you value their opinion. I think it's troublesome when they just go "I don't get it" Or they just don't have any reaction. That's why I think too the notion of working somewhere between representational and abstract maybe is a little safer because maybe somebody will see the boat. At least they'll get that. When Roberto said that, I realized, I didn't have to title anything. I just have to fulfill the mission of making things that can be read.

ES: Why do you think people perceive things differently? I mean the same piece, let's say, that you've drawn/done?

BHD: Well, they each have different experiences and different references.

ES: So do you find that some people are more in tune to, let's say, when you were drawing more in the abstract, that they were more in tune to figuring out the meaning versus when it was more representational?

BHD: Well, the funny thing is that I use to make photographs clearly as a picture of a house and a tree and person maybe or something. But the more important elements for me in the picture were formal; they were the way the composition was created - the mood that that composition created. So for me the picture was not just of someone standing in front of a house or something. It was, about some particular feeling I had. So for me the picture was abstract, but the elements of it were totally representational so the ambiguity in the image was extreme. I thought that was really kind of a fascinating thing to do. To make pictures where people went "why would you take a picture of this chicken?" it was a nice picture of a chicken. For me it was not a picture of a chicken but a picture of speed. Or it wasn't a picture of a boat; it was a picture of buoyancy. I think people who study photography don't realize that for a lot of art photographers that is what they are taking pictures of. They are not taking pictures of the things you actually see in the picture. Someone with a camera can't take a picture like that because their motive isn't to take a picture that way. They are taking a picture of someone standing in front of a house, end of idea.

I think when you start drawing or working with a medium where you're actually more in control of the abstraction you can physically take control of the image. With a camera you can blur - you can do technical tricks to get it to look like the hand has had something to do with it. But when you do it completely with the hand you make all the decisions yourself. The camera can make some of the decisions. But with drawing there is a sense you don't have a tool in your way anymore and you can't say, "oh well, the camera did that." You're responsible now for every way a mark that goes on the surface. There are a lot more decisions you have to make.

ES: How do you make those decisions?

BHD: Intuitively. Sometimes the mood you are in. Sometimes, the thing itself, the materials you are using will tell you something you didn't see before and you'll go that way. I use pencils and erasers. For a long time I thought the pencil was the primary thing and then I discovered that the eraser was equal. So that the eraser was a drawing tool as well. That is something the materials taught me - not something that I said, "gee, I think I want to draw with an eraser." There are interesting things that the materials themselves tell you. Or with painting I don't for some reason like working with brushes...

ES: Why?

BHD: I don't know why. They're just hard for me, so I use a palette knife.

I found that the palette knife was much easier for me to work with. Maybe it's because of the way I could hold it.

ES: So, let's say, in this case, you have the canvas, how do you know what to put on it? I mean do you think I am going to try to make a boat and show buoyancy? Or do you just start doing something and then oh it looks like this --I'll just keep going?

BHD: If I haven't worked for awhile I have to make a mess and throw it away. I have to make something to just get acquainted with the materials again and get in the state.


ES: Wait, what do you mean by mess?

BHD: Well, you just get a canvas out or drawing paper and you just make any old thing. You know, you just start making. I find that sometimes that doesn't work to well if I have a complete mind set - like I want to make a set of boat drawings. It is a way of getting started ... But soon you're pretty tired of that idea and if you're not getting some information from the materials that makes it more interesting, you know, the boat thing will die somewhere along the way.

ES: So what is that interplay that happens between that initial idea and then what is happening while you're doing it.

BHD: I think it's a learning thing. If what you are doing is not teaching you something that you didn't think of before then it is not very exciting. It is like going to a place you've been to a million times. You know, and after awhile it is so familiar and so boring that the only way you can get a new look at it is to rent a plane and look at it, or bring somebody into it that who can teach you something that you didn't see about it. So when you're working just by yourself with the materials you go into this "place." You have confidence to go there because you've been there before so you don't worry about having the wrong kind of currency or something, you know, (laugh) like you're in a country that you don't really know anything about. But pretty soon you're bored and you want something to happen, an experience to happen while you're doing it.

ES: Like what would be an example of that type of experience?

BHD: I was reading something about Henri Rousseau, the painter, that in his pictures with rivers or bodies of water he always put a little guy fishing. And he supposedly, and this is probably an interpretation by an art historian but, Rousseau was interested in things that "worked by being still." So someone fishing is working by just holding a fishing pole, being still and waiting for the fish.

ES: Oh, I see.

BHD: Which is a really good analogy to an artwork. It does its work by being still. What Rousseau was reflecting in that particular representational image was symbolic of the painting itself. It worked by being still. So I began making drawings of things that worked by being still like tables, and ladders, brick walls, and these things. So again it was kind of - you read something, the ideas was interesting, and then, well I wonder if I can make something myself that works by being still. The compound analogy to the art object is the self-reference to the art object so what things would fall in this category, how many of them can I think of, and what color should they be? I kept working on these things and then I got to this point where I drew a house. A house, that's a great example of a thing that if it moves you're in trouble. So, (laugh) then I drew a house and then a kind of fuzzy image of a house. What it made me think of is that I was drawing a house and a dream house. This joke that everyone has of a house that they live in and the house they are going to live in or their dream house. So I moved away from the "things being still." It was really just a kind of coincidence that I drew two houses because I had drawn two tables or something and I had thought "oh well, I'll draw two houses." You know, in art school you're taught to evolve a series. So I sort of went "oh, that's an interesting thing, what other things are like that?" And then I painted a planet of water for some reason. I thought this big solid round thing of water, isn't that interesting? It had nothing to do with the house and the dream house that I can think of right now. It did remind me of a vision the folk artist Reverend Finster in Georgia once told me he had about a planet made of water.

So sometimes you work towards something, that you work yourself out of an old idea. You work out the idea the way you had constructed it mentally into a new idea that the materials have influenced - then of course, how you're feeling today because you started this yesterday when you were feeling differently. It all changes. So you've worked yourself into a place where you hadn't known you could go. That's exciting because now you're traveling again. You are off to places you haven't seen.

ES: So, it really just kind of evolves?

BHD: Yes.

ES: What happens if, for some reason, you don't like what you did yesterday? And you don't have an eraser because you're working with acrylics? What do you do then?

BHD: You can file it. You can throw it away (laugh). You can give it to someone. Sometimes its useful just to take the thing that isn't working - it's like the battery has gone dead and it doesn't work (laugh) - you can hang it up and use it as a reference. I have done other things where I'll just cut the drawing up, you know. I'll just cut off the parts that don't work, or that I don't like.

ES: What makes something work?

BHD: Synchronicity. It's some place new = all the elements, the formal elements - the color, the line, the texture, the composition - lock up and have a kind of energy. And then the real test is, you know, do you like looking at it over and over again.

ES: What is the dominant thing that is pulling you through the process? Is it the initial thing you thought you wanted to do or say? Or is it kind of more this process "oh, now I can see that it is doing this, isn't that interesting I'll just follow this line" and then the initial reason that it was started becomes secondary?

BHD: That can occur. Or you can get back to where you started and realize some deeper sense of what you were originally doing. Like the boats and the buoyancy and that kind of thing. So you work back sometimes to the original idea and you go "oh, I know what to do now." Then that leads you through the same process again where you go "oh, I've just made ten of these same drawings I don't need, maybe I just need this one." That's kind of the way it goes. But if I was making something this morning and came over here, I might have a different way of explaining it. I may be leaving out something really important that I can't recall at the moment (laugh) or something. There is also making a mess and cleaning up. You go through that, l "oh, this is awful I'm going to quit."

Or you put the drawing up on the wall, take it from the horizontal flat place where you've been working on it and put it up near a painting - put it in a different context and you go "ooh, that's better than what I thought" or "I didn't see that" or the left corner is really what I am after not where I thought I was or something. So, I think it's the hardest thing in art training, and as an art teacher, it was hard thing to teach students that this is what the process is. It is not the object itself so much, but it's the confidence that you have to build, that nothing is a failure in a sense. When you're traveling and you make a wrong turn the whole trip hasn't failed. You just turn around or you might find something really interesting down that road that you got on by accident. I had a great experience in Culpepper, Virginia, last week. I went there to look for an old hotel that I had stayed at as a kid because I had a memory of having a good time at this hotel and I hadn't been there for forty years. I finally found the hotel, which has become a kind of human resource center or something. I still can't remember what it is about this hotel other than the clean white sheets and it may have been the first hotel I had ever stayed or whatever, but right next door to it there was an old movie theatre, the State Theatre, and on the marquis of the theatre it had the word "INTERNET". It made a great photograph. It's like the Internet replacing movies and it's at the "State" Theatre. And, uh, so that was an interesting art experience where I had gone for one reason and right next door there was something that's equally interesting and so forth. But, you went down that road for one reason and found something equally as interesting.

ES: And what happens to the initial reason though?

BHD: I don't know. It's really not a matter of resolution. It's not about finishing anything. That's another thing that's hard to teach students. It's a process, you know. You never think about finishing breathing or (laugh) finishing eating, you know. It's not like your last meal!


ES: What I am hearing you say that there is kind of this discovery process in the middle which makes it really exciting. That's one of the big things that also keeps you going and then, on the other hand, there is this other feeling that once its finished or once there is something that can be seen that you want people to get somehow something out of it.

BHD: Yes

ES: As you're doing this are you thinking about what people will think?

BHD: Other than this notion of sharing no - not really. It's problematic because there is so much art criticism; there is so much judgement about whether something is good or bad or whether how this fits under the current thinking about art. If you spend too much time worrying about that you'll never do anything. It's something like buying clothes. I mean, if you don't make a choice and wear something you'll never go out. If you worry about what people are going to say about what you look like you'll never do anything. I think that has always been the part that has been clumsy for me. I had a discussion recently with an artist friend of mine that has really no formal art school training, he has just made things without studying art in an academic situation. He was interested in just making things and then hiding them. You know, not letting anybody see them or they could see them after he died or something. He didn't want any criticism based on current artistic theories because he didn't know anything about it. And wasn't that a purer way to make art? From my perspective, I have an interest in history. I like to read and I like to find out other people's motives for things and how they articulate them. I said to him, you know I read this stuff, I keep up with this stuff because it is interesting to me. If it wasn't interesting I wouldn't do it as a fashion or as a duty. I think he was looking at all that as a duty to participate in the art world and, from my perspective, it was like, if it was interesting I would do it and if it wasn't interesting I wouldn't. I think I got interested in semiotics and how language works and a lot of things about reading because there was a lot of talk when I first began photography about "visual literacy " and there was a whole attempt to legitimize photography as some kind of visual syntax mechanism and so forth. Which got me thinking about "do I read from the lower left to the upper right?" Or composition allows your eye to move around something and you can manipulate that and that's what graphic design is. So all those things were kind of interesting - discovering other people's thinking about it. But I think if you ever thought it was anything other than other people's thinking about it, then you're really stuck with trying to "get it right." This is a really hard thing in art school to make students realize - that they can imitate all kinds of things and "get it right", but other more experienced people will see the imitation. Although imitation is a sincere form of learning, it's not the whole thing.


ES: Obviously the artwork has some type of convention.

BHD: Well, those conventions are always changing. Whatever is happening at the moment appears to be the correct thing (laugh) usually because, because that work is selling and so there is a social context of art as well. That it is not and this is another disillusioning thing for students to realize, that it is not this sort of free form thing. Antonio Muntadas, the media artist, asked the art dealer Leo Castelli "how come Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and other artists like them are selling so much art, why is this happening?" And Castelli said that there was "a mysterious consensus" about the value of their work. The "mysterious consensus" is actually made up of art historians, art dealers, and people trying to increase the value of things they have collected. So that the mysterious consensus, if you break it down, isn't so mysterious. To be a successful artist that lives just by their work there has to be a certain manipulation of that mysterious consensus. You have to make something that is based on your analysis of the market and what's going on and how smart you are. Put something into that system that rises above the rest of the stuff which is out there.

ES: So do you think people who are interested in really marketing their pieces actually do an analysis of these things?


BHD: No, I think the really clever ones approach the art market as an art material. Andy Warhol was the first one to make this transparent. Perhaps, Marcel Duchamp before him. They actually thought of the whole art business as art material. Jeff Koons is the current heir to this mode. They'll manipulate the whole business very cleverly and someone who sells art, I think, realizes that this person is working with them so they can market the person's work and get it seen. It's a particular kind of artist, I think that grasps this.

ES: But, do you think Warhol had something he wanted to say about society and then he realized, "oh, this could actually be the ultimate commentary - the thing itself is just a piece of the market"?

BHD: Well, as I mentioned, it's the synchronicity. He managed to synchronize his vision with what was going on in the culture and what was going on in the art world and to intelligently comment on all this. Although Warhol's work is primarily commentary and commentary is bound in some time period and time passes. So if you don't comment on something else and something else again you go out of phase, you go out of sync. So a lot of important art is art that is both commentary about things that are more eternal like beauty or hope or some more positive human emotions. So, I think, at the end of Warhol's life we saw him trying to make beautiful portraits, and his work got much more elaborate and less terse, and it was more beautiful.

ES: How do you see that in relation to your work? And the stuff you've been doing in progression?

BHD: I did a lot of social commentary kind of work that was less personal because I was involved in the art world more directly. I was worried about getting work shown or selling work or keeping my job in an art school or, you know, appearing relevant to the art scene. I was enamoured with "bad art" for a long time. I worked hard to be naive and make very clumsy, odd looking things that didn't fit in the art world. Once you leave that, you're at liberty to make things, which are more personal - that are more about trying to make something that might get at what beauty is. I am still interested in commentary. I still like to make jokes about things.

ES: What do you mean by clumsy, it doesn't fit, or bad art?

BHD: The closest thing you get to this is naive art, people who have no training at all and make primitive images. When I lived in Georgia I was very interested in primitive artists, untrained artists. Because their motives for making the objects were so much purer, or were so much more interesting to me than artists who were talking about post-modernism, and deconstruction, and all sorts of art jargon. I met a guy in North Georgia that made thousands of windmills out of old bicycle parts and painted them and had them all over his farm. I asked him "why do you do this?" And he looked at me kind of funny, like I was asking a stupid question. He said, "I have to do this!" And I thought that's the best reason I've ever heard for being an artist. (laughs).

ES: Right.

BHD: You just have to do it. And immediately there is nothing more to ask, you know, about the motive for this. Reverend Finster once said to me "you know the only thing you have to do to make art? All you have to do is try!" So I thought "I have to" and "all I have to do is try " were the two best descriptions of the sort of burden of having to make this kind of things.

ES: When you're making art are you keeping in mind the technical part?

Or that balance, or the symmetry, I mean I don't know what the criteria is.

BHD: I think that I have a conflict that I have used to my own advantage. It's probably because I worked at an art school and I only studied in art school about two years, and then teaching in an art school I saw a lot of emphasis on technique. I thought, "this is kind of oppressive." You know, always thinking about the technique. What about the ideas? What about the quality of the ideas? Sometimes you can express the idea with very low tech. It's funny to think about "high tech" and "low tech" in the art world. You can do wonderful things with a pencil, really low tech, and an eraser. Or you can do very high tech things with all kinds of glazes and brushes - old master techniques and so forth. I vacillate between those. I sometimes think I should go to Italy and study painting. I mean actually go to school and pretend I don't know anything.

ES: And why would you want to do that?

BHD: Just to get completely immersed in another way of thinking. Doing it as a pleasure, rather than as a vocation or something. You never break with technique because there is always something between you and the idea unless you have mental telepathy or something. There is some rendering technology that you're dealing with and it can be low tech or it can be high tech. I've done everything from pencil and erasers to video, film, to computer stuff. But I've always tried to do it in the service of an idea that made sense to do in that particular medium. So I did a computer drawing piece last year that I tried to make sense of digital imagery in terms, on its own terms rather than using it do something old. And that was an interesting experiment.

ES: You had said that in photography there were some limitations of the medium in itself that you kind of felt that painting got away from in the sense that you could actually put things on rather than just take things out.

ES: What do you think are the limitations of painting? Is there anything that you feel frustrated about it?

BHD: One thing is that it takes a long time to make one. In photography you could make lots of photographs really quickly - get a lot of information really quickly. With a painting, and again this is what I was talking about timing, it takes a long time. I mean you can make quick paintings, but they are much slower than photographs in many ways. So you have a lot of time to change the image and change the idea. Oil paints take a long time to dry so that you can go back to the thing with a different mood and so forth. It is the same object only you're allowed to go back into it. You think, "well, I should be making more than these, doing these faster or something." It's just a different timing, use of time, I guess. Time also disappears when you're making something like this. I mean, you know, time flies. You get lost in what you're doing and suddenly the whole day is gone and you haven't done anything but this drawing.

ES: And you lose perception of the rest of the world?

BHD: Yes. It's funny to do this because you forget if you don't do it all the time, You have guilt about doing it. You should be doing something else. And after awhile you realize - no this was the primary thing. That I am doing the other things - like jobs - in order to be able to do this. So you get those mixed up and it's kind of an identity problem. Like what am I? Where am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to be doing? Which is interesting too. (laugh).

ES: You had said that after you hadn't been making art what you would do was to make a mess to get yourself in the right state. What do you mean by state?

BHD: A frame of mind where your confidence is high, that what you're doing you can do, that you're working toward the moment where the idea, the initial idea and the object itself are resonating and then you go beyond that. You're totally in. Another way of looking at it is that you're learning every second. You're not thinking about whether you're getting it right or whether you're, using the right technique or blah blah blah. Suddenly everything you're doing is exciting. You're fully engaged along a line of excellence. That was John F. Kennedy's definition of happiness. I think that is really what it is - you're fully engaged and you're learning every second - whatever excellence is for you, but you've really got it, you're really alive. In a sense, you're at peace with yourself. Its like any job or anything interesting that you're doing in that you're suddenly really doing it. What you regret is that you can't be this way every second. You know, you having to work yourself into this kind of thing. That's one of the reasons I got fascinated with the multimedia is that it looked like, it looked to me like an artist studio with lots of different things going on and if you could synchronize them and apply them to whatever the subject was, whether it was geometry or architecture, you could give the person using it the sense that they are fully engaged. That everything they are doing is making them happy and they are learning. That's what kind of led me into that field. It was the sense that technology could make it possible to simulate this. I think the troubling thing for me is that it is still simulation, you know. Its really just a picture of what fully engaged is about, I mean.

ES: Or suppose to be (laugh).

BHD: Or suppose to be. So maybe it really is a confidence builder. That it's not anything of itself. It's just a confidence builder. That yes, you're interested in geometry, go nuts with geometry. But its not all here, I mean, it's not all in this computer, in this program. I hadn't really thought of this, but it's like a confidence generator that allows you really quickly, like photography, to make, to get a lot of information. But to really understand the information you're maybe going to have to go back and study. The process I am talking about is a study process and if you're not studying something you're not fully engaged and probably not happy. So maybe that's the bottom line, the pursuit of happiness is to be fully engaged along lines of excellence. Maybe that is what Jefferson was actually saying. I just went to Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello in Virginia. A wonderful place - you should go visit.

ES: Yes?

BHD: He was a bit ambiguous with his slaves and everything. But he said, "its amazing how much you can do if you're busy doing" (laugh). His house is an amazing place. He made doors so that when you open one door the other one would open automatically. He had a weather vane on the roof that was attached to a compass on the underside of the roof that when the weather vane turned it showed which way the wind was blowing, you could see it. He had a copy machine when he wrote letters. He wrote letters with this pen and had an arm attached to a second pen that actually made a copy mechanically.

He divided his library into works of imagination, reason, and memory.

ES: That's great.

BHD: It's just a museum of someone who was engaged all the time and who built his own world basically. His tombstone says "author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Virginia Statue of for Religious Freedom, and the Founder of the University of Virginia". It doesn't say anything about being President of the United States. It was very interesting, a very inspiring kind of thing. Although he could have let his slaves go, he never did, so he has a very strange and ambiguous relationship to American. He also designed the University of Virginia.

ES: Yes.

BHD: The core campus is this human scale place for being completely engaged. You get there and you feel "oh, I want to learn. (laugh) I want to live here and have a fireplace and read. This is for me." He understood the synchronicity between the place and time and activity. And you get a real good feeling about education just by being there.