Jenna Leigh Teti - You have a wide variety of images on this site. How do you manage this diversity in your artwork?
John J. Teti Sr. - As a surfer. You see, a surfer has no control over the shape, height, weight, volume, speed, or force of the wave. And whether we care to admit it or not, that’s true of life in general. The illusion of being in charge of our destiny permeates our consciousness. That’s probably a good thing or we would all go mad. So I suppose you could say I’m a bit of a madman – at least when it pertains to making art. When I realized that I wasn’t in charge and that trying to pigeonhole my image making was counter-productive, I became at ease with all the diversity. More important, when I became aware that I wasn’t even in charge of my attempts to pigeonhole my artwork, I became at ease with myself.
JLT – That sounds as if you’re saying that art simply happens.
JJT – Exactly! Waves on the ocean happen. Yeah, we can explain all the science behind it and consequently explain away what can’t be explained. Again, if we don’t, we go bonkers.
JLT – I’m intrigued by the surfer analogy. Will you elaborate?
JJT – Sure. The surfer waits for waves that he can ride to the shore, which is the destination of that particular journey. The shore, however, is actually where the real fun is over. Although he/she can feel a sense of lingering delight or satisfaction that he has ridden according to a certain standard – the intense involvement and sustained exhilaration comes from the ride. Swim out – wait, look, feel, - RIDE – reach the beach. The Ride is why real surfers surf. Fortunately, I’ve had the luxury of being an artist “Surfer Dude”. I don’t do it for money or recognition. I do listen to respected critics of my images but only to help me meet my own standards. I do it for the Ride.
Lets face it . . . (pauses) . . . do we really need any more images in our world? And is there any work of art that can compare to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In fact, you can download all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies on iTunes for $7.99. I’m not arrogant enough to think that my own artistic output has any more importance or monetary value than a grain of sand on the Sphinx. So if you take money and fame out of the equation – what’s left? For me . . . Surfing.
JLT – Can you be more specific?
JJT – Yes. One can keep busy by compulsively riding every wave that comes along but there is a very low return on invested effort in doing that. So you wait for a wave that has the potential for a challenging ride. One that stretches you a bit (so that you don’t get bored) yet won’t bury your head on the bottom (anxiety is not much fun). Same with image-making. You have to be there, out in the ocean of images, involved in some way, in order to catch the right wave when it comes. Then you act – you ride it.
JLT – So this is what works for you?
JJT – Yes. Please understand that this is not a universal prescription for making images. Many artists need the drama, angst, ‘Sturm und Drang”. And I have to admit that thanks to movies and TV, I for a long time thought that that was the only way to be a “real” artist.
JLT – What changed your approach?
JJT – My father’s death in 2002. In a very unique way, the five weeks that he was in the coma that preceded his death and the months after, was the most fulfilling time of my life. Thanks to a few well chosen words from my wife Bonney, I had the revelation that none of the events surrounding my father’s ordeal were about me. Imagine that! (Laughs) That intuitive flash led to an extended period of living in the moment. My thought was that this was what it’s like to lose a loved parent. Here it was – right here – right now. There was a sense of timelessness. Life couldn’t be any other way than it was. I began to lose many of the “shoulds” in my life. I rode waves of grief as if on a surfboard. When people said to me, “It must be hard”, I thanked them for their sympathy. I felt awkward telling them that it was easy. It was easy because I didn’t fight the grief. It was as natural as riding waves on the ocean.
JLT – Are you saying that you didn’t hurt emotionally!?
JJT – I am absolutely NOT saying that. The grief was intense but I didn't hold onto the belief that it shouldn’t be. After all, I had lost a father that I loved very deeply – of course it hurt. It was simply life happening and I embraced it fully.
JLT – And your art changed?
JJT – It became more intuitive, more spontaneous. When images are not “about me” they stand alone as unique creations. Wanting your artwork to be about you is like trying to live through your children - a lot of suffering for you and your kids.