by Sarah Nardi
Take the statement "Together we're fucked." Place the emphasis where it feels natural, on the final word, and you have a fairly typical expression of modern malaise. Now shift the emphasis to the first word and you have a declaration of solidarity. Which feels more like an application of human will and which like a surrender in the face of fate?
It's probably no surprise that the person who first interviewed artist Joel Fisher about his piece, "Together We're Fucked," got the emphasis wrong. We're used to surrendering to fate, to throwing our hands in the air and making ironic, postmodern comments about the sorry state of the world today. We're especially accustomed to this sentiment from young artists—disaffected, disillusioned recent grads with thousands of dollars in student debt and an equally burdensome chip on their shoulder. But Joel Fisher is not that kind of artist. And his emphasis falls squarely on the first word.
"Together We're Fucked" is not, as the original article stated, a commentary on Fisher's experience as an art student being lumped together with his classmates, who had no regard for individual tastes or disciplines. It's more an expression of the shared experience of artists—and writers, and actors, and dancers, and so on—everywhere. For every person who takes you seriously and appreciates the sacrifice and commitment required to create, there are five who roll their eyes and quickly calculate your inevitable drain on social services. Artists encounter this kind of reaction frequently in their roles as servers, landscapers, janitors, and temps—the jobs they take to underwrite their work. And what pulls artists through these moments is other artists; people who have forsaken convention, comfort, and a 401k for a shot at a life that may never come together. So yeah, artists may be fucked. But at least they're not alone.
Fisher's piece, which took first prize at Bridgeport Art Gallery's inaugural artist competition, is perfectly emblematic of his body of work to date. At 26, he's just a year out of art school at Western Michigan University and, like a lot of artists these days, he works in a variety of media. But there's a common emotional thread running through Fisher's diverse materials and style—a sense of understanding regarding the risks he's undertaken and a clear-eyed acceptance of his chances for success. Fisher seems to harbor no illusions about what it means to be an artist. He creates broken ladders leading to doors that may never open and figures stumbling blindly for keys just out of reach. He once covered his entire apartment in cardboard and lived in the space for a time with no access to his clothes or phone charger. He looked at it as solitary confinement and did it to prove something to himself. Because that's a good part of what being an artist is—being confined within your own mind. It's lonely, it's scary, and there are no guarantees. But the truly good artists know what they're getting into when they choose to live that kind of life, and can take solace in the fact that they're not alone.