unintentional ethnographer

ethnographer, as of today.
by brianprince

after opening an art gallery in october 2009 i had no intentions of becoming a part of a culture that i was previously just viewing from the outside. it seems that my life has been haunted with the notion of not finding my place. now, at the ripe age of 34, i am finding trends in, analyzing, and noting the occurrences that make up my story. i never really knew what i wanted to do when i grew up. and frankly, if you were to ask me still, i would have to say i don’t know — except now i have a better understanding of who i am,  where my life has led me up to now, and where it is going. i am an ethnographer in the sense that i am emersed in a particular society as i concurrently study my life story. it’s amazing how comfortable i feel in the gallery setting. it’s like i’ve always been a gallery director, arranging my hotwheels as a child, color-coordinating the clothes in my closet as a high school student, and perhaps the most relevant, being a lover of all things design as an adult. i was not a part of the arts as a child. well, no more than any child is a part of the arts—doodling for fun, expression, or distraction, taking pride in the times we were able to use crayons or paints. but growing older, i was not an artist by the artist standard. in high school i took a lot of auto shop and by the time i was eighteen i had built a truck that was honored as the featured cover truck of Truckin’ Magazine (August 1996), but i was not an artist. during that same time in my life, i was a Business Marketing major at Cal State Fullerton, but gravitated toward my art electives, eventually dropping out of the business department and taking classes in the Communications department. four years later as i was applying for my graduation with an Advertising degree (Fall 1998), i discovered that i had so many art electives that i qualified for an Art Minor, but i was not an artist. i had no administrative track that got me through my B.A. in four years with the bonus find of an art minor and i certainly never considered a career in art.

the next ten years of my life consisted of many jobs, mainly in advertising, and raising a family. i jumped around as an untrained graphic designer from ad agency to in-house marketing department to freelance designer, making a living to support my growing family (wife and two boys, now ages 7 and 11) and living the safe, american, christian, dream. it was in 2008 when i finally woke up from that rather comfortable flat line in my story’s timeline. i decided to board an unfamiliar, and risky, new approach to life. i was coming to grips with who i was and applied to an MFA program so that i could actually be the graphic designer that i said i was for so many years. the goal, or excuse, was to stop working for the devil in advertising and obtain a career that was worthy, giving back to the next generation. i would teach at the university level with my MFA. i was accepted and the rest was history.

my freelance jobs satisfied the thrifty lifestyle we had already chosen to lead and reacclimating to the academia was a rough, but fun, transition. i still didn’t know who i was though. no answers were given. i just enjoyed the change, but i still was not an artist. in fact, ridicule was the only thing i received. i still get in trouble for writing the beginning of my sentences without initial caps. there were a lot of challenging moments in grad school, as there should be, but i was not like the others. i was not an artist! so my struggle quickly became the argument that the Art Department is invalid, they know nothing, because they let some phony into their program. they lost all credibility in my book and i was the subject of my own doubt. it was rejection and frustration after rejection and frustration. i still think it’s a perfectly valid thesis statement to claim that one can teach graphic design through the principles of writing poetry. anyway. i played along well for a year, but was really focusing on my freelance work. i acquired a new client that was much more fulfilling at the moment. they just happened to be a museum and, with all my art research, i was falling in love with art — it’s history, it’s contemporary, it’s impact on human beings. but i still was not an artist.

after finally fizzling out of the MFA program, which i documented on a blog (projectartschool.blogspot.com), my wife an i decided to attempt a dream that had been floating around in our abundant dreamspace that we tended quite often. we wanted to open a place for art. a place to teach kids, a place where they could get messy without getting in trouble. i wanted to fuse a need i found in art school, an art supply and book store that was intimate and local. we’ve always possessed the faith to do something different. the word “do” in the latter is key. here i am, today, on my tenth wedding anniversary, thinking back on all the times when i’ve been engrained in a scene, or culture, but never really felt like i belonged to that particular society. perhaps a lot of the past can be categorized by phases, fads, or an age-appropriate trend, such as Club Soccer, R/C Racing, Raves, Drugs, Sport Trucks, Big Church, Advertising, Grad School. all which are hard now to associate with. there’s no doubt that they all have influenced me to be who i am today. along with my anthropologist wife, i’m really learning a lot about understanding our society, our business model and improving the quality of life. today, i’m really feeling the ethnographer in me. and perhaps project art school (PÄS) is just another phase, but i finally feel like an artist! i love to design space. i love to meet with humans who question the flat line’s in their life, and the american dream in general. and i love the arena that i get to do it in, PÄS Gallery.