where do i fit in

Personal — Jane Tam @ February 18, 2010 12:06 am

Recently I was asked where do I fit in the contemporary art world and how do I contribute to it. These questions threw me off my chair immediately and I was scratching my head nonstop as I tried to think of answers. I don’t even remember what I said anymore and I might have spewed out some verbal garbage about using my photography as a way to discuss issues pertaining to Asian American ethnography and family politics. Add in a lot of “um(s)” and “uhh(s)” into the mix and I probably said something super water-downed.

This is the difference between getting a BFA versus a MFA. During the four years as an undergrad, all you are focused on is making work, experimenting, succeeding, failing, and by the fourth year, you’ll be lucky to realize what you want to do for the future. Professors guide you through trials and tribulations about experimenting and do not expect you to think about where you fit into contemporary art history. Hell, who are you to even think you can make it into a history book? You just need to work and be selfish. Just think and do your work. Figure out how you contribute to art later.

After a few years of sending jpgs and prints over and over again to competitions and contests, it hit me early on that photography is not all about me, it’s also about the person viewing the work. How do I match up with others? What am I lacking? But I’ve struggled and still struggle to find out how to my work fits into photography history. Sometimes it’s easy to ride the Chinese art wave but this is so one-dimensional and I hate it.

Like a confused teenager going through puberty, it’s always been about how and where do I fit in. When am I obviously Chinese, when am I uniquely American, female, young, old, smart, naive, successful, not up to par, etc. When I enter contests or competitions and have other Asian American work against mine, are we too similar? Is there only space for one? Talk about insecurities, huh?

I have a long way to go and doubt always cross my mind. My competitive nature keeps me grounded and I hope these questions of fitting in don’t stop. I believe the day I figure it out is the day I stop questioning. I’m sure I have other open-ended, head-scratching questions ahead of me in the near future so I should keep this post in mind and not stumble into the pitfalls of verbal garbage.


  1. Writing is always easier than speaking. It is less rushed and allows for more processing. Thanks for writing this out and being so honest. It is refreshing.

    Comment by adam — February 18, 2010 @ 11:28 am
  2. ‘Recently I was asked where do I fit in the contemporary art world and how do I contribute to it. ‘

    Although it might be important to think about that question privately, I don’t think it’s a photographers place to answer it publicly. It is hard enough to try to make meaningful work that has something interesting to say. I think, for better or worse, others will decide where you fit and what you contribute.

    Comment by Mark — February 18, 2010 @ 5:18 pm
  3. […] by Suzanne Révy about an issue of some landscape images looking a bit similar. She pointed me to this post by Jane Tam, which is worth a read. You should also investigate both photographer’s […]

    Pingback by UNT Photo 2 - Fitting in and such — February 18, 2010 @ 6:53 pm
  4. […] In response to a blog post that was referenced on “Conscientious” in connection to the idea that was expressed on Jane Tam’s Blog […]

  5. Im just trying to fit into humanity, never mind the fine art world.

    Comment by theamazingquietman — February 19, 2010 @ 1:39 pm
  6. I think this is an important question to ask yourself- and it is something that comes with grad school. I’m in a very theoretical program, and part of my creative dissertation is to write about where I fit in terms of other photographers and artists.
    Recently I heard Gregory Crewdson speak, and he said something that really resonated with me: Find your story and tell it. Only you have your story, and only you can tell it in your way.
    I hope this helps you.

    Comment by lomagirl — February 20, 2010 @ 11:18 pm
  7. What a relief to know I’m not the only person who struggles with this question quite often. Sometimes I think I have it all figured out, only to realize a day or two (or even minutes) later that I actually am not quite sure. But I guess the most important thing is to keep asking yourself those questions, keep pushing and doing the work. Or something like that.

    Comment by Danielle — March 21, 2010 @ 11:02 am

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