Beyond Cosmetic Dentistry
or Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
(invited submittance for the Hawaii Dental
Association Journal, November 2004 issue)
Rodney "Pygoya" Chang, AA,BA,BA,MA,MA,MA,MA,MSEd,DDS,PhD
(reference bio - www.lastplace.com/page28.htm)
I am an individual stuck between two worlds. I here am not referring to the gray area that I emotionally reside in between the two professions that I practice, that of dentistry and fine arts. Instead I acknowledge the rugged path I have chosen, making nebulous wares that exist somewhere between traditional fine art and the more theoretical realm of aesthetics. Artists do not take naturally to an analytical approach that describes what they make and who they are. They shun psychology, realizing that the hardship of being a "starving artist," even with worthy works, can land them on a psychiatrist's couch. Like the patient that changes dentist, artists hate rejection and blame others for not understanding their work.
When I was in art graduate school, I questioned why I was, in orthodox fashion, nurtured to copy the current contemporary fads in painting. I was not allowed to create my own icons from scratch, but was directed to adhere to what had already been condoned as "significant" art by critics and historians. I asked my clinical, I mean studio, instructor about his opinion on some of the ideas expressed in a book on "beauty" that I was reading - outside of class. He warned me, "Don't think so much, just paint! ( if you want to graduate on time)" After that exchange I was convinced I had to get off the beaten path to becoming a professional artist via the Master of Fine Arts credentialing process. I did stick around long enough to earn my Masters of Art in Studio Art (Northern Illinois University, 1975) before exploring art theory and aesthetics through a self-directed doctorate program (Union Graduate Institute, 1980).
My redirected academic pursuit, possibly empowered from post-traumatic left brain stimulation of dental school (and degrees in psychology to better understand my future patients and myself), led me to explore art in the psychological, philosophical, and sociological disciplines. I spent four time consuming but glorious years to answer for myself - "What is Art?, What is Beauty?" - before embarking on my lifelong practice of art production. During those developmental years, I was fortuitous to have established a personal art theory and philosophy as modus operandi in the search for hidden new imagery. This working model for making my idiosyncratic visual statements provides reassurance of aesthetic value, a rationale for artistic decision making for works in process, and a theoretical defense against criticism levied by authority attacking with obsolescent criteria and subjective biases. Let me explain how I am deviant from the complying conventional artist.
I use CAD or 3D computer modeling. I would prefer to be using artificial intelligence but no program exists for fine arts application - yet. I am team oriented. I conduct virtual staff meetings via the Internet, provide leadership and take final responsibility for results.. I prep the virtual object, then not unlike taking an impression and sending it out (a printout and digital graphic file), delegate an art technician to fabricate the work. A painting takes months to painstakingly simulate the digital original. I in turn make the adjustments, then deliver the work to the "patient" (the art client). The painting is evaluated for specifications prescribed to the craftsmen. I only use the best art lab, having changed several times when quality is unsatisfactory. There is no 'redo' in this process. Faithful reproduction without the highest quality would hurt my reputation. Most damaging of all, the virtual art made tangible, and collectible, would then not be my own work but a hack misinterpretation of my vision. From this characterized work process you can understand how my philosophy as aesthetician differs from the conventional artist-craftsman. I sign paintings executed from digital images sent out to the lab of master copyists. I affectionately call them my "human printers."
Bamboo Rain Forest, oil on canvas, 2003 Heat Rap, oil on canvas, 2003
I don't label myself as an "artist" but view myself as a specialist in "visionary painting design" - which nobody in the art business understands. I take this to be evidence that I am, like so many have proclaimed, "ahead of my time" as an art practitioner, or in other words, will "become famous after I am dead." (Sales pitch: buy one now for your reception room and write it off!) I apply psychological principles and strategies into my abstract art when other abstractionists cop out, giving total credence of their visual expression to their "feelings," dubious to themselves due to a lack of background in psychology. I openly state I know more about what my art means (and what it evokes from my targeted audience) than most professional art critics and writers who, when pressed to write about my work, inevitably getting it wrong. Especially those adamant to fight back and defend dated "modern art" from the onslaught of today's digital art revolution. I divorced myself from my earlier years of painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, mixed media (used dental anesthetic carpules in one work of art), and art installations (the famous one being "Da Waiting Room," my former disco dental clinic featured on world TV). I look back at this flirtation period with different media as internships before deciding to specialize in digital art. I enjoy leading the crusade of digital image processing, the globally despised and feared imagery that democratizes art, taking away the monopoly of making pictures away from artists. Now anybody can claim to be an artist with the crutch of a computer. Of course a lot of garbage as output confounds the public, giving the medium a black eye.
Disco Doc on NBC's Real People, 1979 Da Waiting Room clinic reception area, 1979-1996
But I come into the field grounded in visual aesthetics, psychology, art history, and yes, with a sense of cosmetic dentistry and design functionality, all coupled to the mission of expanding the boundaries of art, or just what can be visually piqued on the monitors of PCs (since their arrival in the 1980s). Indeed, my high speed brush has enabled me to visualize the unforeseen, original paintings that could have never been conceived with mere paint laden bristles on a stick. The banter of whether digital art is collectible or even "art" is as obscure to my consciousness as the developed tinnitus in my ears from decades of high speed turbines (and yes, blasting disco dance clubs - By the way, I still dance at Rumors in Waikiki on occasional Saturday nights when I run a fever). I remain focused to the dedication of producing fresh new imagery, either as original oil paintings on canvas (although I do not directly "paint" them; I also don't do my own lab work), Giclee' print knock offs, or the actual "original" digital files uploaded onto my Internet virtual art museum (www.lastplace.com). Like a diligent doctor, I document all my work in writing and keep good records and art progress reports in my online journal (www.lastplace.com/page49.htm).
Pygoya at Shanghai Museum, 1985 Pygoya on tour in Paris, Frankfurt, Budapest & Vienna, 2003
As an artist I care less about authorship than taking on the role of catalyst to manifest innovative works of art to behold. If I am the father, the computer is the mother. Artists around the globe consider me the "founder of Webism" (www.artingrid.de). Without this cybernetic painting tool, the body of works I have accomplished and will continue to wean outside of the box of mainstream art could never materialize. I am satisfied as an artist; I am lucky to have found my medium, and thereby myself, through and in my works. This adjustment makes me a more content dental clinician.
Dancing Red Dress, oil on canvas, 2004 Quake, oil on canvas, 2004
Like a dentist, I work to provide a life enriching service to the public. Through dentistry and art, I have a double challenge as provider. I am a health professional but also a cultural change agent. I task myself to create art that mirrors our increasingly digitalized selves (and dental profession!), involuntarily immersed in a society riveted to relentless, demanding technology, with an accelerating rate of evolution. Hopefully my art assists in keeping us spiritually abreast with the times. Just maybe it will be recognized historically as relevant prototypical works of the new millennium.
Cybergarden 2004 Tidal Lights 2003
Truly Virtual Web Art Museum, www.lastplace.com
- Dr. Rodney Chang is a member of the
Hawaii Dental Association and the American Society of Aesthetics. He enters his 30th year of
general private practice in Kalihi. Upon retirement the looks forward to
establishing an art retreat/B&B to teach aesthetic and computer graphics at
Volcano on the Big Island. He also plans to continue volunteer work for the
island's mobile dental care van and clinic for the Puna indigent population. Inquiries
about the artist's work is directed to his agent Ingrid Kamerbeek