I graduated from the University of Minnesota with my MFA in 2006. The excerpt below was written for the 2006, National leadership conference for the American Craft Council, “Shaping the future of Craft”, by Mark Pharis. It is about me as an artist.
“Jonathan Bridges graduated more recently in 2004 (actually 2006). He is one of the most unusual— I mean that affectionately and—talented young people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jonathan in unique ways.
He was involved in a very serious car accident during his second year of grad school. The accident changed him, and it changed his work. After the accident, Jonathan didn’t choose what he produced.
In many ways, his studio work was a physical reaction to trauma. I think he just truly needs to make work, and the activity nurtured his recovery. He needed to reconcile and deal with three months that he lost in a coma. Another semester was lost as he recovered from brain damage. His work became wholly self reflective and narcissistic for all the right reasons”.
Mark was my teacher, but he is also my mentor.
He is who told me,” The quality of an artist isn’t about what they have done, but what they are creating right now.”
Though I was trained as a potter and have roots in the paradigm of craft, to me, art is about a concept, not necessarily a material.
Inadvertently, Mark understood my fallowed soil, the artist I have become.
What distinguishes me from other artists?
Chuck Palahniuk, author of “Fight Club” wrote, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
This liberation distinguishes me from other artists in that I dare to push accepted boundaries in form and process. My art is sometimes “edgy”. I think this is because I dare to confront and challenge notions of status quo.
My life and my work are all about learning to seize the moment and live it fully in all of its rawness and possibilities.
After my Accident and Traumatic Brain Injury, I died and came back to life. I forgot most of my previous life, and most painfully, how to make with my hands.
Then, a bit more than a year after I went to sleep in a coma, something triggered and allegorically speaking, “the sleeper began to awaken.”
In the midst of trying to do problem solving, a “flash” of intuition happened and my hands started to remember what to do.
Something activated and the torrents of my awareness accelerated in flow.
My profound motivations?
The trauma of losing my hands, this feeling is with me every day of my life.
I felt rage for so many years after being hurt! Eventually, this suffering evolved into passion for creating and I now feel joy for who I am, every day of my life. For the beauty life reveals, in all its many forms.
Each time I step into the studio, I’m working to achieve a brilliance beyond what I have achieved before. That brilliance requires courage to let go of fear and to allow creation to happen in its own way, and in its own time.
This enthusiasm stems from knowing that how I perceive the world, is how I can establish a foundation for my ethical stance within it – and the irony is that I cannot “see” these perceptions at all, but must experience them. Art in its highest form is a product of and an expression of these experiences in the world. It helps me to “see.”
What I am working towards?
Simply put, choice. I could have chosen to remain a victim, disabled, a man that “used to be” an artist. Instead, I embraced the struggle, deepened my consciousness, and healed myself in every way. I began to produce the kind of work that is unconventional, slightly eccentric, and, yes, thrilling. In other words, I lived through pain and darkness and came out the other side. With my new-found freedom there isn’t a subject, process, or material that I shy away from. My inspiration is boundless because I know in my heart that I have been given a second chance
Who we are, in all facets of life, is who we choose to be. And I am an artist.