Brett Cook’s work cohesively integrates the breadth and depth of his diverse experiences with art, education, science, and spirituality. For over two decades, Cook has produced installations, exhibitions, curricula, and events widely across the United States, and internationally. His museum work features drawing, painting, photography, and elaborate installations that make intimately personal experiences universally accessible. His public projects typically involve community workshops and collaborative art, along with music, performance, and food to create a more fluid boundary between art making, daily life, and healing. He is a valued advisor for The Estria Foundation. For more info on Brett and his work, click here.
Brett will be a featured artist in the exciting art show entitled Urban Legends. Urban Legends is an Exclusive Exhibition and Fine Art Auction Showcasing Global Public Art. For detailed information on the show and other participating artists, click here.
Name: Brett Cook
City of Origin: San Diego, California
One word to describe yourself: Creative
1.What Keeps you doing what you do?
I think of my art and life as a spiritual practice. I think of my work as an opportunity to cultivate open-heartedness in myself, so that I can know my own true nature, and at the same time, try to share what’s best in me with other people in the world. But it is a practice, and it’s something that I think improves with exercise – so I keep doing it.
2. What advice do you have for new or young artists out there? and… How did art become a central part of your life?
Creativity has been a source of joy for me my entire life. Since early childhood when my mother gave me slips of paper to draw on to keep me occupied, the creation of images and stories and space within myself has been a celebration. My early products hung on classroom walls and family refrigerators as suggestions of their value to others, but I first and foremost connected to something wonderful about the process of making things for myself.
As I made more things, I became more skillful in crafting products and my concept of creativity shifted to more deeply considering that final product. From my first day of Kindergarten through my Bachelors of Fine Arts college degree, I was taught that being a great artist – like a choreographer, musician, or a painter – meant that I should make great things. I’ve now come to understand that part of being a skillful artist transcends any discipline or object. Being a great artist is best manifested in how I create my life. I’ve been inspired by venture capitalists, chefs, and teachers who were incredible artists in the way they thought about logarithms, the chemistry of flavors, peer generated curriculum, and the way they lived their authentic everyday lives. Conversely, I’ve learned from artists who danced on stages, performed concerts, or shown in galleries around the world and suffer through a way living that doesn’t reflect their true self.
As far as advice, I really try not to tell people what they should or should not do. In my art and life, I aspire to be open to the spectrum of experiences that reflect my unique self. On the one hand, I have a more conventional, western, artistic practice where I come to a studio or a wall and make things by myself; and then on the other, I will sometimes work with groups of people, and I may not make any objects. I may co-develop curriculum or methodologies, but the things are made by the other participants – and “things” include objects, ideas, and new ways of being. I also have countless ratios between these extremes of solitary artist and community catalyst. I don’t think of a hierarchy in the variety of my artistic practice where one extreme of participation is better than another or one is more valuable. I aspire to see my art as a diverse reflection of my aspirations, aesthetics, and existence in the ongoing creation of my life.
3. What/Who is your inspiration?
I believe in simultaneous greatness in different things in different ways, and therefore everything has the ability to inspire. I see my influences coming from countless sources with infinite effects. I have long aspired for my work – in its materials, concepts, techniques, display, and actions – to show a poly-cultural influence that would be incomplete in any attempt to list.
However, because this is for the Estria Foundation based in Oakland, I will share that going to college and becoming an adult in the San Francisco Bay Area was fundamental to a commitment to art and social change. The legacy of progressivism in the bay area is famous, and the effect of its extraordinary history continues through numerous communities of art being made here. The echoes of the free speech movement, the farm workers movement, the civil rights movement, LGBT rights, the Black Panthers, Feminist/Womanist Theory, etc. reached my young ears and affected me.
I moved to Berkeley during the blossoming of a vibrant graffiti community – the one that now has grown to worldwide recognition and influence and worthy of a much longer breakdown than I can give you here. In San Francisco I was also a participant in the alternative space sub-culture where accessible non-for-profit galleries were plentiful and supplemented by adventurous independent art spaces. Curating and then serving on the board of Southern Exposure, as well as other bay area non-profit galleries exposed me to art theory and the institutional art game in a nurturing way.
Simultaneously I lived in one of the four major centers for mural making in America, fortunately interacting with many of the legends of community art making. Friends like Tim Drescher, who wrote one of the definitive mural books of the 70’s, taught Marxism at SFSU and catalyzed me down many roads of historical and philosophical research. He regularly highlighted the social implications of public work in process as well as product, and published one of the first essays on my work for a small independent press. It was in the bay that I befriended mural graffiti documenter and long time supporter Jim Prigoff, as well as champions Daryl Smith and Laurie Lazer of the Luggage Store. And the muralist themselves – Ray Patlan, Susan Cervantes, Eduardo Pieneda, Dewey Crumpler, Juana Alicia, Daniel Galvez, Emmanuel Montoya, Johanna Poetheig, Miranda, Rigo,.. too many to name. At an early time in my conceptual synthesis, I was defining art as a myriad of environmental, social, cultural, and political possibilities to make social change, and the bay area nurtured a deep commitment to the work of human value.
4. What is your process for curating art events?
I can’t essentialize my curatorial process to a single strategy, but a central part is concerned with collaboration. When I was younger, I used to think collaboration meant that I have an idea, you can help me do it, and we’ll call it collaboration. At this point, I think of collaboration as a practice that participants, including myself, contribute to in reciprocal ways in both the conceptual process and product. In collaboration we all have expertise that we share in the manifestation of collective action, and the results – when done skillfully – reflect more than I could do or create by myself.
5. Do you have any painting “rituals”?
The simple answer is yes, but describing ritual in my process and preparation is not so simple. Your question makes me think of one of my teachers and inspirations Vietnamese monk and engaged Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh. He has a great teaching that says if you want to make something about peace, lead a beautiful peaceful life, and then what comes from that life will be peaceful. So, to that end, I engage in a variety of contemplative practices that cultivate a life that is creative and peaceful. Cultivating peacefulness prepares me to be more peaceful — and that cultivation occurs before, during, and after I paint.
6. How is your art linked to your struggle for justice?
In an earlier part of my life and practice, I aspired for my work to make social change, which I thought of as a revolutionary act that somehow existed outside of me. The “Struggle for justice” was part of changing other people, institutions, or society in some way to make them be more humane. What has become revolutionary for me is the notion of transformative change, of a more humane way of being in the world, as something that has to happen for me as an individual. My art is part of my practice to model justice in my own existence, and by that ongoing effort create more justice in the world.