NON LO SO…lo sai?

Not knowing sparks my interest, because it alerts me to a complex visual problem with untapped potential.

A self portrait as an artist putting on (or removing) a blank mask.
Autoritratto (NON LO SO), digital vector drawing, 2023.

“I don't know… do you?”

I arrived in Italia nine years ago with a very limited Italian vocabulary. The phrase «NON LO SO» became a sort of guiding mantra.

It helped me navigate the practical challenges of adapting to a new culture and its daily protocol. If I didn't accept that I didn't know, there was no way I could let go of my preconceptions and start learning. 

The phrase also had artistic value. In America I had reached a dead end in my art practice — I hated my artwork, and making more of it seemed pointless. I did not know what to make next, or if I should make anything at all. 

Embracing uncertainty led to a transformative shift. In Italia I let go of painting and picked up media I could break into smaller units: drawing and photography. These lightweight, mobile practices allowed me to efficiently explore Italy's visual environment, its layers of light, form, shape, color, value, and line.

Instead of making complicated plans, I made pictures. Every day I answered Garry Winogrand’s question-in-a-statement: “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” Creative practice itself provided the answers I did not know, including new balances (and imbalances) of colors, complex shape compositions, inverted visual cues.

Intersecting stone walls on Via delle Santucce in Cortona, Italia.
Cortona 8.5.2023 (2), digital photograph, 2023.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic gave me (and all of us) a profound opportunity to test the power of «NON LO SO». Living abroad during 2020–21 presented many problems with unknown answers. But not knowing also offered an opportunity to let go of ideas about what I should do and instead explore my creative curiosity without constraints.  

Now, I view «NON LO SO» as a catalyst for art. When I ask a question like, “can I combine these disparate ideas in comics?”, and the answer is “I don't know,” my uncertainty becomes creative inspiration. Not knowing sparks my interest, because it alerts me to a complex visual problem with untapped potential.

As 2023 unfolds, new questions arise with «NON LO SO» answers. How will AI tools change our creative paths? Can those new tools and processes complement the old ones? Where does an artist fit in enormous technological systems? I certainly do not know the answers — but I trust that “I don't know” is only the beginning, not the end. 

Do you make things? When you hit a creative snag, will embracing “not knowing” work for you? 


(…but I would be very interested to hear if it does or if it doesn't, either way.)

Recent Pictures From Cortona

Sunset over Cortona, Italia and its cemetery on July 25, 2023.
Cortona 7.25.2023, digital photograph, 2023.
Dusk between two monasteries in Cortona, Italia on July 26, 2023.
Cortona 7.26.2023, digital photograph, 2023.
A rare cloud-filled valley effect below Cortona, Italia on August 5, 2023.
Cortona 8.5.2023 (1), digital photograph, 2023.