Sunday, May 10, 2009

Defining one's work (cont'ed)

My post about statements and about talking about one's work generated some online feedback. Here is a post that neatly and very smartly summarizes what I called the refusenik approach: "I think a lot of people don’t believe in the idea of 'misunderstanding' work. Can work be misunderstood if one believes part of the art process is the myriad of interpretations a viewer brings to the work? What if someone believes that art is not about some sort of succinct communication (a view blasted into mainstream society by the graphic and commercial arts) and is instead about something more organic, more mysterious?"

Here's the thing, though. First of all, writing about your own work does not take away from the mysterious - provided it's well done (both actually, the art work and the writing). And in the context of an art school, that's just not a way to work: If you refuse to talk about your work, how can you expect to learn something if you don't give your teachers, your fellow students, and yourself a chance to understand the work and your own process a little more?

If your work consists of two very obviously different parts, and everybody sees that, but you don't see it, and you can't even talk about what your work is, then, all mystery and all things organic aside, you're in deep trouble as an artist. You really are.

I do understand people's desires to experience art without being told what it is - but hey, if seeing an artist describe her or his work disables your ability to experience it... that's a position I find hard to understand. I don't think it does actually. I know very well what many pieces of art are about and I know the various interpretations of them, but my most favourite pieces of art I can still enjoy immensely. Why go to an Eggleston retrospective if you know the work already and if you've seen so many things written about it?

But here's another way to look at this: If some art only worked if nobody wrote about it, how then can writers like Berger or Danto produce such beautiful writing about art without diminishing the very art they are writing about? Of course, people might now say "But that's different from artists writing about their work", and I think they're making a fundamental mistake (but that's another can of worms).

I will write at least one other post about this complex (one needed to write a book really), looking at the complete opposite approach to art (which I ran into twice during my portfolio reviews yesterday): Having an incredibly fleshed out theoretical skeleton of thinking - and no or too little art to fill it. Stay tuned...

PS: My intent here is not to try to convince those who don't "believe" in statements that you have to write about your own work. By all means don't! But it needs to be very clear that if you don't write about your own work, you will have to be prepared for the situation where someone else will come and define it for you.