Monday, November 08, 2010

What Are You Really Doing in Your Studio? ("Scratch a Conceptual Artist, Find a Painter," Part 1*)

I met an artist at the ISCP open studio yesterday whose work had evolved from video and other digital media into sculpture. She noted that that was the last thing she imagined would happen in her practice while she was in school, where she would have never thought to take up sculpture, but somehow her work led her to understand the power of objects for communicating the emotions and ideas she wanted to express in her work.

This reminded me of something I had read in the profile of one of our favorite rising art world power brokers (the up-and-coming super-collector and somewhat sporadic-of-late blogger Mike at MAO) in the November issue of Modern Painters magazine. (Mike also noted, and this made me both laugh and admire him even more [which is saying something], in response to the question "Have you ever had the ambition to open a gallery?" an answer that should be spread far and wide "No. Most of these gallerists are just scraping by. It’s almost a charitable function, and they really are doing an amazing favor to the artists they represent as well as collectors.") But what he noted that connects (I hope) with the ISCP artist was this (they don't have it online that I can find, so excuse any typos from re-typing):
[Modern Painters:] Do you have a desire to get to know an artist you’re collecting? Does that contribute to the work?
[Mike {who collects a great deal of photograph}:] Just because you like an artist’s work doesn’t mean you’re going to like the artist personally. You shouldn’t confuse the two. Some critically acclaimed artists–you meet them and realize a lot of what they’ve done is just random darkroom work. This tends to be the case in the abstract world: You look at some of these abstract images, and you want to read a lot into them, and really the artists were just experimenting. The image looked great, and so they printed it, and bam!–it was a $100,000 work of art. [emphasis mine]
The image looked great, and so they printed it. And why not? I mean, what are you doing in your studio if some part of the process would lead you to NOT print an image that looked great or not stop working on a painting that seemed perfect, or not leave in that technical glitch in a video if it really worked toward the message you were attempting to communicate?

That's not to say seeking out such formal discoveries should dominate your practice if that's not your interest. I seriously believe that highly intellectual investigations and aesthetic accomplishments are not mutually exclusive. For art to be truly great, they rarely can be far apart. But to think an artist would be so wrapped up in their conceptual pursuits that they'd miss seeing those happy accidents that can come through experimentation quite frankly makes me sad for them. What are you doing in your studio if not, at times at least, opening yourself up to the possibility of some sublime incident sneaking its way into your process?

In other words, PLAY. For the love of all that's wondrous about art, let yourself play in your studio (from time to time anyway). You can come back round to the hard work when the time's right. If all you do is play, it will show in the work as well, so don't get addicted to it. But if the images looks great...do us all a favor and yes, please, print them! If a sculpture captures your meaning better than a video can, please make the sculpture. No one says it has to be the centerpiece of your next exhibition, but it should exist if it's great, if it's right. There is nowhere near too much of that, ever.

*I'll explain more about this next week.

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19 Comments:

Blogger mbray said...

I find that these formal happy accidents find themselves in the conceptual work later down the road.

11/08/2010 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Totally agree!

And anxiously waiting for the next related post (A whole week; aw!?).

11/08/2010 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous a Vancouver-based artist in Canada said...

I think "play" has been consciously taken out of the equation in most artistic practices mainly due to the professionalization of art through the academies. Artists and creative people are not bankers or stockbrokers and therefore need to be freed from societal constraints. The professionalization of art through the academies tend to make art "measurable", and this tangible assessment tends to weigh heavily on artists and therefore becomes a concern. It takes a lot of courage for an artist to "play" or even decide to do so. But a few years or even decades down the road, when an artist is sufficiently confident in their own artistic production that they can actually re-learn how to "play". Learning to play can take time, especially if you're a conceptual or post-conceptual artist. That's my two-cents worth.

11/08/2010 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Jedd Haas said...

Gee, Edward, you wouldn't be suggesting that "conceptual art" is really just a giant fraud, and that the conceptual artists would rather be painting? Surely, the curators, gallerists, and academics are to blame for inserting so much psychobabble into the discourse.

11/08/2010 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Gee Jedd,

I think only an ideologue could conclude that from what I actually wrote. You're not an ideologue now, are you? :-)

11/08/2010 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Claudia said...

I think creating can be an intuitive process.

11/08/2010 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

the line between play and serious work is surely exaggerated! if not imaginary...

11/08/2010 07:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Jedd Haas said...

It's all in good fun, Edward. But don't you agree that the idea of PLAY (since you capitalized it, I will too, hehe) is anathema to the mandarins of conceptualism? Most of the conceptual art I see or read about is either Very Serious, or at least engaged in Deeply Serious Irony. Or so it seems. Is it perhaps a case of supply and demand, in which the critical establishment demands (or rewards) this kind of work?

I'm sure you know that one about too much work and not enough play...

11/08/2010 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger StephenTruax said...

The transition from painter to conceptual artist is a well-tread path, beginning with Duchamp and others. The transition backward to painting might too easy. #regionalpainting

If the current establishment of major commercial galleries has adopted the driving concepts of irony, critique and conceptual coldness, then it is perhaps a fitting retort for the avant-garde to return to historical romanticism and aesthetic beauty?

11/08/2010 09:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

they really are doing an amazing favor to the artists they represent as well as collectors

somehow I think we often miss the point that even if one isn't represented by a gallery, as an artist, almost any gallerist is still "plowing" the field for us all, similar to a paint brush manufacturer benefits all, and not just those that by their particular paintbrushes (r&d, competition, distribution ...)

... always loved the story of the monks creating/tending their zen garden, raking and grooming it by their hand wrought temple, conceptual, meticulous craftsmanship, spiritual, pan-traditional, nature bound, and then they go and toss a stone over their shoulder - deliberate randomness, almost the keystone of chaos within the synergistic harmony of balance and beauty which their garden inspires ... there is always a moment when the artwork takes on a life of its own, and you follow it instead of trying to lead it.

11/09/2010 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Sadler said...

I love the unplanned moments. The DADA of the creative act. But how hard it is for me to approach the canvas with much frivolity! It's a matter of practicality sometimes. At first my mind goes here....
1. I work a full time job and a part time job, and art time is so precious and limited. Who has time to play when I have serious goals to achieve?
2. Art materials cost me money. Money I earn thru hard work at the aforementioned 2 jobs. Can I afford to take a quantity of materials and "waste" it on something that may/may not bring me a return on the investment? It's hard to convince myself that it's okay to just relax and have fun.
But then there is the realization that...
Lucky for me, I am not dependent on the art sales that I make to live, breathe and eat. This is what DOES allow me to experiment and go places that I have not been before creatively. If I could, of course I would rather be a full time artist supporting myself by creative means. Instead, I work full time and use creative means to support my art!!!

11/09/2010 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

the point, methinks, is for "work" and "play" to become one thing, and this takes a long time and lots of hard work - and lots of hard play ;-)

11/09/2010 08:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Julie Sadler - Waste is part of your material costs. It is inevitable. Factor it in, and waste becomes gain. Or so says a friend of mine.

11/09/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger mikesorgatz said...

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Bertrand Russell

Words to live by! I think it applies to materials as well...

11/09/2010 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, if one sets up a grouping of limitations or restrictions, is play not the remaining component in making studio work? It is true in our studies, undergraduate or grad work, we are pressured in to thinking more than doing. And although education is liberating, if it suffocates the work portion of studio work then fuck education. Especially professors. The reality is that thought replaces action based on laziness or fear of failure. Having ideas is a good thing just not all of the work needs to exit the studio or survive. And there is nothing more pleasureable than kicking the crap out of failure in privacy.

11/09/2010 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I doubt that play is frivolous, it does offer many species the evolutionary advantage of pre-learning the skills needed for life without the permanent risks and hazards of adulthood....

play>suspension of reality for another paradigm>potential for insight & discovery>return to reality>innovation>mastery of newly revealed skills.

There is a lot of similarity between play and humor and art because of their ground in a "suspension of reality" that each exploit to different ends. (but then propaganda does that too)

The mechanism underling play is the same crucial ground of art, with a similar evolutionary advantage to be garnered -For me, art is the court jester of our social paradigms.

besides - in play, you can do it all over again!

11/10/2010 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Happy accidents help pay for the unhappy ones.

11/10/2010 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous kim matthews said...

"I seriously believe that highly intellectual investigations and aesthetic accomplishments are not mutually exclusive. For art to be truly great, they rarely can be far apart." You make me cry, Ed. I wish more people believed this.

Personally I'd like to see the dichotomies disappear: I don't think they're very useful and some are downright silly. Just because your art is a big stinkin' mess doesn't mean you're more soulful, accessible, or expressive than someone who's more controlled and elusive at first glance. Just because your work looks (or is) spontaneous doesn't make it somehow worth less than something that looks labored. And don't even start on what "beauty" is.

Every artist needs to research, to prepare, to experiment. It's up to them to decide how, and if the results of that "preliminary" work are sufficiently finished in themselves.

11/10/2010 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger ModernArtObsession said...

Ah... gee-wiz..thanks Ed for the very kind references.

But, you know, I really should learn not drink so much red wine while being interviewed by a reporter.

xoxo
Mike @ MAO

11/12/2010 07:30:00 PM  

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