Thursday, June 29, 2006

Q&A No. 6

From Tyler Green's Q&A with mnartists.org:

6. Visual artists have increasingly provided dense texts to be read by viewers in order to explain their work. When does the visual then become the literary? Shouldn't visual art be something to be experienced visually?

TG - Yes. Blame art schools, which require artists to produce statements and such. Then blame galleries for including artist statements in press releases/etc. Written artists’ statements are a total waste of time. When an artist receives his/her BA or MFA, he/she should be required to burn anything resembling a written artist’s statement. An artist’s statement is his/her work.

(BTW, curators are responsible for text-love too. They’re in love with wall-text. The Whitney, in particular, seems unable to present an exhibit without accompanying novel-length texts. This year’s Whitney Biennial was a bad show for plenty of reasons, but the thousands of words of wall-text the show apparently ‘required’ should have been a tip-off to the Whitney that it had a disaster on its floors. Same with another recent Whitney curatorial clumping: “Remote Viewing.”)



*** it should be noted that Winkleman disagrees with this statement, and to a certain extent, I do to. I'm sure Ed will post on this and I will link when he does, or if I have time I will comment.

24 Responses to “Q&A No. 6”

Liriodendron said...
June 29, 2006 at 6:06 PM

Great news! I hate writing that stuff....


Anonymous said...
June 30, 2006 at 6:57 PM

I find that first I like the artwork, then if there is an explanation that makes sense and improves what I just saw, better. The problem is often after reading a statement (the short ones, the long ones I don't usually have time for) that distort the initial impact of the art on me. Sometimes that is good actually, knowing that the artist is not where I thought he or she was. Although I'm comfortable talking about my own art, the pressure of writing a statement is a great one. I can put it better with vocal emphasis on what I want to highlight, but with a statement you only have one shot at impressing the viewer. That pressure is what I hate about it. I'm better articulated in person.


Jeffrey Geesa said...
June 30, 2006 at 10:11 PM

This is a conversation that I seem to be having rather frequently lately and it is alway surprising how often Mr. Green's side of the debate is represented, and furthermore, the tenacity with which it is argued. There is, of course, a long history of this attitude, of the desire for a work of art to "speak for itself", a sentence which is invariably spoken, with words no less, as if still some revolutionary idea. It is not my contention that this is an incorrect attitude and my comments implying its "datedness" are certainly not pejorative. The problem is in the singularity the stance commonly takes. The discourse often begins its sentences with words like "Art should..." and "Art is..." in order to set up a very repressed insular agenda regarding, implied or otherwise, some sort of sublime, emotive, and ultimately optical experience. This is , certainly, an experience art can provide and frequently does so with some degree of efficacy. It is however not the only function Art Is required to perform.
The other implication is that using text in or in support of a work somehow cheapens the experience of the work, that the artist (or curator where appropriate) has given too much away and destroyed whatever mystique the work had as well as the viewers right to a subjective interpretation. The tendency here is to view language as a crutch when it can be (note: not "should be") used as a tool. A sentence can be very mysterious, and in the case of empirical or explanatory wall texts and the like, the linguistic trasference of a thought process or an idea can be beautiful in a way not so dissimilar to a good de Kooning drawing. One of the best goosebumps-and-chills experiences I have ever had occured while reading Tim Hawkinson's process explanations at his Whitney exhibition (2005). In this respect I will concede to the following. Language has the potential to change the identity of an artwork. This of course is a neutral statement. If one desires, language can be used to (mis)direct an interpretation or reveal information which alters the way the viewing/reading experience is approached. I suppose this is an admission of agreement to the core of the argument I am opposing, however I propose that this is not a problem and is certainly not a signifier of poorly concieved work or curating, likewise, well written text does not necessarily insure quality. More information, if appropriate for the goal of the work/exhibition, is something which I cannot acknowledge as being a negative thing. If one simply wants to feel and move on when having a "pure" visual experience, this is a fine pursuit and many artists are happy to provide it, but I'm rather suspect of its even being possible. One would have to shut off language completely, because once it begins unraveling it doesn't stop. Even if this begins with something as simple as "pretty" the process of visual information being transfered into language has begun. Any texts provided by an outside source merely act as a buffer in this process, and one always has the power to subjectively disregard any suggestions.

Art becomes diluted when possibilities are dismissed, not when information subsists.


Anonymous said...
July 1, 2006 at 11:04 AM

Because of arguments like the above me along with many others are turned off about statements. Why do I feel like this dude is always trying so hard?


newartworldorder said...
July 1, 2006 at 12:10 PM

Of course an artist/curator should include as much text as is necessary to meaningfully present the work. This may mean no text/statement, it may mean only text.

I agree with Jeff's assessment, but it's clear this is about more than the appropriate use of text..."If one simply wants to feel and move on when having a "pure" visual experience, this is a fine pursuit and many artists are happy to provide it, but I'm rather suspect of its even being possible."

There IS a difference between an *aesthetic experience and a *conceptual one. Some overlapping of qualities in each may occur, but they are simply not of the same realm. Their contextual proximity, under the banner of 'contemporary art', diffuses the power of each. Their relationship is very bad and in need of separation.

Their distinctions are made in often defensive and perjorative ways (not referring to you, Jeff, rather, in general). Let's make these distinctions official. I'm willing to call my work something other than visual/contemporary art. It's painted personal expression. My museum will be called I-MOPE (Indianapolis/International? Museum of Painted/Personal? Expression...working on it).

*insert better terms please


newartworldorder said...
July 1, 2006 at 12:11 PM

"Why do I feel like this dude is always trying so hard?"

Because you're lazy.


Jeffrey Geesa said...
July 1, 2006 at 1:51 PM

Thank you for the criticism, in the future I will try really hard not to try to hard.


Scott said...
July 1, 2006 at 3:40 PM

Lol, I am such the fan of sarcasim.


Anonymous said...
July 1, 2006 at 8:42 PM

You are a lazy mothafucker, dont you call me lazy again bitch, you dont know who I am and stay the fuck off my comments. What the fuck these people think here, they can say whatever teh fuck they want, I'll fucking spit and punch you muthafucker.


Scott said...
July 1, 2006 at 8:48 PM

I didn't realize that one of Martin Scorsese's script writers even read this blog. Or is that just little Joe Pesci?


Jeffrey Geesa said...
July 1, 2006 at 9:21 PM

The thing about anonymity is no one knows who you are.


Jeffrey Geesa said...
July 2, 2006 at 4:52 AM

"There IS a difference between an *aesthetic experience and a *conceptual one. Some overlapping of qualities in each may occur, but they are simply not of the same realm."


I agree that there is a difference between the modes, but I do not agree that they are not of the same realm. Each is very much present in the other, in varying degrees. A lot of work that makes this topic interesting is very much both. Think of Richard Prince's joke paintings. Not only are both modes present (the aesthetic, and the conceptual), but they compete with eachother within the work. A viewer has to oscillate between the acts of looking and reading, while really doing both simultaneously. Often Aesthetics is used as a rhetorical tool to draw attention towards or legitimize a concept. Aesthetic of Concept we'll call this. Also think of the work of Sol LeWitt. It is often incredibly beautiful, and is the result of an algorithm, mathematic or otherwise. These components are inseperable.


Liriodendron said...
July 2, 2006 at 10:03 AM

Hmmmm....I am lazy and do not like to write them, (some) viewers are lazy and do not like to read them. ;) I know it's lame, and I'm partially kidding, but I do feel pretty rushed 75% of the time and often function in the "See it/do it and move on" mode. Maybe it's the kids fault, ha!.....I don't even want to think about my pathetic attention span....
For me, there is this stubborn streak of independence that flares up too....I do not like being told how to think. If I want to look at a painting and just go "ooooh! pretty colors!" that's what I want to do....I know it's lame, but there it is. (blush)
I suppose it also depends (for me)on how a statement is written. If the artist has the skill to hone their thoughts down to a succinct, direct, informative info blurb, it is good. Too much big words and blah blah and I enter TMI zone.


Anonymous said...
July 2, 2006 at 10:51 AM

Just disregard any concept too lengthy for expression in an info blurb? You are Karl Rove's dream gal.


Liriodendron said...
July 2, 2006 at 2:03 PM

Rove Shmove...whatever.
You read it all them....I'm moving on to look at the art....I can think for myself.


newartworldorder said...
July 2, 2006 at 6:01 PM

"A lot of work that makes this topic interesting is very much both.".... It is interesting within an overriding self-referential artistic context. All of Richard Prince's workings occur within a specific art realm. It's about manipulating the art experience. It's a twist on how we view art. It's an interesting play on aesthetic vs. conceptual (Now THAT would make an interesting show-down at Fountain Square Theatre). The work's value lay primarily within the context of art history. It's an interactive and interdependent form of expression. We appreciate it because of the particular way it fits in with, and relates to, and defies, other art. The experience, even if purely aesthetic, even if very personal, is conceived for play in an active art world.

I believe the intrinsic aesthetics of some work (or maybe it’s more about the artist’s intentions) allow it to function independently of this active art world. Such work is motivated independently by personal expression, using art as a medium rather than as a framing device, and its relation to other art work is irrelevant, or of secondary importance. Narrowing the formal possibilities to traditionally established methods (i.e.“easel painting“) can intensify this particular form of exploration.

Even as I write this, it feels like a battle for hierarchy within the art world. I’m saying let’s honestly recognize this difference in a meaningful way. First, it needs to be better defined than what I’ve done here, and I welcome help with that.


Anonymous said...
July 4, 2006 at 3:03 PM

It really isn't possilbe for art to function on an "insular agenda". It exists in the real world, real time. Yeah, I know art for art's sake. Art has never existed merely in relation to itself nor is it possilbe for it to not be referential.

Then there is theis issue of language. I think the "linguistic transference" notion is mind boggling. It is not possilbe to have thoughts seperate from words. Even in the visual, the idea that one osmotically absorbs a visual - what, intelligence, prettiness? - is the stuff of charlatans. No, one may not be able to immediately understand what one sees, it may take time to process it to find the thoughts/words to express the experience but such is engagement with any aspect of living.

I agree, "more information isn't bad". BUT does information necessarily alter one's understanding/experience? Only if one accepts the information (as in it can be misleading See: Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soilder for an example of a misleading narrator). In short, it isn't language one would have to "shut off" but the brain itself. Aesthetic experience is not walking mindlessly through a gallery or exhibit thinking "I like that" or "I don't like that". Nor is aesthetics rhetorical. Aesthetics is the science or philosophy of perceptual and sensual experience. (Ok, Oxford purpose the science bit which is, in this day, very arguable.) It cannot possilby allow art to function outside of the active or otherways art world.

All that said, all kinds of information do give vitality to art, expecially the art of the past. Ethnographic art displayed wihtout information about the culture and use of the artifact is inconceivable today. That similar context is not given with all European art of the past is actually quite odd. Rests on a bit of assumption doesn't it?

The problem with contemporary artist statements is that the emphasis on the statement, the verbalization tends to emphasize the verbal abilities of the artist. That is just for starters. It also emphsizes the artists ability to discern intellectual content, purpose, concept in the art work created. As though some one over-arching thing is the whole point. Rather like saying, "there is a point and here, allow me to elucidate it". Well, that's difficult and the better the work is the harder that task is. Having that kind of objectivity, being that articulate, narrowing down the spectrum of possibilites in art work, is hardly necessary to creating good even excellant art work. It is something that has been required in the last fifty years. Isn't the critique of art school classes aimed at this very purpose? So, all artist's know they have to talk to the puppet head. It is perceived as a worrisome task. With good reason. It requires an omnibudsmanship of the visual artist. It also belies the belief that our society shares: art should be...pointed, didactic, social, political, and to a very large extent narrative. (I intend narrative in the broadest sense.)


Jeffrey Geesa said...
July 4, 2006 at 6:46 PM

This felt like a refutation, and maybe I wasn't clear, but we're making precisely the same point.


Anonymous said...
July 5, 2006 at 3:46 AM

Students are required to write statements so that they learn to write. Writing about something you care about is much harder than writing about 17th century art history, or some other remote subject. It's incredibly difficult to do well, which is why so many students and artists hate it. (And why so many statements are hard to read and pedantic and take away from the work and otherwise suck.)


Anonymous said...
July 5, 2006 at 8:15 AM

Well, here's a tip that may help you in the future with language. I hope you are better articulated in person otherwise you would be a parapalegic and that would be sad.

See the dif? To articulate is an entirely other thing from being articulated. And, no, you wouldn't be a parapalegic, you'd be a Mattel toy.


Anonymous said...
July 5, 2006 at 8:25 AM

Sorry, Anonymous, you are right it is difficult and not at all similar to making good visual work except in that degree of difficulty.

Jeff, are we making the same point? How could we be when you refer to aesthetics as rhetorical? When you make of language and the visual a dichotomy?


Jeffrey Geesa said...
July 5, 2006 at 9:41 PM

I was being critical of the tendency to view language and the visual as a dichotomy. I'm not certain how that got confused, but I apologize. As for aesthetic rhetoric, my statement was "Often aesthetics is used as a rhetorical tool..." implying that indeed sometimes (not always)this occurs, which I still stand by. I think my argument, distilled, is that nothing in art is or should be absolute and none of its elements are binary.


Liriodendron said...
July 9, 2006 at 10:14 AM

Actually, I DO like to read about process, if the artist is doing something complicated, or unusual.... I'd like to hear about it. It might help quell the "My kid could do that" response too...heh!...
As an example, I'll use the Brian Presnell (sp?) thing. I did want to know, What was the shiny glaze stuff? Why are we looking at goodwill type stuff in beautiful frames? What's with those little figures stuck in there?
I guess I don't want too much personal info....I am curious about the artistic process though.


Anonymous said...
July 13, 2006 at 4:55 PM

For me, statements are totally "show dependant".

It isn't difficult at all to "get" something that's decorative or that doesn't have a "high concept". In fact, those are the types of statements I try to avoid because they are usually total b.s. anyway, so much fodder for a resume or show brochure.

However, when there is something complex, incredibly clever or perhaps mysterious about 2-d or installation works, it's nice to compare my reactions and thoughts with the artists' statement AFTER the fact to see if I was even close to being on the same page.


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