VL2 : Questions

Video Lecture 2 signed off with 3 questions to ponder:

1. In what way do artists' biographies inform of detract from the viewers experience of the work?

2. What are the implications [of] Ward's assertion that "That all art is a form of proposition and anything's possible."?

3. If you could only read or hear one view on an exhibition, would you choose to hear the artist's view to that of a critic or reviewer and why?



With question 1, I suppose I touched on that in the previous post with Dorment and Bourgeois in that his view is that the biography is the work, or the work is the biography... This then precludes any other reading of the work, limits the possibilities and in that respect limits the communication, the dialogue that takes place between the artist an the viewer. Maybe the artist is no longer "dead" as Barthes and Foucault proposed. However, without any knowledge of the artist, their biography and other works, viewing their works is also a less fulfilling experience. Yes, you can enjoy the craftsmanship and the skill the artist brings to the table, but the artist must be quite dead - there is a void that is only filled by the reaction of the viewer to the signifiers in the piece. The artist's biography will bring some level of insight to the work, richen the viewers experience. With someone like Bourgeois, knowing the family business was weaving, there is something that can be derived from the various signs of weaving within the work and there is then some level of association. With my own work, looking through it there can often be seen a lack of people, space, distance and horizontal "barriers"; these might be interpreted as being a sign that I'm shy, often shunning the company of others and certainly avoid the limelight. As an artist, you have to draw upon what you are aware of, and that is often something quite biographical - Bourgeois and Emin may make (have made) this as plain as the nose on their faces, but even for others it will still be their, even if veiled to some degree.

It might be argued that whether "anything's possible" will depend on the sort of art that you practice, and the often self-imposed constraints that you put on the creation of the work. A "straight" photographer can only photograph what is visible before the lens of the camera as realistically as possible (and then it's governed by the laws of physics), whereas anything can be drawn that can be imagined. Of course, it is possible to manipulate and post-process the cameras recording, to add or subtract in Photoshop (or even to the analogue image), but then it will be argued this is not straight photography. And of course, photography was long considered a craft or a science, not an art, but this is not the understanding that a contemporary commentator like Ward is coming from. No, I don't actually believe that is what he was meaning. Duchamp proposed that an upturned urinal was art, and whilst not initially accepted as such it has taken its place in history. The implications are wide reaching, and to be honest I've only really started scratching the surface of this in my more recent explorations into a more general art (as opposed to what was fairly strictly only photography, in terms of medium).

The third question is a tricky one. I suppose the best result might be to read the review of a critic who has an understanding of what the artist was intending. In this way, there will be a duality of the commentary in that it will be cognisant of the artist's intentions, his thoughts on the juxtaposition of images (or whatever) with their neighbours, with their surroundings and why the images were pulled together in the way that they have been. Why the images were made, the intent. You also get another view from a different perspective, perhaps bringing in a different context and playing them off against the work of another. The view will also (generally) be more objective - certainly a problem I often have myself is that I become too close to the work, wrapped in the idea rather than the execution or relying too heavily on connotations that may be too personal for the viewer to grasp (unless you really spell it out for them).

If time permits, I often find myself going around a (one-man) show twice; once to simply look at the images and see if anything talks to me, pulls me in without being spoon-fed the artist's statement. This also allows me to make my own little narrative too. The second time will be after reading the statement so that the context becomes apparent if it wasn't before. Of course, there is a danger that the artist's statement can be a bit on the obscure side and confound that understanding, but there we go. I often find myself going around an exhibition counter-clockwise, and looking at books from the back. I'm not sure what that says about me...
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