Saturday, October 20, 2007

A note on the artist, her art and what she is allowed to say about it

(Thank you for the patience, the comments, the e-mails and links. I appreciate it all.)

Should we resist the myth of an art without a context?
Doris Solcedo's Shibboleth at Tate's Turbine Hall has sparked controversy for an unusual reason: one blogger found her work to be much better than what the artist had to say about it:
There is little in the world of art more deflating (...) than hearing an artist tell you what a work represents.
Considering the way Solcedo appears to have been talking about the work, it seems only fair to consider it a turn-off. You get this huge, rich piece, and a comment, a perspective that seems simply poor. One begins to wonder if it's really worth all the fuss. After all, it's a difficult exercise to go back from the work to the idea that

Doris Salcedo would like you to know that a crack in the floor represents borders, the experience of immigrants and the experience of racial hatred. She would also like you to know that racism is bad and that Europeans are bad for being racist.

However, I wouldn't give up on Doris that quickly. For several reasons.
For one, every artist has the right to think of his work what he wishes. And if the work surges from a need to fight racism, then be it. Many a brilliant work of art has been made through a very local inspiration. Why should she censor herself when speaking about it, then? Oftentimes, we can hardly agree with the artist's point of view, and from time to time the artist herself criticizes her standpoint after a certain lapse of time. But this does not necessarily discredit the work. Rather, it shows how the very limitations of an artist can participate in the creation of wonderful works (for some extreme examples, think of Leni Riefenstahl or the Soviet constructivists).
The artist's work is the artist's work. This is not as always as obvious as it might seem, given the various avantgarde adventures into questioning the work as work and/or the artist as the artist, on one hand, and the value the art market seems to give to the meta-work level, on the other. Still, we are free to go back to the work. To the object, the sign, the gesture, the mark. To what we consider of relevance. The work is there to be eaten up, to be devoured no matter what it takes. If we need to abandon the artist to do it, so be it.
I re-read what I have just written, and I don't always agree with it. The principle is fine, but in practice things aren't as simple. How can I forget what I hear, what I read, what I see? Whatever the context, it is present. And the less we get from the work, the more we are bound to bind ourselves to what is around it. Which is why a conceptual work is so difficult to isolate from its references. And why a crack can be so many things.
But here are two other points:
//considering we do listen to the artist, even if we don't want to, let us first go and see the title up. A 'shibboleth' is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. To someone attentive to the context, this can very well be a guide. You might consider it too narrow already, too restraining and bluntly political, but then again, you might just embrace it as a proposed "appreciation reference". And then, it's a new game, isn't it?
//why does a crack need to be so many things? What is this constant necessity we, artists, feel to not say what something is to us? Of course, it can be more than anything in particular. And we don't want to ruin the experience for the spectator. But then again, it might just come out of a particular urge, question, opinion. What is so unacceptable about admitting that? Does every (good) work of art need to have a hundred possibilities, and does its creator need to embrace them all? Mind you, we are not in the zone of imposed lectures any more, only, maybe, of an honest artist's statement that gets to the point: this is what I had in mind.

Another issue comes to mind. Considering we do accept the artist's "pragmatic" and political point of view, and see it as (I'll dare and use the word) a metaphor of a socially unfair world, what are we left with? What are we supposed to do about it? Will this act change a single thing? What sort of conscience do we develop through these marvelous poetic politics? Or does it chiefly bring us closer to the appreciation of our total incapacity to do anything about what we see? Can this despair be fruitful? And what can this fruit actually be?


p said...

very good post. this stuff isn't easy to write about, let alone think about in a cohesive way.
well done!

San said...

Same for writters. Some speak about their work and actually open new windows for readers. Others, not at all. And others do not speak at all.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Reflections! And if I could piggy back on any of what you have put forth so eloquently here, the blogger you site should be more mindful of the Saussurean premise of an arbitrary linkage between the signifier and signified, speech and parole, etc. The blogger would therefore be less dismayed that an artist argues a certain terse point about the work or her intentions behind it, knowing that over time a work will undergo a myriad of interpretations and transformations through debate. The Impressionists certainly had no idea that their work would lead to Abstract Expressionism and be seen as the initiation in a long discussion of Abstract Purity lead by Greenberg through his usurpation [and transformation] of their original intent. Meaning is certainly within the work, and it is not subject to the original intention of the artist. Perhaps the intentions are mearly the energy that leads the work into existence.

Toto de Nagy-Bocsa said...


ça ce n'est pas de l'art, encore moins de l'art nouveau (new-art), mais de l'enculture.

Voila, par exemple, ce qui est de l'art, mais pas forcement nouveau non-plus : unification muette.

Hegel n'est pas encore du coca-cola.


Blayblogger said...

No artist can truly be an authority on her work, per se. At least not to the extent that the artist's intent is THE meaning of a work. Artists use a myraid of materials and forms to express the idea and therefore bring to bear any number of context imbued media. To consider any art without disussing form and content outside of the artist's intent is to diminish a truely critical analysis of art.

Anonymous said...

There's a mighty difference between a departure point for an artist, what you have described so well as "a very local inspiration.", and a final pronouncement on what a work represents, which is the clunker that we are probably talking about here. I can't say whether or not this work is diminished for me, as it is for the original blogger who brought up this issue. (all I can say is that the jpegs representing this work are severely diminished now)

Unknown said...

The fruitful thing is the piece of art, the very thing, since four years till now I have been looking at crack in every tile of the streets and I wonder why they represent to me a very deep question of the universe, something deep and unexplored. To see this exhibition for me is a kind of confirmation that something big lies beneath the surface. Every point of view is important including the artist one, but not every sinlge individual has to take all this into account. Thanks to you for showing this.

Anonymous said...

When you come to think about it, anything can be called art. Perhaps it's the ongoing right-brain / left-brain dominance battle.

Anonymous said...

Doris did in fact let her work down. It could have been a contender. Sure we can elevate it by Appling our own interpretation, concept or meaning but the artwork can only mean what Doris intended it to mean. If it had been created by an act of God or nature it would first be simply a crack. Only after we painted, photographed, or had written about it could the crack be imbued with a meaning. The meaning as the artist intended.

Jay said...

that crack on the ground could represent the two different worlds the mother and daughter are in..

Anonymous said...

Crack Kills

Nikki said...

I just stumbled upon this blog and am not familiar with this piece. I find the people looking at the crack to be particularly interesting. The mother and daughter are separated. The woman is looking quizzically at it. The observation of people encountering art is part of the beauty of any piece.

Anonymous said...

I find these sculptures interesting.

some irrelevant name said...

well, maybe its all because we are made to think there must be an ultimate explainable and rational meaning behind a piece of art.

Anonymous said...

So much interest and attention to flawed architecture; will wonders every cease?

Anonymous said...

It should be mentioned that at the end of the show the crack will be mended, leaving a "scar or memory", further enriching whatever interpretation you applied to it.

Anonymous said...

Step on a crack break your mothers back.

maaike00 said...

nice post. just stumbled upon your blog!definitely bookmarking:).Interesting post.

Erika said...

Just one further remark to append to this great analysis that to me sums up the entire discussion:

The Artist is dead.

Doris (the creator of this piece) is simply one more spectator's voice. Nothing more; nothing less.

ch3 said...

Is it always important to have a some sort of description of what the artist had in mind while working on something?

Is the meaning of a piece more important than the piece itself? When you visit an exhibition, do you read the description before you look at the art it self?

If we assume the artist started from an idea as complex as immigration and ended up with something as simple as a crack on the ground; surely we can assume that one can come to the same 'solution' starting from numerous other complex ideas. In which case, connecting the the two, can be somewhat limiting to the observer who may have a different problem in mind for that 'solution'.

What if the purpose of that description was just a requirement for TATE to commission the work?

Don't get me wrong, I've seen the crack in person and I found it very fascinating. But I would equally loved it, if its description was as honest as "Big fucking crack on TATE's floor"

Anonymous said...

As an artist myself, I hate this trend of "artist statement". Agree with the blog author that some artists' comments about meaning of their art are more often lame than cohesive.
I believe that most artists are soo much better interpreting feelings into art dimension than interpreting their art into some form of rational theory. When I look at art piece, I usually disregard any statements, be it the artist or a critic, as non-essential nonsense. Any statement about an art work contradicts the idea of creating art alltogether. In most of cases, in my opinion, artists talk only because of politics in the world of art popularization aka marketing, which we all know are the most basic non-spiritual survavalist activities of humans and have nothing to do with art.


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