#the solitary artist

Time is a buzzword lately, it seems. From Art Journal to PST, from the New York Times to my very own blog, everyone in the art world seems to be talking about time. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am an advocate, and a constant seeker of, free time to think and experiment outside of the confines of our culture’s obsession with “productivity.” Joe Scanlan, in “Free Time: An Introduction,” in last summer’s Art Journal, defines free time as “a strangely private, fiercely guarded realm for artists, a state of mind quite different from leisure… much of our best work would not get made without the vague, inexplicable, sideways approach to working that free time affords.” Including time spent among colleagues, seeing shows, at lectures, and reading or thinking, Scanlan’s explanation of free time is the best I’ve seen and certainly encompasses the kind of think-space I’ve talked about previously. A point that I would never have thought to consider, however, despite my near-obsession with the idea of viewership, is Scanlon’s point of free time’s usual association with viewers rather than makers of art works.

Despite the inherent latency in the idea of viewership, much recent scholarship as been devoted to the activation of the viewer as co-participant in meaning formation. A dialectic approach has not only been a part of much modern theory, but is also considered in so much recent art making. Scanlon points out that we are more comfortable with the idea of our own productivity in either role, “Even in their free time and with no obvious material benefit, viewers of art, like artists, would seem to prefer nebulous effort–productivity–over obvious leisure.” An active society, we are constantly seeking and expounding our own influence upon the world, even in would-be passive roles. “The audience” for the movie-maker, “the consumer” for the industrialist, “the viewer” for the artist. So, what becomes of non-productive time–how can we redefine free time and protect it from being re-figured as part of productivity and therefor encumbered with a use-value, and instead allowing it to be completely without use or value notwithstanding the value of free time to the artistic process?

In the same vein, but referring more to the process of product development and corporate culture, Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” recently asserted the need for solitude in an op-ed column of the New York Times. Citing the examples of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Cain hypothesizes, “the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted… [yet] culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process.” In terms of the art world, we often expect creatives to function in solitude but the market really doesn’t support the very same process it romanticizes. Most artists I know have taken to prioritizing their creative endeavors in spurts between moments of having to market and make commercially viable their work. Especially for photographers, the process of being creative is eclipsed by the need to capture, to make, and to sell. Like Howard Roark, the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, some of us would prefer to work completely outside of the creative realm if we can’t have creative control over what we produce. Does it taint the process of thinking about art, to create work that is so wholly divorced from one’s own creative process, so devoid of the element of think-space that makes art… art?

As much as I would love to become recognized for my work, I also feel for artists who achieve mild success and can’t rise above the new expectations placed on their time to continue their process. Instead, the expectation for what will be produced, based on what has been economically successful, sullies their creativity and makes machines out of artists. Some artists have incorporated successfully this mechanization of the artistic process into the output both conceptually and physically, Damien Hirst is an considered an

One of Hirst's spot paintings (now on display at a gagosian... any gagosian near you!)

example of just such complexity, but most lose their voice to the market. The demand for what is already recognized to be art outweighs the process that makes it art in the first place, and many artists are now functioning as part of the system rather than independent producers within a greater field. Perhaps we should expect artists to have more questions than answers, not to necessarily know where their work is coming from or where it is going, rather than having complete provenance papers and a concrete artist statement that commits them to both process and product…

Just remember, as our world weights more on the side of connectivity, not to lose the individuality that makes true connection possible. Without singular thoughts, and confidence in one’s own process, the idea of coming together to produce will not end in ingenuity but rather complacency.


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