artist aka control freak

As we talked about a few weeks ago, artists need time and space to create work. This process of art creation is wonderful for inspiring creativity and allowing ideas to ruminate unbiased and unaffected by outsiders, it allows authenticity of the creator, but it also often leads artists to become hyper-controlling over both media and reaction. The process of making personal art can be intimidating, to share that work when exposing so much of yourself is terrifying and the need to “get it right” often leads artists to over-explain and rationalize textually either directly in the piece or in accompanying material.

Barbara T. Smith, Intimations of Immorality, 1974

Barbara T. Smith in a performance presented at Pomona College in 1974, wrote, “the correct understanding of this piece is its visualization. It has absolutely nothing to do with the social or romantic notions about the life of the woman present nor my actual experience in the park.” I would say that this is up to the audience, the artists cannot dictate this level of the experience. The piece consisted of Smith trading places with random volunteers culled from a park local to the gallery, the woman would agree to sit on a bench in the gallery while Smith took her place on a bench in the park. Smith explains, “the only criteria to the piece here is its duration, luck, and continuity during which time you may see it in a fulfilled or unfulfilled state… Some days you get the real image, on others only a surrogate and your imagination, but the vehicle remains and the piece goes on.” For the viewer, I don’t know how they could divorce the reality of the woman or even the idea of the woman from notions of the perceived life of the (even presently generically) “woman in the park.” The fact of seeing is embedded with the social context with which we see, sight really is ocular only to a small degree. Even when viewed in its unfulfilled state (perhaps even more-so when viewed in its unfulfilled state), the bench and intention of the artist call to mind the cultural, economic, and social qualifiers of “woman sitting in park.” This is really just to say that the artist only has so much control over what the viewer experiences in the presence of their work.

When artists attempt to control the reception of their work through outside qualifiers such as artist statements, placards, and instructions, it only serves to mitigate the authentic response to the work that, in fact, is the root power of art in society. It is the reaction to the work and not the piece itself that resonates, just as artistry is the impulse and not necessarily the execution of the work. We rely so much on being told how we were supposed to feel or whether we “got it right” when, in art, there really is no right answer. In school you learn to be tested and the test tells you whether you have learned, but art cannot be approached that way. The authentic response is the right answer, and with more information and historical context you may read more into the work, but if those qualifiers are necessary to the reaction, the work is ultimately not sustainable.

Viewers, what works resonate with you?
Artists, how does it feel to release control to the viewer?

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