Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why Do You Make Art?

Over at The Greater Good, there is an amazing article featuring the responses of seven artists to the question, "Why do you make art?"

In a week talking about art asking questions, it's important that we also remember to ask questions of our art -- why we do it, what it means for us to be artists. These practicing artists, coming from all different backgrounds and influences, summed this up better than I ever could. Here were some of my favorite parts:

Gina Gibney’s choreography has been widely presented in the United States and Abroad.
Gina Gibney's choreography. (Andrzej Olejniczak/Gina Gibney)
Gina Gibney:
I make art for a few reasons. In life, we experience so much fragmentation of thought and feeling. For me, creating art brings things back together.
For me, making work is almost like keeping a journal. Giving that to someone else—as a kind of gift through live performance—is the most meaningful aspect of my work.

A portrait by Judy Dater
A portrait by Judy Dater.
Judy Dater:
I like expressing emotions—to have others feel what it is I’m feeling when I’m photographing people. [...] I think photographing people is, for me, the best way to show somebody something about themselves—either the person I photograph or the person looking—that maybe they didn’t already know. [...] I feel like I’m attending to people when I’m photographing them.

 Pete Docter:
I make art primarily because I enjoy the process. It’s fun making things.
And I’m sure there is also that universal desire to connect with other people in some way, to tell them about myself or my experiences. What I really look for in a project is something that resonates with life as I see it, and speaks to our experiences as humans. That probably sounds pretty highfalutin’ coming from someone who makes cartoons, but I think all the directors at Pixar feel the same way. We want to entertain people, not only in the vacuous, escapist sense (though to be sure, there’s a lot of that in our movies too), but in a way that resonates with the audience as being truthful about life—some deeper emotional experience that they recognize in their own existence. On the surface, our films are about toys, monsters, fish, or robots; at a foundational level they’re about very universal things: our own struggles with mortality, loss, and defining who we are in the world.

An image from “The Problem of Possible Redemption 2003,” staged at the 2004 Whitney Biennial in New York. The video is an adaptation of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses shot at the Parkville Senior Center in Connecticut, with the seniors reading the lines from cue cards.
An image from "The Problem of Possible Redemption 2003," staged at the 2004 Whitney Biennial in New York. (Harell Fletcher)
Harrell Fletcher:
By the time I got to graduate school, I was not so interested in making more stuff, and instead started to move into another direction, which these days is sometimes called “Social Practice.” [...] I think of it as the opposite of Studio Practice—making objects in isolation, to be shown and hopefully sold in a gallery context. Most of the art world operates with this Studio Practice approach. In Social Practice, there is more of an emphasis on ideas and actions than on objects; it can take place outside of art contexts, and there is often a collaborative or participatory aspect to the work. So back to the question why I make art. In my case, the projects that I do allow me to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet, travel to places I wouldn’t normally go to, learn about subjects that I didn’t know I would be interested in, and sometimes even help people out in small ways that make me feel good. I like to say that what I’m after is to have an interesting life, and doing the work that I do as an artist helps me achieve that.

Kwame Dawes
Kwame Dawes:
I’m trying to capture in language the things that I see and feel, as a way of recording their beauty and power and terror, so that I can return to those things and relive them. In that way, I try to have some sense of control in a chaotic world.
I want to somehow communicate my sense of the world—that way of understanding, engaging, experiencing the world—to somebody else. I want them to be transported into the world that I have created with language.

James Sturm:
I like the question “Why Do You Make Art?” because it assumes what I do is art. A flattering assumption. [...] Whatever the reason, an inner compulsion exists and I continue to honor this internal imperative. If I didn’t, I would feel really horrible. I would be a broken man.

I was born this way, born to make art, to make hip hop. And I think I’m just one of the people who had the courage to stay with my born identity. Hip hop keeps me true to myself, keeps me human. Hip hop is the opposite of technology. Hip hop is what the human body does: Breaking, DJing, graffiti writing. [...] The manipulation of technology is what humans do, that’s art.
Or take graffiti writing. Put a writing utensil in any kid’s hand at age two or three. They will not write on a paper like they’ll later be socialized to do, they will write on the walls. They’re just playing. That’s human.
Now go read the rest of the article, get inspired -- then come back and tell us why YOU make art!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Push, Pose And Share: Object Stories

Object Stories is an amazing project I was fortunate enough to stumble upon during a visit to the Portland Museum of Art last year.  It's concept is simple yet powerful:

"Drawing from material culture, thing theory, anthropology, Museum education, and traditions of storytelling, Object Stories, the Portland Art Museum's new installation, is an open-ended exploration of the relationship between people and things, the Museum and the community, and the subjective and objective.

Do you have an object you would never give up? Something that lives on your wall, your mantle, or buried in the corner of your dresser drawer? Something that evokes a time in your life, a place you miss, or something you hope for? These connections between people and their things are at the heart of Object Stories.

Object Stories invites people and their objects into the Museum to tell stories about things that matter to them—whether a postcard, military medal, childhood toy, or an iPhone. These objects and stories will be captured and published to an onsite and online digital archive where they will comingle with recorded personal stories about Museum objects. An installation of Museum objects, selected and told by the public, will accompany the digital archive.

By putting ordinary things and the public at the center of its inquiry, and calling attention to the things we overlook in our lives, Object Stories ruminates on the ways objects make us as fully as we make objects, and the myriad ways objects speak to and shape who we are—our ideas, emotions, values, relationships, and aesthetics. Object Stories offers new possibilities to shift the relationship people make with museums, reshaping the institution as an organic, ever-growing repository made collectively by us of our stories and objects, mundane and exalted, personal and subjective.

Objects have stories. Tell us yours."

It is a plain white box with a voice recorder and camera which asks you the simple question, what does a particular object mean to you?  In a week where we are talking about the power of questions in art and our community, I thought this was the perfect example of how a simple question can be so powerful and meaningful.

Object Stories from ArtsFwd on Vimeo.

To listen to more stories from the Object Stories series check out their website or CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Role Of The Artist Is To Ask Questions

My first semester of art school I was immediately struck by the idea that I was quite possibly the most boring and bland person to ever exist.  My teachers held bold political view points and created art that reflected those opinions.  The other art students around me were passionate activists for one cause or another,  proudly creating art that portrayed their beliefs.  Everywhere around me people were making statements,  yet all I seemed to have was questions.

My teachers kept trying to encourage me to "find my voice", to find something to say, "You're an intelligent girl" they would explain, "surely you must have some opinions."  It was as if my lack of bold statements made me weak in their eyes, falling short of who a real artist should be.  But I had opinions.  I had strong beliefs as well.  I had also learned long ago that simply shouting your viewpoint in someone's face does little to change their mind and I was more interested in affecting people, than I was in spouting off my opinions to anyone who might be listening.  I just wasn't sure how to do that yet.

Now that I'm older and can look back on the situation I wonder if I wasn't going about the whole situation backwards.  Maybe instead of asking what needed to be said,  I should have been saying what needed to be asked.

Isn't that what art is really about, questions?  Doesn't it exist to challenge us and make us think?

If all we give are answers in our work, are we really letting the viewer engage in a conversation with us?  Are we really forcing them to step out of their views and understanding of a situation and look at it from a different angle?

Is simply shouting our opinions as loud as we can enough?  Or does this conversation need to start going both ways if we really want to affect change in our society?  Perhaps the question really is more important than the answer in the end as it is the question which holds the the catalyst for change.

Yesterday when Kate issued this weeks challenge she talked about some of the ways that artists have used their work to ask questions over the years.

As a bit more inspiration for you this week here's an example of a more direct approach by Candy Chang to this whole idea of using your work to ask questions, it's kind of amazing and only about 6min long:

Here's a tiny except from her talk for those who need a little bit of encouragement to push the play button and watch the video :)
"So this neglected space became a constructive one, and people's hopes and dreams made me laugh out loud, tear up, and they consoled me during my own tough times. It's about knowing you're not alone. It's about understanding our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It's about making space for reflection and contemplation, and remembering what really matters most to us as we grow and change."
                                                             -Candy Chang
And since this week is all about asking questions, I will steal Candy's amazing question for you guys as well.  Make sure to leave us a comment and let us know your answer!  Good luck on your challenge this week!

BEFORE I DIE I WANT TO: __________________________

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Winner!

To learn more about the upcoming book club, stay tuned for this Friday's post, or check out last Friday's big reveal.

Challenge #9: Art is the Question?

Art is often defined as the answer: the answer to graffiti problems, the answer to emotional and mental needs, or just the answer to an awkwardly blank wall. While all of these statements can be true, it's important to remember that art doesn't exist exclusively at a discussion's conclusion. Art can ask the questions that get the discussion started, too.

Whenever I think of art as the question, I'm first reminded of Francisco Goya's series "The Disasters of War." At first glance, Goya's sympathies seem to lie with the Spanish patriots, but a closer inspection reveals Goya's assertion that war dehumanizes everyone involved, thus questioning whether there can be such a thing as a "war hero." Such a provocative question still incites discussion today, giving Goya's prints a timeless relevance.

When I visited the Denver Art Museum last year, I was floored by another artist's question: Gustave Dore's La Famille du Saltimbanque: L'Enfant Blesse depicts the horrific aftermath of a deadly acrobatic accident. At the time of the painting, the children of street acrobats could earn more money for their families by performing exceptionally dangerous stunts, and press coverage of the deaths of some of these children had sparked outcry and condemnation of the children's parents. Dore's sympathetic depiction of the heartbroken parents asks the viewer to consider whether the parents are also human, after all, thereby adding a new perspective to the conversation surrounding those living in poverty. Nearly 100 years later, the pathos of this piece moved me to tears (which might have been a little awkward for the security guard keeping me company), demonstrating the power of a well-pitched question.

In the contemporary dialogue, art that asks questions is everywhere: from guerrilla art to touring museum shows (if you like that second link, go check out Yinka Shonibare's website and experience the awesomeness), artists are proving that we are an important part of the total discussion, from recording an event to providing a solution to asking why there was a problem in the first place.

Knock, knock, Neo.
That's why this week, we're asking you to go out and make art that asks a question. Challenge the status quo. Upset the 'natural' order of things, make people think about the why behind their thoughts or actions. See if you can catch someone in the act of responding to your art.

And of course, tweet, pin, and/or post your results, and tell us what you think of the challenge in the comments below. Don't forget to snag your challenge badge!