I am an artist and arts educator in Dallas, TX with an undergraduate degree from Yale University and (in 2 weeks) a MFA from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. My ramblings below are thoughts, ideas, and advice, entered here as they come to me, often prompted by situations I’ve experienced or am in the midst of experiencing. Thank you for taking the time to read them. And I wish you your best achievements in whatever path you are pursuing in your life.
Artists as self-elected deities?
Recently I have read a number of artist essays and seen many young artist talks. Through these, I’ve come to notice a particular pattern of focus on a self-deifying of the artist through their work or in their practice. I’m not sure of the why for this pattern. Perhaps it has to do with the state of confusion many (if not all) have recently felt; perhaps artists are trying to make themselves their own anchors and this is the result. Or perhaps it stems from a history within art to consider the artist’s ideas a kind of mystical gift generated by a ‘God-like’ artist figure. Or maybe it’s related to the celebrity status that so many desire today and US culture has prominently promoted for the last 100+ years.
Irrespective of how it’s come to be, some questions that come to me as I think about this are: How does this ripple out from the artist into the art and then into the viewer? Is this deifying of the artist helpful or problematic for the intentions of the Art? Have we reached a place where Art is pursuing popularity, as fame for the artist as an identity over communication of its message? How does this reject, critique, or clarify ideas of conceptual art wherein the idea is the machine making the art as opposed to the artist as specifically gifted, celebrity labor? Or, are the movements that reject art requiring of itself a message the cause of this phenomenon that shifts the focus from the art as message to the artist as message?
Telephone Game Imagery
Copy-Paste Pattern themes seem to be running rampant in work shown locally in different galleries. It’s visually seductive and simultaneously nauseating. Why is it so popular right now? Is it a reflection of our identities in the digital age? Is it illuminating feelings of ‘ground-hog day’ that have come from shelter-in-place, lockdown, and quarantine measures across the last year? Is it a statement of the visual bombardment we are living in with phones, televisions, billboards, computers, and even buildings now displaying moving pictures rather than static imagery or the often more methodical and slowly evolving views we get staring into nature?
I want to understand but I feel like I can’t! *maybe THAT’s the point*
Do you have ideas about this theme and its uptick in frequency lately?
Scripting in Artist Presentations
Here is my advice: Learn to make presentations with out a script.
While I knew this prior to experiencing an MFA program, I fell into the routine, that was promoted within my program, of writing a script for my presentations. True to perhaps my excessive trust in my ‘coaches/teachers’, irrespective of the problems that has caused at various times of my life, I worked on scripts across two years of my MFA program. At the end of this, I watched my last presentation — expecting to be impressed by my improvement. Instead, I was deeply disappointed. Where I had expected that scripting would have resulted in a more intimate exposure of my thoughts and interests in my talk, the effect was the contrary. My scripted final presentation was stilted and overly formulated. There was no room to see me in between the sentences that carefully addressed the ‘needs’ of my presentation and the work.
As a result, I have decided that my advice to my past self would have been to resist this drive toward the script that was being explained as the easiest or most feasible way to prepare an artist talk. It was a detour instead of a shortcut — a detour that never actually arrived at a desired destination. Instead I would like myself to work on better noting for free speaking the points of each of my slides. Those notes will serve to remind myself of what each slide is showing (conceptually) and why I’m bringing up this point/s within the context of the talk.
I once had the opportunity to hear from speakers at IDEO about presentation tactics. The advice they gave was to never memorize a speech. To instead, make your slides your cues to your points so that you can work in ‘what you need to say’ with what you want to say in the situation. In future presentations, I will work from this strategy rather than taking the scripted avenue. Hopefully, someday, someone that has read this entry can tell me how it’s worked out. 😉
“Thats a great question”…
Artists love to use the ‘that’s a great question’ preface when responding to questions. While this used to be a great tactic in publicly responding in Q&A sessions, I think it’s time we all recognize that it’s a filler and this trick has been made more and more obvious as speech training has become more and more public in its own right. Publicly answering questions has been accelerated by the internet life of youtube, social media platforms, and the infusion of Zoom presentations into our lives with the Covid-19 Pandemic. We recognize ‘thought masks’ that previous generations of podium-based, live audience speakers could safely hide behind. Now, when using the “That’s a great question” response, everyone knows you’re having to come up with an answer and just want to say something in the mean time — to fill the air. But why? Do we have to always be speaking? Maybe we don’t have to always jump into speech to hold an audience. In fact, silence can be powerful in communicating sincerity in constructing a thoughtful response.
I am going to work on leaving pregnant silences when I need to work out an answer to a question instead of inserting this knee-jerk response. It’s the artist talk equivalent to asking ‘How are you?’ to a hello, but not meaning it. What do these meaningless jesters do? It seems to me that they quickly build a wall between you and the audience and they reduce the credibility of compliments you give — if you tell every person that they have a great question, how likely are people to embrace your sincerity in that statement?
Maybe I’ve over reacting or wistful of experiences with my grandfather, who was gloriously critical of my constant filling the air with words while he carefully constructed the things he had to say and as a result made us wait the necessary time to hear them. Or is something to be said about our self-imposed confounding of language these days? (That’s a great question…)