Yesterday, Carolyn Abrams (CarolinaMoon) and I had a wonderful day visiting a couple of museums in western Massachusetts. One exhibit at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) made us cringe. Entitled "This Is Killing Me," the exhibit features eight artists who express their anxieties in making art. The leaflet for the exhibit explains: Feelings of inadequacy are evident in some of the work - the artist plagued by the idea that she or he is not good enough, hard-working enough, or famous enough (and never will be). Other works unveil the sources (or lack thereof) of the artist's inspiration - laying bare the pressure to develop meaningful and original ideas. Some artists give shape and form to the creative process, emphasizing their labor (and their procrastination). Many of the artists derive content from psychoanalysis, exposing their conscious and unconscious fears.
This exhibit is definitely NOT for artists who need positive reinforcement! It was painful to see. However, it did reveal many feelings that are common to most of us and are, therefore, worthy of consideration. Below are images of some of the works in this exhibition and brief statements about the artists' ideas. (The descriptions are either paraphrased or directly quoted from the brochure).
Artist: Whitney Bedford
Work: Broken Hand 26
Artist's concept: This painting is part of a series of paintings of broken hands that symbolize Bedford's deep fear that she could become physically unable to paint, which would threaten her art career.
Artist: Karl Haendel
Work: Karl-O-Gram #9
Artist's Concept: An exploration of an array of tools of the trade mixed with more banal objects.
Artist: Andrew Kuo
Work: My Relationship to Art as of May 10, 2009
Artist's Concept: An attempt to quantify his life and ideas in the form of data presentation in graphs which illuminate some of the tedious details and central concerns of his life.
Artist: Sean Landers
Artist's Concept: A ghostly litany of words including CRASH, DESOLATE, DOUBT, MELANCHOLY, DOOMED, WRETCHED, PHOBIC, and APATHY stand out from a list that sets the tone for a discouraged and discouraging painting. Here, Landers subverts the idea of figurative painting, and instead offers a glimpse into the intellectual and emotional aspects of the creative process through language as the content of his work.
Artist: Kalup Linzy
Work: Conversations wit de Churen V: As da Art World Might Turn (a video still)
Artist's Concept: In this work, Linzy turns his attention to the unspoken hopes and fears of artists. Here, the artist dressses up in a blonde wig to portray "Katonya," an emerging artist trying to find love, glory, and gallery representation in the big city. Katonya faces unbearable disappiontment, an opening night party in her honor for which no one has shown up. She reads a weepy speech to a non-existent audience. Here, the artist offers the viewer an embarrassingly honest account of an artist's fantasies of success even when confronted with a debacle.
Artist: Shana Lutker
Work: House with Art That I Dreamt That I Made
Artist's Concept: Lutker fabricated a scale-model of her childhood home and filled it with miniature versions of the art that she dreams she has made. She demonstrates the blurred boundaries between conscious and unconscious, real and imagined, public and personal.
Artist: Marco Rios
Work: Untitled #3 from the disruptions series
Artist's Concept: Most of this artist's work deals with a sense of failure to complete what he has begun and to find equilibrium in his life.
Artist: Joe Zane
Work: I wished I was a Giant
Artist's Concept: This display is a series of books and magazines that the artist made based on well-known art publications. He places himself in the text, on the covers, and in feature areas of these journals in an effort to express his unfulfilled wishes for critical attention and to find a place in art history.
As difficult as it was to stand in the midst of this angst-ridden art, I was informed by it. I learned that most artists, even those lucky enough to be exhibited in a renowned museum, share feelings of insecurity, unworthiness, guilt, depression, anxiety, fear, and pain. And yet, there's an underlying optimism that provides the fuel we need to paint the next picture, construct the next sculpture, film the next video, and take the next photograph. Underneath the angst, we DO believe in our ability to create and find meaning in our creations.