The Laws of Nature

Thursday, February 4, 2010

This Is Killing Me

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
Work: Apathy
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.

Your thoughts??


K Marie Peikert said...

Art should evoke emotion and that certainly did, now I'm depressed:(( lol.....It seems like a "all about Me" approach in their art. I enjoy the challenge of the creative process, it evokes patience and perseverance.
How would you, in art, create patience and perseverance, instead of frustration and defeatism.
Personally, I want to smile or feel a "Wow" when I view art and there was no smile or "Wow" in their art.

So..... I am going to take a look at this artist's rendition of broken egg shells and smile again:))

hw (hallie) farber said...

I would probably smile at the exhibit--I guess we're all in the same boat. I like knowing what others feel. (We probably have works like these hidden in our notebooks.)

Unknown said...

I was at an Artist Reception last night. I recognized an artist through his self portrait in the exhibition and told him "I love your portrait." I wasn't just jerking his chain. It was the largest piece, oil on canvas about 5x4 feet. It was in his unique style of abstract realism. I later learn a woman was asking everyone in the gallery where the artist was because she wanted to buy the piece.

So what did he reply when I gave him compliment? "It's not very good. I spent too much time on it."

After replacing my ears because I couldn't believe them. We had a nice conversation about attitudes and feelings about ones work. I suggested we are both from a culture where it is frowned upon to boast about yourself and artists being so close to their work can always find something they are not happy with.

I was reassured that this accomplished artist had the same feelings about his work as I do.

Unknown said...

Hi Karen - I'm with you: I'd rather enjoy the excitement and joy of painting.

Hi Hallie - yes, I do! And, they'll stay hidden :-)

Hi Sheila - an interesting, and sad, story. Perhaps the artist just didn't want to part with the self-portrait and made an excuse. How wonderful that you could reach out to him and offer assurances!

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Carolyn Abrams said...

Yes, this was quite an exhibit and i'm glad Kathy was along to show me the "other side". I found it off putting and not pleasant to view some of the bloody stumps being portrayed as art knowing that many of our own young American soldiers have to deal with this in real life and have made this sacrafice so artists can exhibit this type of art. So....before I get off on a tangent I was glad Kathy could find the positive aspects and show me the other side of the coin in this exhibit. thanks Kathy!

Anonymous said...

I found it a little bit ironic. I wanted to say "you made it! you're in a museum show!" as I read the descriptions.

I tend to show my "cheerful" side, but sometimes I wonder if other feelings ought to be explored too. I found it interesting seeing how the artists presented their doubts and troubles.

Thanks for informing!

-Don said...

I'm jealous that Carolyn had the honor of accompanying you to this exhibit - or any exhibit for that matter. I would LOVE to tour a museum with you some time. As much as I get out of it on my own, I know I would get SO much more with you by my side.

As for how I feel as an artist, I put it all on the canvas... If you look at my works chronologically since mid/late 2008 you would find an abstract autobiography mixed in with all the mask paintings. I tell more about myself in my work than I probably should, but I try to balance it with humor and style.

I can relate to Ms. Bedford's work more than any of the others' in this show. I've wondered how I would handle it if my hands or eyes were not able to perform the tasks necessary to create the way I want to. Would I find other creative outlets like laying in bed cutting paper as Matisse did in later life? Or, would I take Vincent's way out? I like to think the former...

Angst is calling, but I think I'll hang up and call felicity instead...


Unknown said...

Hi Pam - you mention a lot of important points that artists deal with on a daily basis. Some artists out of necessity must lead contradictory lives in order to create work that sells, but doesn't necessarily satisfy their unique philosophy. But, it seems to me that most artists are concerned with how their work will be viewed by society and the market place. This leads to anxiety. But, don't most people in various occupations worry about job performance?

Hi Carolyn - it was great spending time with you! As you know, my reaction to this exhibit was mixed with interest and revulsion. Too much negative narcissism. However, I decided to dig in and learn from it and began to see some humor. Thanks again!

Hi Peggy - I had the same feeling! I wanted to shake these artists and say "what are you complaining about? You're in a museum! Wish my work could hang here."

Hi Don - you make me blush! I should be lucky enough to tour a museum with YOU!! As you mention, your life is reflected in your mask paintings. That's one reason they're truly great. You don't withhold your true feelings from your artistic expressions. That's key to creating unique and meaningful art.

Thanks everyone for your great comments!!

Celeste Bergin said...

Thanks so much for "taking us along" to the "This is Killing Me" exhibit. I give the Museum five stars for originality. I have been in a lot of Museums and seen scads of shows--I do not believe I have ever heard of this theme before. I'm pretty intrigued and would love to see it in person.

I meet with other artists.. often twice a week (which is a whole lot of talking, lol). There is a new person who has come three times..and each time she talks we have to listen to manyl statements like "I am JUST a beginner".."You are all sooooo much more advanced than me"..."I don't know what I am doing" etc, etc . No matter how many times she is told to drop all that, she persists. It is off-putting and we all wish she'd stop it. It reminds me of when I went to design school and they would take a ton of points off if we EVER apologized during one of those mock presentations. All the apology does is solidify to others that your work is "sub-par" (even when it is NOT!) Apologize publicly and you lose 95% of your audience.

All that aside, we aren't being too hard on the new person and are hopeful she can just begin to concentrate more on the fundamentals and TRY to become less identified with the results. That is what I strive for .... sheer volume (of work) helps that to occur. That is what is so positive about the "painting-a-day" movement. It helps people understand that not all of the work will be great--but by working daily (or nearly daily) efficacy improves.