The Laws of Nature

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Underlying Questions

Robert Rauschenberg, 1965

The last section of Chapter 1 in Richmond's book raises important "underlying questions" designed to help artists identify in their art its themes, how it developed, and where it is going. It is the answers to these questions that help us market our art privately and through galleries, obtain grants, pen articles and books, and so on. The author identifies this step as intermediate between completing one's work and presenting it to the public. Here are the essential underyling questions:

1. Do you know what the consistent themes of your work have been, and can you point to where your work is going?

2. Is your work developed enough that you can speak comfortably about it?

3. Do you believe that your work is relevant to present-day topics? And do you care?

4. What is the proper outlet or venue for your work?

5. What is your work about?

I've always been reluctant to undergo the mind-bending process that is required to answer these questions in a complete, logical and concise way. But, it's been necessary as I've written grant proposals, statements for galleries, catalogues for solo exhibitions, and text for books in which my work is featured, etc. Once I learned how to answer these questions I was surprised to find that I had developed the urge to make my work more meaningful and relevant. The truth is, I'd rather paint, but answering these questions is essential to moving my work from the studio into the public arena.

Your thoughts?


-Don said...

First of all, Rauschenberg must have been prescient if he was painting images of Kennedy in 1925...

Secondly, you are right, these ARE tough questions to answer in a complete, logical and concise way. I must admit I'm still struggling to do so. I had to answer all of those questions - and more - yesterday for a newspaper reporter. I went into the interview with the attitude of shooting from the hip. We'll seen shortly how she interpreted my answers. Hey! Maybe if her article answers them well enough, I can just copy/paste her words...

Kathy, in all seriousness, I value this forum you have established thru your blog. You have helped me to think on these things and so many more in ways I may not have otherwise. For this, I thank you!


Unknown said...

That Don sure is sharp! I'm sure it's supposed to be 1965.

I know I should be thinking about question like this now. Perhaps it would help me find a more certain course to navigate my work. I am still in the development stage and a jack-of-all-trades and mediums trying to get noticed.

I will echo Don's sentiments about your wonderful blog. I love exercising those brain cells beyond what I should have for dinner tonight. Thanks Katharine!

Unknown said...

Hi Don - silly me!! Typo. I'll correct it now. Well, the "Year of the Don" begins with all sorts of interesting and wonderful events: a newspaper interview!! Just great. I have to give credit back to you and all my commenting readers who add substance and meaning to this forum. Otherwise, I'd just be chatting with myself. Thanks to all of you!!

Hi Sheila - it's always a good time to start thinking about answers to these questions. I've found that over the years my answers tend to change, so there's never a time when I'm not re-writing the answers. Thank YOU for making this blog interesting!

M said...

I couldn't believe the content of this post when I read it. It fitted so well with a conversation I had during a studio visit today, that it scared me. These are no doubt the big questions that rattle around in my head as I've thought about my work. Once you have a solo show and apply for a grant you have to have some of the answers figured out but just when you thought you knew all about your work it changes. That's where I am now. My friend, an established artist who is very savvy to the ways of the art world and who is a very authentic artist asked some hard questions today. My mind is spinning as I try to sort it all out. I feel a headache coming on.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - take two aspirins and call me in the morning!! (At least that's what MD's used to say in this country). This is the hardest work, but I know you'll rise to the occasion.

Anonymous said...

I was listening to a NPR radio interview this morning- a conversation with Timothy Rub- director for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I found it interesting to hear how exhibits were chosen for the museum. That interview and these questions gel. You can hear the interview here:

Stan Kurth said...

Robert Rauschenberg was born in 1925, died in 2008.

This is a tough one for me. Sometimes I'm articulate and sometimes I'm not so sure. Would someone care to interview me? I'll give you the questions to ask. haha.

Maybe when I've completed the "daunting" task I'll be better equipped for making a more intelligible and articulate statement about my work. In the mean time this will have to work:

This is visual art! I'm a visual artist! If I have to wax philosophical what's the point? Is my work invalid if I don't receive the grant? If I write it all or say it all, then what need is there to see it? The work stands or it falls on its own. You can write about yourself and your work or what you and your art are all about but it will not change it. If the Sistine Chapel ceiling bore no record of its creator would we see it differently? Do we need Billy Collins to paint a picture that we might understand what his poetry is about? Isn't that what the poem does? I've heard so much pretentious jargon(esoteric garbage) from far-out phonies that I'm tainted. And further more...


Sorry about the rant! I know I need to articulate and I can, but sometimes it seems like I change so rapidly that what I wrote yesterday doesn't make sense today. My head is spinning. I think Wendy refers to this as an ongoing loop. Maybe I should incorporate this sense of evolution into what my art is about. And oh yeah, I'm a rebel as well. I should put that in too. This is hard.

Kathy, will you ghost write this for me?

hw (hallie) farber said...

This makes me wonder whether one who has the answers to these questions might be hesitant to change courses.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - thanks for the reference. I'll take a look!

Hi Stan - you said it well! No need for a ghost writer. I feel exactly the same way, which is why I rebelled against writing statements about my work for so long. But, the necessity of getting grants, dealing with gallers, and publishers FORCED me to write about my work. Ugh!! Like you, I can't imagine why the rest of the world can't just let our work speak for itself. Perhaps the "critics" pushed us into this corner since they have a dire need to assign meaning to everything and then prove their superior intellect by writing what I call "obscurata." Give me a break! (Now I'm ranting)

Hi Hallie - it hasn't affected me that way since I'm happy to change course on occasions. However, I think you're correct in wondering this since it does make changing course more difficult. I hadn't really thought about it that way before. Thanks!

Dan Kent said...

I've been watching from the background in these last several posts. I'm not there yet. But I feel that I am acquiring a template for the future. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan - it's nice to know you're "with" us!