Exercise: My current position

Brief

Take a look at these pieces of art work, some or all of which you might have seen before.

Write down your thoughts about each one. Try to answer the following questions:

  • What do you think was the artist’s intent?
  • What does the image make you feel? Does it create any questions or conflicts in your mind?
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to work in this way?
  • Is this art?

Write a short review (no more than 250 words) of each work and its relevance to your practice (if any) in your learning log or blog. Return to this exercise later in the course to see if your thoughts are the same of if your position and your practice have changed.

Response

My Bed by Tracey Emin

tracey-emin-my-bed
My Bed – Tracey Emin, 1998

I was already aware of this one. My abiding memory of it is of an old Nigella Lawson TV programme where she rolled her eyes about her then-husband Charles Saatchi buying it and installing it in the family home (the dining room if I recall correctly).

  • What do you think was the artist’s intent?
    • To use the bed as a physical manifestation of her state of mind at a certain period of her life
  • What does the image make you feel? Does it create any questions or conflicts in your mind?
    • Strangely empathetic, as in most if not all of us have been through periods where a bed like this would have been a good indication of our mental well-being
    • The only question that first came to mind was “why would you…?” but I think I understand that better now
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to work in this way?
    • Because she wants to, and she can
  • Is this art?
    • Yes, it was conceived as art, displayed as art, sold as art and even kept in a private home as an artwork (albeit the home of a world-famous art collector)
  • Relevant to my practice?
    • Not directly, but a general inspiration on creative thinking, experimentation, pushing boundaries in terms of personal expression

Convergence by Jackson Pollock

convergence.jpg
Convergence – Jackson Pollock, 1952

I’m familiar with Pollock’s famous style but hadn’t lingered for long on any one painting until now.

  • What do you think was the artist’s intent?
    • To physically depict the huge amount of energy that he put into the painting – to bypass conscious thought and express himself straight onto the canvas
    • I’d like to think he was experiencing particular thoughts when he made particular lines and the end result is kind of a snapshot of his mind over the time it took him to produce the painting
  • What does the image make you feel? Does it create any questions or conflicts in your mind?
    • Energised – it has a kinetic aspect to it that feels very different to looking at a more traditional painting with slow, deliberate strokes, which can feel very stationary – this feels ‘alive’
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to work in this way?
    • Limitations of pre-existing forms of art, curiosity, creativity
  • Is this art?
    • Absolutely – I’d have it in the house anyway
  • Relevant to my practice?
    • Same answer as for Emin – inspirational in terms of creative expression

Hell by Jake & Dinos Chapman

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Hell (detail) – Jake and Dinos Chapman, 2000

I was vaguely aware of the Chapmans and their grotesque aesthetic but not very familiar with this work. It’s hard to get a real sense of it from online images, as they tend to show details of what was evidently an extensive piece of sculptural art.

  • What do you think was the artists’ intent?
    • To evoke the horrors of what man is capable of
  • What does the image make you feel? Does it create any questions or conflicts in your mind?
    • Uneasy – it’s full of disturbing imagery and even though it is made up essentially of plastic toy dolls, if anything that makes the acts depicted more disturbing
    • The only question it raised in my mind is more of a concern about the insides of the artists’ minds!
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to work in this way?
    • Hell is in a similar style to a lot of their work, namely based around consumerist artificial representations of people (mannequins, dolls) and my interpretation is that this is a comment on the dark side of human nature
  • Is this art?
    • It was conceived as art, so yes it’s art; subjectively it’s not ‘good art’ in my opinion though
  • Relevant to my practice?
    • In a very broad sense, I could give a similar answer as for Emin/Pollock – inspirational in terms of experimentation – but I’d have to say that the dark, negative, disturbing nature of the Chapmans’ work is unlikely to make it into my practice

Bram Stoker’s Chair by Sam Taylor-Wood

I think I’d seen one of these before but wasn’t aware it was part of a series.

Sam-Taylor-Wood-Chair-Series.jpg
Bram Stoker’s Chair VI – Sam Taylor-Wood, 2005
  • What do you think was the artists’ intent?
    • I read the precarious balancing as being about risk/danger, and the underwear as relating to stereotyped images of femininity
    • The obscuring of the face implies to me that the artist is making a statement on behalf of women in general rather than identifying with an individual
    • (the artist’s statement talks of “the fragile interior supports of exterior grace“)
  • What does the image make you feel? Does it create any questions or conflicts in your mind?
    • Uneasy at first – it appears as though you’re about to see someone crashing to the floor
    • But then if you put yourself in the position of the subject, they’re strangely uplifting, you get a sense of lightness
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to work in this way?
    • It’s in keeping with her photographic style – highly conceptual and choreographed
  • Is this art?
    • Yes
  • Relevant to my practice?
    • More directly so than the others, simply as it is photography (that sounds unimaginative, I know)

Cremaster by Mathew Barney

Cremaster_3_Apprentice.jpg
From Cremaster 3 – Matthew Barney, 2002

Given that this is a seven-hour series of five films from which only short clips are available online, I’ve had to piece together a sense of what this is and what it might be ‘about’. It’s a strange choice for this exercise, a rare multiple-hour film cycle. How is one supposed to form an opinion on something that one can’t watch?

  • What do you think was the artists’ intent?
    • I had to research the films rather than watch them and this had the unfortunate effect of telling me Barney’s intent (an extended metaphor for male sexual development) before I had a chance to form my own interpretation
  • What does the image make you feel? Does it create any questions or conflicts in your mind?
    • I don’t know – I haven’t watched it
    • From what I can gather online, it comes across as pretentious and self-indulgent
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to work in this way?
    • Who knows
  • Is this art?
    • Apparently, though it’s so over-the-top that it could be a satire on art
  • Relevant to my practice?
    • No

My thoughts

Although it was interesting to look at these and articulate my opinions on these artworks, it felt a little disconnected from the preceding section about ‘art-led vs design-led’, and even a little incongruous to its own title (“My current position“).

What this exercise really seemed to be examining is my tastes in art – which may or may correlate to the preferences on my working practice.  It’s conflating the individual as consumer and as creator.

One could for example be a huge fan of really very challenging contemporary art such as the Chapmans and Mathew Barney, yet prefer to work on commercial commissions.

To jump over the artwork reviews and answer the question in the title: I believe I’d like to think of myself primarily as art-led. I’m doing this degree because it’s an art degree, not because I want to become a professional photographer (though that may be an outcome). First and foremost, I want to use photography to express myself. If I can make a living out of photography then my ideal is to continue to work on personal projects with the hope that some people think there’s value in my work; I’m not totally averse to the idea of taking paid commissions but it’s not what I intend to focus on, in an ideal world.

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