Artists Answer: Are you struggling with your practice in light of recent political events?

I've been hearing from every artist around me, and am also feeling myself, that the recent election and all the following actions by the current administration are majorly impacting how they view their art practices. Some of us are floundering, asking whether what we do is really important and others are finding renewed value in the creative process and creative communities.

Whatever your practice is and whatever your political beliefs are, I'd like to hear how this political moment is affecting your practice. Are you changing the way you work? Are you taking refuge in your studio? Are you using your creative skills to make protest banners and/or support activist work? Are you totally stymied ad stuck? Are you reevaluating everything you do as an artist?

Geoffry Smalley | Read the Interview

"Yes!!! I have had many discussions around this topic as well, and the range of ways artists are coping and processing is myriad. Personally, I have dipped into my deep past, to my early illustration training and have been making political cartoons. I find art making to be the only real outlet for me to process the torrent of madness in the news these days. To slow it, focus energies and establish opinion. And when I can, I support fellow artists who are fundraising through sales of art or t-shirts, etc. Individuals are taking on the task of fundraising for great organizations who fight the good fight, but I have been thinking about centralizing that idea, maybe into an online rolling exhibition of sorts that would be very accessible. I haven't formed the idea yet but our community is filled with great thinkers and entrepreneurs and brilliant makers who could be a loud voice together."

Michael Pajon | Read the Interview

Sisters of Fate, Daughters of Night, 2016. Mixed Media Collage on Antique Book Cover. 10 x 13in

I have a renewed interest in printmaking as a way to make flyers and handbills to distribute during protests and for writing postcards to congress, senate and our local elected officials.  Not yet sure how it will effect my main practice, but I have no doubt it will creep in at some point. I am asking my local arts organizations to divest from any relationships they have with organizations that have ties to NDAPL and the BBPL (bayou bridge pipeline, the tail of the serpent). In New Orleans, that organization is the Helis Foundation. I'm looking forward to using digital print as a way to fundraise for vulnerable organizations by making small editions at an accessible low cost. As artists we have to keep in mind that this has been done in the past, the National Endowment for the Arts was gutted a long time ago. Other organizations stepped up to fill the void left behind. I'm hoping the same will occur over the next four years, that the Cheeto in Chief will bring us all closer together in his attempts to drive us apart. Best of luck to all of my fellow artists and humans out there fighting the good fight. Your work is needed now more than ever, get in our out there and make beautiful, thoughtful things!!

(Note: Michael is selling 14" x 18" archival inkjet prints of the above collage to raise money for NODAPL. $50 + 12 for shipping. 20 left. $1500 raised so far.)

Tory Wright Lee | Read the Interview

"Motherhood was the first big change in how I work, but in a way that was less disruptive than this election. There is now a weight pushing down on my mind that was not there before. Especially with the regressive agenda against women's reproductive rights and so much more. My work has always been about the woman's body and editing fashion photography down into a more powerful image by cutting away as much if the surface as possible. Now, after a period of mourning and work reflecting that emotion, I find myself looking at finished work and asking myself if I made the image about strength. Does this woman look strong?"

Michael Salter | Read the Interview

"I stand firmly in resistance to the current administration and keep a steady stream of anti-trump images flowing out into the world. I always share the work in hopes it will help the resistance, for use as signs or posts. Otherwise, yes, I am struggling to maintain a regular creative output. For the moment I keep my resistance work and my personal work separate but have no inhibitions about them, or my, connections to them. My work is already subversive so if I can just get to a functional level of anger, despair and disillusionment, I can channel my energies back into my work. One thing I do know is that the underground can thrive in a dictatorship. I cling to that idea, that my career is rooted in collectives and alternative spaces and I know the energy and power and effect that a group of like minded people can project. We will all keep making work, and it will matter. And people will see it and experience it, and it will make a difference. I personally just have to get my lean returned to forward and not just flat out on my heels in shock."

Yikui Gu | Read the Interview

Golden Shower/ Holdin' Power, 2017. Acrylic, marker, silicone, yarn, & pen on panel.

"Like many artists, my head has been swimming since the election, and each passing day brings another turn of events. It seems like the first month of this administration has been more eventful than the entirety of many past administrations. Below are some general thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

  •  As a Bernie supporter, I'd actually been resigned to a Trump presidency since Hillary's coronation here in Philly back in July. During the final night of the DNC convention, I turned to my wife and stated that I felt Trump would beat Hillary in the general election. She rolled her eyes as most people did, but a failure of imagination doesn't mean something can't happen. Progressives had warned corporate Democrats of this since the beginning, and the very fact that the DNC had to rig the primaries for the "stronger" candidate spoke volumes. 
  • When I do flounder in my practice, it is almost never due to worldly events. Whatever artistic crisis I may be having is usually internal, almost never external. The self doubt is ever present, and I've seriously considered giving up being an artist on a number of occasions. But doubt is a good thing; it causes you to be introspective and honest with yourself, which usually leads to better art. Shitty artists are always confident, the good ones usually don't have so much certainty.
  • The general turn of events has actually provided a lot of food for thought as an artist, so that there is much more material to work with. An analogous situation can be seen on Saturday Night Live, where the sketches are better precisely because there's more inspiration and source material to work with.
  • As most reasonable people are, I'm fairly disgusted by recent events, and it has made me even more of a nihilist than I used to be. This is by no means a negative; it is actually quite liberating. I often find that when I have no fucks left to give is when I produce the best work, since there is nothing to lose.
  • I've refrained from making any artwork that directly references current events, with one exception. I did produce the small piece above as a donation to a local Philly gallery for their auction to benefit free youth art classes."

Erin M. Riley | Read the Interview

Head On, 2016. Wool and cotton.100" x 50."

"I have been working on a very personal and emotional exhibition for the last five months. It opens in March, but as the time approaches, it feels like advertising an art show is just silly. I support myself with my art and am struggling with how to continue on this path as arts funding seems to be getting cut everywhere and collectors aren't as adventurous. It feels ridiculous pushing art when so many other causes are matters of life and death. I know art is important, and I will not stop making it. But it's going to be much harder to survive with 45; that seems like a truth for the majority of folks in and out of the art world. I am looking for work outside of my studio practice so that I can have income to donate and support causes that I can't currently on my non-existent budget. I am also doing more research into artists who are women of color, trans, immigrant, Muslim, Mexican— those who are what 45 is explicitly against—and supporting their work when I can. I am also going to way more art openings, it seems like an obvious thing but especially artists who are opening shows lately I know how much work goes into them and no one expected the climate to be so toxic. We have to support each other physically, hugs are great."

Katie Vota | Read the Interview

"Recent events have caused a crisis in my mind in relation to my practice. I feel derailed, like the work I was making isn’t important enough to deserve my time when there are so many things to be done. The outwardly activist portions of my practice have stolen all my focus and attention as a way of coping. However, this feels disingenuous. All that work about queer opulence and visibility and our body politic is more relevant than ever. However it’s also dangerous (maybe it was always dangerous). We are under attack. It’s an attack against beauty, queerness, opulence, and everything my work stands for. What is beautiful is that we will continue to resist the toxic, fragile masculinity that is currently destroying the earth. As a bi queer femme, I shine bright, constantly proclaiming myself as “out” and counted amongst the many who cannot blend into the crowd. I am ready for this fight, even though I’m frightened. And yet, convincing myself to make the work I want to make is hard when I keep spiraling back to the idea that it’s not enough.

In light of recent political events, I am rethinking the context of my art practice. It’s taken months coming to this realization, that instead of having a collection of disparate bits that are the ruins of my practice strewn around my feet, that these things I want to be doing—making protest banners and punk patches for resistance—are not so unrelated to the sculpture and installation work. My work is still about touch, interactivity, play, the creation of experience through the occupation of space via the multiple, queer experience (the femme perspective), and the creation of community through skill sharing….. However, instead of trying to talk about these things individually, I think I want to talk about activism and the roll it has in shaping the way these congruent narratives are interrelated. I’m hoping by reframing the discussion in my mind, I’ll be able to get back to making the work."

Ian Davis | Read the Interview

Broadcast, 2014. Acrylic and spray paint on linen. 75 x 80"

"I feel particularly well equipped to answer this, considering the fact that my work has dealt with politics and power for a long time. However, I don't claim that my work is topical, and I've always made an attempt to be vague about what's really going on in the narrative situations I describe. The day after the election I found suddenly that reality had crept much closer to the somewhat surreal situations I paint. In the last week and a half, it almost feels as if the strangeness of the political climate has surpassed anything I've described in my paintings. Now my concern is that these look like political cartoons. I'm trying to figure out how to respond and let what's happening permeate the imagery, but at the same time I'm trying to retain a poetic quality in which everything isn't all explained and spelled out. Its a weird balance and I feel that it will take some time to really let everything marinate. Everything has flipped so quickly. It's too early to tell what's going on. I think it was George Orwell who said that scared people don't write good books. At the moment, I'm trying to determine whether scared people can make good paintings. Its been tricky so far. I've made signs for protests, but I have given them to people who don't have signs of their own. when you leave, leave your sign for somebody else to use!"

Artists answer: What's the role of the artist in contemporary culture?

We've invited former Featured Artists to answer a series of questions about being an artist and to highlight a new work made since the time of their interviews. Some questions are practical; some are philosophical. These compilations will be interspersed with new Featured Artist interviews every month and will include links back to older interviews. And don't forget to sign up for the monthly blog digest if you prefer to get all your Featured Artist action in your inbox once a month.

Erin Washington | Read the Interview

Untitled (take care of yourself), 2016. Chalk, acrylic, gouache and found object on panel. 16" x 20"

I struggle to define this (although perhaps it is a justification in my mind). The days of teaching right after the American election results were a trial. How to define the role of the artist in contemporary culture when I myself am unsure how to justify making art right now? How to digest that conversation and regurgitate it for students in an appealing, easy-to-understand nugget?

My students guided me more than I was able to guide them. I am still not sure if this was coincidence, or a reaction to everything, but one student pursued sub-conscious drawings: he drew his stream-of-consciousness while blindfolded. We worked out a system where people would switch paper for him so that he did not look at the finished drawings. He stated that he did not want to see the drawings, did not want them to influence each-other. I wondered if there was also a desire to not have his id revealed to him. I've definitely accidentally made political drawings after the election, and have been shocked/embarrassed/frustrated that my id-anger is seeping into my most vulnerable drawing-practice. I also want to close my eyes to that.

In another class, I asked the students if they wanted to talk about what was happening, or if they would prefer to just make work, to take agency in one of the few environments that they have lots of control over. They chose the later. One student remarked, "now we need to work more than ever...times like these is when making art is important." I am slightly more cynical than that statement, but it was what we needed to hear, and I appreciate that she said it.

Gwenyth Anderson | Read the Interview

A2O, 2016. Snow melt, vessels, animation projection, audio

"Contemporary culture" is so vast… Art probably plays a different role depending on where in the world you are, and even then from person to person. In regards to the cultures I participate in or regularly encounter: I think art's role today is a collection of confused or uninformed rituals and tools. Abstract thinking, forming an experience for an audience, guiding material into a shape, creating moments out of sound, representing research with imagery. These are powerful vehicles for experiencing surface and stepping beyond it. But that stepping beyond is rare in the everyday. After I've left a gallery, or stopped listening to/watching something: it often becomes a memory or reference point, not embodied and lived in by us collectively. That’s why it feels confused.

So, I guess the role of the artist is to dip peoples’ toes into a pool of something profound, without fully understanding, or while people tell each other stories about what’s happening.

Molly Springfield | Read the interview

spun between the sun and, 2016. graphite on paper. 34 x 25.5 in (2 panels, 16.5 x 25.5 inches each)

I've been thinking about these questions within the context of our country's current political climate, which I find extremely disheartening. It seems like a large part of our population is completely uninterested in understanding the experiences and viewpoints of people who are different from them. I don't want to believe there is this much lack of empathy and moral imagination, but lately it's hard to feel otherwise. But I still believe in the ability of art to help bridge these gaps. I don't consider the work I make to be political. And I think it's very hard to make good, effective political art. But all art—of whatever form or discipline—helps us to inhabit other people's minds and other people's worlds, and in that way helps us be better humans.

Darren Jones | Read the Interview

#hell #wordsmyth #alphabeTART #TEXtart, 2016. Text photo, Dallas

I'd answer the question with another: DOES the artist DESERVE a role in contemporary culture?

Not automatically, not necessarily and in the majority of cases, no.
The work of most artists does not justify the presumption of a role in contemporary culture, because most artists do nothing to warn, evolve, highlight, critique, call-out, agitate, or connect to, contemporary culture, effectively. The recent election is an example of this failure. Being offered a position within the vanguard force at the spearhead of society is a privilege that must be earned. Few artists today, qualify.

Abdul Abdullah | Read the interview

Why can't I be angry, 2016. Velvet banner, embroidery and ceramics. 120cm x 120cm

The artist has many roles, but the role I am drawn to is that of the critical, indulgently subjective interpreter of the world around me. I sometimes feel I act in the role of a journalist who has an unashamedly flagrant disregard for the rules.

Snow Yunxue Fu | Read the Interview

Pool, 2016. Video Still 7

I believe artists are a special group of people who are blessed to see, hear, and feel a little more for their generation and time so that they have potentials to keep the society and humanity in check.

Bianca Kolonusz-Partee | Read the interview

Welcome to Ceylon, 2015. Recycled product packaging, colored pencils, map tacks & adhesives. 15"H X 43"W

Artists are invaluable for really investigating and revealing points of view that are not mainstream and for bucking the status quo. It’s important for me to use the visual language to pull the viewer in but expressing what I see as the pivotal issues of right now is key for me. People are becoming numb to realities of life with our digital world, to global issues and just connecting with their place. That is hard to compete with, but if I can get folks in front of my work I'd like to try.

Judith Levy | Read the interview

SHADOW, 2016. Video Still. See film trailer

The artist tries to make sense of the complex world in which we live and to understand how we came to be the way we are. We make art, because we want to communicate these ideas to others. Artists are commentators, meaning-makers, and troubadours of change. Artists create art to answer questions that may not have answers but need to be asked. We make art to share our questions and reveal our attempts to answer them, even when we are filled with self-doubt. Artists take the kinds of risks that require integrity, self-examination, courage, intelligence and some tomfoolery. The art we make shows, in a new way, something important that we believe has universal application and necessity, and we seek innovative ways to reach our audience. Artists tackle contemporary dilemmas almost always without cynicism, since the making of art demonstrates that it is worthwhile to connect, create dialogue, ask for engagement and seek revelation.

Rebecca Potts | Read the interview

The Magician's Assistant is Actually in Charge, 2016

Interpreter, perhaps an inventor of a third language in which two other languages can both communicate.
Interloper, a thief stealing in and out of other worlds bringing back whispers for those who care to listen.
Investigator of rules, of properties of matter, of form, of light, of cultures, of secrets.
Identifier of undervalued or untold stories/systems/forms, of the future.
Iconographer, a coder or decoder.
Illustrator of our time, our place, or our lack of placement in it.
Informant, always a risky position to hold, but a necessary one in which to keep momentum.
Inker, one who is bound to the marks made, unlike the slipperiness of the spoken word.
Investment, to some, unfortunately not all for the right reasons.
Interior Decorator, see above.

Caroline Carlsmith | Read the interview

Jericho Labyrinths, 2016. Ink on paper

The role of the artist is to contribute to a conversation that has been taking place for longer than we can collectively trace. Like any conversation, the caliber of a statement might be subject to criteria like relevance, interest, style, and whether it might lead to new insights and discussions. An artist might choose to make any kind of statement, whether of good quality or poor. Their role is that of speaker. But any good speaker is usually a good listener as well.

Artists Answer: How has the internet affected the way you look at art?

We've invited former Featured Artists to answer a series of questions about being an artist and to highlight a new work made since the time of their interviews. Some questions are practical; some are philosophical. These compilations will be interspersed with new Featured Artist interviews every month and will include links back to older interviews. And don't forget to sign up for the monthly blog digest if you prefer to get all your Featured Artist action in your inbox once a month.

Dan Solberg | Read the Interview

Reports & Letters (installation view), 2015. 2-channel audio, speakers, MP3 player.
Sound installation with audio alternating between left and right channels. Watch Excerpt

The internet has made me very image-conscious when it comes to art. For my own work, one of my top priorities is documentation and web presence. Gallery shows are temporary, but my work can exist online 24/7, so, in a sense, I need to be my own digital exhibition coordinator. I love being able to do quick research on an artist that's new to me, amassing a near-instant knowledge of the sort of work that they do. Of course, with being image-conscious, I've also become more of a skeptic of the authenticity of images online, but rather than decrying the practice, I elect to make self-reflective work about and within that ambiguous space.

Abdul Abdullah | Read the Interview

Everything is fine, 2016. Oil and resin on canvas. 100cm x 100cm.

I grew up in Perth in Western Australia. It is a city of 1.5 million and is the most geographically isolated city on the planet. Without the internet I probably wouldn’t be an artist at all. The internet gives me access to work being produced right now all over the world.

Cristi Ranklin | Read the Interview

MTR, 2016. Oil and acrylic on aluminum. 48" x 72."

I'll preface all this by saying that nothing replaces actual seeing. While I still prioritize seeing art in person whenever possible, I have found the internet to be a revolutionary tool in accessing and sharing images of art. With the rise of social media as a means to share works in any stage with an audience, the network of exchange has expanded beyond anything available to artists of even the recent past. I am both a practicing artist and an educator, so I am constantly looking for new work to share with my students, and if you know where to look, there are some sophisticated tools available to do exploratory searches for art that can lead you to unexpected places. I've used sites like Artsy, a curated site which maps visual relationships among images, so if you start with a general category, you may end up with several artists who are new to you. Using the internet's hyperlink features, you can go down a wormhole of discovery by simply entering an artist's name into Google and clicking on everything that comes up and seeing where it leads you. And as far as quality goes, seeing work on a portable illuminated screen is far superior to holding up a sheet of slides or flipping through photo reproductions. Most everyone has something in their pocket that can provide an instant slideshow to any onlooker. So in conclusion, I would say that with the combination of the internet and the portable device, artists have an incredible tool for showing and looking at art.

Eric Valosin | Read the Interview

Hyalo 3 (WaveParticle), 2016. Acrylic Paint and Digital Projection Installation. 50" x 84"

I’ve become very interested in the way the internet augments our notion of space and superimposes another layer of mediated meaning on artwork. To view work online is not the same experience as viewing it in person, and thus the work takes on new meaning as a result of accruing this new medium. There’s the old trope of going to the Louvre to experience the crowd of people staring intently at cameras aimed at the Mona Lisa.

In my own work, I’m interested in how this extends to the contemplative practices of viewing meditative imagery. What does it mean metaphysically to study a mandala online, or pinch to zoom a sacred icon or artifact? Where does our spirit go when our minds enter cyberspace? How does our body aid in our mystical experiences as we park it at the entrance way to a URL? I say this with a bit of tongue in cheek, recognizing the separation of the mind/body/spirit is perhaps a false distinction to begin with.

With online galleries, call for entry forms and the like, we’ve gotten quite facile with the internet as a tool, but I don’t think we’ve fully figured out what it means, in an ontological sense, when the vast majority of art exists as pixels to the average viewer.

Cable Griffith | Read the Interview

Plein@ir 1.3 (Halle Ravine), 2016. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 30 x 48 inches (diptych).

I think that one way the internet has affected the way we look at art is by shifting an overwhelming emphasis onto the image, as opposed to the object. We’ve grown so accustomed to pretending we’ve had an experience with a work by viewing an image of it on screen. And at the same time, I’m grateful to have access to so many images of so much work by so many artists! But we devour these images faster and faster. As a painter, I want people to stand in front of the object and take their time. The sense of scale, from the edge of the canvas to a single brush stroke, is intentional and actual. It’s disappointing to think that people think they’ve “seen” this piece or that piece by simply scrolling through a barrage of images on a phone or laptop. David Hockney said something like "Video brings its time to you, but you have to bring your time to painting."

Mark Zawatski | Read the Interview

Interference 6, 2015. Archival Pigment Print. 16 x 16 Inches (24 x 24 Inches Framed).

The internet gives me a daily diet of art and allows me to see work that I would never be able to see in person. Some people disparage viewing images online and insist that you can only judge work by seeing it in person. Sure there are experiential qualities that can only be gleaned in person, but people have been studying and writing about art and art history from slides or photographs for well over a century. It’s a false dichotomy to insist that viewing and evaluating images online is somehow inferior.