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.
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,
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
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Magician's Assistant is Actually in Charge, 2016
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.
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.