questions and art Q&Art Andrea Fraser What is an artist?

what is an artist?

Spoiler alert: this is a Q&Art blog full of questions, without satisfying answers.

Where did art movements go? Are we ever going to talk about art from the 00’s and early 10’s in terms of movements? Art history books seem to be seamlessly organized into centuries and movements according to common factors. So if you’re going to interview 130 artists (33 made the cut), spread out over 14 countries on five continents and write around 450 pages about it: how are you going to organize it? Writer Sarah Thornton decided to divide her book into three acts: Politics, Kinship, and Craft.

And if you think about it, political art is very happening. Crafts, or perhaps the lack of craftsmanship, is prevailing in the world of art. So these headings make sense. But I’m not so sure of Kinship. Many artists are one woman/man shows. This could just as easily have been called “Miscellaneous.” Anyway, this book is based on nothing but first-hand information from the artists and it’s fabulous. It’s all about: “What is an artist?” Followed by the thorny question: “And what kind of artist are you?”

It is amusing to notice that around 2010 political art was only backed by a few blue-chip artists. According to Carroll Dunham, political art is a bunch of crapola. “Political art preaches to the converts.” Well, he’s got me there. Although I’m sure political art has the potential to broaden perspectives, it frequently only reaches like-minded people. I don’t see The Donald buying a ticket to the Brooklyn Museum and visit The Dinner Party and say “You know what, I can’t do everything and I shouldn’t grab women by the pussy.”

So what is an artist? According to Francis Alÿs, they have a place in the social order which is essential to enable the system to look at itself. Actually, I can run with that if by a system he means society. But this is not applicable to all artists. How does a casted bottle by Rachel Whiteread mirror its community? What about Marina Abramović? I guess to a certain extent every artwork says something about the time it is produced in, however, this is no lock stock and barrel. When Thornton asks him what kind of artist he is, he replies that he is a catalyst, the thing where the artistic component comes into play. He thinks he is a midwife, not the one who makes it up; all he does is standing next to it. Really? That’s your answer after a fairly convincing statement? Fortunately, Cuauhtémoc Medina, curator, art critic, and professor clarifies that this is a referral to Socrates. Apparently, Socrates saw himself as the midwife of thinking because he generates the truth by asking questions.

According to Andrea Fraser, an artist is a myth. Most artists internalize it during their development and then strive to act out the personification. She continues that “they” say that there are three kinds of artists: the perverse, neurotic, and psychotic. The first one is endlessly and effortlessly productive and has presumably an instinctive relation with the makings of art. According to Thornton, Picasso, Pollock, De Kooning, and Damien Hirst fall into this category. The neurotic artist struggles with shame, they have a problematic relationship with the creation or exposing of art. The last one does not get proper attention from Fraser and Thornton connects this to “outsider art.” But where should photographer Rineke Dijkstra be listed?

Alÿs and Fraser are one of the few artists who could come up with somewhat an articulate answer. Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are unable to (no wonder they are commonly mentioned in the same breath) and surprisingly, neither artists such as Cindy Sherman, Martha Rosler, or Ai Weiwei are able to formulate a convincing and extensive answer. But then again, who can? What an artist is and does is an existential question neither Sarah Thornton nor I have the answer to.

Sarah Thornton’s 33 Artists in 3 Acts can be bought here:

This book is based on interview with: Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, Gabriel Orozco, Eugenio Dittborn, Lu Qing, Zeng Fanzhi, Wangechi Mutu, Kutlug Ataman, Tammy Rae Carland, Martha Rosler, Elmgreen & Dragset, Maurizio Cattelan, Laurie Simmons, Carroll Dunham, Francis Alÿs, Cindy Sherman, Jennifer Dalton, William Powhida, Francesco Bonami, Grace Dunham, Lena Dunham, Rashid Johnson, Massimiliano Gioni, Damien Hirst, Andrea Fraser, Jack Bankowsky, Christian Marclay, Marina Abramović, Grayson Perry, Yayoi Kusama, Cady Noland, Beatriz Milhazes and Isaac Julien.


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