Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gabrielle's short discourse on art as social commentary

Last night, when I finally caught up with Gabrielle Swain's blog, I was captivated by her as-usual-pithy/intelligent/thoughtful contemplations. I was also stunned, as I read her post on art as social commentary, to find this paragraph in which she referred to my work (Oct 12 post) Now let's look at Rayna Gillman's work with the antique photographs...some might be from her family; others she collects from various sources. Is this a political statement? Only Rayna can answer that but it certainly is a social commentary. Rayna is revealing something to us about herself....what she is drawn to, what memories effect her, how the imagery expresses something within her emotional, spiritual nature. Yes, I will answer -- but it will amount to thinking out loud here (which is why I started a blog in the first place, as I recall). Is my work social commentary? Hmmm... I suppose it is. As it happens, I have been infected with the "oh, jeez. my work is crap and it needs to change" syndrome that has been rampant among many wonderful arists I know - here in Blogland and elsewhere. I was going to rant about it anyway, so now you give me an opportunity, Gabrielle, to try and make intelligent sense of it. Thank you. It is obvious that my work is intensely personal. Social commentary - yes. The focus on memory and a sense of loss, both in society at large and as an individual.The disregard for the past, and certainly for human lives. Personal and collective memory pervade my work -- through my use of text and photographs. Yes, some of them are my family. Others are anonymous people who had real lives but have been long forgotten. Like the collage belo, which I have just mounted for an exhibit. Who is this woman? Where is she that she is dreaming of freedom? And what kind of freedom? What is her story? It is the ambiguity that fascinates me -- and the mystery behind her. And it is this same ambiguity that touches the people who buy my work. You supply the story and she becomes part of your life.


And this man: who is he? Is he the boss? What is his business and how does he treat his employees ( or is he, in fact, one of those employees?). Implied social commentary, I suppose. But more likely, human connection.


In fact, I need to get away from these people: they are taking over my life and my art. I am obsessed. And I am tired of working this way. I believe I need to work on design without content. Is this possible? Does content creep in even though we are not conscious of it? And is it necessarily a good thing??

I had a discussion recently with other artists about the connection between design and content: is it art if it is ONLY good design? Or does it need content? And if a good piece needs content, can it be in the artist's head without necessarily being obvious to the viewer? Or, can it do without content altogether? Who determines content? Maybe the viewer can supply his/her own content - and maybe it is not even necessary. In fact, content does not equal art. How do we strike this balance? Food for thought, thanks to Gabrielle's musings. So, I am on a mission to make pieces with design/no content. Wish me luck.


Deb H said...

I suppose there can be design without content, but I think others will probably see something in it that they'll relate to & make their own story from. I sometimes wonder what the artist was trying to express, & start looking for deeper meanings where maybe there aren't any.

Susie Monday said...

Rayna -- Interesting question -- and I will look at Gabrielle's post next, -- I obviously come down on the side of content personally, though I think that is a question each artist must answer in her/his own work. The challenge of working on purely "formal" pieces is that they can sway over into the facile, just pretty colors school of art- and I also wonder if trying to redo abstract expressionism in textiles is still not just a redo...
I personally work with narrative content in a personal way -- my back story may not be recognizable by the audience -- but always the formal issues of color, composition, movement have to be resolved and dealt with on the front burner. If my work were only content driven, I guess I wouldn't even worry about the form-driven decisions.

Anonymous said...

Great blog --- let's do coffee and TALK.

The mystery of art for me is that, whatever our motivation, once a piece is done, it is out of our hands. Of course it never stands alone. It stands next to all the other stuff - junk, art, expectation, experience. But we don't stand there explicating. Our voice is in the work.

We are responsible for what we show the viewer. Whether we work from intent or chance, we make choices as we work. I think our choices should stand up to investigation.

I think choosing fabric, for example, over paint or steel, is a choice repleat with implications. They are worth thinking about, together, and as we work.

linda said...

That is NOT anonymous. That's me! Damn this machine for changing the little checkbox on me while I proofread!

Rayna said...

Linda - beautifully said. You're right about a piece being out of our hands once we let it go. If it is sandwiched tightly between two other pieces that don't 'talk' to our piece,it is a waste. This is why those who jury/curate/hang a show have such a responsibility. The responsibility is not only to the artists, but to the viewers.

And yes, we should hope our work is strong enough to stand up to investigation - whatever that turns out to be.

Let's do coffee and talk - if you are at the opening of Surface Tension.

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