This woman is awesome. Carolee Schneeman gave an artist’s talk at SFAI tonight and she just helped me re-align myself. Art school and the art world has certain pressures, certain ideas of what is relevant or important art and how you should be making it and why and for who. So far the take away message from every single guest artist is whatever your thing is, just keep doing it in the face of everything lined up against you. This is a woman who was thrown up against a wall by the throat by a man who was offended by her performance piece in Paris. She persists. More, she persists gracefully, with humor, with love of life in all it’s beauty and horror. She confronts people with the things they may not be comfortable seeing, but may need to see. She does not excuse herself.
Her work has been criticized for being too feminine, too messy, too painterly (painting is after all “dead” according to a lot of people since the 60’s). She persists. She does what is in her to do. She is political, she is feminist and she considers herself at the heart of her practice a painter (despite that critical dismissal of painting and the fact that her work is mixed media, including performance, video and high tech aspects).
In response to my question about process (about her working from dreams and intuition but also sometimes consciously provoking things) she nailed one of the serious crippling problems in the art world now- it’s become an intellectual practice first and a creative process only incidentally. That’s what we’re pushed towards in school. Know exactly what you will make before you make it. Her response to this? “Art is not a practice. We are not dentists.” (this got her standing applause from the students). ‘Art is process and experimentation and intuition and moving with thing and honing them, losing them, finding them… it’s a living thing.’ I don’t think the language we use about completing art is an accident. You think of a piece and then you “execute” it. You’re killing it.
She reaffirmed many thing that were fading for me. I do these sketches of my installations when I am thinking them up. They are very ambiguous, suggestive rather than detailed. They usually have figures in them because I want to know how people’s bodies will relate to the piece. Very fuzzy though. I was recently taken to task for the lack of detail in my concept sketches and told to make a proper, detailed model. I tried to explain that for me that would kill the process. The details are informed by the materials, the experience of making the thing. If I drew them first the piece wouldn’t evolve properly. That said, when I overlay the original sketch on top of an image of the piece in action I have gotten a perfect match (including the people)- but the detail… that’s in the process.
Either way. She is now an example to me of someone who was true to herself and succeeded- someone who I think I have a lot in common with. It gives me more conviction in pursuing my own way of working and own work. The best thing is that she didn’t load up with intellectual ammo. She persists with a kind of joyful, unstoppable grace and humor and intensity of living. Well done her.