Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Serra and process

February 19, 2008 - 8:49am -- Carol Diehl

Richard Serra from a video interview at MoMA on NewArtTV: “There isn’t any big paradigm shift. What happens is work comes out of work, and if the paradigm shift occurs, it’s because a problem leads to a different solution that you could not have anticipated.” Serra explains that he began his studio practice, not by plotting out specific pieces, but by asking himself questions such as: “What does it mean to build something that has a fixed joint?” “What does it mean to balance something?…to counterbalance something?” When asked by a journalist how he sees his future work at this point in his career, Serra repeats, “Work comes out of work. I don’t anticipate work to come….I just want to work.”

Ah, more support for my contention that art springs not from the “idea” or “concept” (see Back from VSC 2/1 and Talking the talk or…2/3 and the discussion in the Comments) that so many students are encouraged to have in place before they begin, but from the work itself and the questions it raises. The danger is that a “concept” can easily become a closed circuit—with the work remaining simply an illustration of that concept—whereas a “question” is an open one. This is not to say that there’s no place for analysis, but it’s a different activity, not to be mistaken for the art.

At its best, art produces responses that can’t be quantified—that are sensed rather than understood. So if we’re after something that can’t be understood, or an answer we didn’t anticipate, intellect won’t help us, only intuition—and the work, our process, is the stage we set to allow intuition to unfold.

Similarly, when talking or writing about their work, artists often give so much information, or information extraneous to the experience, that it interferes with the reaction to it and cuts off the possibility of responses they may not have anticipated—you can torture yourself with examples of this also on NewArtTV such as Diana Thater saying, “My work is about, for the most part, learning and knowing through observation that observation is knowledge or intense observation produces knowledge….” Does that make you crazy to see her work or what?

This is why, when I’m king, along with abolishing the artists’ statement, I’ll also regulate wall text, which I’ve noticed museum visitors spend more time with than the work itself. It’s not that information about an exhibition shouldn’t exist, but best relegated to a special room near the exit, one to which visitors can only gain entrance after proving that they’ve actually looked at what’s on display by taking a short quiz.


Abolishing the "artist' statement"-- great idea! As I peruse that pages of "New American Paintings" (which I have a subscription to and a love/hate relationship with), it seems to me that the main goal for the MFA student is to learn how to master the use of "artspeak" so that they can write their artist's statement.

Regarding "wall text"-- doesn't it often seem that the lamest pieces have the most lengthy explanations?

(BTW-- I just discovered your blog-- it looks very interesting-- I'll be back for more visits, for sure!)

Sfmike, yours is a cliche defense. Turning art into a pseudo-academic field does not require more of its viewers, it requires less. Spewing polysyllabic nonsense is not all that terribly difficult, and reading it asks little of the audience other than staying awake.

"At its best, art produces responses that can’t be quantified—that are sensed rather than understood."

Yes! Thank you! *weeps with relief*

Imagine a world in which the only way to relate to a piece of music is by reading about it. Forget letting it move you, forget wanting to dance to it, forget actually listening to it - just read about it and/or analyze it. Hellish, no? Responding to art requires your SENSES, like hello OMG WTF.

"when I’m king, along with abolishing the artists’ statement"

Once again, a thousand times "yes". Your kingdom can be next to my kingdom. We can exchange peasants.

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