What is art about?

Another preview page from forthcoming artists' book.

Another preview page from forthcoming artists’ book.

A few more thoughts and comments that haven’t made it directly into the final book. This time on the role of art.

First in response to the particular object (Lijn‘s sculpture):

It’s a questioning object, opening up other things to think about rather than an aesthetic inspirational object.

I don’t think you’re supposed to know what it is. We don’t know what things are in life.

First thoughts. It’s obscure. I am going to betray some prejudices…I think it’s too easy to be obscure, so I am sceptical.

It’s a question then of whether it works to create some impression in the observer that has some emotional impact. And I am not sure it does, in me at least.

…about the role of art in general:

I think it’s necessary. It’s not life or death necessary, but you can see people coming together. 

We should have the attitude that art, science and literature should be part of everybody’s life. If not practicing you should at least have ability to look at it and enjoy regularly.

The first thing a work of art asks is “do you like me or do you not like me?” The second is: “why do you like me, why do you not?” It’s easy to ignore the second question but it’s hard to ignore the first.

If art’s only for one thing it’s for thinking. If it makes people think then it’s got to be good.

We can say all sorts of fancy stuff about art but it’s about having something good to look at or listen to, to smell or to chew.

Art definitely has a monetary value, overinflated. But there are various values in society, the making of art helps with mental issues. People make things and it releases something. Also there’s value in creating dialogue.

To me I would value the emotional aspect of it. What I don’t like is the art world of pretence and rather showy stuff that goes on because it’s exclusive and elitist and all that sort of thing.

People create works for a variety of reasons. One of them is purely personal. That they have a strong desire to create stuff, express something personal or about the outside world and knowledge they have about how things work. Sometimes they’re trying to make a statement. Sometimes it’s purely an element of wanting to create something really beautiful or stunning that sticks in people’s minds.

Art can be functional, it can be public benches, it can be wallpaper, utensils or furniture. Or it can be Henry Moore sculpture, something that’s completely not functional that’s interesting or nice to look at. Maybe not even nice to look at. It’s there and it’s making a statement.

I don’t necessarily make the distinction between art and design, I can see beauty in a lot of the things around us.

and some thoughts about the accessibility of art, or lack of.

I’ve lived in Leeds for 10 years in Leeds, but only stepped into the gallery 2 or 3 times. I find that a bit sad. I am frequently in the area but there’s nothing to draw me in.

I will pass this place way more times than I come in, I am ashamed to say whole exhibitions come and go and don’t pop head in door.

We’re always wanting people to come in to art spaces who feel very uncomfortable and don’t feel they belong….The whole process so negative in terms of inviting people in who don’t understand white cube spaces.

Art has become far too esoteric….the rationale behind paintings you can’t understand unless you read up about it. It’s a ridiculous situation where you’ve got a painting but a lengthy explanation….I think art is about emotional impact and if you make it too intellectual you loose something.

I think it’s financially driven…I’d like to see art handled better in terms of corporations that just slap bits of sculpture in their entrance annoys me and councils who spend an inordinate amount of money on something that’s uninspiring. I think there could be better ways.

Your job is necessary

A sneak preview of one page that will be in the book.

A sneak preview of one page that will be in the book.

During my conversations with people (about the Lijn sculpture – see previous posts for info) I asked them about their job/role and what they value about it. These responses have mostly not been included in the final book work. So I’d like to share some of them here.

Firstly I asked people what they valued about what they do:

It’s a nice environment to work in. I have worked in other environments with white walls and staring at computers and it’s soul draining. I want to be somewhere with a nice atmosphere. Some people can probably just work anywhere but it is about the environment and quality and what you are gaining from the job.

No two days are the same. I work with a variety of people and places. There is no real pattern to my time which I love.

Doing science is a bit like playing piano. The process gives pleasure…I like the actual activity of it.

I have to have a job to pay the bills, for a pension etc. It’s not about status. But I enjoy the process of what I do.

I believe in creativity so I suppose anybody who engages with creativity whether that’s thinking, making, a managerial role, I value that above ignorance and a refusal to play.

I wondered if it, was important for them to feel they had contributed?

It’s rewarding on an everyday scale. I didn’t think of it on a bigger scale about the social benefits.

It’s fulfilling to think you’re helping someone, helping explain or entering dialogues. These small contributions are important sometimes.

I don’t think a good life has to be a grand life…but if you’re always trying to make things a bit better than they were.

I changed my career because I wanted to make a positive contribution to people’s education.

I can’t compromise. I can only do work that I believe in.

I act for the individual against the system. I protect the little guy, they need help. I think it’s worthwhile.

I do it to help people and to try and make my city a better place. Just to serve people of locality and do best to make my little patch a better place.

Did people in work feel valued by their employer?

I’ve got more skills than I need for the job… In a sense I’m overly qualified. But it’s the closest I could get to a hobby at work…otherwise I would be working in a shop or something.

It’s hard to move from the bottom and get anywhere…only so many jobs can apply for.

The way they value me is really not to do with the effort I put in, as far as I can see.

What about their sense of agency?

I create my own furrow where it suits and fit in where it suits. 

Some of these things are forced on me and other things I chose to do. What it comes down to is never really having had any life plan.

I value choice, the ability to be self determining. Although sometimes you can get totally swamped by choice.

We have a series of little scenarious about our past…it may not have happened quite like that but it’s the way I have recounted it so many times. If one were able to go back in time and examine things as they were happinging it may not be the case.

It’s important for me to feel I have been reasonably successful otherwise my self esteem would be low.

I am very confident working with people but not so confident in producing my own thoughts in a way that people would see or believe in.

I want respect for the things I respect. That I am competent, hard working, decent…. I am sure that’s human nature.

I do find having some prominence to be able to say ‘things should be done like this’ and for that even to be heard, even if people don’t always take your point of view. I think that’s satisfying in some way. It’s a little bit about power isn’t it and being able to make a difference even if those differences are fairly small…to be able to have some influence is quite a valuable thing to me.

The material I collected is far more, and far richer than everything I will be able to include in the final book. Although these quotes are absent, I hope it will retain an element of questioning meaning and purpose that is relevant in exploring what art is about, but also in how we make sense of our own lives.

The ones that got away

Interp-679x288Today I had a meeting with some other artists that I know in Leeds to get some feedback about the book I am making (and have been struggling with). I have been sharing the book with a few people online and in real life and it has been really useful to get their help and ideas. Generally and thankfully there seems to be a fairly positive response to the piece and to what I have included in it, although I still have some decisions to make about how to format, print and disseminate the book.

For the moment I thought I would share on this blog some of the content that hasn’t quite made it into the book. There were some nice things that people said that just don’t ‘fit’ into the overall flow if the piece. It has certainly been a bit of a challenge to decide how much to put in and how much to leave out!

First up (above) a couple of comments about additional interpretation (labels and hand outs) used in galleries. I gave the people I was talking to a bit of extra information about the sculpture we were looking at and asked how they felt about this.





In the last week I finally feel like I’ve broken the back of my as yet still untitled book, based on the interviews I did with people about Lilliane Lijn’s sculpture ‘Atom Body Was Light.’ I have a very rough draft copy that I have printed out and though there is still quite a lot of work to do on the design/layout, I think I am happy with the content that I have selected. I am going to spend this week not looking at it. I have another project I need to do this week anyway for an upcoming exhibition at Mexico and Soscastoa, so it’s a good chance to take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes.

Before I move on to that work though, I have been thinking about why I have been finding this book such a struggle? I think it is to do with a feeling of awkwardness or uncertainty around how I am using and manipulating other people’s words. In the recent past I have done two projects that involved interviewing or talking to members of the public to generate content for art pieces (What will the family think if they pull up outside? and Kindness Is… – the latter with Jonathan Turner). These projects were really enjoyable, I loved going to speak to people about a particular topic. However I found the process of turning the gathered verbal content into an outcome artwork/exhibition was constrained by a my feeling of a need – real or imagined – not to manipulate or misrepresent what people said. Although the artworks were not designed to ‘represent’ the communities involved as such, I felt like I couldn’t really muck about with the language content. I realised that when I spoke to people they did then often have a desire that what they had said would be part of the project. They wanted to hear themselves in the outcome. So in this project, I tried to be clear with the people that it was an experiment, that I didn’t know what I was going to do with their words. The conversations were a starting point and what they said may or may not be included and that I might play around with the words I received. Still I have been finding it hard to know how far to push the words, how much can they be removed from their original content within the conversation and how much can I miss out? I had some very long and interesting conversations with people about art and their perceptions (or otherwise) of its value. I also spoke a lot to people about what they do and what they find of value in their own lives. A lot of this content has now been jettisoned because, although it is interesting it doesn’t make a coherent artwork. My perception of what the project is, has also shifted a bit. I am interested in ‘value’ which was the starting point, but talking about value in a general sense is too vague. So I am tending to keep only content that is tied more directly to the sculpture and what it reminded people of. This inevitably means that a lot of content has been culled. This is probably why the project is taking longer than I expected. I need some distance from the interviews to be able to be so brutal!

I wonder whether the people who I spoke to at Leeds Art Gallery will remain interested in the final outcome when it happens at such a distance from our initial conversations. There is also definitely still a power dynamic involved in me taking their words and using them for my own ends, so I wonder how people will feel about this?!

I didn’t remember to take a photo of everyone I spoke to for the project, and not everyone wanted to have their picture taken but the photos above are of those who were willing! Thanks again to everyone who spoke to me.