How important is the knowledge of the artist’s biography when it comes to viewing their work?
Critical Research Essay
For BA (Hons) Degree 2014
Fine Art: Print and Time Based Media
Wimbledon College of Art
I would like to thank Tracey Emin for her help in giving me an interview.
I would like to thank my tutors for the help they have given me in researching and assembling this dissertation.
I would also like to thank my family and friends for their support
Assessment of an author and his relationship to his work 3
The Artist’s biography 7
A review of the confessional artist’s work 13
How important is the knowledge of the artist’s biography when it comes to viewing their work?
Art and literature are rarely considered as primary knowledge sources about human behaviour and particularly motivation. However, many people across the world watch movies, read novels and go to the theatre to learn about themselves and about one another. Many are intrigued by artists who use themselves and life experiences in their practice. The writer aims to investigate the importance of the knowledge of the artist’s biography when it comes to viewing their works. Can the art stand alone without this information? What can the work tell us about the artist? And does one’s opinion change when they learn about the artist’s life and experiences? Or is this back knowledge imperative to the art. “As artists we can only seek somehow to recreate externally the internal shriek that is the only truth of being human.” (Gombrich, 1950)
It is often proclaimed by the artist that Art is free of any laws, regulations and doctrines, but the word “free” is often understood in a completely different and more ambitious direction. It is sometimes believed that an artist has no human interest or any higher law, that is, absolutely nothing which is not of pure artistic concern; this is what Baudelaire (1852) called the Pagan School, but does this prove that the work depends not only on the art but the whole soul of the artist?
It is said that several theorists overlook the basic distinction of ‘free’ and fail to distinguish the art as such. “The theorists of graciousness overlook an elementary distinction.” (Maritain, 1947). It has no other purpose than either the object to be produced or the artists operate as they please and neglect the common sense distinction of “instrumental cause”, i.e. the worker and the instrument (Everdell, 1997).
This discussion will consider how the knowledge of an artist’s biography can affect the viewer’s concept of their work. To help in this analysis consideration will be given to Barthes’ (1967) commentary and Art that associates itself with different starting points based on the artist’s experiences.
Chapter 1, Assessment of an author and his relationship to his work
This chapter considers the role of the author and his relationship to his book and the reader. The focus of this commentary uses The Death of the Author (Barthes, 1967) which emphasises the significance of the control of the author’s reading and examines the writing and the control of the reader or listener and the choice to somewhat disregard the work’s context and to solely concentrate on the work itself. Barthes (1967) maintains that when analytically inspecting writing, it develops the accountability of the author to take solitary reasonability of the failure or accomplishment of the work. Roland Barthes articulates in his essay The Death of the Author, (1967) “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”. There can be no actual parallel of self-determining opinion attained by the reader if their views are influenced by the Author’s views and prejudices. For this purpose, there requires to be a boundary with the Author and people who study the work.
Barthes (1967) promotes key ideas as to why the death of the Author is an unavoidable and valuable incidence. To empathise with Barthes’ position is that the author is just a method via which a tale is told, they neither make the tale nor establish it, these have previously been done. The author is just restating this tale that has previously been said several times. Barthes (1967) debate alongside unique philosophy is extremely influential, specifically contemplating the several methods in which tales have been rationally broken down into an expected arrangement of occasions. For example, Vladimir Propp,(1928) a Russian Formalist, utilized Formalist philosophies to establish thirty-one scenario purposes in Russian folk fictions, as expressed in his Morphology of the Folktale (1928). Several contemporary fairy tales are just a version of a typical fairy tale and they follow the overall purposes that Propp (1928) defined.
Barthes’ (1967) additional point is that if the reader were to observe the act via the Author’s eyes then they would acquire no advantage from the analysis. By linking the Author with the script, the script is involuntarily incomplete. As an alternative to illustrating their individual meaning from the script utilizing their individual occurrences and thus inspiring their individual opinions of their beings and how it attaches to the world surrounding them, the reader is then constrained to predict what the author intended. The reader concentrates on comprehending the Author’s views and whether they correspond with the Author and do not emphasise their individual views and thoughts of the piece.
For the impartial thoughtful readers and the development of their abilities of clarification the Death of the Author (1967) is compulsory, in most situations. The Death of the Author (1967) is not necessarily a needed experience nevertheless. In certain situations the attendance of the Author is required for the reader to attain a superior comprehension of what is being read.
If the Author is writing on a theme of which the reader will devise their individual previous encounters to associate it to, then the reader should originate his reading with The Death of the Author (1967). Nevertheless, if the reader has no encounters on which to centre their conclusions or to grip the significance of the transcript with, then it could be essential for the Author to apprise the reader of the author’s individual encounters. The present writer agrees with Barthes when he articulates that the reader and the reader’s clarification and perception of a text are significant. Nevertheless, from time to time the perception of the reader is best aided by the existence of the Author.
This being said, the Author must create a presence if it will aid the comprehension of the reader. Here again, the emphasis is on the reader and their comprehension, not on the Author. It is unavoidable however that the reader will have a predisposition regarding a book before they even purchase it because of the association of the author’s name on the book. The reader might have preferred a previous book the author had inscribed or had detested it, but depending on which it was, before they choose the book, they will have a notion of what its story is going to be like.
So much rubbish is written about me. There is an entire book of essays published by Thames and Hudson. 80% of it is incorrect. It’s other people’s opinions on me. People who don’t know me and never will. They have no idea how my mind works. (Emin 2014)
This wirter questions whether or not it is correct to extend the reader’s prospects. Not seeing the author’s name means not distinguishing if there may be any unseen surprises in the book. So aside from the Author’s protests at not receiving praise for their work, would the readers protest? In this example the Author is not deceased, for their status still influences the readers’ selection and open mindedness about the book.
If the just emphasis was the discrete clarifications of the reader then the complete disassociation of the Author with the writing would be a helpful thing. Nevertheless, this writer thinks that the Author will never be totally ‘deceased’. Barthes (1967) said that “the Author must acquire neither admiration for a decent book nor responsible for a damaging one”. This is precisely why the Author will never ever be completely deceased. Readers want stars and anti-heroes, persons to look up to and people to hate. “These days, readers want to be provoked. They want characters that make them think, characters that force them to consider what they themselves would do in certain situations” (Del Drago, 2012)
One may think the readers are partly accountable for the constant attendance of the Authors, in addition to the Author’s individual benefits in being concerned. Is the Author completely deceased? No, but neither is he completely living either. The author is caught somewhere in the middle. It is this concept that will be applied to art and the consideration of whether an audience of an art work needs to know a background to the artist in the same way as Barthes considers the necessity for knowing an author to enjoy a book.
Chapter 2, The Artist’s biography
The topic of this chapter is looking at examples of artists’ lives and how or what may have influenced their practice. Some artists work is not intentionally confessional or autobiographical, and the artist’s biography is not necessary knowledge when appreciating their works, but the impact this information has when it is presented to the viewer can have a huge effect on the perception of the work. Chapter two of this discussion is about the effect the knowledge of the “non confessional” artist’s biography has on the viewer.
Willem De Kooning (1904-1997) for example, was well known for his depiction and paintings of the female form. He was often abusive, drunk and violent towards his wife, Elaine (Rosenberg, 2007). This may completely change the way one interprets his paintings, to see them in perhaps a more violent aspect, whereas before, the viewer may perceive his “women series” (1950-1953) [fig.i] merely more abstract and still. “The two shared a tempestuous, alcohol-fueled relationship, one which was not aided by extramarital affairs on both sides” (Hotz, 1992)
The same applies to Pollock (1912-1956). When the present writer learned “He was a drunk, a depressive and a wife-beater” (Usborne, 2006), it changed his perspective on Pollock’s (1912 – 1956) work. The knowledge that Rothko killed himself (1970) may change one’s opinion of his work. Basquiat too (1960–1988). He depicts street scenes in the majority of his work, graffiti like canvases, depicting a less than fortunate life and gives the impression of his own poverty, when in fact Baskiat was a very wealthy man from a very respected family. This changed the present writer’s view on his work entirely. Tracey Emin referred to Basquiat as “a fake”, (Emin, 2013). This writer can only agree, but this does not take away from the viewing pleasure of the work, nor from the appreciation of how it is made, however, this writer feels it does (with the knowledge of his wealth) darken that appreciation somewhat.
According to Greenberg, (1979), it is fundamental to understand and analyse artwork both as the individual seen as a human being and as the artist in his shed producing elements of art in its conceptual and intellectual dimension. An artist creates a work of art from their conception of life or their interpretation of society and the world around them from its integral aspects (human rights, nature, ecology, cosmos, etc.). Their work is expressed through an imaginary world created from symbols or signs of metaphysical emotions he feels about the world, life and society. It is difficult to appreciate why the artist creates a particular piece of art; but not impossible. Only through proper knowledge of life and thinking of the artist, can one easily decipher the abstract sense emanating from the subconscious of the artist to the artistic creation (Desmond, 2011).
The historian studies a work of art by placing priority on evolutionary perspectives. He seeks to find in a work of art what echoes with literary movements, with the sensibilities of the time or place. He works on ties and specificities of these different elements that are presented in the form of images. For a historian a piece of art delivers a message that must be decoded with specific historical period rules (Holub, R, 1989). Reading and analysis of the work permits an understanding of the way of thinking and seeing the world from an artist, a period or society’s view. An artwork is chosen to illustrate a period, a movement, stimulate reflection on a certain vision of the world or society. This interpretive reading allows the viewer to go beyond the simple description and understand what the artist wanted to say and how the artist reached this conclusion. Therefore, it is important to know about the historical and social context or culture in which the work is created. The work and career of an artist are not isolated in time or in space. Sometimes a work refers to another model, a legacy or a tradition.
Some say beauty is a value in itself only needing to appear to reveal our emotions; sometimes exacerbating the point that we are seized (Krauss, 1986). One cannot deny the possibility of art that hits the novice in all its beauty and emotion and that the more the viewer knows about the artist and the environment in which he worked, the more they can “interpret his work” and thus increase their chances of understanding “intimately”. One may believe, only in this way, art can help us to live better. If the audience follows this reasoning, what happens to those who do not have access to the history of art? When the viewer is faced with more conceptual facilities? What not to miss the pleasure of contemplating a masterpiece? The author of the work of art and its intentions answers these questions.
The writer, in an interview with Tracey Emin, asks whether the artist thinks it enhances or hinders the work when the viewer knows her biography before they see her art. “It’s a terrible hindrance….. As often people are not objective” (Emin, 2014).
Such people believe that the idea that the work is sufficient in itself is a strong myth from Romanticism (c.1800-1850). Perhaps more information would help understand the freethinking of the author. Only this deep understanding allows us to project the artist’s emotions, a personality, a psychological condition. In short, it helps to empathize and to create a personal relationship with work that one looks at. Conversely, when the viewer does not have information, the relationship to work is extremely poor. In the worst case, some may be tempted to conclude that the artist is laughing at us as the audience.
Consider the work of Mondrian (1872-1944). One can look at its repeating squares painted in bright colours with a grid of horizontal and vertical black lines. Few may be deeply moved by this work, but if the viewer knew almost everything about Mondrian’s monastic devotion to the abstraction, if his designs are known to be trees and the direction in which they operate, then perhaps the work can be genuinely moving. In the 19th century, Mondrian was interested in the theosophical movement founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1888). The work of Blavatsky as well as a spiritual movement known as Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, (1890) had a profound impact on the artist’s work (Weber, R 1992). This knowledge, this writer would say, is imperative when it comes to understanding the work of Mondrian. Only the deep understanding of a work can be projected on the artist’s emotions and personality. This seems even truer when it comes to conceptual art.
If one stands in front of the Pont- Neuf Wrapped by Christo (1985) [fig.ii], without knowing anything about the artist, the audience will try to understand, compare it with what they know and interpret, they may be impressed with the fabrication and the scale of the operation and perhaps this will suffice. These psychological mechanisms are inevitable and are evident as soon as one is in the presence of a work of art.
The explanations are sorely lacking. How can the audience consider a monochrome Klein or before that, the White Square on White Background (1918) by Malevich if they do not have historical information about the thought processes of these artists? Similarly, as an example, “Still Life with Lobsters” (Delacroix, 1827), the gross arrangement of objects on a table leaves us no chance to guess the complexity of aesthetic reflection. If the viewer has been given the chance to view works produced in response to artistic movements, without being aware of works that had caused the rebellion, the audience are doomed to wander, disoriented, without any opportunity to capture the meaning and quality of this work. Known as “The Painter of Black”, Pierre Soulages had a high interest in colour, “both a colour and a non-colour “, (Soulages, 1970). During this post war period, Soulages’ works were a stark contrast from the semi-figurative, highly colourful paintings made at the time. In October 2009, Soulages had a retrospective of his work at the Centre National d’Art Pompidou. Featured were the famous black monochrome paintings which took over the space. No information concerning the artist leaves the uninitiated visitors helpless. Does it make sense to present these works then without explanation? The uneducated in the history of art, perhaps the impatient viewer may not appreciate these single pigment paintings, might brush them off or refuse to engage with them. These are the people who need information about why the artist painted these works, and what his intentions were for the viewer. In the case of these paintings by Soulages, it is not necessary for a biography to be presented about the artist, but it is sometimes required to be aware of what the artist is thinking, to prompt the viewer into further reading of the works.
This is the basic criticism of those who reject the contemporary art they see as essentially a greedy intention. The expression “it’s not art “which one generally uses to describe a work that is not understood is not admissible either because art does not comply with normative judgments. It must be remembered that human practices are not defined as natural objects. The viewer reads the work, in the light of very subtle, often unconscious processes that lead them to conclude that they do not like the suspect work. If one asks further, it almost always appears that it has identified the strings that were supposed to manipulate the viewer and that they do not forgive (Augros & Stanciu, 1984).
It is always better to have some clues about an artist’s thinking, his period and the movements he is attached to, to get some clues to appreciate the work. Seeing a painting is like seeing a spot on a wall. The child may mock the theoretical approach, but as an adult, he is more likely to spontaneously attribute intentions to the artist.
Our society is pragmatic and utilitarian and when it comes to conceptual artwork, the audience wants to find a “what for or why?” Classical works of art do not normally need a “why” because they can be valid in themselves for their aesthetic. Painting is good in itself; therefore, it is good to see an artwork, be excited about it, interpret it as a self-portrait and be moved. Our human condition poses many questions. What is good in itself does not need a “why”.
Therefore to be aware of the artist’s biography can be of great value to more conceptual work and to give it meaning but in other more historical work, this writer feels that it can be appreciated for itself, or stand on its own aesthetic grounds.
Chapter 3, A review of the confessional artist’s work
In relationship to Death of the Author (Barthes, 1967), this writer discusses the role artists who use their life experiences and beliefs within their work. Barthes (1967) states that knowledge of the Author’s biography would be detrimental to the reader’s interpretation of the text. This writeraims to investigate the confessional artist and the importance of the viewer and their knowledge of the confessional artist’s life in order to fully appreciate their work. He aims to question Barthes (1967) whether this applies to autobiographical art.
Confessional art is autobiographical and focuses on the ability of the artist to display their experiences openly through creating. There are many different artists who work with the subject of themselves. Throughout history, artists have been known to include themselves within their practice. “I’m doing nothing new. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Egon Schiele, Frieda Karla, Katia Kollwitz, Louise Bourgeois. Just to name a few, all made work about how they felt. I’m from a long traditional line. “ (Emin 2014)
The idea of inviting someone known to confess in public about experiences or feelings pertaining to his private life is in itself interesting. The art works which depict the personal sorrows and fantasies are actually the work of art born of the will, often through shame, which needs an extraordinary test of courage and authenticity. The perplexity caused by this emphasis is deployed in different directions, like the memory of some hardships and discomforts due to indigence, could be the most embarrassing to the privacy of an artist.
In the works of “religious art”, the autobiographical elements are central. For example, one of the most influential confessional artists of twentieth century, Louise Bourgeois, who was considered the ‘mother of confessional art’ acknowledged that all the work she has done has been inspired by her childhood. Exploring themes of male and female sexuality, betrayal and anger, Bourgeois works in a variety of mediums. She translated her life and traumas through her art and a little girl appears frequently in her works (Schifman, 2003). Her works tell the world her biography that her father actually wanted a boy and when she was born he could not tolerate this situation. Although her mother loved her, her father’s behaviour created a feeling of betrayal in the Artist. From the age of fifteen, she helped draw the parts of her life that were lost, through the making of tapestries. It was her mother who cut, sewed and pieced the different fragments. In her work, the needles appear very often as a metaphor for the presence of the mother or a Freudian sexual symbolism as well as threads, clothes, scissors, wool skeins, embroidery etc. Through her ability with the needles she became able to “link” and to “reconcile fragments” (Bishop, 2008) to forget obsessions and childhood trauma and to face the fear of disintegration. Based on this knowledge, it is easier to understand one of the most emblematic works of the artist, the sculpture called Maman (1999) [fig.iii]. It is a gigantic spider threatening, but at the same time is the “mother weaver” protecting her eggs under her belly (Bishop, 2008). Maman (1999) is vast and imposing, with a sac that encloses twenty-six eggs made of marble. Its thorax and abdomen are fabricated of ribbed bronze. The towering structure of Maman (1999) is homage to the artist’s own mother who passed away when she was 21 years old (Bishop, 2008). While the image of a spider is often associated with unsettling eeriness, the idea behind this figure is, alternatively, to reflect the powerful impact the artist’s mother left on her. Reaching over 30 feet high and 33 feet wide, the arachnid is the epitome of strength and protection.
This sculpture is presented as the replica of Mother’s strength of Bourgeois, with metaphors of weaving, spinning, protection and nurture. Josephine, Bourgeois’ mother was a very hard working woman of great integrity.
The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. …………….. spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother (Bourgeois, 1998).
As a source of inspiration, dependency of Bourgeois on her past life is more similar to that of a small child reliant on his or her mother. The experience of exposing this dependency seems to have reinforced her unending, overwhelming feelings of emptiness in relation to this discontented need. By her continual appetite Bourgeois’ need to solve the same problem is evident, over and over again. Her longing for self-realisation and deep absorption with desertion is so apparently exhausting. However she has managed to shift her frustration or stressful feelings into her work and in doing so, tap powerfully into the collective unconsciousness of viewers (Schifman, 2003).
As a monster that from selfhood beckons her loved ones, at the same time seeks to suffocate them, Maman (1999) as a theoretical installation is self-evident and plays the role of the universal mother in whose awareness the subjective view of a viewer’s existence can be reflected. Bourgeois herself said that “Space does not exist in itself it is just a metaphor for the structure of our existence” (Bourgeois, 2007)
Drawing upon memories of her father, who was forceful and a womanizer. Most prominent, when she discovered his affair with her English nanny. Destruction of the Father, (1974) [fig. iv], plays out her revenge with a pink plaster and latex ensemble of phallic like structures gathered around a table “where the symbolic corpse lies, splayed out for all to devour.” (Bourgeois, 1974)
Is it important to know the artist’s miseries and stories of her father when viewing this work? Without knowing any background information, the writer asked several members of the public (2013) who were not familiar with Louise Bourgeois, what they thought about Destruction of the Father (1974).The response varied, as the viewer was forced to use their imagination entirely, to use their own creativity to draw their own conclusions to this work making it more of a two-way conversation, between the artist and the viewer rather than the artist telling the viewer directly. From this, the majority of the group had little emotional reaction to the work compared to when the artist’s difficulties as a child and her issues with her father were explained shortly afterwards. Greater appreciation for the work was recognised after the knowledge of the artists’ upbringing was revealed, on more of a personal level. Equipped with intimate knowledge of her life’s story, the symbolism of her craft became easy to interpret.
Another body of work by Bourgeois is her Cells sculptures (1974 – 2008). These architectural scenes are made using ‘found objects’ marked with domesticity, child-like wonder, “nostalgic sentimentality and implicit violence.”(Gersh-Nesic, 2000). Some sculptured objects seem strangely grotesque, like creatures from another planet, some installations seem familiar, as if she recalled the observer’s forgotten dream.
Bourgeois made more than 20 large-scale Cell sculptures over three decades (1974 – 2008). Cell (The Last Climb)(2008) [fig.v] is cluttered with mementos from her personal life, often evoking a sense of mortality, entrapment, and decay — fears she herself had carried from her childhood. Here Bourgeois appears to have made peace with these anxieties. The spiral staircase, rises out of the structure, as translucent spheres “float” towards the same opening. The elongated blue teardrop hovering halfway up the stairs represents the artist herself; the two wooden spheres below symbolize her parents. Open and ethereal, the sculpture is less obsessed with suffering than with spiritual discovery as it reflects on the inevitability of time and its relationship to events of the past. In this work, the writer feels it is less important to know the artist’s biography in this instance, as he feels the work stands by itself, through the literal metaphors such as the cage and cornered environment, the literal meaning of a cage and the feeling of entrapment, a stair case resembles hope, or a spiritual rising above the past. The use of personal childhood memorabilia Bourgeois uses, informs the viewer of some sort of childhood recognition, but it does not necessarily make obvious it is Bourgeois’ childhood she is referring to.
Similarly, Tracey Emin is, without doubt, a great storyteller, who manages to engage the viewer in an inquiry of her deepest emotions. These emotions, allows Emin to establish an intimacy with the audience from the start. The artwork of Emin tells her life story with clarity and rigorous honesty in a wide sentimental, melancholic, conflicted, sarcastic or vulgar sense and have shown a combination of rawness and lyricism that define both the art and the person (Larratt – Smith, 2012).
Emin was born in 1963 and had a difficult adolescence. She was raped at the age of thirteen and underwent two abortions; these traumatic experiences are permanently incorporated in her work. Emin synthesises everything that makes an artist. Her artworks reveal the origin of her traumas and life events, which eliminate the boundary between life and art (Muir, 2009). The writer asked Emin, when creating her work does she ever think about the viewer, or is it more about her view and artistic direction. “It doesn’t matter how good something looks. If it does not make intellectual or emotional sense then I can’t live with it.” (Emin, 2014)
Subjects include her rape, abortions, suicide attempts, the penis size of her boyfriend, periods and her alcoholism. Emin recreates the stereotypical self-destructive genius, suffering and sensitive, and exploits it by heart.
Much of Emin’s work ends up being curiously impersonal, almost interchangeable with any other person’s confession. Moreover, in a society so fascinated with autobiographical culture, “The most reliable topics for small talk are the goings-on of stars” (Moran, 2004), evident with the wide success of reality television, pop culture and celebrity, confessional art sometimes largely defies public criticism of being emotional blackmail.
“The idea that I’m going to have to sit down to write some fiction where I’m going to have to think of a plot would really scare me, because it would come out a mess” (Emin, 2002). The use of text plays a major role in Emin’s work, and in comparison to Bourgeois, her work often describes itself through text, whether in her mono-prints or appliqued blankets. This often eliminates the need for the viewer to know Emin’s background or biography. Emin uses text to engage with the viewer of her artwork in a way to portray her feelings and emotions. “I am fiercely independent and I probably wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the way in which I was brought up”(Emin, 1999) and this comes across strongly in her artwork. This can particularly be said for her installations and quilts where she groups together pieces of her life, which sometimes make for difficult viewing. An example of this is her installation, ‘My Bed’ [fig.vi] which she created in 1998. This installation is an unmade and dirty bed, stained and surrounded by items such as vodka bottles and cigarette packets. This work gives us close access to her private life. ‘My Bed’ (1998) Emin has literally put her life into her art work and because of this, feelings do come across, both her own feelings and the viewer’s interpretation of her feelings, these shared, universal emotions allow Emin to create a sense of intimacy with the viewer.
The author of this discussion, as a child, often retreated into his own mind, which he found infinitely more interesting than anything around him. His own practice is almost entirely autobiographical. He creates works first of all for himself, secondly for the viewer. He “makes” as a form of therapy, a way of dealing with the everyday. A form of escapism, his work is an expansion of his mind, dealing with intrusive thoughts, obsessive behavior, depression and what some would say, “irrational” beliefs.
In the piece, “It’s just a body, a suit” (Weller, 2012) [fig.vii], the work is autobiographical. It continues to explore his body through a series of photographs, in this case Polaroids. Essentially it is a self-portrait. As the “maker” of the artwork, he had no plans or intention of telling the viewers why he had constructed this installation, why he obsessively took pictures of himself. He did not think that was important at the time. He made the work for himself. A form of therapeutic ventilation. An exercise.
In the case of this artist (the writer) he used to have an extreme phobia of people taking pictures of him. He went several years erasing or avoiding the camera and pictures. He hated the idea of something capturing a moment in time, which subsequently could last longer than his existence. The thought of the camera draining the subject, and immortalizing them in that frame terrified him. He would be essentially erasing “his existence” by destroying every picture taken of him.
The instant capability of the Polaroid limited the need to erase the image or never print it out. He took the picture and then immediately stored them. These series of photographs are a result, nit picking aspects of his body, skin and portrait. He wanted the images to be looked at so they were not apparent at first glance. He intended drawing the viewer close to confront each Polaroid, bringing the viewer right into the images of the manipulated folds of his armpits and waist.
Is it important for the viewers to know the background of why he obsessively took these pictures, or how they came to exist? Can they stand alone without an explanation of his phobia, or the anxiety they caused him to create and not destroy? Interpretation to the viewer is important, concluding their own opinion on what they were looking at, to challenge them to think, question or conclude. Whether or not the viewer knows the artist (the writer), some images look like landscapes, some more abstract forms of colour and the photographs can be admired for their own aesthetic alone. It is about confession in the truest sense – about the need to get things from out of his head and into the world – and that does not always mean simply recounting. This chapter considered the importance of a biography for the artist and the viewer and although it is not always essential to have biographical knowledge the viewer can gain a further dimension to the work, or even more as therapy for the artist. In this case, this writer makes art firstly for himself, and secondly for the viewer. “An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing” (Bourgeois, 1968).
In reference to chapter one, the writer believes the knowledge of the life and biography of non confessional artists, can have a vast impact on the understanding of their works. Although not necessarily intentional, when the writer learns of the artist’s life, he believes it can be both a hindrance to the work as well as perhaps adding another dimension to it. Whereas the writer feels, in terms of an autobiographical artist, the knowledge of their biography is sometimes not needed, as the work can often stands on its own, to portray an experience. However, when the biography is at hand, it can help the viewer connect and give a greater sense of appreciation. Perhaps the viewer can relate to the artist and their life, and therefore engage with their work on a more personal level.
While the viewer still lives on a representation of the artist inherited from the nineteenth century, concrete ways of working have changed the phenomenon that also impacts on the artist’s identity. “While I’m alive I fight for my art. I invent it and I protect it. I have the first word and last word about every thing I do” (Emin, 2014).
The artist is no longer the ethereal being that assigns the Romantic vision but an individual engaged with the realities of the world and dealing with them in his works. He asks issues of the environment, developing issues and builds landmark assumptions and uses tools to respond and provides the results of his reflection through his work. However, it is true that an artist produces questions and emotions with his specific elements, language and objectives and without knowing about the life of the artist or the movement he belongs to or what his special elements are, one cannot properly decipher the artwork.
During the nineteenth century, the artist emphasized the constitutive features of identity that are not disputed. Thus, his personality, his ability to give a personal vision of the world and its affects are highlighted, a process that is embodied in particular in the Romantic Movement. In fact, the figure of the artist gradually crystallized opposition to the ideals of the society of the nineteenth century.
On the other hand, artists are also quickly sought to express something other than their emotions and their feelings, gradually building their artistic work of many other “subjects” or themes to represent their personality and personal trauma in the form of their art. This is the time when autobiographical art or confessional art takes precedence as it is believed that knowing the life of an artist is really important to understand his artwork.
Today, art is not only for the artist to express himself as an individual or cause an artistic emotion. The artist has ventured on many other sites taking the world as a subject of investigation.
The writer now believes that working for peace is a matter of will, does not need large statements on this subject, will only need to understand, a willingness to circumvent differences, willingness to sit in a chair, talk and understand. The work of art is the expression of feeling of the artist about society. Due to the diversity of art forms and art movements, it is almost impossible to analyse and appreciate the artwork without knowing the background of the painting. How can a confessional painting be deciphered if the artist uses some abstract elements to describe his trauma without knowing a little background of the artist himself. Thus, in such circumstances, it is really important to know about the biography of the artist in order to appreciate his artwork. The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes (1967) is somewhat a realistic view of how readers perceive authors and the books written by them. However, this writer believes it is the reader’s perception in the end is how he views and understands the book.
This writer feels that one does not have to broadcast something as confessional, just let it stand or fall on its artistic merits, but the confessional elements of it have value for the writer as an artist – his aim is to communicate, but that level is valuable to him, and he thinks that is what people miss about confessional art – it is not all about the audience’s aesthetic response – there is a part of it sometimes that is life or death for the artist. It is not this writer’s priority, if the confessional element adds value for the viewer, but it helps him, the maker of the work, as a psychological outlet.
An alternative view would be the role confessional art performs for the artist, this writer also does not think the audience can be dismissed entirely, or else why not write diaries? For confessional art to succeed, this writer feels that though knowing the artist’s biography greatly changes the viewer’s opinion on the work, it is not necessary to know, but when it comes to some conceptual art, it often brings an entirely new meaning that the viewer might not have initially thought of. This writer thinks, however, the work has to serve both the viewer and the artist. There has to be added value, or it ceases to function as art. This writer prioritizes that first in the making of his work; it has to serve him as the artist, just not to the total exclusion of the viewer.
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Interview between the author and Tracey Emin, RA. (2014)
When creating work do you ever think about the viewer, or is it more about your view?
It doesn’t matter how good something looks.. If it does not make intellectual or emotional sense then I can’t live with it.
There is a thing which I call “fodder art” fodder art is the art which is made in between the real art. I mentally and physically destroy this stuff. I like to make leaps for myself.
Every thing I do is a dialog to myself. With out that I can’t even make work.
But saying all that …I’m also a visual snob. So I also have to be happy with how things look. I hope the message I’m trying to convey comes through.
Do you think that people knowing everything about you before they view your art work, does this enhance their viewing experiences or hinder it?? And which would you prefer, i.e. would you prefer people to not have any information about your life when they view your artwork?
Its a terrible hindrance.. As often people are not objective.
I have a number of reviews where the critics first reference the size of my breast. Others, where they demonise my accent. And then there are fans, who wont look at any thing objectively for totally different reasons.
A good example is when I represented the UK at the Venice biannual. The British press were very cruel and personal about me. Were as the foreign press were objective and reviews my work seriously.
Do you think people look at you art work in a more pure way if they don’t know about your background?
Yes I do
Were you initially scared to put your self so openly out there to the public, when you first started to make work about your life and experiences, or what this not an option?
I have always made work about myself and how I witness the world.
Right from the beginning, and when it was it’s most unfashionable. I’m doing nothing new. Rembrandt, Van Goth, Picasso, Egon Schiele, Frieda Karla, Katia Kollwitz, Louise Bourgeois. Just to name a few, all made work about how they felt.
I’m from a long traditional line.
In your opinion, what affect does the knowledge of the biography have on the work and how does this affect the way we appreciate some art works?
After some one is dead. We rely on every bit of information we can get, to put a picture together. But take Andy Warhol. So many conflicting things said about him, and he was such a showman. That it’s hard to really know who was the real Andy Warhol.
All we can do is look at his work and decide what feels accurate what corresponds to the person.
So much rubbish is written about me. There is an entire book of essays published by Thames and Hudson. 80% of it is incorrect. It’s other people’s opinions on me. People who don’t know me and never will. They have no idea how my mind works. People also like to own the dead.
Friedrich Nietzsche had his writings mutilated by his sister after his death because she had a political agenda. Turner had almost all his erotic works destroyed by Ruskin. Making the memory of Turner a sea scape artist !!!! While I’m alive I fight for my art. I invent it and I protect it. I have the first word and last word about every thing I do.