MEET THE NEW DIGITALFAUN WRITING TEAM!
After five years of working on this myself, I’ve opened the space up to some new writers. Over the coming weeks, you’ll see fresh content from new faces. I purposely selected people who I thought represented the ethos of DigitalFaun but could perhaps bring a new viewpoint to the table.
During the application process, I asked anyone interested in joining the team several questions including things like “If you could have 5 people, dead or alive, at a dinner party, who would you choose?” and “Pitch one article in less than 75 words” but the question which yielded the most interesting answers was when I asked if the applicant thought that artists should feel obligated to communicate their ideas in a secondary format to their original work (i.e. should photographers have to talk about their images, should painters have to write). Below, as an introduction to each new writer, I have provided their answer to this question.
Alex Sinclair (that’s me!)
I don’t think the writer themselves should have to express their ideas through a secondary medium, however, I feel that they should be open enough in their demeanour to allow others to create a reading of the work through an analysis of the artists’ intentions. Artists should be open enough to allow scrutiny, but not so open that there is no room for interpretation.
I would, for the most part, be of the opinion that it is not the artists obligation to communicate what their their ideas in formats that are secondary. Of course, sometimes it is necessary for an artist, in any sort of medium, to have to examine their work. Whether due to a controversial topic being addressed or political, etc. messages the art is trying to portray, sometimes it is quite central for the art to function as intended. This question brings up what exactly it is people expect from art. If one is just looking for beauty or truth in art then it is not necessary for artist to need to explain themselves. Of course, the pop culture sphere that art is now produced in does not make things that simple. With mediums like film and television, it is seems like writers and directors spelling things out for people is a necessary function for their survival as artists.
I think that not only is it necessary for artists to communicate outside of their primary media, but it is impossible not to. To think that artists can somehow abstract their work from wider networks of genre, language, representation and materiality makes no sense. Context is the key here, and whether the artist likes it or not, their work will always be situated within a web of signifying contexts. The architecture of the building that hangs a painting; the colour of the walls inside a photo gallery; the name of the gallery, the part of town it’s situated in, the type of people attending an exhibition – these networks of signification are already working overtime to translate the meaning surrounding the representation itself. What grants art its power is not the autonomy of the aesthetic, but the fact that art is simultaneously material and symbolic. The function of a photograph is not its signifying potential alone, nor its reference to an actually existing place or situation, its unique perspective comes from a simultaneous manifestation of representation and reference. Art does not exist in a contextual vacuum – its network of signification ought to be recognised and embraced by the artist.
An artist may reject other formats of communication as they find it impossible to use them; hence they resolve this inability to articulate ideas by producing the artwork in question. Explaining work may also be, an albeit petulant, rebellion against having to do so in education. However, in many cases staking claim to a specific intent could make the work reductive and alienate certain audiences, lest we forget the ambiguity of Mona Lisa is its allure. On the other hand, Edward Burtynsky had been quiet about his intent until he began to lose his audience. They believed he favoured the sites he photographed. It lead to Burtynsky conducting more talks, which quelled doubts that he was colluding with ‘the bad guys’. It can be easier to leave work for the critics to decipher and the artist may feel as if their work is already established it does not need their own input. However, more often than not it is an essential tool to guide your work where it needs to be and ensure success. Conducting affiliated work is also a way to support practice financially therefore the most sensible option but not suitable for everyone.
I think it’s crucial for artists to have the skills to communicate their ideas in any range of formats, because its precisely those skills that are required in order to create concise, intelligent art with a purpose. If you can’t speak fluently and intelligently about your own art, I think the art itself is flawed. Art is nothing if not expression, and expression naturally should flow through any conduit that is most appropriate. My favorite artists are the ones who can jump from media to media without losing a beat and without the action feeling contrived.
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” being one of those too-glad put-downs which fail to grasp the matter at hand: a matter can neither be grasped nor appear at hand. Metaphor is the power of all art. Whilst it might seem cruel to ask an artist who has spent a career trying to describe something with photos, to communicate that truth with words instead, if words can bring a richer meaning to an audience, a kind artist should be eager to engage with that other medium. For meaning matters; feeling matters. Mystery has some part in prompting those, but if the barriers of mystery, through aloofness, through refusing to engage beyond the limited faculties of a visual work, are raised too high, no meaning or feeling will be derived. To add context to a work is a recognition of its limits. But the work is the start of a conversation only. In the words of Valery: “art is never finished only abandoned”. A kind artist should want to initiate an audience into their language. To do that, they should use any means necessary. Of course artists have a choice. But to remember Henry James: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”