I have just watched a lecture by Angela Rogers about how one approaches their development as an Artist; in the need for critical distance and objectivity on a level which asks that we are questioning and a ‘learning practitioner’. Rogers read an extract from a piece by Graham Sullivan explaining that as an Artist we reflect on what it is to be human, transposing this through a wide range of media and processes, presenting it to a real, simulated or virtual world, prompting new ways of thinking. The ability to reflect on how you are thinking, and how this impacts on your thinking, subjectively and objectively left me considering the nature of the core of the International Baccalaureate which I have been teaching for some years now. The ‘Theory of Knowledge’ element of the course asks students to reflect on their understanding of how and why we think the way we do; what informs this and the impact of behaviours subsequently as a result of gained knowledge. This allows for, if not necessitates the possibility of seeing things from new perspectives.
Rogers gave the example of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, designed in partnership with Renzo Piano, as an example of architecture which explored the possibilities of pushing all the services to the outside of the building, maximising the open, flexible and uninterrupted spaces within for their primary purpose.
A quote I particularly liked was from James Aldridge reflecting on his experiences of developing his working practice when he referred to ‘some kind of spark to open the doors to everything else’. This acknowledgement of the process of developing work being enhanced by moments of intense and enlightening self-reflection is something which cannot be denied.
But for many artists there is also hesitancy over allowing revelations to happen, when the artist has created a ‘style’. They go through the motions, without being affected by concerns about that which exists beyond the relative safety of repetition. Rogers asked that we make work whilst being conscious of ourselves as Artists in a broader sense, and that whilst the meaning of art can often arise in the making of it, there should also be questioning in the process. Sullivan suggests that this should follow:
- Being open to new and multiple interpretations of artworks
- Debate and discuss the processes and meanings that come out of them
- Question the contexts in which art is made
- Be aware of the potential artistic, social, political, […] educational and cultural impacts.
Rogers continued that as Artists we should try to follow a set of strategies:
- Recognise and acknowledge whose work you are building on
- Be transparent in your methods and open about your methodology
- Be rigorous in your recording
- Be prepared to justify your methods
- Don’t confuse effort and quantity with quality
- Be careful of using theory to justify artwork
- Be modest in your claims
- Be honest with yourself
- Don’t lose your curiosity or your courage.
Having made notes and considered carefully the lecture on being a reflexive practitioner I was left thinking a great deal about my influences, inspiration and methodology. As an Art Teacher some of my greatest influences are the students I teach. In conversation with teenagers on a daily basis I am always fascinated by their new and varied approaches to tackling their studies, whether this be in Year 7 or in the Upper 6th. In discussing what an artist appears to be conveying I often tell my students how pleasantly surprised I have been reading about the work. That my perceptions are clearly coloured by my own frame of reference, and that quite often this is wrong, or at the least ill informed. Whilst visual works have a language which can transcend verbal communication, to fully appreciate the intentions of the artist, it is advisable to read about the concepts or the motivations behind the work. An example of this is when I viewed some large photographic work by Rineke Dijkstra in The Tate Modern. I remember looking at this awkward looking teenager standing on a beach and I felt a genuine sense of unease. That I should not be looking, and yet was compelled to; part voyeurism and part recognition of a familiar sense I could not put my finger on. In reading about the work I discovered that Dijkstra’s intention had been to capture the discomfort of adolescence; the false bravado during a time of crippling insecurity and change. I revisited the image and felt that emotion in a much more profound way. I understood that my recognition had been the memory of my experience of being an adolescent, and of experiencing that time of changing from a girl into a woman. That I was able to feel for the subject without knowing anything more about her was an illustration of how an artist can reflect ‘what it is to be human’.
“For me it is essential to understand that everyone is alone. Not in the sense of loneliness, but rather in the sense that no one can completely understand someone else. […] I want to awaken definite sympathies for the person I have photographed.” R Dijkstra
Cindy Sherman appeared to critically question the role of the artist in society in her works involving the exploration of a wide range of themes in role playing. Her characters were exaggerated, absurd, grotesque, controversial, entertaining and challenging. The themes came from subjects such as feminine identity, male clichés about women, violence and sexuality, tragedy and comedy. The references came from the world around Sherman and made explicit reference to modern iconography whilst raising challenging questions.
If this is not something which the reflexive practitioner is doing, then we must be getting it wrong. Endless self-referentially indulgent work strikes of a stagnating practice which inevitably fails to inform and be informed by the wider world.
Am I hoping to write myself into a new idea, to formulate a plan by holding a mirror up to my work? Perhaps….