Narrative, psychology and economics.

I've just read my way through the the latest edition of ArtWorld and patterns are emerging. It has a slightly more fresh and funky, down to earth style than something like Art Forum, or even Frieze. The interviews all start with the same question about the artist's name and end with 'If you could live with any artwork, what would it be'. Not particularly enlightening perhaps, but with articles about Valie Export and Ceal Floyer, both of whom changed their names for arguably artistic resons perhaps the name question does serve as a good opener. Art, one could surmise from this magazine, is very much about personality. Features tend to be mainly biographical in content, with references to psycology, politics, historical context and aethetics trends.

What every article does, and perhaps one could argue that this is a quality of much writing about art, is draw a narrative through an artist's work. Even when a piece starts out declaring the ideosycracy or disparity of an artists practice, the basic drive of the writing will be to create a coherent storyline to the work. And why not? A good piece of art criticism of this kind will forground the artist's biography, will make some claims as to the coherent progress of the work as a dynamic oevre, will find some juicy pschological justifications - Franz West's mother, for example, was a dentist in the days when dentists were to be feared, and thus his works might be read as embodying this pschological trauma - or a particular series of works may have been painted at 'a bad time in the artists life' as I recently read in the notes to the White Light/White Heat exhibition at Hauser and Wirth about a piece by Joan Mitchell. They will also place the work within a certain art historical context, 1970's Vienna dominated by the actionists for West, the Lower East Side for Dan Colen, and use this context to compare and contrast with the artist's output. There may also be thrown in a bit of politics, but usually only if the artist is seen as overtly 'political', in which case (as with the current article on Valie Export in Art World) the writing will be dominated with the works political concerns. These concerns, however, will be written through with biographical detail: because she was a woman, living in Vienna.......

It would be easy to point to the fact that articles such as these are reductive of what maybe seen as far more complex work. Much can be made of divergence, disparity, fragmentation, the sort of rhetoric that was banded around in the heady days of Postmodernism. And indeed it is true. An article can only do so much. The sort of overview which is common in Art World could be argued to give a distorted view of an artists work, but this is a necessary factor of writing about art at all. And perhaps points to the point, made by Nicolas Bourriard in the catalogue to Altermodern, that people just don't care about these issues anymore. We know we can't trust the media to fully represent the world, so let's just get on with it. Reviews and articles may alway partial, but in their partiality they can be enlightening, exciting, and give you access to work you may otherwise not have seen, or enable you to engage with work in a new or unexpected way. Articles also have a job. They have to fill the pages of their respective magazine, be the flesh of editorial strategy. They may also bring an artists work to the fore, serve to strengthen or establish a reputation. This may seem cynical, but in this respect the article plays an important role in the interconnected sphere of contemporary art and in this respect the writing, and editorial, may be seen to be highly skillful.

More importantly for me, and the main reason for this writing here, is that the creating of narrative is perhaps fundamental to the artist themselves. In a cynical way of course, the contemporary artist is expected to do exactly what magazine articles do. Write for themselves a narrative in which their work gains coherence, import and reputation. This may happen though a variety of means including shows and exhibitions, artist statements, interviews, chit chat and may also be augmented by outside sources such as gallery press releases, critcal commentary and so forth. But more importantly than this, and speaking as an artist, the construction of narrative is fundamental to the day to day practice of making and living. Narrative in these terms is something like a strategy, a constant assessment of what the work has been, what it is now and where it might go. Without this sense of grounding, making decisions about the work can be very difficult. How does one diferentiate between was is wanted and what is not, what is genuinely interesting and what is a failed attempt. These strategies will naturally differ depending on the approach of the artist. And a certain amount of accident must accompany any creative process. And surely making art can be a terrifying experience, there is alway a sense of uncertainty when one is trying to breach new ground, which is embedded in the prevailent idea that art should in some sense always be dynamic and forward looking, even in an age when appropriation, borrowing and reworking are all fairly well established forms. Because art-making is largely self-directed, and not purely driven by economic concerns, an artist needs to have a sens eof purpose and direction. In my experience new works can often come to be realised in surprising ways snd following these moments a time of taking stock is often needed. Some time to work out how this new work fits in with the old. What new directions it may suggest. How it will be looked back upon as part of the narrative of my work as a whole, whenever the whole may be reached.

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